By Carla Johnson published August 19, 2013

Are You an Agile Content Creator? 6 Traits of Change Agents

“Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes…” —David Bowie

agile worker on mountainIn a previous post, I talked about why content marketers need to embrace change to survive in today’s environment. Beyond just surviving, what do marketers and content creators need to thrive and prosper?

An agile learning mentality.

As we adapt to new behaviors along the evolving buyers’ journey, content creators and marketers have to prepare to draw on new insights and expertise to drive business growth for their organizations. We have to be open to new ways of thinking, and we need to continually learn new skills to anticipate the challenges that emerge. 

Changing buyer behavior is forcing us to shift the ways we function as marketers and content creators. Strategies for engaging customers and building relationships have become increasingly complex; to be successful, we must be willing to think differently on all levels and adapt to an unpredictable business environment — not just a marketing environment.

We can’t simply address these sweeping changes at the tactical level; rather, it’s essential that we re-examine the fundamentals of how to create and lead experiences that fascinate and inspire employees and customers to take action.

Enter the agile learner

Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership issued a report about learning agility, particularly in times of disruption. The agile learner, they assert, “shows the willingness and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives.” While this sounds simple, what’s needed from marketers and content creators today is their willingness to serve as integrators and agents of change. To not only be open to new skills and understand how to collaborate with new partners, but to be prepared to bring more original insights to the table, as well.

How does that tie into what content creators and other content marketers do every day on the job? Regardless of the role they currently play in an organization — from young professional to seasoned executive — agile learners are those who exhibit some essential qualities and priorities:

  • The gumption it takes to challenge the status quo: By examining long-held beliefs and breaking down silos between groups, content marketers will discover new and innovative ways of looking at challenges and how to creatively solve them. The more diverse your experiences, the broader the perspectives you bring to your role — and the more capable you will be of delving deeper to find new ways to meet your goals, enterprise-wide.
  • The ability to remain calm in the midst of adversity: Agile learners have the ability to draw on past experiences to remain present and engaged when faced with ambiguous and/or high-pressure situations. This allows them to tap into more insightful thinking processes — even at times when inspiration may be at its lowest.
  • Taking time for reflection: In the midst of all the demands placed on us and our teams, rarely do we take time to step back and reflect on the work we do, the meaning we create, and how that meaning affects our customers’ experiences. Having new experiences doesn’t guarantee that you’ll learn from them; but reflecting upon them can offer deeper insights into how you will perform, how you will work with others, and how you will approach new challenges.
  • Purposely seeking challenging situations: Comfort and growth can’t coexist. Agile learners understand the need to push themselves, and their abilities, to explore situations where there is no proven process or outcome. Content marketers who prioritize continuous learning will come to understand the ways that risk can lead to opportunity.
  • Being open to learning: Breaking down legacy thinking is the first step to opening your mind to new possibilities. Instead of relying on the crutch of “best” practices, think “next” practices. Don’t let the way you’ve always done things — even if it’s brought you success — circumvent the pathways to new ideas and experiences.
  • Avoiding defensive thinking: As mentioned above, openness is fundamental to increasing knowledge. But openness isn’t just a one-way process — it requires talking about what you believe and why you believe it, as well as initiating honest, heart-to-heart conversations that may make you feel vulnerable. When you share your ideas, people will likely give you feedback, and some may disagree with your approach; but agile learners resist the urge to become defensive. Instead, they listen carefully and seek to understand others’ points of view and perspectives. This is how they learn valuable lessons and insights that may come in handy for future challenges.

Built to change: The new marketing department

An urgent challenge content creators and marketers face today isn’t figuring out our new “normal,” but rather how we can build agile marketing departments that are equipped to respond to the unknown and unpredictable. Research supports this; for example, a recent Forrester report found that 97 percent of marketers are doing things they’ve never done before, and the same number are seeing a dramatic gap in the breadth and depth of skills needed.

It’s about change, not scale. We’re now at the point where we need to stop hiring for skill sets and start hiring for mindsets. We need to approach our marketing departments less like a machine to be controlled and more like a complex, dynamic system that can learn and adapt over time. This is the path to building fluid, organic processes that respond to new buyer behavior, rather that the rigid structures with which we’re familiar. Companies around the world fueled by agile marketers are disrupting the market, aggressively gaining customers, and eclipsing their competition.

