Group of Business People Working Meeting Team Concept

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Fairfield County, CT, AMA event. It was a lot of fun presenting Outside-In Marketing to local executives and students at UConn Stamford, which hosted the event. In the lively discussion that followed, the best question was about talent.

“What kind of team do you need to create outside-in marketing content?”

I answered the question in terms of my own team. But it has occurred to me since the talk that my team is somewhat unusual. I run an internal center of excellence that helps IBM marketing teams create more outside-in marketing content. As such, we are experts in our areas, while the teams we help have no such expertise. They come from all walks of marketing, but just want to learn how to get better results with their digital investments. The talent on my team is rare, and simply can’t be distributed to every marketing team in a company of 10,000 marketers and 7,000+ products.

But let’s assume you do need to start from scratch to build a content marketing team from the ground up. This is how I would do it, in order of importance.

1. Content strategist

I start with this role because it is at the center of everything to do with content. As we say in our book, “the web is made of content.” Naturally, if it is the thing your target audiences consume, having an expert content strategist is crucial.

Content strategists don’t just help you create better content, they help you create less of it. You read that right. The biggest challenge companies face in content strategy is a tendency to focus on volume rather than effectiveness. This leads to a phenomenon known as content shock, which Mark Schaefer identified as the tendency to overwhelm audiences to the point that the content you create actually produces negative value. The antidote to content shock is content strategy, which helps you audit, revise, and curate existing content rather than creating duplicate content all the time.

Content strategy is a fairly mature discipline with lots of areas of specialization. We dedicate a whole chapter on it in our book, including a Q&A with Kristina Halvorson. (We also have a Q&A with Mark Schaefer in another chapter.) For the time being, let this picture of the four main areas of content strategy will suffice.

Substance = the content itself, Structure is the tagging that enables reuse, workflow is the process of curating and creating better content, governance is the part that helps competing orgs collaborate.

The basic elements of content strategy, used with permission by Kristina Halvorson.

2. SEO

It should come as no surprise that the guy who wrote the book on search-first content strategy should elevate the role of SEO in a marketing center of excellence. SEO is not just about optimizing pages or even optimizing web infrastructures, though that is how it is often perceived. SEO is first and foremost a market research discipline. Using keyword research, SEOs look for opportunities to connect with their target customers. This client data is the life blood of a healthy digital marketing organization. This is why you need to have at least one SEO on your dream team.

3. User Experience (UX) strategist

Great content can be easy to find and use, or it can be buried in an opaque user experience and consigned to web clutter. Increasingly, the two are interrelated. Google’s RankBrain algorithm measures user interaction with content and adjusts ranking accordingly. It’s not enough to build long-form content that tends to rank well shortly after publishing. To maintain or improve that ranking over time, you need to have a UX that clearly demonstrates the relevance of the experience to the search query, and helps the user find the answers to their questions once they determine relevance. In short, UX is a huge ranking factor, making it a key success factor.

Beyond search rankings, UX plays a part in the entire content enterprise. In our organization, for example, we are conducting user research on our content authoring environment to make it easier to use for content creators. If our CMS user experience is easy to use, it will lead to better content for our audiences.

The chief benefit of UX is to take a wider view of content, to help organizations understand how to string together content experiences to align with their buyer journeys. This is sometimes called information architecture (IA) or client experience (CX). But UX is the more common term.

4. Analyst

You can only improve what you measure. Most companies recognize this, and hire teams of analysts to tag content and measure its effectiveness. The most important things in this role are what you measure and how you measure it. Less mature content organizations measure impressions and traffic, but fail to measure how these KPIs ultimately influence leads and sales. I wrote about this in a recent blog post called “Attribution, The Science of Marketing.”

One common reason for this problem is that the analyst is not part of the development team; someone in IT sends them to analyze their numbers. They are not content people, they’re data people. So they neither measure the right things, nor do they measure them the right way. And they struggle to interpret the data in a way that resonates with the content team.

For these reasons, I recommend having the analyst sit with the content team, to learn what to measure. Analysts are experts in how to measure things. For example, they can help the team set up heat mapping and A/B testing. That is their role. But the other members of the team need to say what the key measurements are. That collaboration depends on the regular contact of a full team member.

5. Agile coach

Web content is never done. The mere thought that it is “put to bed” is the root cause of content shock. If you forget about what you already published on a topic, you will be naturally inclined to create a functional duplicate the next time you need one. The solution is to think of content as evergreen. Build something that works and adjust it to work better over time, rather than always recreating the wheel.

Iterative content strategy requires an agile approach. You need the team to see your content portfolio like a garden that requires regular care and feeding—measure, test, and repeat. You will need to build new content to fill holes according to some data-driven list of priorities (where the data are keyword opportunities). Perhaps to begin with the team spends more time creating than managing. As the content portfolio matures, the team focuses more on improving what it already has, creating new pathways through their best content, and promoting it in new ways.

Whether you use scrum or kanban, having agile rituals that bring the team together to show their work, report any blockers, and ask for help is a critical way to keep the momentum going. That all requires an agile coach, who can manage the backlog and help the team report to its executive sponsors and other stakeholders.

6. Content writer/editor

Many content marketing staffing advice begins with the writer. Good writing is the most precious commodity. When I talk to content teams, they lament the lack of good writing talent out there. Anybody can fill out a web form to publish content. But will it resonate with the audience? Will it inspire action? That takes skill honed over years, especially on the web, where your audience can come out of nowhere and needs to understand the context of a piece from a search referral.

I have found that it is easier to train good writers how to write web content than to teach good writing in the first place. So start by recruiting a good writer. Fortunately, there are a lot of ex-journalists out there making ends meet on freelance gigs who would love the security of a full-time job with benefits. They know the basics of good content. Hire them.

7. Designer

Too many content marketing efforts place designers at the center of the team. They start their web projects with a design full of lorem ipsum and expect that to suffice. I liken this to starting a product design with its shape, rather than the functional requirements of the product. Imagine if Apple designers had said, “I really think an oval smartphone would look cool.” No, they started with what the phone needed to do and then settled on a shape, steadily growing the shape as apps and feature sets grew.

As we say in the book, the way to get visual designers to focus on functional requirements, and to let form follow function, is to focus on data. On the web, the best designs are the ones that produce the biggest business results. And business results might have nothing to do with the things a designer cares about, like fonts, layout, or color schemes. Or they might; in which case, the designer plays a more central role. If you test everything, you will know what the success factors are, and you will focus on those. To the extent that design is one of those, you will need a designer.

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