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 Bit.ly 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, TweetMeme.com, 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.

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