The more we as marketers take on sophisticated challenges with our content, like personalizing at scale, the more we need to work with technical specialists. Three such roles I kept hearing about at the Intelligent Content Conference are content strategists, content engineers, and data scientists.
- Content strategist – someone who plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content (as defined by Kristina Halvorson)
- Content engineer – someone who structures content for publishing and sets up an organization’s content systems, that is, the technologies that store, deliver, and enable governance of content assets (as described by Cruce Saunders)
- Data scientist – someone who “can demonstrate the special skills involved in storytelling with [complex] data, whether verbally, visually, or – ideally – both” (Harvard Business Review)
Together, these “three amigos of content marketing,” as content engineer Cruce Saunders refers to them, provide a power boost that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of content marketing.
Let’s look at these roles and how marketers might work with them.
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What content strategists do
As senior director of content strategy in global health sciences at The Medicines Company, Buddy Scalera characterizes his role as a “strategic superconnector.” By this, he means that the content strategist works with people across creative and technical teams to plan, create, deliver, and govern content assets across channels, audiences, purposes, and departments.
Superconnector. That sums it up.
Large organizations with complex content strategies need individuals or teams dedicated to content strategy. Small organizations may require that people in other roles (marketers, for example, or brand managers, project managers, managing editors, or administrative assistants) integrate content strategy into their jobs.
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How to get the best results when collaborating with a content strategist
Buddy suggests that marketers align their commitment to brand messaging with the content strategist’s commitment to meeting business goals. This may seem obvious, but in Buddy’s experience, it needs to be said: Be willing to abandon brand messages that don’t convert people and to focus energy on content that supports business goals.
Buddy also recommends that marketers invite the content strategist’s ideas for alternatives to proxy measurements (vanity metrics): page views, likes, PDF downloads, etc. Those metrics not only fail to tell you whether your content is helping you meet your business goals, they can also mislead you. For example, unless you’re paying attention, you might put a retweet that slams your company into the win column.
Content strategists can help you identify content performance metrics that connect to conversion goals. For example, Buddy says, “If you know the total lifetime value of a customer and you know the cost per acquisition, you can compare your cost per acquisition in your content campaign. You can get a sense for how many people return and what they do to move through their user journey to get to a conversion.”
Measurements like that are not easy to set up, Buddy points out, but they’re possible with the right analytics plan. “A content strategist can help you get insights that tell you more about your ROI.”
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What content engineers do
Do you plan to automate and personalize your content over multiple channels? Do you want to create advanced content-related tools, like chatbots or intelligent search engines? If so, in addition to working with a content strategist, you need to get tight with a content engineer.
Content engineers help you design and develop customized tech solutions that deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. They plan, execute, and govern content’s technical stack. In addition, Buddy says, content engineers “probably know more about the mechanics of familiar social networks than anyone else on your marketing team.” They are IT pros with a “deep, empathetic understanding of content strategy.”
How to get the best results when collaborating with a content engineer
If you’re lucky enough to have a content engineer to work with, immerse that person in your planning. As Buddy’s content engineer colleague Matt Balogh says, convey “the dream” of what you’d like to accomplish, and let the content engineer pull you back to what’s possible.
Cruce urges marketers to treat content engineers as partners in planning.
Help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing with content. Don’t think of them just as systems builders. Collaborate with them on what your systems should be.
To help content engineers understand what you aim to accomplish with your content and what results you expect to achieve, Cruce says to share all the planning and strategy information you have. Examples:
- user stories
- customer journey maps
- customer segmentation strategies
- channel plans
- content reuse strategies
- sources of content and data
- target content channels (near term and long term)
- internal or third-party API documentation
- content workflows
- editorial and authoring processes
- content standards
- governance policies
- SEO objectives
- competitive data
- social media scenarios
- third-party syndication destinations
Basically, do a mind-meld.
Buddy says to allow for plenty of time to present your ideas and respond to detailed questions: “If you just gloss over channel requirements, you won’t get the value of the content engineer’s experience and insights.”
Err on the side of over-communicating and over-planning. As Matt says, this kind of collaboration “is more complex than you realize” and “always takes longer than you think.” His motto is “Weeks of coding save hours of planning” – his tongue-in-cheek way of saying that seemingly small changes may take weeks to fix in the code, so plan with care.
