By Michael Weiss published January 1, 2014

Focus on Critical Skills for A Successful Content Marketing Strategy

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from the CMI Online Training and Certification program’s roster of expert instructors. Today’s post originally appeared on the CMI blog on June 12, 2013.]

hand holding ball-skillsAs a content marketing strategist, I work with companies and organizations to identify their unique brand story and show them how to use content to distinguish themselves, engage customers, and change behavior. That’s content marketing in its most basic form. 

When I engage with a client, I focus on 5 things:

  • Why: Why do you do what you do?
  • Who: Who are your audiences (beyond simple demographics)?
  • What: What stories can you tell that create engagement?
  • How: How do we tell your story? What tactics can we use?
  • Where: Where do you need to be, both online and offline?

Nine out of 10 times, when I begin working with a client, they are already focusing on how and where. And why not? It’s the fun part. It’s tangible and measurable, and it’s where the action is. My job is to pull them back in and focus on the whywho, and what.

While it may be more theoretical than actionable, figuring out the essence of a brand is critical to a content marketing strategy. How can we know what tactic to employ if we don’t yet understand our personas and how they choose to consume content? And how can we know where to be until we identify our tactics?

Once we get through the whywho, and what, we can focus once again on how and where. However, that’s often when panic sets in.

It’s relatively easy to manage something like a brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account before fully understanding whywho, and what. There are few goals or objectives required, and little to measure. But once there is a strategy in place, we can determine what kinds of content need to be produced, as well as what platforms need to be managed. Who is going to create, publish and manage all of this content? Who is going to be responsible for ROI? Who is going to be accountable? In a strategic content marketing plan, these are the questions that beg for answers.

It’s at this point that my clients typically say, “Ummm… we don’t have the resources to do all of this.” And that, my friend, is what I like to call the “Reality Bites Moment.” It’s that moment when clients realize that they don’t think they possess the time, money, or skills to pull off a content marketing strategy successfully. But they almost always do, in spite of themselves — they just need to take a step back before they freak out!

It’s easy and fun to blue sky with a consultant; coming up with all kinds of cool ways to engage audiences. “Sure, let’s create a YouTube channel! How about Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest? Why not? I know… let’s create an infographic every week! Hey, how about a contest? An eBook? An email campaign? A fun meme with cats?

The response: “Aiiieeeee! How much more content do we need to create?!?!

As Joe Pulizzi, CMI’s fearless leader, says, “It’s not about more, more, more.” In fact, he recently asserted that he is done with “more.”

The more the better” is happening all the time, in companies big and small. They are not fully realizing their content marketing strategies because they do not possess the skill sets to execute on them. So all that great energy; the promise of all those awesome ideas… all lying dormant without being fulfilled.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s the consultant who gets the client all worked up with new and exciting ideas, only to let the client down once reality sets in.

This needs to change.

The skill set imperative

We have to start identifying skill sets way earlier in the process. I have experienced the Reality Bites Moment too many times. It’s a demoralizing situation to be faced with, like when a parent says, “Hey let’s go to Disneyland!” and five minutes later says, “Just kidding.” It can be crushing, and it can kill the creative process.

How do we change this frustrating cycle? I recently figured out a potential solution, and it’s actually kind of simple:

Assess internal skill sets at the beginning of the content marketing process

I used to start my engagements by asking my clients why they do what they do. Now, I open by asking, “Who in the company can write?” I focus on writing, because whether you choose blogs, white papers, articles, email newsletters, or eBooks, you’re going to need writers.

In May of 2012, the CMI consultants were asked, “What are the essential skills for content marketing teams?” Literally all of us said, “Good writing skills.”

That’s where I start, but then I go on to ask more questions:

  • Who has video experience? Filming? Editing? Sound? Lighting?
  • Do you have designers on staff?
  • Is anyone on your team experienced at managing an online community?
  • Who has event planning experience?
  • Who are your best presenters?
  • Does anyone have experience with any of the following:
    • Email programs?
    • CRM?
    • CMS?
    • Google Analytics?

This may feel like I am jumping ahead to tactics, but I am merely getting a feel for what the client can handle. Clients’ answers to these questions will influence the content marketing strategy we put together. The challenge is to not let these questions lead us to a discussion of tactics. This is a simple exercise to identify internal skills and potential content development team members once the whywho, and what are figured out.

Not every company is as fortunate as Coca-Cola and Volkswagen, which have content budgets and resources that seem to be virtually unlimited. Regardless, by identifying internal skill sets from the get-go, just about any company can approach the how and where with confidence, because they know they will be able to deliver.

It’s time to say good-bye to those Reality Bites Moments, and hello to, “Let’s Do This!”

Stay tuned for more details on the CMI Online Training and Development program.
And for more guidance on developing a content marketing strategy, read CMI’s Content Marketing Framework: 7 Building Blocks to Success.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Michael Weiss

As Managing Director of figure18, Michael is a dynamic force in the content marketing world as a veteran speaker and consultant. As a TEDx Talker and accomplished musician, Michael is no stranger to the stage and enjoys entertaining people whether they want to learn, rock out or both! He is the author of Pitch Elevation: Your Guide To Becoming A Better Presenter. Ardath is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. In addition to the Content Marketing Institute, Michael is a contributor to I Have An Idea. Follow Michael on Twitter at @mikepweiss.

Other posts by Michael Weiss

  • Mike Sawyer

    Serious great blog and it makes totally sense, most online businesses even the smallest ones could benefit from a strategy but yet, when I ask my business followers, if they have a story, you can hear the crickets in the background. i think I need to lay a good foundation for my campagin in education before any thing else.

    • michael weiss

      Thanks Mike – sometimes we need to start with most basic of questions 🙂

  • Barry Feldman

    I love this Michael. I feel like I arrive at this point just about every time out. I plan to refer to this piece to help uncork the process.

    • michael weiss

      Glad to help!

  • Samuel @ ReferralCandy

    This is very good advice, Michael. It’s so easy to build castles in the sky without realising the reality of it. That’s not to say that big ideas shouldn’t be pursued, but there should be realistic and pragmatic steps and milestones that lead up to that goal.

    We should always try to catch ourselves before we go apeshit with crazy ideas that “could work”, without first laying out the resources available to implement those ideas. I think one of the ways we sometimes fall for that is by watching the marketing campaigns of big players like Coca-Cola or Apple and thinking to ourselves, “yea, we could do that.”

    Thanks for writing this, Michael!

    • michael weiss

      You are very welcome! Wishing and dreaming is always fun – but not always practical!

  • Diana

    Great back to basic blog that will help all businesses focus on their strategy for 2014. I agree on the writing skills – very important to help create the consistency across the brand.

    • michael weiss

      Sometimes we just have to go back to basics 🙂

  • kelly

    I love reading this article. You provided those things that I am looking for. Thanks!

    • michael weiss

      You are welcome!

  • Michael Bian

    In business, you need to be innovative when it comes to market your products..