Human hand shaking hands with a digital hand coming out of a laptop screen.


The Bold Choice to Be human

We’re rushing headlong into the generative AI revolution.

That means we aren’t taking time to think. The first-in-wins pace of innovation doesn’t allow for that.  

And we’re making assumptions about its quality, effectiveness, and ability to slash the costs of humans with no repercussions.

  • “It’s here.” Got it, not arguing that.
  • “It will only get better.” Got it, not arguing that.
  • “Companies are already using it and seeing obvious new efficiencies being created.” Got it, not arguing that.

But as we’re getting hyper-excited about generating mass content at scale and firing creatives, let’s take at least a second to ask ourselves if we really believe human interaction is largely expendable.

It’s not that human connections can’t be made digitally. It’s a very poor substitute for the real thing, but it can be done.

What can’t be done is for human connection to happen when one of the two humans isn’t one.

Yes, people are “falling in love” with AI-generated avatars. But it’s a product. It’s right up there with people who want to marry their cars.  


What can’t be done is for human connection to happen when one of the two humans isn’t one.

So in this age of inhuman, why should brands zig as the world zags and strive to be as human as possible?

Because customers are starving for connection to and engagements with their own kind. And that’s now getting harder to find.

The list of current catalogued epidemics is vast: loneliness, isolation, helplessness, depression, anxiety. These are not the things better algorithms are remedies for.

One wonders how we even got here. Weren’t Millennials and Gen Z the generations espousing inclusion and authenticity? Yet their contribution has turned out to be keeping people at arms-length and deep fakes.  

The cliched response to any questioning of AI has become, “We’re still doing authentic human communication. AI is just a tool that helps us do that better!” As if that’s a “get out thinking deeper about it free” card.    

Your human customers want realness, relatability, real human experiences, real human help, real and original opinions, and to feel a caring connection.  

Instead, we put up walls designed to keep customers away from our people. We offer outdated knowledge bases that rarely cover the things they need help with. We offer no means of contact with human customer service. And we’ve moved from vague chatbots to smarter AI chatbots that still, after awkward, time-wasting interactions, call for a person to truly understand the problem and offer immediate resolution.  


The cliched response to any questioning of AI has become, “We’re still doing authentic human communication. AI is just a tool that helps us do that better!” As if that’s a “get out thinking deeper free” card.

As for the content swamping the web, we’ve gone from quality-always to quantity-only.

What’s of real value to human readers and viewers?

  • Expert insights earned from real life experience
  • Real-world customer experiences
  • Personal opinions
  • True thought leadership (not regurgitating what everyone else has already said)

All stuff AI can’t (at least not yet) do, because AI has not lived a human life.    

I’d suggest the human element is not only still vitally important, it’s now a golden differentiator opportunity. Because without it, the kind of connections that actually mean something to your customers can’t be made.

I’m with everyone else, AI is utterly amazing. But it’s designed to be, at its core, a shortcut. We may be taking a shortcut around the very things we don’t want to avoid.



content marketing writer working on laptop and notebook


  • If you treat storytelling as just another content marketing buzzword, you’re going to miss out.
  • Do you know in your heart your content is adding to the noise? That it needs…something?
  • There are huge differences between storytelling writers from the entertainment and journalism worlds, and the marketing writers we keep to entry-level because gee, anybody can write, right?


Why You Should Care: Because writing is more than making some words happen. It’s how you communicate and thus, how you’ll be perceived and whether you’ll be understood. To get writers that will really matter, you’ll need to know what makes a great one.


“Storytelling.” Blah blah blah. Sadly, it’s become the latest in a long line of content marketing buzzwords that seemingly gets loaded into every blog post and convention speech. As happens with most buzzword flavors of the month, it’s inserted casually, a fully expected and accepted cliché, with little hint as to the real power behind it.


Why did we start saying that term so much? What is it that we’re trying to convey when we whip it out of our verbal holster? It arose from the notion that using content marketing to aggressively sell wasn’t as smart as building trust using content that deepens the understanding of and connection to the brand. “Storytelling” became shorthand for “something other than salesy copy.”


Fair enough. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that. There’s evolutionary science that shows why humans organize and process information in narrative form. There’s brain chemistry science that shows the impact of emotional triggers…IF you can trigger them through story.


