You’ve considered many variations of a creative career, from writing scripts to being a social media coordinator to being a professor. Lifestyle journalism pays less every year, leaving generalists (i.e., people who can do immersive research and become superficial experts in anything for a two-week assignment period) in need of another income stream. Conditions for professors and teachers aren’t so inviting either.
So, what is a hardworking wordsmith with insatiable curiosity and a deep bench of contacts to do? Content marketing might just be the sweet spot. But is it the right career for you? We take a peek into the history and current state of content marketing, how it’s perceived, and the reality of the role.
What is content marketing
Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute defined content marketing to LinkedIn like this: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Many other professional content marketers were asked for their own definition for this LinkedIn post, and came up with all sorts of other takes, from the pragmatic…
“Content marketing means educating your consumers about your product and your industry in a comprehensive and compelling way,” said Elizabeth Pop Nikolov of Venveo
to the cryptic…
“Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” — Seth Godin
Of all the people quoted, Rebecca Lieb best summarized the difference in advertising and content marketing by saying that content marketing is “a pull strategy” that works to attract an audience, versus advertising that sprays or “pushes” the brand’s messages out to an audience.
The lines are blurring between traditional ad spots and other traditional marketing materials (white papers, direct mailers, etc); and all the formats we only define as content marketing (“native content” articles, branded docu-shorts, brand blogs). This shift is partially a result of ongoing fears that traditional “push” advertising doesn’t actually engage anyone, and that the distribution methods are inherently impossible to track and measure. It’s also because when a crucial delivery platform like Google dictates that content marketing is mandatory to ranking high on its SERP, a lot of creative service firms will dedicate resources to creating that content.
Example of the classic “push” advertising
Traditional advertising hits you over the head: You were watching a TV show, but now here’s a charming family having a hilarious moment in a shiny new car, $2,000 off MSRP and only $299 a month with good credit. It lasts 30 seconds, the logo hits your eyeballs, and you’re back to the regular programming you actually wanted to watch.
Examples of the new “pull” approach
Content marketing takes a different approach. When you’re browsing around on social media or online one night, maybe you spend 30 minutes watching freestyle board sports videos on Vice — only realizing intermittently that it it’s a series sponsored by Fiat. Unlike a commercial, Fiat is integrated everywhere throughout — not just 30 seconds. That is content marketing.
Or, maybe you’re at the doctor’s office and pick up a magazine, interested in its cover story on “the cruelest ultra-marathon.” You also read a feature on Brie Larson, and flip through a mountain biking gear guide. The magazine is the Red Bulletin – owned by Red Bull.
Custom print publications are an older but still popular content marketing product, more expensive to produce than blogs, but really a sign that a brand has made it. Red Bull, of course, has tried every form of content marketing, from movies to blogs to launching its own ambitious but short-lived TV channel. Most of them do very well, because Red Bull really is a lifestyle brand as much as an energy drink at this point, and consumers of the drink also are more-or-less enthusiasts of the lifestyle.
The marketing industry needs (good) content marketing writers.
According to a 2017 study generated by Kapost and Eloqua, content marketing produces three times more leads than traditional marketing. And, content marketing costs 31-41% less than paid search. The ROI speaks for itself. But that content doesn’t create itself! That’s where smart, versatile, engaging writers come in.
Unlike standalone editorial, where the best and brightest typically yearn to earn prestigious bylines just for the kudos of it, content marketing is still viewed as “working for corporate overlords” (albeit a much more appealing version of it than 10 years prior). Brands are doing some cool stuff — and they have the budget to pay for it. Whereas an editorial publication might offer $100 for a 1,000-word roundup plus pictures, a brand might offer $300 up to $1,000, no photo-sourcing necessary. Plus, there may even be a copy editor and a fact checker.
The market for this type of writing is strong, and it crosses over from the writer/journalist side to the communications/PR side. In an encouraging and somewhat unexpected projection, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8% growth in employment for writers and authors from 2016-2026.
“Content writers” and “bloggers” are now listed as professional subspecialties, though “content marketing specialist” hasn’t made it onto the page yet. The people hiring for content marketers might be traditional publications (the native/branded department); or they might be SEO and digital marketing firms; or they might be traditional PR and ad agencies; or they might be the internal creative team at the brand itself.
What’s it like to work in content marketing
Modern companies across all industries need writers to create relevant and valuable content that intends to develop brand trust with consumers and influence their purchasing decisions, but without selling to them.
Brands are all over the map in their preferences of how to develop and produce marketing content. The most traditional are still sticking with white papers and branded coffee table books. The most adventurous are evangelizing ephemeral content, or trying to create content that can exist quasi-organically on Twitch. Seemingly everyone is putting out podcasts and blogs. But brands and companies vary in how much of a presence they want product to have in the creative output, and how tightly they want to control it, and what channels and formats they prefer. Some brands take an almost editorial approach, and others don’t let a paragraph or 10 seconds of video go by without a product plug.
So, working in content marketing requires flexibility, listening skills, and the ability to adjust one’s style to suit the client. It also necessitates research, whether for information or for keywords or to see what competitor are doing. You should be adept at dealing with people — and this is where some traditional reporters fall short. Unlike in lifestyle media where people are lining up to be quoted in a story, in content marketing, the person you’re quoting will likely be some sort of stakeholder — a partner, the brand manager, or even a C-suite executive at the company that now pays you.
Multimedia experience, or at least multimedia production skills, are much more important than they were in the last decade. It certainly helps to know how to produce video and/or podcasts, and know your way around a CMS tool. But if you can’t write code or crunch the numbers in a SEMRush report, there are definitely marketing and creative departments that will hire you and have other people to do those things.
Get to work
When you think about whether this type of work appeals to you, think about whether you want to professionally live on the fine line between selling to people, engaging them, and providing some type of value.
- If you just want to hard-sell and be funny, traditional advertising might be your field.
- If you only want to report the facts and be of service, you’re probably still in the traditional journalism or reporter wheelhouse.
- If you like to mix in useful information, thought-provoking ideas and interesting character stories with sales and brand awareness, content marketing is probably for you.
A number of sites connect content marketing writers to portfolio builders and/or paying jobs. Of course, we’re partial to ClearVoice. As a platform that enables writers to showcase their work, connect with clients and monetize your craft, we at ClearVoice will always see our technology and staff as working in the service of creatives. The platform is free to join, and our online portfolio service is free to approved members.