By Pelin Thorogood and Erik Bratt published January 9, 2012

A New Breed? 7 Roles of the Content Marketing “Engineer”

According to a research report by Junta42 and MarketingProfs, the number one content marketing challenge is producing engaging content. It’s an age-old marketing truism that the key to engaging customers is relevance, which comes from a deeper understanding of customer behavior and sentiment. However, as our customers are becoming more social, and as the business and personal worlds continue to converge, the tools and tactics we employ to get to know and engage our target customers are changing dramatically. And not too surprisingly, the demands of this new breed of socially savvy-buyer are not only forcing the evolution of the marketing practice, but the marketing practitioners as well. Thus, a new breed of marketer is emerging: the content engineer.

The content engineer is a marketer who creates and optimizes the many forms of content required to engage social customers, based on the data presented by available analysis tools. They listen to the customer — through all the newly available media — before crafting the content (and marketing messages) for each medium. For example:

  • Social media monitoring and analysis give them a pulse on buyer sentiments on brands, products, and ad campaigns.
  • Web analytics tell them which content is engaging which types of visitors, and from which sources.
  • Search engine optimization tools present them with the right keywords to include in their content to improve online visibility.

By leveraging all the social and behavioral intelligence available to them, content engineers develop and apply the right content, at the right time, to engage the right audience in the most effective manner possible. Part creative right brain and part scientific left brain, content engineers live and breathe the new marketing math:  creativity without conversions = zero!

So what does it take to be a content engineer? Here are the seven areas of expertise that these professionals must master in their quest to attract and enchant their readers:

1. Align Yourself with Business Goals

You can’t be an effective content engineer, much less an effective marketer, if you’re not properly aligned with your company’s business and marketing goals.

Understanding goals is the key to setting effective strategies. So before you unleash your content wizardry, ask yourself key questions, such as what is your company trying to accomplish, who are your target audience segments, and what are the key messages that are likely to resonate for each segment.

2. Know How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy

Once you have a clear picture of business goals, you can begin to chart your content marketing strategy, including determining what types of content you’ll need to achieve various company goals, what existing assets you have to work with, and which types of success metrics to use.

Remember, content comes in many shapes and flavors these days, including video, live or recorded webinars, blogs, and tweets, as well as more traditional formats like white papers and case studies. Below is a chart showing the most common types of content and their alignment within the traditional customer lifecycle of acquisition, conversion, and retention. Some content assets can fall into multiple categories, though there are a few that are definitely more suited to one specific purpose.

3. Unleash Your Inner Data Analyst

Here’s where your left-brain kicks in. One of the keys to being a good data analyst is being able to use data and measurement to plan, report on, and optimize content. If you’ve never familiarized yourself with Google Analytics (the most popular free web analytics service) or one of the many social analytics tools available (such as Viralheat or Radian6), now is a great time to start. This is where the content engineer earns his bread and butter, and it’s what truly separates the content engineer from the copywriter. Here some ways in which the content engineer leverages data:

  • Planning: Which topics and types of content have driven the best results in the past? How can you can re-purpose or re-imagine those topics for future use? What’s trending within web and social circles that might help you better connect with your audience?
  • Reporting: Is your content meeting your marketing objectives? How much traffic is your company blog generating, and how many people are converting from that domain? No what matter type of content you produce, its reach, engagement, and conversion effectiveness must be monitored and measured in some manner.
  • Optimizing: Optimizing content first starts with establishing a measurement benchmark based on the objective, and then continually testing against that baseline. For example, for content geared toward extending reach, you need to establish specific reach benchmarks (see: recommended metrics, below), and see how your various forms of content perform against those metrics. Different forms of content will work better for different businesses, so don’t be afraid to experiment to determine what works for you!

4. Know the Right Tools

Content engineers must make it a point to know the tools and technology that will help them save time and be more effective. For example, a content engineer knows he or she doesn’t have to be an SEO expert to help optimize content. Instead, they can rely on tools such as InboundWriter to do that work for them. Here are a few categories of tools the content engineer should be familiar with:

Content production: Tools such as Zemanta, CurationSoft, HubSpot, and others make it easier to create blog posts and curate content.

Content optimization:  InboundWriter, Scribe, and other optimization tools can help you increase content relevance and improve search visibility.

Content measurement: Google Analytics, Chartbeat, Viralheat, SocialMention, and are a few of the tools you can use to help measure content effectiveness on the web and within search and social channels

5. Create Relevant Content

Content engineers have to be good at creating relevant content that speaks to their target audiences. One of the best ways to create relevant content is to use analytics to understand what’s worked in the past. Find out what topics sparked interest among your readers, and use these topics as a jumping-off point to brainstorm other useful topics.

A great way to do this is to speak directly with your customers and ask them what interests them in the here and now. One of our favorite quotes is from content marketing expert Marcus Sheridan, who said, “Your customers’ first 50 questions should be your first 50 blog posts.” Other ways to fine-tune your content for relevance is review the search keywords driving traffic to your site to see which words and phrases your readers are using when searching or sharing. To find more general trending topics, you can use web sites such as Alexa,, and Google Hot Trends.

6. Get it Read

The content engineer isn’t solely in charge of content distribution, per se, but should have a good knowledge of how to spread relevant content, starting with search optimization. Content engineers should work with their marketing and PR colleagues to leverage their entire community: social channels, customer advocates, influencers, paid media, etc.

One final note: Get employees involved as much as possible in helping share your content via social channels. This is a heavily under-utilized resource and can significantly increase your reach. Don’t make it mandatory, but be sure to let co-workers know about new pieces of content so that they can help promote them to their relevant business and social networks.

7. Measure & Adjust

We spoken a lot about measurement, but it can’t be overstated. Measuring the effectiveness of any marketing initiative, whether it’s content or something else, is extremely important. It helps guide future decisions, as we work toward that universal truth: creativity without conversions = zero. We all need to become data-driven content professionals. On that note, here are some success metrics you can use to measure the effectiveness of your content marketing initiatives, mapped against the stages of the customer acquisition lifecycle:

Reach, as measured by:

  • A change in search engine rankings
  • A change in total and unique visitors
  • A change in pay-per-click (PPC) impressions served
  • A change in search engine referral traffic (organic)
  • A change in specific campaign-driven traffic to site
  • A change in social referral traffic to site
  • A change in social activity and shares via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc.
  • A change in total impact (e.g., the aggregated following of those tweeting about your content or brand)

Engagement, as measured by:

  • A change in average time spent on a webpage
  • A change in average # of pages per visit
  • A change in average bounce rate for visitors
  • A change in return visitors
  • A change in average time spent in-app (cloud app/ web service)
  • A change in log-ins (cloud app/ web service)
  • A change in engagement within social channels

Conversion, as measured by:

  • A change in conversion to sale for all visitors who landed on a page
  • A change in conversion to lead form
  • A change in free to paid user conversion rates

Last, but not least, don’t forget your marketing basics. You may need to segment your audience — by role, age, gender, education, intent, etc. — to create more targeted content. And, always be sure to test your content for different audience segments and marketing media to ensure the highest impact.

Being a content engineer is not easy. It requires unlocking both halves of your brain and alternating between several roles (marketer, copywriter, SEO specialist and web analytics professional). It requires discipline and patience, but when done correctly, content engineering can help separate you from the competition, and enables you to generate powerful, quantifiable — and more predictable — business results.


Author: Pelin Thorogood and Erik Bratt

Erik Bratt is a B2B marketing and content strategist. A former journalist, he has helped both pioneering start-ups and major technology brands navigate the emerging digital and social landscape. He also serves as VP of Marketing at Tealium. Pelin Thorogood is a new media marketer and entrepreneur, and was recently named one of the 20 Women to Watch in sales lead management. Pelin also serves as an Executive-in-Residence for Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Other posts by Pelin Thorogood and Erik Bratt

  • Bas

    What happened to being just an ordinary online marketer?! 🙂

    • Greg Bardwell

      Professions have titles and hierarchy. Like validation. As online become more and more of the pie — until eventually it is all the pie — these titles that are being thrown out more and more are part of this process. Not sure I like the “engineer”, but a nice outline of the process.

      • Pelin Thorogood

        Thanks Bas and Greg!  Much appreciated! It was very important for us to bring the focus on “data-driven marketing” and underscore the importance of the process of optimization…thus the juxtaposition of traditional marketing vs. content engineering titles. (not to mention, i do have a degree in operations research, so sometimes i cannot help being a bit geeky :))

  • Joseph

    Great post.  This will be helpful for me as I continue my present search for a new opportunity.

    I’ve found my unusual mix of talents is turning out to be an asset.  I have many years of experience both as a design engineer and as a professional marketer.  Now I sit at the crux where these two worlds are converging and finally my unique mix of talents makes sense to people who need what I do best.

    I have to agree in principal with this post and as I read more deeply I may have more to add. 

