By Jason Miller published April 16, 2015

What’s Next in Your Content Marketing Career Evolution?

content-marketing-career-evolution-coverI’ve been thinking about career paths lately – partly because people are asking about mine. Beyond that – I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned that could help other content marketers assess their own careers and figure out what the heck they’re doing with their lives. No rock star ever rose to fame after playing his first gig, and that’s not likely to happen to you after publishing your first blog post, either. So what’s the big picture?

The way I see it, content marketers go through four distinct career phases. There may be some overlap and some ups and downs, but here’s my take on understanding where you stand now and where content marketing could take you.

1. The Young Gun

Even major rock stars like Jim Morrison started off riffing with their friends. In many ways, this is the most exciting phase. As a new content marketer, you’re full of the positive ramifications that social and content have for the world (more value, fewer ads), and for your personal career (more meaning, less rah rah – or maybe just more money, let’s be honest).

At this phase, your job is to soak up knowledge. My advice: Think broadly. Morrison lived for rock ‘n’ roll, but he also read Kerouac and Keats. The more wide-open your sphere of inquiry, the more likely you’ll be able to see connections that others miss – and that’s key for great content.

Network like crazy: Be active in online groups, comment on blog posts, and attend events whenever you can. Ask questions, offer help where appropriate, and join conversations that interest you. LinkedIn research shows that people who comment on group discussions get four times the profile views.

As you network and do your research, identify mentors – people you can look up to and follow closely. Notice what works for them and what doesn’t, and start building the relationships that will support you through the rest of your career.

Young Gun checklist:

  • Read industry books:
    • What’s the Future of Business (WTF) by Brian Solis
    • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
    • Epic Content Marketing  by Joe Pulizzi
    • Welcome to the Funnel  by yours truly
  • Identify industry thought leaders and follow them on LinkedIn.
  • Find a mentor. Here are some good suggestions for doing that.


2. The Emerging Artist

It can be a little scary to put your own content into the world. Emerging artists want to share their passions through content. What do you feel compelled to investigate and share? Then, clarify your personal values. Where do you stand on ethical, political, or aesthetic grounds?

My own venture into online publishing started with a blog and Twitter feed about rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, I also took some digital marketing classes, but the real expertise came with getting in there and doing it – making a lot of mistakes and figuring out how to fix them.

As my colleague Sharon Stubo, Vice President of Communications at LinkedIn, says:

“It’s easier to speak with a clear, bold voice when you know what you stand for.”

She and I shared more advice about this e-book, The Sophisticated Guide to Thought Leadership. Stubo talks about how the “special sauce” makes a person’s style unique and interesting. How might your particular worldview open up solutions and possibilities for others?

As you define your passions, values, and expertise, start sketching out themes and ideas that you would like to pursue. From this, your personal editorial calendar can evolve. LinkedIn’s publishing platform is a great way to experiment with your personal themes and audiences, but remember – it’s OK to play it safe. Rather than publishing something that feels half-baked, hold it back and focus on sharing other content that catches your interest. You’ll know when it’s time to speak your piece.

Emerging Artist checklist:

  • Clarify your passions and values.
  • Read widely to improve your knowledge and writing style.
  • Identify your audience and determine how you can help them.
  • Create content and put it out into the world.
  • Take feedback and make better content.

3. The Collaborator

One day, after burning the midnight oil for a few years (or months), you land a position at a company led by people who believe in thought leadership and are ready to take an intelligent risk on the collision of two worlds – its brand and your personal brand. Your job is to team up with the best in the business to transform that brand conversation.

Rather than toiling to get on the thought leaders’ radar, you propose something that offers them value: work with a respected brand and a fresh voice to create and promote mutually beneficial content.

In this role, your ability to play on a team takes center stage. Content marketing, after all, is about respecting and tuning in to the customer’s time, focus, and inclinations. That attitude translates equally well to the way you treat your most immediate customers: clients, teammates, collaborators, and content stakeholders. Never forget to give credit to the team. Always be helpful and constructive with criticism. And listen carefully to the ideas coming from those Young Guns.

Given the choice between collaborating with a headline-making Ozzy Osbourne type or a cooperative Dick Wagner type (Alice Cooper’s guitar collaborator), smart marketing leaders choose a Wagner type – the person with a track record of making others look good. Yes, Jim Morrison was a heady exhibitionist, but his legend survives because he, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore struck a powerful chord with their audience.

Collaborator checklist:

  • Identify your target audiences.
  • Clarify your company’s core narrative: How can you help those audiences?
  • Work cross-functionally with sales to develop clear content objectives.
  • Identify influencers in each market and collaborate with them on content.
  • Publish and optimize content.
  • Listen to your team members and give them credit.

4. The Crackerjack

L.A. Woman remains the Doors’ true masterpiece and belongs in every rock collection. When you’ve reached the crackerjack point of your career, you too are working on the crown jewel of your content treasury. You’ve found your groove, you drive revenue wherever you go, and you probably spend your time writing books, keynoting events, and consulting with those who can afford you.