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What data scientists do
Unlike content engineers, who focus on what happens before content is delivered, data scientists focus on what happens afterward. Here are a few perspectives on this role:
- Harvard Business Review: A data scientist – “the sexiest job of the 21st century”– is “a hybrid of data hacker, analyst, communicator, and trusted adviser. The combination is extremely powerful – and rare … someone … with a feel for business issues and empathy for customers …. The dominant trait among data scientists is an intense curiosity – a desire to go beneath the surface of a problem, find the questions at its heart, and distill them into a very clear set of hypotheses that can be tested. ”
- Cruce: “Data scientists analyze and optimize customers’ interactions with content. They can help marketers figure out which content produces the most value, which customer segments to focus on, which user pathways are producing conversions, and endless other knowledge that can be derived from data.”
- Sam Han, a data scientist with The Washington Post: “In our organization … data scientists focus on predictions and prescriptive kind of analysis … they work on data larger in volume … analyzing content using natural-language-processing tools. Our data scientists build products or tools that our visitors, newsroom, and advertiser team can use.”
Data science takes some guesswork out of marketing decisions. As LinkedIn’s Katrina Neal points out in her ICC talk, 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketers because “marketers often approach decisions with an ‘I think’ mindset, rather than being able to say ‘I know’ because of data.”
Not every organization needs a data scientist. How do you know if your organization needs one? The Harvard Business Review says, “If your organization stores multiple petabytes of data, if the information most critical to your business resides in forms other than rows and columns of numbers, or if answering your biggest question would involve a ‘mashup’ of several analytical efforts, you’ve got a big data opportunity.”
How to get the best results when collaborating with a data scientist
Most marketers probably won’t work directly with data scientists, Buddy suspects. Those marketers who do need to help the scientists get all the content-related raw data they might need, including these examples that Cruce lists: session data, CRM data, SEM data, organic-search data, CMS data, customer segments, and email data.
If the Harvard Business Review is to be believed, data scientists work best when given a juicy challenge. Here’s what I gleaned from the HBR article cited above:
Data scientists tend to be more motivated … when more is expected of them …. If executives make it clear that simple reports are not enough, data scientists will devote more effort to advanced analytics …. By creating solutions that work, they can have more impact and leave their marks as pioneers of their profession.
Are any of you marketers out there working with data scientists? If so, I’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments.
What happens when these players are missing
Here’s what you lose when your marketing team has no one playing content strategist, content engineer, or data scientist.
When you have no content strategist…
With no one playing content strategist (either as a dedicated role or as part of another role), you make decisions with incomplete information. You create content without fully thinking through why and for whom. You get less bang for your marketing buck. Your content assets are not optimally targeted. Your team lacks cohesion. And your customers and potential customers don’t get the content they need.
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When you have no content engineer…
With no one playing content engineer, you rely on IT techs or web developers for their content system needs. While these techy colleagues have expertise in systems development and networking, they rarely have the skills needed to maximize your content reach, design effective multichannel distribution, implement personalization, or automate content in other strategic ways. Your content is likely to remain unstructured, up for grabs for copying and pasting. In that case, the content can show up anywhere and everywhere, creating inconsistency, resisting governance, and making maintenance impossible.
When you have no data scientist…
With no one playing data scientist, you can’t draw conclusions from the ocean of potentially useful data at your disposal. You can’t use that data to drive action. You can’t cut through the noise to aggregate data into one warehouse and one set of dashboards. You can’t identify critical trends. You can neither see nor interpret audience behavior patterns that could reveal opportunities for improvement across the sales funnel.
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When marketers work with all three roles…
If you’re part of a marketing group that includes content strategists, content engineers, and data scientists, you have a powerful core from which to collaborate with many other content professionals, as shown here.
Image courtesy of Cruce Saunders’ company, [A]
Of course, none of these roles fits neatly into a box. As Cruce says:
Data science informs the engineering and strategy, further improving the measures. These practices are never finished. They continually work together to improve customer experience and return on content assets.
How to fill these roles
If your organization is looking to fill these roles, Cruce says to look within for people who have some of the skills – especially for the strategy and engineering roles – and train them. Here are his thoughts on each role.
- Content strategists often start as digital project managers, content marketers, copy directors, or managing editors.
- Content engineers, so far, are a rare breed. They often start out as business analysts, semantic technologists, technical communicators, CMS-platform integrators, or senior web developers. Many organizations already house the needed content engineering skills; the task is to identify, train, empower, and coordinate the people who have those skills.
- Data scientists are increasingly in demand. Look for those who have experience with machine learning and predictive analytics.
Are you considering adding these technical specialists to your marketing team? Cruce says that bringing these roles together is like joining the left and right sides of the brain. The collaborations are complex and time-consuming. They require mutual respect, exceptional communication, and a commitment to working toward a common goal.
The payoff? Tremendous opportunity.
How is your marketing team working with people in these techy roles? Help blaze trails for your fellow marketers by sharing your experience in a comment.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute