Back in the old days, there was a clear distinction between sales and marketing. Sales teams worked in the field, facing customers. Marketing teams shaped the messages that the sales teams passed on to customers. Effectively, marketing ‘wrapped’ the product that the sales teams delivered to the market.
More recently, though, this clear distinction has become blurred. Changes in buying behaviour mean that customers now do much of their own research online and among their peers before ever engaging with sales teams. Even in B2B, sales teams don’t really have the opportunity to present the nicely-wrapped ‘package’ prepared by marketing. As a result, marketers have started to engage more directly with customers through preparing and sharing content online. But can this content marketing really be left to marketers, or should others be involved in the process? And if so, who?
The role of content marketers
Let’s first consider the role of a content marketing manager or content marketer. What should be expected of them? If you look at a typical content marketing manager job ad, you might find phrases like ‘take responsibility for marketing strategies such as social media, blogs, and lead generation’. They will be expected to develop engaging content, and understand both the market and technology. Typically, responsibilities might include creating content marketing strategies, working with others to product content, developing an editorial calendar, setting up and running content marketing initiatives, and analysing the effect of these initiatives.
Content marketers are collaborators. They spend time advising others on the content that they are producing. These may include professional writers and designers, but also others within the business. Subject-matter experts are an important source of technical and business-focused content, and marketers need to be able to work with them to provide suitable content that both ticks the marketing boxes, and provides information that helps customers.
The role of a content marketing manager is not necessary to create content. It is actually to manage the content creation process—and that includes getting maximum value from existing content. The crucial question that content marketers need to ask is: how is this providing value for customers, and how can we make it add more?
Content marketers, therefore, need to understand the content marketing world. They need to understand what information customers want, in a very general sense. Increasingly, content marketing experts suggest that you should focus your content marketing on the bottom of the traditional sales funnel, at those who are ready to buy from you but need a nudge. Content should, therefore, focus on prices, comparisons, and reviews.
Content marketers also need to understand technology—or at least, have access to those who do. Marketing is increasingly using dynamic content, or content that is personalised both to an individual and what they are interested in at the time (think, for example, of ads that follow you around the internet based on what you have browsed recently). Some companies are even using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create content that is tailored to individuals. The best content marketers will be those who can work with the technology to ensure that it delivers exactly what customers want at that moment—and that means understanding the analytics and data behind the decisions, too.
Content marketing or content marketers?
The bottom line is that there is room—and, indeed, need—for everyone to be involved in content marketing. Marketers have the expertise in managing communication channels, and in devising messages, and they need to bring this to the party. Sales teams are skilled in engaging with customers: they know what makes their customers ‘tick’, and they know what problems they face. They also know how to personalise the overall marketing message for the individual customer.
There is, however, another group that also needs to be involved in content marketing: subject-matter experts. Social media has brought individuals closer together and enabled them to engage on a one-to-one basis. Customers now expect to be able to talk to the person who really knows the subject, not just the ‘customer service operative’. Expertise-driven conversations are crucial to building and maintaining a brand, and ensuring that customers are happy.
Content marketing is far too important to be left to marketers. But it also far too important to be undertaken without their input. Developing thought leadership—surely the aim of much content marketing—is a whole-enterprise undertaking. Everyone has something to bring to the table.