    It’s a truism — if all someone brings is the creative aspect of content marketing, they won’t handle the technical part as well as it demands.  Of course their talents are critical and would need augmentation in their team.  Same goes for the analytic part, the other way around. 

    Finding someone who bridges these worlds is good but the size of the task is large.  My take is that this content marketing engineer would best fit at the management level, as CCO or even a step above that, possibly CMO.  Then the guiding wisdom they bring could assure a team gets everything needed done as required.

    Isn’t it strange how people react to this subject?  The techies seem to feel uncomfortable with the creative part and the creatives don’t fully accept the analytic needs.  Having successfully created and run a hybrid agency for a few years has convinced me — there’s magic is in this mix of talents.

    • Pelin Thorogood

      Thanks for sharing your insights!  You are right that there is magic in this mix of talents.  It really does need to start at the CMO level but then you want to make sure the team members can really think/execute this way as well – often with a bit of coaching of course.  

      Good luck with your search…I suspect the difficult part will be deciding on which opportunity to pick!

  • Scott Rodgers

    Thanks for this post.  As marketing evolves it helps to evolve our language to describe what we do.  I am sure this will help someone answer this question this year: “what do we want to call this person we want to hire?”

    • Pelin Thorogood

      Thanks Scott!  Glad you like the title! When presenting similar content, I’ve actually received several queries re:  how much content engineers make and other hiring related questions! And now, University of the Pacific (my partner Rand Schulman’s alma mater) has launched a major in content engineering!

  • Kimberly Peek

    Great post! I would add one more step– have a plan for how you will convert those leads. One thing I see a lot of is that sales organizations are lacking a strategy for how they will handle their leads. They have this pile of leads and no clear action plan on how to continue to qualify those leads, the types of phone conversations to have or emails to send to continue developing the relationships, etc.

    • Pelin Thorogood

      Great idea Kimberly…we often talk and write about sales and marketing alignment as well as lead scoring – but what you suggested certainly would help complete the picture we are painting with this specific article as well.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your clear break down post of this emerging synthesis ‘career’? The devil is in the details still – design and copy. Every step can be forever evolving and be improve upon because of the analytics and low cost to change content online vs. traditional media. 

    • Pelin Thorogood

      Absolutely!   Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Online marketing has given us the opportunity be much more iterative…and do so much more rapidly.  It is the brave new world of agile marketing – but it still all starts with creativity.   Analytics doesn’t create good marketing – rather validates it and helps the marketer connect with their intended audience more effectively (better/faster/cheaper :)).   The content engineer is this new breed of marketer!  

  • Celine Bernadette Francisco

    Also, thank you for letting us know more about the “engineer” in a content marketer. As a content marketer, it’s indeed a challenge to break into the mainstream and get the brand or the content known. But with this super content about this field, I’ve come to realized, “There’s really much, much more to content marketing — other than the sharing, posting, etc. It’s basically a blend of strategy, creativity, and psychology.” 

    • Pelin Thorogood

      So glad our article gave you some additional insight about the many roles of the content marketer!  It is indeed a very complex blend of skills.

  • Editor

    Great tip about Inbound Writer. I call myself an editor but your description of what I do is probably more accurate. Many thanks,

  • Robin

    Nice Post to you both!

    As a ‘content maker’ by trade I think your definition of the ‘Engineer’ is perhaps more appropriate as the roles you have to cover for clients is vaired in the least, so the definition fits more aptly – these days – to the increased need for better online content within businesses.

    Noun:A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works.
    Verb:Design and build (a machine or structure).

    Thanks for your article.

  • Cheryl Smithem

    Pelin and Erik, this is an excellent article. I particularly like the chart outlining the tactics / tools and how each can be use in the path to your desired outcome. I’d like to share this with attribution on my blog and hope that you won’t mind.

    • Pelin Thorogood

      Hi Cheryl,Delighted you liked our article…and would be honored if you shared it on your blog.  Thx!!

  • John Mihalik

    That was an amazing post Pelin and Erik. I think you really nailed it. There’s a true convergence of analytics and creativity in content marketing. That’s why I love it so much!  

  • Scott Yates

    Awesome! I’m going to add this to my collection of experts who basically say that the very first step of a great social marketing campaign is original blog content. That grid under Point 2 essentially does that, and that’s consistent with all the experts, two of whom I quoted in this post:

    The only rub is that most business people, and even marketing people, are just too busy to write. That’s why there’s Blogmutt!

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