What are your thoughts as a communications leader about such things as story, narrative, message, emotion, entertainment and journalism? For many, that’s all just fluff that doesn’t warrant serious consideration because there’s no appreciation for the difference it can make. You’re writing the same stuff the same way, you’ve just started calling it storytelling because well…that’s what you say now. For others, you look at the copy your organization keeps cranking out across your many channels, and you know in your heart it’s mostly just pablum that adds to the noise and will goose egg with the desired audience. You know something’s missing.


Where exactly is effective communication NOT necessary? How many times do we have to watch non-existent or poor communication drive teams and projects off the rails?

What’s missing is real, experienced, professional writing talent. The ones who know there are essential elements of story that must be present for content to matter. The ones who know there are goals for storytelling and expected outcomes for the successful kind. The ones who have studied the tactics developed through eons of writing for the page and screen. Such writers are needed not just in marketing, but across every aspect of the org. Because where exactly is effective communication NOT necessary? How many times do we have to watch non-existent or poor communication drive teams and projects off the rails?


But for now, let’s focus on marketing, specifically content marketing. What is the difference between the kind of marketing writers we tend to hire now and the storytellers that give you a decent shot at attention in our uber-crowded content world?


  1. Pull vs. Push

Marketing writers primarily concern themselves with such things as selling and branding. After all, they answer to a marketing director that is probably increasingly tasked with driving revenue. Their job is to talk about the brand and convince.

Storytelling writers understand that if they do their job right, branding will be stronger than ever. The prospects will have a firmer grasp on who the brand really is, as if it were a human character. It will be clear to the prospect how having a relationship with that character can make their life richer. It’s pull vs. push. They will have been moved to act on the CTA driven by their own motivations, not the brand’s needs.


  1. The Things That Can’t Be Taught

Marketing writers are often commoditized as low paid, entry level role-fillers. That is a mighty peculiar way for a company to view the role of writing considering the entirety of what prospects learn about you, see in you, and hear from you is in their hands. Go ahead. Have the greatest product, value proposition, staff and technology you want. Nothing can tank it all faster than your public gateway being someone who’s just cutting their teeth. That’s crazy.  

Storytelling writers are professionals whose intrinsic value is in the experiences of past work and experimentation, plus the soft skills of audience empathy and maintaining the audience POV. It’s almost hard to even put a price on that, as empathy is a natural trait that’s quite hard to teach.


Storytelling writers are obsessed with the audience. All of the reward is in being able to attract them, move them and matter to them.

  1. Let’s Be Clear Who We Work For

Marketing writers go through their average day mostly trying to please bosses and internal stakeholders. That works if all you care about as the boss is loving your own content regardless of what the audience thinks.

Storytelling writers are obsessed with the audience. That’s who they’re looking out for. That’s who they’re working to please. They are the stakeholders. All of the reward is in being able to attract them, move them and matter to them. Beyond that, they also care about earning and building audience trust as a content publisher.


  1. Seeing You Through the Audience’s Eyes

Marketing writers are highly susceptible to echo chambers, internal verbiage, and high-minded industry jargon that tries to win with complexity and logic. They’re insiders…which isn’t a good thing.

Storytelling writers maintain an outsider’s perspective. They see the brand and the message through the audience’s eyes. They win with clarity, brevity and emotion – which is after all what motivates human beings to take an action. 


  1. There are No Captive Creatives

Despite technology and modern ways of working, marketing writers are largely still expected and willing to suffer spirit-consuming commutes, sit in their assigned area for designated creative hours, serve as warm bodies in unproductive meetings, and generally participate in corporate culture theater. The signal is quite clear they are not trusted, nor is what they do understood.

Storytelling writers are pragmatic free spirits. Their professionalism and need for full understanding will have them gladly attend any meeting or collaboration session. But they also need to live real lives and be wherever inspiration might strike. They know that to deliver their very best work and be of maximum value, they need to work where/when they’re most productive.


  1. Writing is Not a Nice-to-Have Bonus Skill

Marketing writers typically have to also be something else. Writing is PART of their job. You’ll often even see UX designers who are expected to provide all their own copy to populate the boxes and pages they’ve designed. It’s another symptom of the dismissive disrespect the craft of writing and communication often encounters in our organizations. Writing is easy, anybody can do it and it just kinda happens by magic, right?

