“Content is king,” as Bill Gates wrote back in 1996. “No company is too small to participate.”
It was true in 1996, and decades later, it still is. Today, an estimated 79% of B2B businesses have a content marketing strategy, and it’s hard to do business without running into a content-led growth success story like HubSpot, Shopify, Ahrefs, or Zapier.
HubSpot, for instance, grew from three customers in 2006 to a $19 billion-dollar company in 2020 — largely by publishing webinars, blog posts, and tools like their Website Grader. These free offerings solved problems for prospects, buyers and repeat customers alike.
That’s great content marketing in a nutshell.
It’s trickier than it sounds, though. Especially during a global pandemic, when prospects face unprecedented problems.
The majority — 60% — of companies that saw great success with their content marketing during 2020 attributed it to website changes and fresh content.
Or, in other words, to expert content marketers helping them adapt.
So what skills set those pros — who can lead HubSpot-style growth and pandemic pivots — apart from beginners? We talked to the experts to find out.
Meet the experts
- Julie Neumark, COO of Media & Marketing Minds and an experienced content marketer
- Annie Clark, a content marketer who cut her teeth in the luxury DTC world before switching to full-time freelance.
- Lauren Lang, a former college English instructor who said teaching effective communication to B2B SaaS companies is “really not that different” from teaching 18-year-olds
With cameos from…
- Dr. Fio Dossetto, the content expert behind the contentfolks newsletter
- Tina Donati, content marketing manager at Octane AI
- Rebecca Reynoso, senior editor at G2
What does an expert content marketing manager do?
Content marketers are more than writers.
Yes, they create relevant, consistent, and high-quality content that helps businesses build owned audiences — and nurture them into leads.
But the best content marketers can do more than craft blog posts, pitch decks and website copy. They also know how to track report analytics for different types of content, and think strategically about distribution channels.
“What sets the experts apart from the amateurs is the fact that the expert … will not take a quick look around the site [and say] that we have to do a blog and just start production,” Dossetto told MarketerHire. “The expert thinks strategy.”
Several other titles fall under the umbrella of content marketing too, including:
- Head of content
- Head of storytelling
- Content strategist
- Content marketing manager
- Content specialist
- Content strategist
These titles aren’t all synonyms, though.
“Copywriting for email marketing is a different animal from website copy, which is a different animal from ad copy, which is different from blog writing,” Neumark said.
Copywriters tend to focus on writing paid ads, web page copy, and sales enablement, while content specialists dig into free, informative content. Meanwhile, content marketers — the focus of this article — are responsible for the end-to-end process — from planning to creation to distribution.
While they can write and edit, content marketing managers are also expected to set strategy, manage freelancers, distribute their work and report on performance metrics.
8 mandatory skills for expert content marketers
Content marketers are the secret sauce many businesses use to grow their audiences, nurture leads, and reconnect with customers. Making that happen takes a lot of specialized skills.
Here’s a word cloud based on SEMRush’s analysis of 17,000 content marketing job descriptions:
Neumark, Clark, and Lang let MarketerHire in on the important skills that separate seasoned content marketers from novices.
1. Content strategy.
Your business could create unlimited content. But you don’t have unlimited content resources. So what should you prioritize?
A great content marketer will help you identify your lowest lift, highest impact content opportunities.
“Content marketers should always be strategizing and ideating,” Donati told MarketerHire.
“Content marketers should always be strategizing and ideating."
Typically, they’ll start with a thorough discovery process, according to our panel of experts — diving deep into analytics, reading your company’s existing content and interviewing clients.
The type of content they decide to create is ultimately based on a deep understanding of a brand and its audience.
“If you’re trying to get the attention of 15-year-olds, we’re going to need to look at TikTok,” Neumark said. But if you're a B2B marketer trying to reach top executives, "maybe we’re going to do a white paper.”
Expert content marketers can help you figure out what kind of content is right for your business, so you don’t get overwhelmed by infinite possibilities.
2. Project management.
Great content marketers are systems thinkers who know how to manage content ideation, production and promotion.
