Changing buyer behavior has forced changes in how we think and act as content marketers. Those who thrive in uncertainty feel like kids on summer vacation – so many opportunities, ideas, and inspiration – while apprehensive marketers hold onto traditional practices, thinking that if they ignore the disruption, they won’t have to address it. Fear of the unknown freezes their openness. In between are those just trying to keep their heads above water. Yet marketers still yearn for influence within their organizations and scrape for dollars and resources. We have to prove ROI on every investment we make and continually push for the value we think we deliver.
Research by the Fornaisse Marketing Group says that 73 percent of CEOs think marketing lacks credibility. In contrast, 69 percent of marketers think their strategies and campaigns do make an impact — they just don’t know how to prove it. They aren’t equipped to have marketing conversations in the context of business impact. Much of this disconnect between marketing and CEOs stems from marketers not understanding the strategic and leadership roles required of those who hold a content job.
This struggle doesn’t apply purely to marketers in the trenches. In its research report, “The Transformative CMO,” the Korn/Ferry Institute points out that to become a “transformative” CMO, executives must understand how the marketing function intertwines with every other function within the company. To be successful, these executives need to drive enterprise-wide change in an increasingly complex and unpredictable business environment.
Living in beta
By the time we’ve witnessed, experienced, and documented a best practice, our customers have often moved on. Our nemesis isn’t our perceived competitors — it’s our customers’ short attention span. In order to think creatively about how we capture and keep their attention, we have to think differently about the role we have within our organizations.
Modern marketers face incredible change, and the pressure is only accelerating. Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association released their findings about the expanding role of marketing in B2B organizations. Ninety-seven percent of marketers said they expect the pace of change in their organization to accelerate, and 76 percent felt that their leadership judged success or failure faster. Other findings include:
- 21 percent of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
- 97 percent see a dramatic increase in the breadth of skills needed
- 97 percent are doing things they’ve never done before
- 45 percent can’t find candidates with the right skills
In content jobs, there is a constant demand for new skills and added resources. But if CEOs aren’t seeing our worth, and we’re not able to prove it, how do we function in this new landscape? As content marketers, we need to expand our leadership and influence at the same pace as our responsibilities.
We need to lean in. We need to become strategically bold about our profession and our responsibilities. We need to become comfortable living and working in beta because that’s where growth lies for all of us — in trying new ideas, testing new approaches, and thinking unconventionally. We need to appreciate uncertainty, because comfort and growth can’t coexist.
We need innovative thinking. And that requires us to examine our perceptions about marketing’s role and how we can lead change.
Feel the fear, but do it anyway
Here’s the kicker: We can’t convince executive leadership of the value we deliver to our organizations unless we believe it ourselves and actually walk the walk.
Because our environment has changed so dramatically in just the past few years, many marketers feel fearful and take the safe route with their careers and their corporate initiatives. The result is a “play it safe” mentality that results in uninspired ideas and content. This squanders talent and fuels customer perception of noise in the marketplace.
We need to question assumptions about our profession beyond “how-to” conversations. Marcus Sheridan talks about The Honest Economy — how transparency separates the teachers from the information hoarders. Jay Baer is changing our thinking from hype to help. We’re seeing debates about future content trends, how to be remarkable, and roles that are essential to the future of content marketing. These are bold, strategic points of view.
I’m proud that the Content Marketing Institute recently updated editorial direction to embrace these kinds of conversations. But we need more of this. We need marketers to lift their heads from their desks and pay attention to the change that surrounds us. Join in the conversation and share your point of view. Push fear aside, and be willing to have these conversations with your peers at work, your executive teams, and the greater marketing community.
What’s our story?
If we’re going to elevate marketing to its well-deserved leadership position within our organizations, we need more of these opinions and points of view. Because until we’re able to take a leadership role in elevating the dialogue about what we do to a business conversation, and how we maneuver the new environment, we’re doomed to remain as order takers, tacticians, and undervalued overhead.
Now’s the time to look to the horizon and discuss what could be. What’s our story as a marketing profession? It’s the only way that we’ll be able to prepare for the skill sets, demands, and expectations of tomorrow’s content jobs, which will require agile environments that can shift alongside changing customer expectations.
In order to lead companies and industries, content marketers must first understand how to lead their profession. How will traditional processes hold up under this time of transition future? Without the willingness to have these conversations, we’re creating a hidden force that undermines our work — namely, legacy thinking. When under pressure, it’s easy to default to what we know and find comfortable. It’s hard to resist the pull of the past — a pull so strong that it makes it hard to change thinking, processes, and outcomes.
Unless you take time to understand your profession, the changes we’re facing will soon leave you in the dust. It’s not just what do you need to know to get your next content job, it’s what do you need to know to be able to keep your existing content job.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be in content marketing. You may find your company waking up and welcoming the ideas you bring to the table, encouraging you to think bigger and broader. Or you may realize that now’s the time to move on and find a situation that better fits your style.
Regardless, I encourage you to be brave, have fun, and, most importantly, lean into the change.
For more insight on the future of the content marketing profession, join Carla Johnson as she takes the stage at Content Marketing World 2013, September 9-11 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Cover image by Andrew Moir