Storytelling writers see nothing else as being more important than the message, the narrative, the characters and the words. Yes, they work very well with other practitioners with an eye toward final product. And yes, many storytelling writers will have additional skills to offer. But they’ll always see the ideas and the writing as the foundation of the house.


Storytelling writers know some ideas are worth fighting for and that encouraging creative chances is how you bring real value as opposed to taking orders that pursue “fine” over “fantastic.”

  1. Tom Petty Was Wrong: I WILL Back Down

Marketing writers will normally acquiesce when challenged. They pretty much have to. They serve at the pleasure (mercy) of stakeholders even if those stakeholders do not have the entertainment and journalism experience to render qualified judgment on what will and won’t please audiences. Internal stakeholders know what they want, make the assumptive leap that external audiences will feel the same way…and authority over the creative is thus asserted.

Storytelling writers will always fight for the impactful, the different, the creative, the interesting and the compelling. They know what their content will be out there competing against for time and attention (Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, etc.) They know some ideas are worth fighting for and that encouraging creative chances is how you bring real value as opposed to taking orders that pursue “fine” over “fantastic.”


The Challenge: You’re counting on telepathy and it’s not working. The value of your company and product is in your head, but it has to be communicated to others. You have to get them as aware and impressed as you are. Of course you love your own company. Maybe you’re proud of any content your company makes, like a parent putting a child’s artwork on the fridge because hey, their kid made it. But just making something isn’t the job is it? You want to make something that matters. Which is why who you get to craft the narrative MATTERS. Is it possible your audience has been shrugging its shoulders because you’ve been settling for marketing copy? Do you know what it means to make “storytelling” something more than a buzzword?


And oh yeah, when was the last time you read something about your brand that gave you an emotional rush?


Computer graphic representation of the brain


  • Changing minds. That’s what we do and it’s a lot to ask.
  • When you show up, you’re triggering the “fight or flight” response.
  • The public, and their brains, have mastered filtering out what you’re trying to force on them.


You know that in content marketing, you’re in the business of changing minds, right? Or at least steering minds in a direction they weren’t necessarily going until you came along.


Take a minute to appreciate how difficult it is to achieve such a thing. Now, more than ever, we as human beings seem to be gorilla glued to our existing beliefs tighter than ever. To such an extent that we flare up, go on the defensive, and adopt a fully antagonistic posture toward anyone who dares try to make us contemplate an alternative point of view.


That’s you. You’re the threat to existing beliefs, practices and habits. When you show up with your content marketing, you trigger the fight or flight instinct that causes prospects to run away/hide from you/avoid you at all costs, or to aggressively resist everything you’re trying to tell them.


The verdict of content in 2019 was the creation of a firestorm of noise and clutter. Just to say we did.

To make matters worse, into this environment come the many marketers who have crafted their content without appreciating the real task at hand. It is largely self-serving, pleasing mostly to internal stakeholders, packed with marketing-speak and jargon, unnecessarily complex in its messaging, non-captivating, unhelpful, and selling hard via feature details.


This has sadly become the norm, not the exception. The verdict of content in 2019 has been the creation of a firestorm of noise and clutter. Just to say we did. 2020 will not support that. Just as the public artfully developed the coping skill of ad blindness, they are now well down the road in developing instinctive content filtering. Human brains are making lightning fast assessments. Will reading or watching or listening to this add value to my life, or is it a threat to my time and status quo?


Statue "The Thinker"


We are marketing to human brains. We are communicating with human beings. So if the task of content marketing is to change or steer the thinking of prospects, maybe we should get serious about learning how “thinking” works.


Why limit ourselves to being left brain analytical or right brain creative?

For instance, do you consider yourself left brained or right brained? If so, you’re selling yourself short, because we’re all whole-brained beings. Our brain hemispheres are connected by a corpus collosum and info flies back and forth and gets processed on both sides. Yes, there are differences in how we prefer to think, but both hemispheres are at work. Why limit ourselves to being left brain analytical or right brain creative? The most effective users of the brain are open to tapping into both.


