Lee Odden

Essential Digital Marketing Skills for Content Marketers

digital marketing skillsLike many other digital marketing agencies, we’ve been on the hunt for digital and content marketing talent on a continuous basis over the past few years. Increased demand and competition are driving the need to find people with skills that can actually create impact, vs. fuzzy “potential”.

Companies looking for agencies are in the same boat, challenged to find partners that can actually affect business goals. Sadly, there are few knights in shining content marketing armor, like our friend to the right.

In both cases, the ease of publishing online makes it easy for individuals and agencies to present expertise – whether they really have it or not.  There are a few ways to sift through the fluff and puff and one of them is knowing what skills, capabilities and experience your business actually needs.

Since a lot of companies are maturing in their content marketing abilities, I think there are a few key skills that stand out in 2014 and beyond. Some of these skills are for individuals, some are spread across an organization. To be truly competitive, I think they need to be present along with creativity and analytical skills.

Customer Segmentation – The ability to identify customer segments through available resources is pretty important for any kind of customer targeting. That means using anything from interviews and surveys with existing customers, sifting through web analytics and conversion data, social media monitoring and other demographic, psychographic and behavioral data sources. Few individuals have most, let alone all of these skills, but the simple task of identifying best/worst customers with data to support profiles is essential.  While building customer profiles and personas from segmentation data is an important skill, so is the maintenance of those profiles over time. Direct Marketers, Email Marketers, Advertising Pros and experienced Content Marketers in particular seem to have these skills.

Buy Cycle Stories – Understanding customer segments also means knowing their journey across the sales cycle. The ability and experience of mapping what questions buyers have as they move from awareness to consideration to purchase are essential for creating a content plan. Beyond answering the questions, “What is it?, How will it help me? “How much does it cost and where can I buy it?”, is the use of storytelling to communicate both practical answers and a narrative for how your brand delivers the solution in a unique and meaningful way. Stories help make an emotional connection with customers and the ability to both anticipate the customer journey and creative ways to communicate your brand value are highly valuable for content marketing.

Multi-Channel Content Planning – When you see how customer segments move across the sales cycle, it becomes clear that single channel marketing like email, SEO, PPC, mobile, etc is a disadvantage. Customers get information from multiple sources and a multi-channel approach helps brands become “the best answer” wherever buyers are looking. Being able to take customer segmentation and buying cycle insight to create a multi-channel content plan is key for delivering the best answer experience for target audiences. That doesn’t mean “expert” at PPC, SEO, Social, Email, PR, etc – but it does mean experience with the planning, integration and coordination with others that do have specialized expertise. Not everything that can be integrated should, so the ability to prioritize according to resources, timeframe and goals are just as important as the planning skills.

Editorial, Creation & Curation – A big part of content planning is the mix of content and media types. How much content should be evergreen? How should it be repurposed? Which content can be co-created with influencers, customers or with internal resources? What role will curated content play in this mix? Answering those questions are an ongoing part of any content planner’s experience and are essential for successful content marketing programs. Beyond planning of content types is familiarity with the tools to help manage their function from content marketing software like Kapost to curation software like Curata.

Community Building – The intersection of content with social media cannot be ignored. No social media marketer can succeed without content and the same is true with community and content marketing. Empathy with the target audience as well as the communities they are influenced by is an essential consideration for content marketing. Being able to plan and promote content that engages and grows a community is very valuable skill.

Amplification & Promotion – Content unread is content that is dead. OK, I just made that up, but it speaks to the importance of content promotion for awareness and exposure. Noise levels are high and it’s a shame (as well as a waste of money) when great content goes unnoticed. Identifying, engaging and managing promotion resources is an important skill in order for the investment in content creation and curation to pay off. Whether it’s integration with email, social networks, social ads, SEO, paid per click, sponsorships, influencers, retargeting, blogger outreach, public relations or any other type of amplification method, the ability to promote content is a skill that is as important as any other or more for a digital marketer.

Nurturing & Marketing Automation – For longer sales cycles common to B2B companies, content is sustenance that draws buyers through an educational and engaging journey from wherever they start to become a lead and a customer. The ability to plan, implement and optimize content performance in conjunction with marketing automation software like Marketo, Eloqua or Infusionsoft is a distinct competitive advantage.

Monitoring, Measurement & Optimization – No marketing program can optimize performance or scale without a feedback mechanism. Monitoring social media, news media, web analytics and conversion data are absolutely essential skills for any kind of digital marketer and especially for a content marketer. Optimizing content performance is a process of initial hypothesis, plan, implementation and then analysis of KPIs (key performance indicators) to adjust messaging, creative and calls to action. While many of these skills are important to an intentionally successful content marketing effort, the measurement and performance optimization piece is in the top 3.

I think any organization that can develop these skill sets amongst their digital marketing teams will bring a distinct advantage to the company. It’s also important for business marketing managers to develop these abilities and to inspire and nurture these skills within their organization.

I don’t believe any single individual or organization has mastery in this mix of skills. Most marketing organizations seem to emphasize one area over others and can still be successful. As my business partner, Susan Misukanis likes to say, “You don’t have to boil the ocean to start a successful program”.  However, I am suggesting in this post that it’s important to aspire to a mix of skills like these in order to achieve a competitive advantage, positive ROI, and market leadership.

At a minimum, an individual or a company that is new to content marketing should have the planning, creation, amplification and measurement skills (with a strong emphasis in 2 or 3). Otherwise, they’ll simply be stuck at Production phase and never really be distinguished from the competition and suffer the harsh realities of Mark Schaefer’s “Content Shock”.

Beyond these more technical skills are character and personality traits as well as other skills like strategy, creativity and the ability to draw insight from data. Of course those skills are important for any role in an organization.

What would you add to this list? What would you say are the bare minimum for an individual (according to their role) or a content marketing agency?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I would add the ability to “evangelise” content marketing at higher levels. Hence being a good communicator and animator of workshops and other events, speaking the (non techy) language senior decision makers can assimilate. Here in Europe (and specifically in Switzerland where I live) many companies just “don’t get Content Marketing” – and yes, the term is not ideal. Content Marketing only works if addressed holistically, i.e. across functions and departments; as you so rightly outlined in your “Optimize” book, Lee.

    • Excellent point Doris, thank you for sharing. Content Marketing is growing in popularity but definitions really do vary. Evangelism is definitely key.

  2. Wow, excellent post Lee! You did mention planning, coordinating and prioritizing multi-media and multi-channel efforts based on resources, time-frame and goals. I might add the pure ongoing development and prioritization of a customized distribution effort based on goals, influencers and relationships as well. This would connect the editorial planning with the amplification resourcing. At the end of the day, you want your own, prioritized list of people and places who care about what you’re doing in some way. Gosh, this will be so critically valuable over time.

  3. Avatar Camille Tillman says

    Lee, really enjoyed this post. I will use it as my “blueprint” to enhance / round out my skills in 2014. Regarding the Buy Cycle Stories, which companies do you think are doing this well?

  4. This is a very interesting article, Lee! It truly summarizes the challenges facing the industry as a whole. I’m glad you’ve presented the questions because I’m new to all of this (just completed an seo course), so I’ll provide some inexperienced insight and hope I’m on the right track. I believe content marketing should take full advantage of technology but we can’t forget the fundamental concept: know your customers. I think your post covers all aspects of that & it’s worth repeating in the comments section.

  5. This article is very helpful for anyone who is new in content marketing field like me. I think the skills that you have listed in this article such as Customer Segmentation, Multi-Channel Content Planning, Editorial, Creation & Curation, Community Building will be very effective.