Lee Odden

What’s the One Most Important Skill for a Content Marketer?

Lee Odden     Content Marketing

content marketing empathyFocus and simplicity help ideas grow.

The changing, competitive and often complex world of content marketing could use some simplification and that’s why it was refreshing to get the following question recently:

What’s the one thing that has been instrumental for you to be successful at content marketing?

My gut reaction of course was, there is no “one thing”. There are many things and they vary depending on the industry, types of product/services, target audience, maturity of the company’s marketing, resources, timeframe and so on. In fact, I posted about an array digital marketing skills just 2 weeks ago.

But really, for me there is one thing that seems to stand out.


Yes, that’s it, empathy. If there has been one thing that’s been instrumental for me in becoming a more effective content marketer for our own agency and for clients, it’s making a daily effort to try and think of things from the audience perspective.

So often, these basic questions go unanswered in favor of doing what’s cool, reacting to competitors or self promotion. Always ask: What do they care about? What are their pain points and goals?  Sure, I have the things I want to say, but “me me me” is “boring boring boring”.

Making the shift from egocentric content topic planning towards empathy takes time, but it’s an essential change.

In many cases it’s a focus on the customer experience with content that I try to imagine, hopefully with support from data. I think about where the target audience might discover this kind of information and what topics, formats and devices they might use to consume it. Of course I also have to imagine the kinds of messages that will resonate and inspire action.  It’s about optimizing for the customer, over channels and tactics.

Now here’s the thing about empathy with content marketing: Not everyone knows what they want. So there is a yin/yang relationship between customer empathy and brand leadership in its messaging. The combination is very powerful.

So, if you make it part of your content planning to balance customer empathy with brand messaging, the content you plan, create and promote will become more meaningful and effective because it’s relevant to the customer experience as well as your business objectives.  The bonus of course is that when content is created with the readers’ needs in mind, they end up doing what you want them to do more often.

Everybody wins.

Except your competition.

What’s the one thing you’ve found that contributes to your content and digital marketing success?

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (2 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)

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 got the same question a few weeks back and gave the same answer!
    (Brothers from another mother or what?).

  2. This is a very timely question to what I’m sitting here contemplating at this very moment. With all the emphasis on creating content about trending topics, keyword ranking, social media promotion, repurposing content, branding, etc., it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re supposed to be creating content that our prospects, influencers, and customers find useful and interesting. All noise aside, having empathy for the pain points, struggles, and yes, even victories of our customers is the question to which we must always return.

  3. Thanks, @leeodden:disqus. I’m learning how to write from this perspective more effectively. Looking forward to learning more about this in Optimize.

  4. Lee, empathy is very difficult. My wife knows me best, however she also planned a birthday event for me tonight that I’m not excited to go to.

    It’s the same format as two years ago, but for some reason this year I don’t want to do it. However, because I have empathy with her, I’ll go and be happy.

    Imagine how complex your audience is. No persona grid can truly account for their passions and objections.

    I’m now a fan process. Since I can’t tell what my audience wants, I’ll figure out how to show up early and often, until I get data on what works, at least some of the time for most of the people.

    What do you think, Lee? Process and measurement over empathy?

    • Those are really good points Hashim.

      I’m not so sure process/measurement and empathy are mutually exclusive. I agree that there’s no way to anticipate every emotion and motivation for a target audience. There’s also no way to know that what works today as a result of iterative improvements will work tomorrow.

      The call for empathy in this post is focused on helping marketers make a shift from only talking about themselves and their offers to considering the the target customer’s point of view. Those considerations manifest in messaging, creative and content experiences that stand out.

      A data informed hypothesis about what matters in the target customer journey creates a plan that can be implemented and continuously optimized. Instead of just transactions increasing, sales cycles shorten, order volume increases as do referrals.

      In that scenario, I see the notion of process and empathy working together.

  5. Avatar Chelsei Henderson says

    This reminds me of an article on Gawker I came across the other day. You may be familiar with it. It’s a letter from Ray Jasper, a prisoner on death row. In his letter to Gawker, he states,

    “Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.”

    Putting this in a marketing perspective, we can become much more productive in our efforts by showing this level of empathy. Putting ourselves in the same place as our audience makes for good marketing. That’s why people who develop products solving a common pain they, too, felt at one point are able to market it so well.

    Truly, one of the most important skills for content marketers.

    • I hadn’t seen that article Chelsei, thanks for sharing the excerpt. Informing buyers in interesting ways is great. But to help them feel something, that takes empathy. A very important skill indeed.

  6. I cannot agree more,Lee.Empathy is the most important skill you can practice. It will lead to greater success personally and professionally and will allow you to become happier the more you practice.

  7. Amen Lee. People read, and digest, and buy, stuff that resonates with them, and their experience. Before folks look at me as the lucky, travel around the world guy, I remind them that I had 4 pennies, and ran into all types of troubles, at one time in my life.

    I have felt their pain, and know what it likes to be depressed, and to go through some tough moments….and this empathetic mindset strikes a resonant chord.


  8. Thanks for sharing Lee Odden! I agree with you. Above Techniques are Awesome! User generated content is good but it can also effect keyword density, so if your page is targeting a highly competitive keyword, user generated content may effect your rankings. Once again Thanks for Sharing!

  9. Avatar gerryoginski says

    Lee, great post. You are 100% on point here. I am an attorney who uses video to extensively market my law firm and the key point I stress to other lawyers when teaching them what content to create is STOP TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF!

    Nobody cares about YOU.
    They often don’t get it. Especially lawyers. They are so centered on how great they are, they perceive the world wants to know all about them.

    In fact, as you correctly point out, it’s just the opposite.
    In my niche, my ideal client and consumer wants to learn how I can help THEM solve THEIR problem. That’s it.

    Empathy helps understand their pain and now I can create great educational content focusing on my ideal client and WHAT THEY WANT TO LEARN ABOUT, not what I want to teach them. Big distinction.

    Thanks again,

  10. Thanks Lee! The skills shared for content marketing are perfect. Specially on thinking creatively on how to get more readers is the most important thing.content by arising with some smart concepts is essential if you would like folks to return back for a lot of and share the content with their friends. analysis is vital too as a result of you have got to understand what you are talking concerning, and if you do not, you have got to copy your material with facts, even linking to relevant sites wherever folks will browse a lot of concerning one thing they still square measure unclear concerning. Once again Thanks for Sharing the tips and information.

  11. Avatar barefootbusinessmentor says

    Hi Lee, a newbie who has just come across this site. Love this topic, and, find it truly amazing how many people miss your wise words. ‘what goes around comes around in life’, i think this applies more and more nowadays in this age of transparency. If you love your customers and treat them like clients, they will refer business to you – pretty simple really…

  12. I think in all forms of sales or marketing empathy is #1. You have to make your potential customer (reader) feel like you “get them”. If you can do that then you can sell them anything you want! Blow it and they’ll go elsewhere.