Lesson: In our content marketing, there is no valid excuse for leaving out the creative in deference to the logical argument you’re trying to make. Likewise, there is no valid excuse for leaving out clear and convincing messaging in deference to overly vague and esoteric design. Generate sound arguments delivered in compelling and entertaining ways. You are capable of both.


Next, there’s the belief that emotional people tend to not be as rational as cool or unemotional people. As any Spock fan knows, emotions are seen as a primitive trait in need of overcoming in pursuit of pure logic. As with our brain hemispheres, it’s a mistake to approach this as an either/or proposition. Emotion and reason actually team up frequently and effectively. Think about the last big, important decision you had to make. You had facts, but they weren’t enough to give you total peace, were they? Why not? Because your gut was giving you anxiety about the choice ahead. We have instinct for a reason.


Lesson: It’s a frequent, colossal mistake to think content marketing doesn’t need to move people emotionally. Everything we’ve ever done in our lives was influenced to some degree by emotion. That’s why storytelling was such a buzzword in 2019. Often misunderstood, storytelling isn’t about writing the About tab on your website. It’s about putting people in an emotional state of mind. You can give prospects the facts, but that’s less than half the game. The ability to trigger emotion is what lights the fire.


Children working together on a project.


Lastly, we’ve heard many times that we all have a method of learning that suits us best. Maybe you regard yourself as a “visual learner,” or an “auditory learner,” or a “tactile and kinetic learner.” Do boys learn differently from girls? Do girls learn better when separated from boys? Is a male or female teacher best? Structured vs. unstructured learning? What time should school be? Should there be more than one recess? We’ve been having these debates for decades, mostly in pursuit of the best “one size fits all” approach possible, knowing that “one size fits all” is absurd.


Your job is not to just make “something,” check the box and move on. It’s much more difficult than that.

Along comes Dan Willingham and people like him whose research consistently showed that while we all have preferences for how we like to get info, that doesn’t mean we learn less if info is presented in ways we don’t prefer. In fact, we learn different things from the many ways that info can be presented. Maybe I picked up something in the audio version of a book I didn’t catch when I read it. Maybe I highlighted something in the book that escaped me while listening to it.


Lesson: One content marketing format does not fit all. Scale your material and present it across formats and channels so your audience can choose their preference. Or better yet, they will experience the information several ways for deeper understanding and retention. Help them maximize what they can learn from you. And – as mentioned before – different formats can be used to drive emotions in different ways.


Your job is not to just make “something,” check the box, please the boss and move on. It’s much more difficult than that. Your job is to court human beings, make them feel something, don’t be a threat, make your value to their lives obvious, give them a great show in many different ways, and allow them to willingly want you vs. being talked into you. This is what content marketers who take time to understand how our brains work and how humans really behave pursue.  

Hand of a man reading a newspaper in the park


  • There’s an odd reluctance to admit there’s no content plan or that content isn’t “working”
  • Powerful content requires vision from an internal leader
  • There are numerous gains to be had from getting clarity around content
  • No one expects you to be staffed with entertainers and journalists, so there’s no shame in reaching out to some


Still haven’t contemplated bringing on a content strategy & production resource? Maybe it’s because you’ve got it totally figured out, you’re firing on all cylinders, everyone knows the plan and messaging, and your content has your audience doing exactly what you want them to do. Or…it could be the fog is so thick around the issue of content you’re just groping around trying to get by another day.


Circle the items below to see if your brand has anything to gain from getting clarity around content.


  • There’s not a company-wide understanding of what is meant by “content”.


  • There’s no knowledge of who in the organization or which department is in charge of content.


  • Content is run simultaneously and in different ways in different departments.


  • There is no C-suite executive who understands the importance of content or is championing it.


  • Content is placed in the hands of multiple ad-hoc agencies who frankly, are most invested in securing larger engagements.


  • No one is sure how to get content made.


  • Nobody seems to know, or care, what kind of content customers and prospects want to get.



  • All content being made is safe, sterile, corporate, and compromised to satisfy a cast of executives instead of the customer.


  • There is no documented content strategy. You’re winging it and hoping to get lucky.


  • There is no serious budget for content. You still think it should be free and magic.


