THE KEY POINTS
- Audio version available at the bottom of the page.
- A lot of people and agencies are now saying they do content strategy, so it helps to define with them exactly what they mean by that.
- Good content strategists will have people who can vouch that they brought value.
- Good content strategists will be honest about what they specialize in, and help you find resources for what they don’t.
- Good content strategists know that content and content marketing isn’t just a “marketing” thing.
All you need do to get a good idea of how thoroughly confused everyone is about the role of content strategist is read the job postings for them. They vary wildly. No two sets of job duties are the same, though the thing most seem to have in common is a set of expectations for one poor soul that’s straight off Fantasy Island. Really? You want the person who’s coming up with brilliant concepts and scripts for your videos also setting up the taxonomy for your CMS? Do you demand that your accountant be able to take out your appendix too?
That’s not to say brands don’t need a content strategist who can help bring clarity to what is often content chaos, because wow they really do. Internal staffing usually has either no designated content leader, or a thoroughly overwhelmed one who has content as “part” of their job. A look over the “How to Organize Internally for Content Marketing” post of the Content Marketing for the Very Busy can get you kicked off when you’re putting your shop together. But no question a key part of that is content strategy expertise. A lot of people and agencies are calling themselves content strategists or saying they offer content strategy these days, so it’ll be useful for you to know how to identify the real deals.
You can talk to a client who says they brought value
No, that client’s situation won’t be the same as yours, and maybe they used the strategist to execute on a very specific problem. But they’ll be able to tell you if the person walked in the door knowing their stuff, was an outstanding listener, took the time to understand the challenge, and delivered a solid plan. They might be able to share results, or they might have to admit the company failed on its part to follow through with the strategist’s plan (it happens). But you’ll at least know how professional and worthwhile the engagement was.
All the strategy, planning and tech in the world will get you straight to nowhere unless you have people who’ve proven they can attract, hold, build, and captivate audiences.
They’ve made stuff before that people liked
You lay down on an operating table and the surgeon comes in. You ask, “How many spleens have you removed doc?” And she answers, “Well, none really, but I’ve read a lot of blogs about it and I’ve been to a whole lot of spleen conferences.” Get where I’m going with this? All the strategy, planning and tech in the world will get you straight to nowhere unless you have people who know how to entertain and inform, who’ve proven they can attract, hold, build, and captivate audiences.
They’ll tell you up front what they don’t know
One of my favorite consultants came into the company where I was working at the time holding a legal pad. He said, “I’ve written down everything I know for sure about what we’re getting into here” and slid it across the table. It was blank. Your content strategist should be a partner in the truest sense of the word, meaning they must intimately grasp your unique situation before getting prescriptive (or showing off). None of us know everything, and there’s nothing wrong with the phrase “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
They’ll include tech stack, testing and analytics in the conversation
Taking that honesty about what a content strategist does and doesn’t know to the next level, there’s no way a strategist can be the deepest of experts in all the disciplines involved in content marketing, marketing automation, account based marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, content production, etc. Put your unicorn dreams out to pasture. What the right content strategist will do is have a working knowledge of the terminology and challenges of each discipline and not try to eliminate them from the conversation. If deeper expertise is needed, the strategist can align the right resources.
Just like the best companies are customer-centric, the best content strategists are audience-centric.
They won’t be the “we do that too” guys
Content strategists should have a passion for what they’re out there doing. If I tell a hot dog vendor that what I really want is spaghetti, and he says, “Oh…uh, yeah, I got that too!” then runs 3 blocks, orders take-out spaghetti and brings it back to me, does he really know spaghetti? Am I getting the best spaghetti? (Terrible example – no hot dog vendor I know would run 3 blocks). Good strategists should already have a fair idea of how they can best be of help. If you hear them pivoting their entire business model based on what you say during your initial meeting, proceed with caution.
They won’t take your business if you won’t let them help you
You’ve got to respect vendors who are willing to walk away from a deal. When it’s personally and professionally important for content strategists to know they’re being effective and productive, their joie de vivre gets put at great risk when they take on clients that really just want to have meetings and talk in circles and pretend to be dealing with content. Joe Pulizzi’s overarching theme at a recent Content Marketing World was about this ongoing desire to “noodle” with content without truly committing. Good content strategists need to see execution and results.
They’ll wrestle you tooth and nail to please the audience
Just like the best companies are customer-centric, the best content strategists are audience-centric. The best ones are experienced entertainers and journalists whose content had to compete and win, so they aren’t happy unless they’re seeing “applause” in the form of success metrics. They live to address prospect questions with great content. They’re embarrassed when the wrong users are interrupted with something irrelevant. They’re also embarrassed by self-serving, forced messaging that was made mostly to please an internal stakeholder.
Content strategy is having to spread beyond marketing and loop in other departments like sales, HR and IT.
They care about ROI and your bottom line
I can think of no other occupation than content strategist that demands the fusion of artist and corporate wonk with a straight face. Your ideal content strategist (if you can get them) loves coming up with ideas for content and producing that content and putting it out there on your digital stage. They love putting on the show, and as soon as they’re done putting on one show, they’re ready to put on another. But they also want that content to accomplish something. It’s not art for funsies. It’s important to them your satisfied content consumers turn into new customers, retained customers, or expanded revenue. They want applause from the client as much as they want it from the public.
They’ll go all kumbaya with multiple departments
The days of sales and marketing (and HR and corporate comms and PR) being able to sit in their respective silos and throw darts at each other are waning. Marketing’s being held accountable for revenue and thinking about deeper parts of the funnel. So content strategy, traditionally a function of marketing, is having to spread across other departments, like sales. What matters is getting business, so the components of the org must align on content strategy or you’ll have cylinders misfiring and leaving the driver (the prospect) stuck on the side of the road.
When you’re looking for something, it always helps to know what to look for. Now you can confidently bring on the content strategy help needed to make you a lean, mean content machine.
Once you’ve gone through the series and feel like you’re ready to talk about what sensible next steps can be taken, we’d love to talk shop with you, no commitment. Just fill out the easy form, or email Stiles, or we hear sometimes people still actually use the phone! Feel free to do that to.