Remember that continued success depends on continued mastery. Marketing today is a hybrid endeavor. If you let yourself become one-dimensional, rather than constantly learning and gathering skills, you can look forward to a quick retirement.

Humility and the customer reign supreme. As author Brian Solis points out, “True thought leadership starts with empathy.” At the same time, you lead the industry rather than just responding to it. You got here because of your willingness to take risks on provocative ideas and to tell truth to power – so go for it. Do a Morrison, and set the tone for an entire generation of marketers to follow. Just don’t wind up dead in a bathtub before your time, friends. That’s all I ask.

Crackerjack checklist:

  • Continue to learn from Young Guns and peers.
  • Stay up on marketing technologies:
    • Content
    • SEO
    • Social platforms
    • Email
    • Coding
    • Analytics
    • What’s next?
  • Develop your brand value based on a constantly shifting marketing mash-up.

Do those career profiles ring true for you? Do you find yourself cycling between two or more? I’m interested in your thoughts.

A key to your development as a content marketer is ongoing learning in the ever-changing field. Register today for the Content Marketing Institute webinar, New Skills for a New Era of Marketing, 2 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, April 21.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Jason Miller

Jason Miller is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn, leading the content marketing and social media strategy for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. Before LinkedIn, he was the Senior Manager, Social Media Strategy, at Marketo and spent more than 10 years at Sony Music Entertainment, developing and executing marketing campaigns around the biggest names in music. When he is not building campaigns, creating remarkable content, and tracking the ROI of social, he is winning awards as a concert photographer, singing 80's metal Karaoke, and winning at Seinfeld trivia. You can also read his #1 best-selling Amazon book Welcome to the Funnel. Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonMillerCA.

Other posts by Jason Miller

  • Rúben Couto

    Great advice: “Be active in online groups, comment on blog posts, and attend events whenever you can”

    • Jason Miller

      Thanks for the comment Ruben.

  • Scott Rust

    Hey Jason, I’m really glad I came upon this article this morning. As a recent graduate in marketing I’m one of those young guns you speak of trying to find their way within the marketplace. I’ve been building an audience on Twitter while increasing connections on LinkedIn and trying to learn as much as possible from industry leaders. I’ll definitely be looking into the book list you suggested and be referring to this article over the course of my career. Thanks for the industry insight and I look forward to future articles of this type!

    – Scott

    • Jason Miller

      Thanks for the comment Scott! Looks like you are well on your way. Don’t forget to check out Welcome to the Funnel : )

  • Tara Jantzen

    Good perspective. You should turn this into a nice webinar–bringing in more examples and success stories, tools, resources, etc. People would benefit from knowing how to best transition from one category to the next. Maybe even showcase stories from some that went midway and on to another career path as well.

  • Puranjay

    I’ve got to say, as much as I fancy myself as an ’emerging artist’, I’m still largely in the ‘young gun’ stage. Great piece Jason!

    • Jason Miller

      Thanks man!

  • Johnny Crosskey

    I think I’m somewhere between emerging and collaborator. I’m getting hired for my content-producing skill, but mostly by people who only want to stick their toe in the water of the content marketing pool.

    • Jason Miller

      That’s a good place to be at the moment. Lot’s of folks to help out in the early stages and a great way to build success stories to share. Thanks for the comment Johnny!

  • Hrishikesh Patel

    Very informative article. I think I am in the initial phase of The Young Gun 🙂

  • Artem Welker

    Thank you, Jason.

    I think sometimes we face the situation when “the young guns” try to immediately jump to “crackerjacks”, spending time on self-branding, active speakership to drive powerful attention to own person without powerful experience. I see it often.)
    And it’s relevant not only to content marketing, but to related industries as well.

  • Dan Shewan

    Great post, Jason.

    I think one of the greatest challenges for content marketers isn’t getting started, but making the transition from “Collaborator” to “Crackerjack.” Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a good working relationship with several editors, it can be difficult to take the risks necessary to demonstrate true thought leadership, especially as an in-house content marketer.

    In a recent post, I mentioned that, whether we want to admit it or not, we’re slavishly dependent on tried-and-true techniques to drive traffic. Deviating from these tactics can be very tough – the more reliable the technique, the harder it is to break away from it. A strong, instantly recognizable voice can go a long way toward helping content marketers stand out from the crowd, but it’s still a very challenging transition to make.

    Some excellent advice here, though. Thanks for sharing.

  • Clare

    So true: “It’s easier to speak with a clear, bold voice when you know what you stand for.”

  • Kelly Cavanaugh

    Hi Jason, this is a fascinating post. I love it’s angle and I love the Doors. Very wise words from you! Thank you so much for posting.

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  • Eliane

    Love it! You made me think about important topics. Thanks!