I joined a marketing team for the first time around six months ago. I trained as a journalist and have worked for government agencies ever since - the civil service, local government and the health service.
I had some misconceptions about what working in marketing would be like. This is my (highly subjective) take on what I’ve learnt about marketing and where I think content strategists and marketers can help one another.
A note about content strategy
I’m using the term ‘content strategist’ rather loosely here. I’ve been hired as an editor and most of my work is about planning rather than out-and-out strategy. But I’m a content strategist at heart, and my values have been heavily shaped by the content strategy community.
When I say ‘content strategists’ here, I mean anyone who worships at the Church of Halvorson, regardless of their job title.
What I thought marketing was
I used to think marketing was about:
- presenting products and services in the best possible light
- creating taglines and hooks
- in-house creatives writing copy
- style over substance.
I associated marketing with the tangible outputs I saw and had a poor understanding of all the work marketers do behind the scenes. I’m sure that sounds familiar to anyone working with content (which is another poorly-understood discipline).
What marketing really is
I’ve learnt a lot about the work marketers do in my first six months. My department is made up of:
- a research and analytics team
- strategists and people who develop customer value propositions
- project managers
- customer relationship managers who plan direct communications
- marketing communications executives who deliver each campaign
- print and fulfillment staff
- people responsible for processes and implementation of new products
- a digital marketing team that handles web content, social media, pay-per-click, affiliate marketing, online media and email marketing
- product managers with a close link to product teams and subject matter experts
- a sponsorship team
- a partnership team that manages relationships with third parties we work with.
- B2B marketers.
There are probably more people and roles that I’m not aware of yet – I’m still learning.
Perhaps the biggest difference between my perception and reality was how much the marketing team guides what the business does. It’s clear that the services the company offers and strategic direction it takes are heavily shaped by the marketers’ reading of current market conditions. Marketers are far more than salespeople or spin doctors.
One other surprise for me was that most of the creative execution – the copy, taglines and look and feel – for campaigns is created by agencies under the guidance of the marcomms team. My image of marketing staff banging out copy at their desk has proved wide of the mark.
In my limited experience, the marketer’s role is about steering the ship, cajoling and shepherding, watching the horizon and analysing performance.
What content strategists can learn from marketing
Marketers know the need to deeply understand the landscape they operate in, identify their target audience and develop propositions that will resonate.
In my experience there’s good and bad practice when it comes to research and analysis in content work. It’s common for content to be planned, written and published without ever validating assumptions about the target audience, their interests and capabilities.
Anyone working with content could learn from marketers’ rigour in understanding the market they’re trying to reach.
Measuring and analysing results is second nature for marketers, and content professionals can lag behind. Again, good practice is certainly out there but my experience is that setting clear goals, measuring performance and iterating accordingly is still done patchily on the web.
None of this will be new to a good content strategy advocate. My only point is that research, measurement and analysis are not yet core parts of most organisations’ content initiatives.
What marketers can learn from content strategy
Marketers tend to live from one campaign to the next, and that worked fine with traditional media. With their growing interest in social media and content marketing, the cracks are starting to show.
I think content strategists can help to bring a longer-term view of what it takes to create and maintain great content, communicate consistently and help teams collaborate.
Content strategists can help marketers develop workflows that give content the time and attention it deserves from the right people – not treat it as an afterthought.
We can establish governance that means content is cared for and consistent across channels, from campaign to campaign, and aligns with the rest of the business.
Content strategists can bring editorial guidance. We know a good story and we know how to tell it. Marketers excel at knowing their market – we can help them turn that expertise into appropriate, useful content that engages their audience.
Finally, we can advise marketers on what’s new in the world of content. That doesn’t mean enthusiastically jumping on the latest new thing; sometimes we serve our colleagues best by introducing a note of caution. Your plumbing supplies company is probably not the next Buzzfeed…
Marketers go where the people are, and the people are online. Content marketing and social media are firmly in their sights but the way many marketers approach web content has caused some teeth-grinding in the content strategy community.
If you’re a content strategist it’s time to accept that marketing isn’t going to go away. It’s increasingly going to share a space with us. Marketers are trying to reach a pre-determined audience with a specific message and encourage them to take an action. That’s not so different from how any communications professional works.
Here’s how I see it. Content strategists can tut about how marketers don’t understand ‘our’ patch, or we can work with them to create great content that will delight their users, meet their business goals and be sustainable over time with the resources they have. In turn, content professionals can learn from marketers’ expert knowledge of their audience and products. Sound good to you too?