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become a content craftsman

Long ago, copywriting legend John Carlton told me that the best copywriters didn’t just master their own discipline; they also mastered related disciplines — like marketing, SEO, and negotiations.

This is true for content marketers, as well.

A content marketer is a master of many disciplines. But what exactly does that mean? What sort of disciplines and skills are we talking about? And what types of knowledge and experience are necessary to be a content marketer?

I’ll answer those questions and more, but before I do, I’ll first loosely define the term “content marketer.”

Then, I’ll tell you how I uncovered a successful content marketer’s five essential skills.

A working definition of “content marketer”

A content marketer is responsible for the planning, creating, and sharing of valuable content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content the content marketer shares depends upon what he sells. In other words, he educates people so that they know, like, and trust him enough to do business with him.

If a content marketer is responsible for marketing content, then let’s look at the classic definition of marketing, which involves the four P’s:

  • Identify, select, and develop a product
  • Set the price
  • Select the distribution channel to reach the customer where she is (place)
  • Plan and execute a promotion strategy

Using this model, content would be the product. The price could range from an email address (to receive blog updates, join an email newsletter) to payment for access to a content library, ebook, or online training course.

The place would be your blog/website, email list, and social media channels. And promotion would be how you share the product.

A content marketer is someone who understands how to position and promote content so that it reaches the widest audience and converts those people from prospects to subscribers to customers — and keeps them coming back.

Now, the art of content marketing has been with us for a while, but an actual person who is a content marketer is a rather new phenomenon.

To put this list together, I had to draw from my own experience, the wisdom of content marketing authorities, and I even reviewed about a dozen job descriptions for content marketing positions.

Let’s explore five of the common core skills of content marketers.

1. Storytelling

First and foremost, a content marketer has a nose for a good story. She knows that a great marketing story involves a hero, mentor, goal, obstacle, and moral. And she can uncover her own business’s story — and even help other organizations do the same.

This is important because, as C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley write in their book Content Rules, “[Good content] creates value by positioning you as a reliable and valuable source of vendor-agnostic information.”

In other words, stories help an audience get to know you, like you, and, ultimately, trust you — before you sell them anything.

The content marketer studies the storytelling techniques of movie screenwriters, novelists, and short story writers, so that when she writes content (see skill number three below to learn more), she knows how to lift prospects out of their ordinary worlds and invite them to consider a journey that ultimately leads to a transaction.

One storytelling method we are quite fond of around here is the Hero’s Journey. It’s content marketing that educates your audience through the storytelling arc.

2. Strategy

A great content marketer is also deliberate: she understands and communicates the overarching objective of an organization’s content marketing strategy.

In addition, a professional content marketer will set editorial goals. She might:

The content marketer will understand the need for buyer personas and create them, if necessary.

She will know how to audit a website in order to fix any broken, old, and neglected content.

And let’s not forget that all content marketers have exceptional research skills.

Want to take a closer look at that last point?

As Ann Handley advises in her book, Everybody Writes:

Think before you ink means finding your key point by asking three questions about every bit of content you’re creating.

  • Why am I creating this?
  • What is my key take on this subject?
  • Why does it matter to the people I am trying to reach?”

I’ll add a fourth: Who are you writing to? Know your audience. That is research at its essence.

While it won’t be her chief skill set, an adept content marketer can also manage a content project through planning to execution to promotion.

People skills, like empathy, listening, storytelling, and negotiating, help her navigate those tasks.

3. Writing content

Often, content marketers will not only direct strategy and storytelling, but they’ll also be responsible for writing content for blogs/websites, ebooks, and infographics.

It pays to be a remarkable web writer — someone with essential traits like an:

  • Average understanding of SEO
  • Average understanding of usability
  • Above average understanding of social media (see skill number four below to learn more)
  • Outstanding understanding of copywriting (yes, copywriting is different from content marketing)

This is important because she will more than likely also be the one writing articles for other websites as a guest posting strategy.

A content marketer will master writing magnetic headlines, selecting old articles to update and republish, and reimagining old content in new formats (like flipping an infographic or blog post into a SlideShare).

She will naturally set and maintain the editorial tone and voice.

Since she’s an excellent storyteller, you might find her reading a selection of unorthodox books to help hone her craft and inform her creativity.

4. Social media

Content marketers understand social media.

Some content marketers might even make this their speciality, meeting the rising demand in the number and variety of different platforms. But most content marketers master one or two platforms and have a basic understanding of others.

See, a content marketer likes to tinker with the new shiny social media objects that come out. This allows her to evaluate a new platform’s potential and then translate this potential to the proper client.

She’ll understand which type of content works best on each platform. For example, Twitter is good for promoting new content. Facebook is good for engaging your audience in discussions and surveys. Pinterest is excellent for sharing images.

Of course, a smart content marketer is also aware of the dangers of digital sharecropping — and not afraid to warn clients.

In addition, “don’t waste time delivering content where your audiences don’t actually want you to be,” writes Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, authors of Content Strategy for the Web.

Know where your audience hangs out. And get their permission to interact.

5. Subscription assets

Content marketers understand the need for building subscription assets, including email subscriber lists and private community memberships.

Not only will they be responsible for writing the content for these subscription models, but they may also need to have a firm understanding of how each one works — or even have the ability to manage, measure, and monitor each model.

For example, a small business might assign the responsibility of writing, editing, uploading, monitoring, and measuring the emails for their email marketing campaigns to just one content marketer.

So, dear content marketer, prioritize wisely. Otherwise, you’ll spread yourself too thin.

Stay one step ahead of your customers’ desires

Let me end with a quote from Catherine the Great, who took sole control of Russia in 1762 after deposing her husband, Emperor Peter III:

“One must govern in such a way that one’s people think they themselves want to do what one commands them to do.”

According to Robert Greene in his book The 48 Laws of Power, “to do this she had to be always a step ahead of their desires and to adapt to their resistance.”

Now, while Catherine the Great is talking about governing citizens, the core concept here is leadership. Thus, I think this advice applies equally well to the content marketer, who is, in a sense, a leader — a leader of content.

As a leader, she must champion the cause of content and then rally resources to create that content — and ultimately, create content that her audience wants.

Are you up to the task?

So, content marketer, keep this in mind: we must be one step ahead of our customers’ desires, and we achieve this by building an audience before creating a product.

And we must adapt to their resistance by becoming masters of empathy, which means understanding their hopes and fears. Stepping into their shoes.

Are you up to the task?

By the way, any characteristics of a content marketer you would put on this list?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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