  • There is no acceptance that in 2017, content IS communication. So if you’re not dealing in content, you’re failing to communicate externally and internally, with all the chaos that brings.


  • For some reason, all the truly creative employees you have are deeply frustrated and unhappy.


  • You don’t think video is a modern-day business mandate. You’re waiting for those YouTube and Facebook Video fads to just go away.


  • You don’t believe that content can be made cost effectively at scale .


  • You don’t believe that “less and more effective” is better than “make lots more lame stuff.”


  • You don’t know WHY you should make content; that there should be a specific mission and purpose behind every asset.


  • There’s no understanding of how to tell if a content asset is successful or not.


  • You have a generalized anxiety that your competitors’ content is much better than yours.


  • Nobody knows who your execs are because they have not put themselves out there via content as leaders in their space.


  • Staff does not retain or react to a great deal of the internal comms pushed to their inboxes.


  • The business press isn’t covering you.


  • You’ve actually been pretty happy with your content efforts, but there’s a next level you’re not quite sure how to get to.


  • You throw your customers and prospects into FAQ, Knowledge Base hell instead of quickly responding with a content asset(s) that directly addresses what they’re looking for, and in their preferred format.


  • All you’re doing is listing your features and selling stuff. You’re not crafting or telling your story…which is what humans connect to.


  • You’ve invested big money in marketing technologies and platforms, but it’s just sitting there collecting dust because you don’t have the content strategy or production to power it. You’ve got the veins but no blood.


  • Your social media channels are sharing others’ content, because you don’t have much of your own.


If you’re seeing circles even when you close your eyes, don’t feel bad. Like any other business function, content creation and emotive storytelling is a specialized craft. Unless you’re staffed with entertainers and journalists (and few brands are), it’s not fair to expect a lot of entertaining and informative output. What you can expect is MORE ad hoc marketing material. So whether it’s us or another qualified content strategy and communications planning consultancy, it’s healthy to at least have the conversation about your current content state of affairs . 


In a bad fog, seeing even a little light can be pretty encouraging.


Makeup being applied to a young woman

The Key Points

  • Sellers aren’t ready for the interest prospects show
  • The burden to get clear and usable answers should not be on the customer
  • Hyper-relevant video content can be repeat viewed for total understanding and passed on without fear of misrepresentation 
  • Lack of content strategy and powerful content assets might be what keeps pumping the brakes on your sales process



On a bright clear day, most likely in the 60’s, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman rang the doorbell of a pleasant suburban home. The lady of the house opened the door (this was in a time when people actually did that vs crouching under the window and peeking out until the person went away).


The man introduced himself and explained he was selling vacuum cleaners. Then he just stared at her.  Miracle of miracles, she said she was actually in need of a new vacuum cleaner!  Problem was, she noticed he had no vacuum cleaners with him.


The salesman said him having the vacuum cleaner wasn’t really necessary. He also had no brochures with info about the product for her.  He also didn’t have any testimonials from satisfied customers.


The woman said, “Well, I guess you’ll have to just tell me the details and features.”  The man politely explained he didn’t really expect anyone to show any real interest, so all he prepared for was to say his name and tell people he was selling vacuum cleaners.  He said he could take a stab at remembering the features but couldn’t guarantee he’d get everything right.


The salesman then asked if she was ready to hear the price.  She replied, “You poor fellow. That hardly even matters now does it?” as she slowly closed the door.   


Absurd story, and yet a great many modern day organizations are marching right out into the marketplace in no better shape than our salesman.  Interested parties want to research and gather the info they need to make a buying decision, but the sellers just aren’t ready for that.  They’ve put together a little song and dance for the initial engagement, but after that, the burden seems to fall on the prospect to battle their way to the answers they need vs enjoying a sales operation that moves them smoothly through to closing.


“90% of sales-enabling materials created by marketing never get used. Salespeople spend 30 hours a month creating their own!”

A lot of marketing and sales departments have been regarding sales content strategy to drive pipelines as something that can be put off or skipped.  Marketing makes whatever, sales doesn’t use it, and that’s if they even know it’s there at all. According to the American Marketing Association, 90% of sales-enabling materials created by marketing never get used. Instead, salespeople spend 30 hour a month creating their own!  With utter confusion and guesswork going on around content production, how can you possibly be ready for a prospect that’s seriously interested?  All you’ll show them is you either don’t have or aren’t proud of the answers they’re looking for, or can’t communicate competently.  It’s a trust buster.


