What It Takes to Succeed as a Content Leader Now
The marketing landscape has never been more uncertain; but adopting specific skills and practices can expand your career opportunities. Three industry experts weigh in on steps you can take to evolve your role.
By Jodi Harris
The career landscape in our industry has always been somewhat hard to pin down.
There’s never been a single path to becoming a content marketer, let alone for ascending to a position of leadership. And with new technologies, media formats, and trends coming into view, we’re often challenged to reevaluate our priorities, redirect our skills and capabilities, or even reinvent our job descriptions to keep up with the pace of change.
Then 2020 took a few twists and turns that few had anticipated. Everything we thought we knew about our marketing priorities, our audience needs and interests, and even our career opportunities suddenly needed to be viewed through a new lens.
In their Content Marketing World 2019 presentations Tameka Vasquez, Jennifer Jordan, and Joe Lazauskas shared their views on the future of our industry and their recommendations on the skills, techniques, and practices content leaders should invest in.
I reconnected with each of these experts for an update on what’s changed, what hasn’t, and what marketers can do now to prepare their careers for the volatility ahead.
Tameka Vasquez, global marketing leader, Genpact; educator; futurist
Educator, futurist, and marketing leader Tameka Vasquez shares her thoughts on the enduring value of human creativity and the skills and training content leaders and practitioners may need to future-proof their career.
Cultivate the ability to create internal and external unity
We have to become more insightful. And that’s both for internal purposes and external purposes. Internally, you have a variety of functions across an organization that you have to be able to speak to effectively and rally behind a specific cause. And in the case of marketing, that’s how we’re going to go to market, how we’re going to appeal to consumers, how we’re going to sell this product or service. That requires a level of insight into how all those moving parts connect.
Externally it’s the exact same thing. We have to understand that there are increasing complexities and increasing nuances – and it’s a good thing. So, we need to lean into and develop insights from that.
View change as a motivating and uniting force, not a limiting one
The radical changes we’re seeing in response to COVID-19 and the microscope on social inequalities exacerbated by this pandemic have deepened my belief in this profession and its unique skillset. Last year, I said we have to demonstrate our insightfulness and rally around a specific end goal. I said we have to be imaginative and perpetual students of business, culture, and society so we can tell stories of the future. I believe that so much more now. This is the driving force of my profession.
Content leaders should really take advantage of this moment in time to be stewards to the future. We have a chance to use uncertainty to fuel purposeful urgency, says @tameka_vasquez via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
COVID-19 has put marketers at center stage in various ways – as much as we often assume a position behind the scenes. We very quickly went from technology being part of our toolset to technology now being our only vehicle. And the hard skills of creating a technology-first communication ecosystem are also now met with the soft skills of empathy and normalization. And if silos existed before, they’re going to have to get dismantled now as marketers, crisis communication teams, business continuity planning teams, and the like share common interests more than ever before.
Be a steward of the future – for your brand and the world at large
We are buzzing about the idea of finding “a new normal,” but frankly, none of us knows what that is just yet. And the self-aggrandizement of having distributed workforces, and remote collaboration, and virtual events, and security thereof “all figured out” doesn’t serve the purpose we set out to (achieve). It’s more useful to be present, to be listening, to be positioning yourself and your organization as conscious and trustworthy.
Budding marketers have such a unique world to conquer, and they absolutely can, largely as digital natives. But whether this is your first job or your second decade on the job, we have to really take advantage of this time – not just to sell our products and services, but to be stewards to the future. We can provide experiences and become relational, moving away from being transactional. We can scale and analyze rapidly and respond to trends unfolding across the globe. We can integrate IT systems so information and knowledge can move seamlessly through the organization and appropriately and safely outwards. We’ve always had the ability to do this; but right now, we have a chance to use uncertainty to fuel purposeful urgency.
Joe Lazauskas, head of marketing, Contently
In his presentation at CMWorld, Joe Lazauskas, author of The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You, shared the traits he sees as most critical for achieving success as our industry evolves:
- Deep empathy: understanding your audience’s feelings, challenges, and day-to-day needs
- Intellectual humility: being open to new experiences and information, respecting others’ viewpoints, and being willing to revise initial views when they conflict with new information
- Data-driven creativity: partnering with analysts and building systems that will help us find valuable insights for creating data-driven stories, optimizing content, and knowing when we find the right story to tell.
Learning to tell stories that put the audience first and can compete with the best stories from media companies is an incredibly valuable mindset and skillset for future content leaders to cultivate, says @JoeLazauskas via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Here’s what Joe says he currently sees as essential skills for preserving and deepening the content marketing leaders’ role in the empathetic, humble, and data-driven model he envisions:
There’s a reason that you’re seeing a new generation of marketing leaders rise up who come from a journalism and editorial background. People who go into journalism don’t do it for the money; they do it for the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives with stories that matter. They learn how to tell stories that put the audience first and compete with the best stories from media companies. That’s an incredibly valuable mindset and skillset.
For those of us that have left full-time journalism for content marketing, the challenge is to stay true to those ideals and instincts while also understanding the action you’re trying to inspire your audience to take and how that helps the business you work for. You need the data-driven chops to tell a story of how the very good, non-promotional content you’re making is worth the investment.
So, if you come from an editorial background, you need to keep your editorial chops fresh – continue to freelance as a journalist, write books, make stuff – while learning the business side of marketing. And if you come from a business background, hire people who understand the craft of storytelling and work to hone those skills on your own.
Jennifer Jordan, vice president and head of content (US), Babbel
In our initial conversation, I asked Jennifer Jordan, Babbel’s vice president and head of content, for her thoughts on the qualities of a great content leader, what to look for when hiring team members, and how to empower them to succeed at their jobs. Here, she also weighs in on whether the challenges we’ve recently experienced have changed how she views her role.
Be humble, empathetic, and supportive
I think the first thing that comes to mind is being humble – making sure that your team feels comfortable communicating with you – and having that ability to know when you can’t do something on your own or you need to delegate a task to others on your team. This naturally leads into being compassionate and empathetic, as well.When hiring, content leaders should emphasize creativity and prioritize the ability to think critically over achieving technical proficiency, says @jenastelli via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
There’s also this idea I aspire to achieve: being “a servant leader.” The idea is that you’re working to unblock things for your team so your team can get things done – enabling them and empowering them to do their jobs successfully.
In hiring, emphasize creativity and critical thinking over technical proficiency
The most important thing someone can learn is critical thinking – that’s what’s going to serve you well as a content marketer. College often does that for people, but you don’t have to go to college to develop it. Most marketing skills are changing so quickly that you have to learn on the job. That’s why I look at portfolios of work. You don’t have to go to [college or university] to have a portfolio of really amazing content you’re creating. You can develop that passion for content on your own.
Trust your process to help you transcend difficult circumstances
The major challenges we’re facing right now as a country haven’t changed how I view my role as a content leader. You must lead with empathy and by example – in the face of a pandemic and every other day.
If you’ve created channels for your team to communicate with you and with each other, empowered them to do their work, and set clear expectations around what they need to accomplish, you will thrive in any situation.
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