The best content marketers use content calendars — built in spreadsheets, or platforms like Trello and Asana — to avoid last-minute scrambles. They use these calendars to keep track of content workflows and due dates, and to store notes and keyword research.
A calendar on its own isn’t enough, though.
“Some brands have cohesive calendars and really inventive ideas,” Clark said. “But maybe they're starting on copy just a week before [publishing].”
Expert content marketers use content calendars to plan ahead, and ensure that when the time comes to publish, each piece of content has gone through editing and optimization.
They don’t just publish things as soon as they’re finished and then go back in later to catch mistakes. Though a lot of amateurs do.
3. SEO fundamentals and topic research.
How-to guides, infographics, and checklists create the most value for companies at the top of the funnel, according to a SEMrush study — and even years down the road, customers tend to find those posts via Google search.
It pays to meet customers where they are. (Literally.) Hence the importance of search engine optimization (SEO).
“A lot of companies will provide a list of SEO terms that they've already sourced,” Clark said. Novice content marketers take those keywords and stuff them into blog posts indiscriminately.
Experts think critically about the terms and the ideal prospect’s search intent to craft content that actually solves people’s problems.
It helps them navigate Google’s constantly-changing algorithm so their content gets in front of the right audiences — even if they can’t track that audience’s every move the way they once could.
4. Creative asset management.
From video and podcast creation to graphic design, expert content marketers have extensive foldering systems to keep assets straight — and collaborative skills for working with designers, writers, videographers, and more.
They make it easy to share assets and templates across teams.
Without a thorough digital asset management (DAM) system in place, companies can lose track of their assets, which is a waste of time and money.
It often happens when in-house creative teams get stretched thin. “They’re overworked, or they’re juggling a lot of different projects,” Clark explained.
Pros get maximum mileage out of their digital assets, though — without letting them fall through the cracks or overusing them.
5. Copywriting and content creation.
Top marketers agree: copywriting and content creation are different — but related — endeavors.
Both copywriting and web content creation require writing skills, but they serve different purposes. Think promoted social media post vs. blog post, or punchy headline vs. informative body copy.
Copywriting has a measurable objective: conversions. It takes a knack for writing high-conversion CTAs, targeted landing pages, and catchy slogans for digital marketing campaigns.
It helps if they understand the platform they're writing for, too. “Being able to understand the Facebook ad marketplace, Instagram ads... is super important,” Clark said.
Content writing comes into play higher in the funnel, and its objective is different: providing value to the customer, by entertaining them or solving their problems. T
To do it well, a content marketer needs an ability to empathize with an audience and communicate in a brand voice. In fact, Clark thinks of content as “an extension of the brand.”
The best content marketers can toggle between content creation and copywriting. Often, Lang said, they have experience being “the only writer around” at smaller brands.
“That’s why looking at someone’s portfolio is so important,” she said. “Can you adjust your writing style to the purpose, the context, and what the audience needs? Most good writers should be able to do that.”
Editing often gets conflated with writing. But as copywriting isn't content creation, writing and editing skills are slightly different.
- Writing means interviewing, researching, and getting everything down on paper so you can tell a comprehensive, complete story.
- Editing means adjusting structure and syntax, chopping unnecessary sections and words to showcase only the best.
“A lot of people have great ideas and can string words together on the page well,” Reynoso told MarketerHire. “But that doesn’t mean they know how to organize their thoughts.”
Top content marketers have experience writing and editing, and can ensure they publish content only when it’s ready for your audience’s eyes.
7. Blog writing.
You need to be able to write to be a content marketer. It’s the baseline skill.
“Everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — thinks they’re a writer,” said Reynoso.
“Everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — thinks they’re a writer."
Anyone can take up blogging, but very few of those writers know the ins and outs of good content that will resonate with readers. And content no one reads isn’t helpful in marketing — or anywhere.
The best content marketers are “the select few who care about tone, quality, and creating value-add assets” when they write, Reynoso said.
That should shine through in a content creator's portfolio. If you want to go the extra mile, give a writing assignment during your interview process, to see what kind of first drafts you’ll be getting.
8. Content analytics and tracking.
What’s the goal of your content and how are you going to measure success? A great content marketer can take their storytelling skills to the spreadsheets.