It should be no secret to the sales side of the house what questions prospects ask. No secret what info they’re looking for.  Yet we force them Indiana Jones-style into the jungle of our overstuffed websites and cryptic FAQs. The burden is on them to dig up the treasure.  What if instead, the sales rep sent them a video that directly and only addressed their question?  What if your sales content arsenal had videos covering all the questions you know you’re going to get asked?  What if that content was ready for every step of the buyer journey?  A phone conversation with a sales rep turns to vapor when it’s done.  Will they remember what was said?  Can they accurately convey that to their stakeholders?  Video answers are vetted, consistent and factually error-free.  The prospect can watch repeatedly for total understanding.  Internal champions can share them at higher levels with nothing lost in translation. 


“That kind of sales content ecosystem really pumps the brakes on a sales process.”

A lot of B2B orgs truly believe they’re in good shape because they have “a lot” of content.  But because it wasn’t made and isn’t anchored around an overarching plan to gratify prospects and move them toward a confident decision, prospects are left trying to make sense of random, disconnected, contradictory, barely coherent messaging that’s also – and this is the worst offense of all – boring.  That kind of sales content ecosystem really pumps the brakes on a sales process.


IDG Enterprise , publishers of CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, ITworld and Network World, did their 2017 Customer Engagement research and found some worthwhile nuggets about content needs and usage in the tech platform purchasing space.


IT decision-makers (ITDMs) HAVE to make good decisions, but they’re getting little to no help from vendors.  Here are some fun facts (hardly fun for the prospects suffering through this) from the study:


  • 85% of ITDMs are more likely to consider a vendor that educates them all the way through the decision making process.
  • They download 7 assets on average during their consideration.
  • 79% of ITDMs think negatively overall of a vendor if they can’t find content they need.
  • 74% notice, and like, a consistent omnichannel experience.
  • Why do ITDMs respond to a sales rep? 56% say because valuable content was shared.
  • 60% of the communications between ITDMs and vendor sales reps are email or online based.  It’s a big, impersonal reading assignment.
  • ITDMs respond to video, and 95% watch tech-related videos.
  • ITDMs want product demos in video format.

“They’re TRYING to move through your funnel…but it’s clogged at your own hands.”

The problem is not complete lack of interest on the buyer side.  They need solutions to the challenges they’re currently facing.  What they don’t need is another full time job just figuring you out.  They’re TRYING to move through your funnel…but it’s clogged at your own hands.  On the vendor side, organizations are swirling in confusion and chaos around communications and content…with a high price to pay since it’s the linchpin to higher sales and customer retention.


Why is this chaos and confusion allowed to continue when it’s directly striking the bottom line?  There’s a lack of seriousness around sales content planning.  There’s some weird assumption that effective communication happens naturally and doesn’t require thought.  There’s the assumption and hope that our customers will somehow figure out what we’re trying to say.  And content is NOT in the hands of people who know how to entertain and inform, emotionally moving the audience toward taking a desired action.  Address these things and the reward is a customer gratifying, trust-building sales machine.


Close up of a woman in a colorful wig wearing sunglasses covering her mouth with her hand



  • Bringing on a content strategist should be easier if you know what to look for.
  • Content is important, but the right use of it is the real ballgame.
  • You don’t want people who latched onto a buzz phrase, you want people who’ve made stuff
  • Telling yourself you don’t need this expertise will doom you to ongoing content chaos.



What does “content strategy” even mean anymore? Ask 10 people and you’d likely get 10 different answers depending on the role and agenda of the person being asked. With the pile-on to this buzz phrase in full effect, we hesitate to even use it.

That doesn’t mean brands don’t need a clear plan around what content they should make, for who, and why, because wow they really do. It’s just that the term “strategy” brings with it a lot of assumptions, and of course, vagueness. Yes content is critically important, but the right use of it, that’s the real ballgame. So if you do bring on a content strategist, how do you know they’re the real deal vs a buzz phrase chaser?

