The Future of Content Marketing Is Specialization

by Trevor Gilbert

At first glance, studying economics and building a world class content marketing channel for your company may seem like they have nothing to do with each other. But, in both classical economics and cutting-edge content marketing, there’s one phrase that comes up often: Division of labor.

If the last time you opened an economics textbook was in university, here’s a quick refresher on the idea of division of labor: People are more productive and generate more wealth when they specialize in specific tasks and aren’t forced to do everything.

For example, a baker should focus on making bread, a shoemaker should focus on making shoes, and a lawyer should focus on the law. It doesn’t do anyone any good if someone is trying to do all three of those things, since they won’t do any of them well.

In other words, it’s better to have three experts who can only do one thing than it is to have three mediocre workers who aren’t great at anything in particular.

The same is true in content marketing. But for some reason, many companies don’t realize this.

They see a great piece of content with witty headlines, stunning illustrations, beautiful charts, and hundreds of comments. Then, thinking that this would be a boon for their business, they decide to go out and hire a “content person.” In reality, what they should be doing is going out and looking for a team of people.

Get the bonus content: The Mandatory Roles for a Great Content Marketing Team

Great results come from teams, not from individuals

To start, they’ll need to hire some writers for this team. Unfortunately, many companies stop there and give up when there aren’t great results. If you’re serious about building your content marketing channel, you’ll also need people who excel in community building, in creating artwork, in social distribution strategy, in data mining and analytics, and in project managing the entire process.

Now, at this point, you may be imagining a ballooning marketing budget and shrinking away from hiring all of these people. But before you leave, let’s just take a minute to look at two different roles that are absolutely necessary and what skills are required to be excellent in those positions.

The first is a content strategist, the second is an analyst.

Content Strategist Data Analyst
Deep understanding of… what the audience wants as customers what data to focus on and what data to ignore
Ability to… translate high-level goals into individual articles use a variety of data mining tools to get the right information
Can… adeptly respond to changes in the market paint a picture of what’s happening using data

Each of the six skills and abilities listed above are crucial to building a well-functioning content marketing engine. However, as you may have noticed, there is almost no overlap between the two roles.

The content strategist is required to be more of a high-level thinker that can pull together qualitative and quantitative insights, take feedback from readers, solicit new opinions from a variety of sources, and then bring it all together into a cohesive picture that translates into a series of articles. Then, they need to be able to pivot on a dime and go in a new direction as new inputs are received.

On the other hand, a data analyst needs to be focused on the most minute information. They need to be able to follow a visitor’s journey from the first site visit, to when they signed up for your email newsletter, to their later engagement, and then finally to when they become a customer. After tracking all of that, they then need to be able to turn those numbers into a story that can be used to inform the overall content strategy.

In other words: these are two very different roles, with very different skills and requirements.

Of course, this should be expected! Data analysts and content strategist are coming from entirely different worlds. Yes, there are things they should have in common, like caring that the customer is successful, that the right people are landing on your blog, and that the right decisions are being made as you build out your content marketing strategy.

But at the end of the day, the questions they’re asking, the problems they’re focused on solving, and the very way they approach problem solving are completely different. Neither one is right, but their different roles require different ways of thinking.

The reality of this only comes across when you’ve worked in an environment with content creators that are forced to be in every position simultaneously and then in an environment where you have specialists in multiple roles. The difference is staggering: when there is specialization, things run smoothly and the results speak for themselves.

The hard truth: great content isn’t cheap

So, we’ve realized that the quickest way to ruin your content marketing plans is to make one person do everything. Sadly, at the same, hiring a huge team of people who are focused solely on creating content is impractically expensive for most companies.

Let’s take a look at what could be considered an average SaaS company. There’s probably two founders, a half-dozen engineers, maybe a designer, a jack-of-all-trades office manager/operations/recruiting coordinator, one or two sales and business development people, and someone who does marketing. Then, over the summer, throw in an intern.

Now, let’s say this company — possibly your company — is thinking about really investing in content marketing. Because SaaS companies tend to be smaller and more nimble, it’s an almost universal wish that they want to hire one person, invest no money, and see results immediately. Then, if money starts to come in through this channel, they’ll consider bringing on an additional one or two people.

Unsurprisingly, this strategy usually doesn’t work. When companies like this are faced with failure, they write off content marketing as a tactic that may work for some, but doesn’t work for their business.

To save you the trouble, avoid this common trap right from the beginning and focus instead on hiring a diverse and specialized content marketing team. Now, you may expect us at Audience Ops to push just outsourcing, but the truth is that there are two paths to choose from.

The first is to build the right team from the get-go and be willing to write off a year of trial-and-error (and the corresponding budget) until you get the right mix of people, skills, talents, and experience. But, as we mentioned above, this could increase the size of your company by 50% and be cost-prohibitive to getting off the ground. It can work, but you have to be willing to invest time, money, and company resources for at least a year before you see meaningful results.

The second path is to hire a team from outside your company. Now, you do give up some control over the process and the work that’s being done, but in exchange you get to skip the year of waiting for results and burning money. On top of those savings, you’ll also be able to trust that the team is able to deliver results quickly, with little lag time.

In all honesty, there are advantages to both. If you go in-house, you’ll be able to have complete control over the entire process. If you go out-of-house, you’ll be able to just focus on the end results. The real question to ask yourself at the end of the day is if you care more about control or about results.

Get the bonus content: The Mandatory Roles for a Great Content Marketing Team

Some final thoughts

Reading that you need to specialize your content marketing efforts can sound intimidating, but you shouldn’t let it scare you. At the end of the day, it’s just one of many things that you need to get right to have a successful content marketing channel. You need to understand your customers, you need to have the right voice, you need to be able to educate your site visitors regardless of whether or not they become customers, and you need to be able to do it day after day, week after week.

You may be able to do all of that after you hire a legendary content marketer, but much more likely is that at the end of the day you’re going to prove true the old proverb: a jack of all trades is a master of none.