Once you set target KPIs, expert content marketing should be able to measure them with tools like Google Analytics and goal/tag tracking, and create monthly reports that mix qualitative information and data analysis.
Some content marketers may also be comfortable reporting download numbers, webinar attendees, etc., using CRM and ESP solutions like Hubspot.
“A lot of companies would benefit by realizing how much a content marketer can contribute strategically,” Lang said.
“A lot of companies would benefit by realizing how much a content marketer can contribute strategically."
With their understanding of analytics and tracking, they can help set a direction for content and even refine the KPIs you’ve set, so they grow with the business.
5 nice-to-have content marketer skills
Content marketers can’t do everything, and they won’t all have (or need) these talents. Still, our panel of experts noted that these non-essential skills can come in handy.
1. Sales enablement writing.
It’s a common problem in the corporate world: misaligned sales and marketing teams. Ideally, a content marketer knows how to support sales team members with pitch decks, testimonials and whitepapers.
Sales people “have a lot of great ideas, and they have a lot of things that they want,” Neumark said. “As a marketer, I can listen to their needs and figure out how marketing can support.”
Best case scenario: Content marketing and sales develop a symbiotic relationship.
“Even in just writing blog posts, I've definitely worked with the sales team, because I think they're the ones who know the product or service better than anyone,” Clark said.
"[Salespeople] know the product or service better than anyone."
Look for content marketers who have a habit of looking outside their departments and jumping on new Slack channels.
2. Script creation and voiceovers.
Video has become popular enough that Neumark called it “more of an expectation, rather than a bonus.”
A content marketer might not be a videographer, but ideally they can write scripts, manage talent and pinch hit on voiceovers — provided that makes sense for your business.
“If you’re putting together videos and you want to have your CEO talk, and then your CEO doesn’t do well on video, then don’t do it,” Lang said.
There are tons of other ways to leverage video, though: for testimonials, for example, or to promote longer blog posts.
A skilled content marketer with experience making great videos definitely comes in handy — especially because video is a growing factor in organic search rankings. (Google owns YouTube, after all!)
3. Email newsletters.
Email marketing is its own specialized field, but content marketers can support an email team by writing email newsletters or subject line copy.
This skillset overlaps with website copywriting. “Really, in the newsletter, you're trying to tease just enough to get the click, which is similar to a homepage,” Neumark said.
Some content marketers even specialize in writing email flows. They’ve honed their email subject line and body copy skills, and can “make sure those are engaging and converting,” Clark said.
4. Basic understanding of CRO.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) and content marketing aren’t the same thing, but they’re related. You want content that converts, and hiring a writer who understands CRO and content's role in the buying process can lead to an uptick in sales.
In fact, Lang argues that this should be the company’s first priority when hiring anyone with copywriting responsibilities.
“If you don’t have [CRO chops], then all of the work you’re doing with content marketing to bring people into your audience — none of that is going to matter.”
5. Reporting and interviewing.
Amateur content simply repurposes information from around the internet. Expertly crafted content is original, and delivers serious value to your target audience.
That calls for reporting and research skills, like interviewing subject matter experts and fact-checking data found online.
“What you really want is a content writer who’s more like a journalist,” Lang said.
"What you really want is a content writer who's more like a journalist."
If you want to tell a truly advanced content marketer from a rookie, ask about their views on interviewing. An expert will have experience interviewing, and they’ll get excited about sourcing original ideas from other professionals.
“The depth of information that you get from talking to someone is just far more than, ‘Hey, will you contribute a quote to this article,’” Lang said.
The future of the content marketer
Experts predict the next few years will bring more experimentation and humanity to content marketing.
“We're seeing more empathy-led marketing becoming more effective,” Lang said.
That means content marketers who can combine the above skills with sensitivity to other people’s perspectives are in high demand, she explained.
If you’re looking for a skilled content marketer who checks all of the boxes above, MarketerHire can save you hours surfing LinkedIn and do the vetting for you.
MarketerHire accepts less than 5% of applicants into its network of marketers — and can match you with an expert who fits your needs in as little as 48 hours.