'Marketers are facing a content skills gap'

Marketers’ content is at risk of becoming “diluted” and “deluging” consumers because they are recruiting engineers and developers to lead their social and digital strategies rather than specialists.

DC Shoes

DC Shoes hailed as a content marketing brand to take inspiration from (still from YouTube marketing video).

Speaking at an event hosted by the British Interactive Media Association today (21 February), social media experts from Twitter, cloud and web hosting brand Rackspace and marketing agency AKQA addressed how marketers need to invest more in defining their content strategies to connect with consumers, rather than just assigning members of the existing team who might be not be best placed to produce it.

A report from the Content Marketing Association and OnePoll published in June found content marketing accounts for 21 per cent of marketing spend. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those quizzed believe they will increase or maintain their content marketing budgets in 2013.

John Webb, Rackspace international cloud marketing director and former Rockstar Games marketer, said the premise of content marketing is to lower consumers’ barriers to get messages across but as every brand is “reinventing itself” into a content creation shop, consumers are being bombarded and resisting content. He adds this is because content producers are becoming “diluted” in their skillsets.

He said: “Marketing as a discipline needs to understand you can’t be lazy and rest on your laurels - you need to create famous - ideally infamous - content to cut through. The big trend in marketing at the moment is growth hacking, which is seeing the engineers and developers take over marketing - but in my mind that’s like having the lunatics take over the asylum. Marketing is a balance of science and art and I feel like we’re going too far down the science route.”

Webb suggested marketers take on board ex-journalists who have the skills to hunt out stories that resonate in order to unify the data and content elements to marketing to create successful campaigns.


Twitter Labour Lib Dem

Labour and Lib Dems’ witty exchange over Twitter is an example of embedding a content mentality throughout the organisation beyond single campaigns.

Creating content designed to go “famous” is also about embedding a content mindset beyond the marketing communications functions to throughout the entire organisation, according to AKQA director of social Ron Peterson.

He said: “If you look at the brands doing content well, they have gone well beyond just repurposing a TV ad for YouTube. The content that works is designed for social and it’s also not just video, it’s even about the quality of a response to a question on Twitter. It’s all about having a strong strategic thought process - the best social is one that disappears and the word ‘social’ may well disappear in the next three to five years as it becomes so integrated it’s a given, like digital.”

Peterson added marketers should look to sports brands for inspiration, particularly DC Shoes and Billabong, which do not necessarily have the budgets of Nike or Adidas but create content that is regularly shared by thousands of consumers.

Dara Nasr, Twitter UK’s recently appointed head of agency sales, echoed Peterson’s advice for marketers to look at content more broadly beyond single campaigns.

He added: “The things that do well [on social] are bespoke rather than rebadging - funny stuff always works really well. But what’s important is being there and being present.”

Nasr showcased examples such as O2 wittily responding to abusive customers when it was suffering a network outage LINK or the funny Twitter exchange between the Labour and the Liberal Democrats (pictured) as ways brands can approach content beyond specific campaigns and embed it into their everyday communications.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Thanks for the piece. You raise a very important point about the skills and tools required for creating and executing hard hitting content strategies across the growing number of digital touch points.

    Agencies are increasingly being asked to help define content strategies by ambitious brands needing to make sense of their multi-platform publishings. It's no longer just a question of writing a few posts for the blog or Twitter feed.

    Not only does this call for new skillsets and processes at both the client and agency level (we at LBi have a dedicated content strategy team for instance), it needs a new way of thinking about content that understands the continuous lifecycle of creation, management and retirement of collateral. Your content needs constant nurturing.

    Journalists are certainly well positioned to create great digital features, posts, videos and social content, though the other piece of the puzzle is creating the publishing models, planning and editorial governance needed to get the stuff in the pipeline.

    The braver brands are experimenting with their own editorial boards, which means marketers and other business stakeholders have a vital role to play in every brand's content strategy too.

    This recent emergence of content marketing brings with it a whole load of questions about quality and transparency, (which I've just written about in a blog post: http://wp.me/pEmMy-46).

    True, brand journalism is starting to emerge as an interesting discipline for us ex-hacks, but the time is right for journalists to try on the 'strategy' hat as well.

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  • the subtitle "because they are recruiting engineers and developers to lead their social and digital strategies rather than specialists" screams 'terrified artist.'

    let's get this straight - it's faulty strategy to use someone other than a traditional 'ad man' to do it because marketing is so nuanced only insiders can possibly wrap their minds around it. and let's have journalists help.....

    I partly agree

    1. journalists are a wonderful resource - they understand written and photographic content from an engagement (sharing) and publishing perspective.

    2. companies that reserve R&D to the gray haired experienced crew and hand social media off to a recent grad demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of the strategic & tactical business importance of new tools

    3. execution absent a strategy is folly. and strategy needs to be built with folks who really can visualize the market and dynamic in a broad 3D way to intuit where focus, messaging, platform and approach can succeed.

    and I largely disagree

    4. should a CMO be a developer or engineer? no - at least not until years after switching out of their narrow focus. however, marketing is now accountable in ways it never was. the metrics are available to illuminate the correlation between each action and results, as well as across broad programs.

    and that is terrifying to those on the art end of the artist-technician marketing skills spectrum. you can't simply create cool looking design any more.

    in my experience the best marketing operations folks I see are former engineers - and not developer type engineers but engineers from different disciplines who bring a quantitative/empirical perspective to their work. optimization, promotion, nurturing, real-time A/B testing, and managing activity across a huge range of platforms requires a skill set and view point that few designers bring.

    bottom line? marketing is evolving. you can figure out where you fit and grow yourself to have a larger role; or you can protest as you are marginalized.

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  • Much of this disconnect stems from how brands often hire internal candidates. Looking for years of experience, engineers and developers often have the "flight time" connected with their online work, even though many of them lack the editorial skills necessary to pull off compelling online content.

    Journalists and creative writers, on the other hand, still fear that learning how to code will dilute their own skill sets.

    Agencies still excel at putting teams together that can execute both sides of this equation, while brands looking to fill a single role struggle to find talent that can "check all the boxes."

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  • Interesting that the central premise is that brands should place more emphasis on specialists to create bespoke social-centric content ie "The content that works is designed for social".

    But isn't the deep rooted reason for it working is that it strikes and emotional chord that triggers engagement and dialogue?

    The role of marketing and the skills required are unquestionably changing and evolving, but the big end game remains to build, develop and sustain a positive relationship between brand, product and customer that drives lifetime value and a virtuous cycle of advocacy. Robust insight and understanding of the customer is still at the very heart of all high impact content.

    In today's world, marketers and brands are challenged with more complexity and more savvy customers than ever before, and 'a content skills gap' is going to be an issue for some, no question. However, a customer knowledge gap is a challenge for all and the winners will be those who understand their customers best.

    So whilst 'the content that works is designed for social' is true in terms of execution and delivery, it will always be the case that 'the content that works best is designed for the customer'.

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  • Hi Lara, many thanks for this great recap. An absolute pleasure.

    @MarkBernard, great thoughts and points. You've hit on perhaps the very fundamental point to everything great marketers do: A consumer-centric approach, where the customer is always at the heart, regardless if value is exchanged through traditional means or social means. While 'social' currently is often perceived or associated as 'the community' (whether semantically correct or incorrect), I believe the most effective content will always be one that is designed to talk with your audience, not at--and in that sense, (and for lack of a better word), social in nature.

    Look forward to seeing our collective evolution from thinking of content from an executional, media-based, traditional approach to a more consumer-focused, community approach in the coming years. Thanks Mark + Cheers, Ron

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