Content marketers are strategists to their core. They architect a “playground” of content for today’s self-serve buyers to explore and engage with on their own terms. All while carefully balancing the need to drive prospects through the funnel with the ultimate goal to create content that empowers and delights.
On the latest episode of The Marchitect, I sat down with a panel of content marketers at the top of their game: Heike Young, Senior Director, Content Strategy at Salesforce, Ashley Faus, Content Strategy Lead at Atlassian, and Devin Reed, Head of Content Strategy at Gong.
Heike, Ashley, and Devin gave us the low-down on the role of content marketing (and why it should really be called content strategy). They also shared their best practices for building a strong content team and frameworks you can use to measure content success—beyond page views and leads.
Listen to the full episode here, or skim the highlights below.
What content marketing is (and is not)
Let’s clear the air. Content marketers are not writers. While many content marketers are indeed skilled at writing, writing should be thought of as a value-add rather than a requirement. Content marketers bring the most value to your team as strategists and marketing leaders.
“I'm tired of content marketers being seen as the junior employees who can write your blog posts for you.” says Heike, “Building a content strategy is connecting the disparate dots of content into a unified journey and experience—that's inclusive of findability like SEO, inclusive of big market moments like events and brand campaigns, and one that is full of diverse, interesting voices that bring everything to life on channels and formats that resonate with the audience… Content strategy is the one group that ties it altogether."
With today’s generation of self-serve buyers, the content funnel doesn’t look or work the same as it used to. It’s time to evolve beyond that “old-school linear funnel mindset”, as Ashley calls it, “where the goal is to rush people to a purchase with as few touch points as possible”.
Instead, all three content leaders agree on the role of today’s content marketer (or content strategist) as the architect of a “playground” of content. “It's not a linear journey,” explains Heike, “It's a playground for people to play around in, to experiment with formats and channels with the messages and helpful content that works for them.”
With the playground approach to content strategy, content marketers empower buyers to explore the product and brand at their own pace—rather than forcing them through a rigid nurture path that might not fit their needs. “We're here to win the hearts and minds of our audience,” says Devin, “And if you do that, all the other metrics should follow, assuming you're being strategic and intentional with your decisions.”
What to look for when building a content team
The two guiding lights to look for when building out your content team: breadth and depth.
“I really like the T-shaped framework for professionals—where you've got breadth across a couple of different disciplines and then you've got depth in one discipline,” says Ashley. As we think about the discipline of content marketing … we're really thinking about ‘How do we find those T-shaped people who can become SMEs, who can help shape what we're doing in each channel?’”
Remember, content marketing does not equal writing. So that breadth and depth can come in many forms: operations, social media and community engagement, ABM plays, multi-media and video creation, and so on.
Content teams can also look vastly different depending on the size and maturity of an organization—ranging from a content team of one to a fully fleshed out function with multiple subteams and dedicated in-house writers for each persona. Smaller content teams typically have to start with a generalist (breadth) approach, and take on more specialized (depth) content roles over time, as new hires and resources become available. Devin scales his content team at Gong by aligning roles with strategic initiatives, directly linking the growth of the content team with the growth of the company.
Heike suggests smaller content teams engage freelancers and external agencies to support with the depth work—allowing your content marketers to focus on the breadth of mapping out the content strategy. “If you don't have writers in-house, consider freelancers that you've worked very closely with or an agency where you can develop those writers over time to get high-quality work at a fast clip.”
Metrics to measure content success—beyond traffic and leads
Devin explains the paradox of the content marketer when it comes to measuring success like this: “I have the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. One is saying, “Move them through the funnel!”, and the other one’s saying, “Delight them with brand content!”
This is a balance that many content marketers work hard to acheive. On one hand, content marketing has to contribute their fair share of pipeline growth—typically measured through KPIs like traffic, click-throughs, and opportunities generated. On the other hand, with the self-serve content playground approach, there are multiple touchpoints that fly under the radar—but are just as important to the overall buyer and customer experience.
Heike, Ashley and Devin all agree that the best way to measure the success of a content strategy is to align it with your company’s strategic initiatves from the beginning of each fiscal year. Then, you have something solid to refer back to when evaluating content performance at the end of the year.
“We use objectives and key results at Atlassian”, says Ashley, “So everything that we do, we want to ladder that up to a specific key result, which then ladders up to a specific objective.”
Devin uses a similar approach at Gong, dividing up different company KPIs among his content team members—balancing high-level goals with more tactical objectives. “If if it's the right thing to do and we execute it right, it doesn't have to show up on a dashboard …You might see or hear it in how people are responding to our content”.
Heike also maps the success of her content strategy to her company’s strategic framework. At Salesforce, that’s the V2MOM philosophy: Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures. For the “Measures” section, Heike and her team built out a content dashboard that calculates a content performance score for each asset based on three key questions:
- Did we attract new audiences?
- Did we keep them engaged?
- Did we move them to a next step?
“If I've done those three things,” says Heike, “As a content strategist, I've really done my job."
Ready to learn more about content marketing from these three content marketing leaders?
Listen to the full episode below.