A blog from SoloPortfolio about content marketing.

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Content Marketers are Marketers Second

November 15, 2011 , , , , , , ,

Thomas Hawke, Flickr

When I was in Cleveland in September for Content Marketing World, I attended a roundtable discussion and was asked whether content marketers are marketers. “What a weird question,” I thought. Luckily someone else jumped in to talk, which gave me some time to think it over.

My answer went something like this:

My own career path has been completely disjointed. I have worked at various stages in my career as a writer, photographer, graphic designer, accountant, financial officer, editor, and market researcher. I have worked in the financial services industry, healthcare, education, management consulting, and medical devices. There was a time when I was really embarrassed by this strange, circuitous path. I would try to minimize some of my previous roles while playing up others. All in order to make my background seem a bit more expected and rational.

In 2007 I launched SoloPortfolio. Most of my clients hired me to do content marketing, even though I still didn’t know that term. In essence, my clients were not hiring me as a marketer, but really as someone who could speak in a voice that sounded like their own. They wanted me to put together thought leadership programs, research reports, educational series… all heavy with subject matter expertise.

All of a sudden, my crazy-ass, try-a-little-of-everything career made perfect sense.

Which leads me back to that question I was asked back at CM World in Cleveland—and why it’s so relevant. In my experience, content marketers are marketers plus something. Whether you’re talking about a professional marketer or a CEO-turned social media maven, the very best content marketers have something interesting to talk about besides marketing. Makes sense, no? Examples, please:

  • I have met a number of CM experts who are former publishers. They have incredible knowledge about how to draw an audience and how to distribute content. After all, content marketing is about helping companies become publishers.
  • Others are SEO and analytics experts, who offer the back-office smarts about how content can pull in customers at each stage of the buying process. In earlier days, these people were not considered marketers but more on the IT/engineering side.
  • I’ve now met many content marketers who are former professionals in another field entirely (attorneys, engineers, accountants, etc..). They understand that to get business, they have to speak the language of business, not marketing. And they have to offer up educational content, not marketing fluffiness.
  • Journalists. That one’s obvious. A good friend of mine is a marketer + journalist… and I value her ability to sniff out stories that a target market wants to read, and then beef up that story with excellent research. Great journalists are writers who did well in stats.
  • And then there’s Marcus Sheridan, the Sales Lion. As the owner of an in-ground pool business during the recession, he started experimenting with content marketing and social media to save the business. Marcus had zero training as a marketer, but is among the most savvy content marketer you’ll meet. Plus he has an uncanny ability to make an entire room laugh uproariously at their own stupidity. (Extremely rare talent.)

The very best content marketers understand that success really takes niche expertise. Whether you are working on behalf of a company that sells a particular service (and you need to be able to go deep to talk credibly about supply chain management or tort reform) or whether you work for an agency that serves those clients, content marketing really does come down to marketing + non-marketing niche expertise.

[Photo by Thomas Hawke, Flickr Creative Commons]

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When my friend Clare postulates “content marketers are marketers plus something,” I’m inclined to point out there are old-school marketers who are marketers minus something. Some are minus integrity. Others simply don’t trust the power of authentic content, which in the end always wins out over fluffiness and fiction. Well, almost always.

Jim Klenn

November 22, 2011

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