Agile marketers will serve as the agents of change that enable our organizations to respond to — and even lead — evolving customer expectations. This is how we’ll create truly integrated approaches in which content marketers are the ones who orchestrate all channels in order to build long-lasting customer relationships.

Join Carla Johnson as she presents a workshop on Content Marketing and Sales Enablement at Content Marketing World 2013, September 9–11 in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Carla Johnson

Recognized as one of the top 50 influencers in content marketing, Carla's latest book, Experience: The 7th Era of Marketing, with CMI's Robert Rose, teaches marketers how to develop, manage, and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves as the Vice President of Thought Leadership for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA), and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute, the ANA, and Rutgers University. A frequent speaker, Carla also contributes to industrywide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of the B2B marketing profession, leading through innovation and storytelling. Learn more at Type A Communications and follow her on Twitter at @CarlaJohnson.

Other posts by Carla Johnson

  • RocketManDigital

    Clara–I found that extremely valuable, and it does confirm where we’re finding success. Thanks for sharing. The world is always changing, but its those who grow with change that will find success.

    • Carla_Johnson

      I’m glad that you found it helpful and that it matches up with where you’re finding success in your organization. If we, as content marketers, can get comfortable with letting go of control a bit more, I think we’ll see that it opens up more opportunities and possibilities for us.

  • NenadSenic

    Thanks for this one. You made me think, yet again. But how can a marketing department be agile if the system it operates within (a company, for instance) isn’t?

    • Carla_Johnson

      Nenad, I’m so happy that it made you think, especially on a Monday!

      If you look at the qualities of an agile learner, these are characteristics that will hold true for a person in any organization. Even if a company is very rigid, we, as individuals, can be open to learning and not get defensive. Granted, how open an organization is to having the status quo challenged will vary greatly.

      Having an agile learning mentality is different from implementing an agile methodology based on what’s going on in the software world. I strongly believe that’s where marketing processes need to head, but just want to point out that these are two different things.

      Having said that, I think one of the biggest aspects of the agile methodology that content marketers can readily apply now is to strive for continual iterations of progress, rather than attempting comprehensive planning for long-term efforts and then execute with perfection. Essentially, we don’t have to know all the answers and know how everything will be done before we move forward. We do need to know our end goal and be nimble – agile – so we can learn and adjust along the way.

      I think the way to get attention for something new will always boil down to two things – productivity and revenue. The more agile we can become, whether it’s a mindset or a process, the quicker we’ll be able to respond to changes in the marketplace and not only meet our customers’ expect, but begin to lead them.

  • rogercparker

    Carla: Inspiring, timely, and relevant. The Forrester 97% quote, “97 percent of marketers are doing things they’ve never done before, and
    the same number are seeing a dramatic gap in the breadth and depth of
    skills needed” is a dose of reality everyone has to face.

    Roger

    • Carla_Johnson

      Roger,

      I absolutely agree. It’s hard pill for some to swallow, but it’s time that we become comfortable with discomfort. Things are changing, whether we’re on board or not.

      Carla

  • Sylvia Montgomery

    Carla, thanks for this timely post. I’ve been observing the changes in the makeup of marketing departments and the necessary blended skill sets. As a “classically trained marketer”, I find the seismic shift remarkable. Just last week, I wrote a post on this topic — http://www.hingemarketing.com/blog/story/5-traits-of-effective-agile-marketing — would love to get your thoughts on it. Thanks again, Sylvia

    • Carla_Johnson

      Sylvia,
      It’s a great post. What’s important for content marketers to keep in mind is that we have to think both strategically and tactically. We have to understand the big picture and how execution affects everyone across and organization. The time has past when we can sit in our silo and pass something off as someone else’s responsibility.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Carla

  • Cliff-Rich

    Here at http://richltd.com We are seeing marketing department changes directly impact custom retail display design and manufacturing. Interactive displays and endless aisles are becoming mainstream and require a creative and tech savvy marketing team to execute.

    • Carla_Johnson

      Cliff,

      I work with several retail clients and technology partners who support them, and you’re spot on. The new buyer’s journey that affect marketers is the same one that affects how they expect to engage, interact and ultimately buy in a brick and mortar shopping situation. They expect much more creativity than many retailers have been willing to deliver in the past.

      Carla

    • Paul Erna

      Cliff, It’s the same in every industry. I work in the car business and just look at Honda and Toyota. They have huge lineups of hybrid and electric cars. Both have some real nice cars for sale and soon the air will be good too.

      • 1ChrisSharpton2

        Many can’t change and they end up gone.