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Is Your Content Marketing Career on Autopilot?


In times of rapid change, learning new skills equips you to adapt and thrive. It also helps you to sidestep programmatic thinking – the tendency to rely too much on existing knowledge and ignore signs that it isn’t as effective as it once was. Nowhere is this truer than in the field of content marketing.

An expanding body of evidence, collected from surveys and conversations with marketers from a variety of organizations, points to a growing gap between our need to plan, execute, and measure effective content marketing initiatives and our skills for doing so.

Part of the problem is a failure to recognize the need for new skills and to find the dedication necessary to develop and apply them to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s exciting opportunities.

Blinded to need for change

When it comes to solving challenges, your brain is surprisingly programmatic. To navigate each day and manage the torrent of incoming information, your brain typically operates in a stimulus-response mode – sort of an autopilot for managing recurring situations. Faced with a familiar stimulus, you tend to react in a predictable way based upon your knowledge and experiences. You don’t give much conscious thought to recurring decisions and actions.

In many cases, that’s a good thing, because your brain’s limited bandwidth is used efficiently. In other situations, especially in times of change, that autonomic mode of operation can be a big problem.

Even when you engage in creative problem solving, chances are good that you’re a creature of habit. When you brainstorm solutions for a challenge, you stop as soon as you uncover the first “right” answer. That’s human nature. While it may relieve the discomfort of uncertainty, the first right solution usually is not the most valuable one.

Don’t let repetition become mistake

How does programmatic thinking manifest itself in content marketing?

Many marketers still use the same old strategies and tactics to influence and persuade audiences to buy their products – and they experience diminishing results. You follow deeply scripted habits and ways of thinking about customers, competition, products, and marketing. You find it hard to change, especially when the tactics still seem somewhat effective even if they aren’t sexy or exciting.

Under these circumstances, you may not realize how constrained you are by your existing skills and experience. You may simply take it for granted that they are good enough. Only they’re not. That’s reflected in the data from CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research:

  • Eight percent of respondents believe they are very effective in their use of content marketing.
  • Thirty-four percent say they are challenged by gaps in knowledge and skills of their internal teams.
  • Thirty-two percent say they’re having problems locating qualified content marketing professionals – that’s more than three times as many as in 2013 (10%).

In addition, responses to an open-ended question showed a growing hunger for information on topics that include content planning and strategy, ROI measurement, marketing automation, and paid promotion.

As the best practices for content marketing strategy, execution, and measurement evolve at a rapid pace, the knowledge gap will have significant implications for businesses large and small, according to CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose:

Professional development is critical right now. The disparity in skills will continue to grow as the practice of content marketing and the strategies to operationalize it evolve. Those companies that focus on developing new skills today are likely to employ the successful marketers of the future. Those companies that maintain the status quo are likely to find their content marketing initiatives stillborn – the fate of every corporate initiative that fails to demonstrate ROI and how it contributes to the strategic direction of the organization. There is no middle ground.

Identify training needs

How do you know if your content marketing skills are up to date? Here are several questions that can help you get a clearer picture of your needs:

  • How well are my current work practices meeting my needs and those of my employer or clients?
  • Do my work processes and tasks become more or less effective over time?
  • If I am less effective, how can I learn alternative strategies and tactics?

Equip yourself with the right tools

A surgeon can’t perform an operation without the right tools. It’s no different for marketers today. Upgrading your knowledge of content marketing strategies and tactics creates an up-to-date, more extensive toolbox that you can use to solve today’s and tomorrow’s content marketing challenges. This new knowledge also can give your career a big boost, especially given the short supply of experienced content marketers.

The popular business book Who Moved My Cheese? contains an important lesson for marketers who are on the fence about committing to expanding their skill set.

This perennially popular business fable tells the story of two mice (Scurry and Sniff) and two “little people” (Hem and Haw) who live in a maze. All is going well because they have found a huge source of their favorite food – cheese. Hem and Haw even moved their houses to be closer to it. For all four characters, cheese has become the center of their lives.

What they don’t notice is that the pile of cheese is gradually getting smaller. They are devastated when one day they discover that the cheese is gone. Scurry and Sniff quickly accept the loss and go off in search of other sources. On the other hand, Hem and Haw cling to their old ways, hoping the cheese will return. They rationalize that the loss is the result of fraud or theft. They are unable to change. Meanwhile, Scurry and Sniff discover an even larger supply of cheese in a new location.

Which character are you? Do you cling to your existing knowledge of marketing strategies and practices, like Hem and Haw? Or are you prepared to adapt to change like Scurry and Sniff were – willing to explore, understand, and employ new work practices and ways of thinking? Which character do you want to be?

Want to start bridging your knowledge gap? Take these two free e-courses from the Content Marketing Institute – part of CMI’s comprehensive Online Training & Certification Program. It contains over 19 hours of must-know strategies, tactics, and best practices, delivered by leading experts. Sign up now for the free e-courses.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via