1. A client of theirs will say they brought value
That client’s issues won’t be the same as yours, but they will be able to tell you if the person listened, knew their stuff, grasped the challenges, and delivered a deliberate plan. Maybe they’ll tell you the results that came from the work, or maybe (but doubtful) they’ll admit that they failed as a client to commit and follow through with the plan. But you’ll at least know what kind of working experience the content strategist brought to the table.


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

2. They’ve made stuff
You’re on an operating table and the doc comes in. You ask, “How many gall bladders have you removed?” And she answers, “Okay, none. But I’ve read a lot of blogs about it and I’ve been to a lot of gall bladder conventions.” Your strategist, and definitely the people who are actually making the content, should have a history of informing and entertaining. Attracting, holding, building, and captivating an audience is an art.

3. They’ll tell you what they don’t know
A favorite consultant of mine came in to the company where I was working at the time, holding a legal pad. He said, “I’ve written down all the answers for your situation I’m 100% certain about.” It was blank. Your content strategist should know their stuff, but drop the arrogance act. A true partner will intimately grasp your unique situation before getting prescriptive (or mouthing off). One of the best trust-building phrases on the planet is “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” 

4. They’ll talk about the things they aren’t good at 
There’s no way a content strategist can be a ninja master in every discipline now involved in digital marketing and content marketing. Marketing automation, account based marketing , influencer marketing, social media marketing, content production, etc. etc. There’s just too much to know, so put your unicorn dreams out to pasture. The right content strategist will include the challenges they have not mastered, not try to eliminate them from the conversation, and find the resources to expertly fill those gaps. 


If you hear them pivoting their entire business model based on what you say during your initial meeting, proceed with caution

5. They won’t be the “we do that too” guys
Content strategists should be passionate about and love what they’re doing. If I tell a hot dog vendor what I really want is chicken parm, and he says, “I got that too!” then runs 3 blocks, orders take-out chicken parm and brings it back to me, is he really a chicken parm guy? Good strategists should know how they can be of the most help and bring the most value. If you hear them alter their services list on the fly depending on what you say in your initial meeting, proceed with caution.

6. They’ll call you out if you aren’t serious
Hopefully you’ll be able to respect a company or contractor who’s willing to walk away from an SOW and revenue if the odds of success are fairly low. Great content strategists need to know they’re being effective and productive. Because of that, their joie de vivre is shaken if they accept clients who just want to make lots of decks and have lots of meetings, but never make anything for anybody. Joe Pulizzi’s at the Content Marketing Institute has called out this silliness, “noodling” with content without participating enough to reap the benefits. 

7. They will fight day and night on behalf of the audience
The best companies are customer-obsessed. The best content strategists are tenacious champions for the audience, and sometimes that means pushing against brands that care only about the marketing message they want to push. As entertainers, content strategists and producers need to get that “applause,” in our case in the form of engagement and CTAs acted on. They NEED to give the viewers something that cuts through, moves them and is of high value. If the company only care about pleasing some internal stakeholder, the great content strategists will pass you by.


It’s important to them that your delighted content consumers translate into new customers, retained customers, or expanded revenue

8. They care that content works
There are few creatures in the work world that represent a fusion of art and practicality more than a content strategist. The great ones love planning, ideating and producing content then debuting it on the digital stage. They love putting on the show, and as soon as they’re done, they want to put on another. But they also like knowing what will count as a “hit.” What will the success metrics be? They need to know that the happy viewers and readers translated into better prospect, new customers, retained customers, or expanded revenue. They crave applause from you just like they crave it from the audience.

9. They’re cool in sales AND marketing (and HR, IT, PR, etc.)
The days of sitting in respective silos and throwing darts at each other are slipping away. Blaming the other guys will soon only work in Congress. Not just marketing but every department is being held accountable for their role in driving revenue. So content strategy assumes a new role that umbrellas these many departments. Any other approach will result in a badly tuned engine misfiring and leaving the customer broken down and angry on the side of the road. The best content strategists shine when aligning every necessary stakeholder at the table.

Armed with these things to look for, hopefully you can more confidently seek out and activate the content strategy partnership needed to produce and leverage content that will make a tangible difference to your audience and bottom line. What a shame it would be to operate in content chaos one week longer.