What does original content marketing research tell us about the ideal content marketing team?
Skyword spent much of last year conducting a major study of nearly 1,000 content marketers to learn more about this topic and other factors marketing leaders wrestle with every day. One of the most interesting trends-or rather a lack of trend-we uncovered was that there was no association between the most successful content marketing companies and the structure of their teams. There is no specific organizational template that will increase your chances of success. Dispersed or centralized, all internal or using external partners-there is no evidence that any one approach is better than another for achieving your goals.
Let's dig into the data to find out what organizations need to know about building an effective content marketing team.
What Do Marketing Visionaries Do?
It seems counterintuitive. As marketers, we often feel that if we can just crack the right code, assemble the best team, and follow the "blueprint," we'll raise brand visibility, increase sales, and get the ROI our C-suite and board of directors are clamoring for. In fact, I have at least a dozen conversations every year with prospective clients on these very topics: the pros and cons of agencies, whether they need to hire a content marketing manager, and how to find the right producers for their needs.
The reality, which is underscored by the data, is that there's no "one-size-fits-all" solution-and that can confound companies looking to optimize their staffing for the best results. Companies that are going all in on content marketing want to know what's working for leading companies, and it can be disconcerting to hear that the reality is far more complex than "bring in a manager, hire freelancers, and see the leads begin to flow in."
In Skyword's research with nearly 1,000 content marketers, we took a closer look at who owns and shapes content marketing. One area the research took a deep dive into was how teams are organized-and then we sliced that data to determine whether there was a relationship between specific team structures and companies realizing extraordinary results from their work.
No model rules when it comes to setting up your content team. Some organizations use a centralized content creation team, while others use a more dispersed model. In Skyword's analysis, the companies that took part in the research were categorized according to different levels of sophistication, ranging from Bystander to Visionary, on the Content Marketing Continuum™. What becomes clear from exploring the data in depth is that looking at outside trends won't answer the questions of whom to hire, whether to leverage freelancers, or where to locate your content engine within the business.
In part, this has to do with bringing the heritage of past marketing structures into the current content marketing landscape. As the authors of the report write, "When marketers pivot from traditional marketing to publishing, and then again to storytelling, they do so with an inherited structure and team. Many organizations don't have the appetite or resources to build content creation teams from scratch. That means organizations have different models for content creation teams and organizations-and it's clear no single model works best." Even for companies building teams from scratch, existing relationships, competencies, and perceived gaps can guide early investments, and that quickly sets the stage for how teams evolve. In fact, 70 percent of content marketing teams have been around for four years or less, according to Conductor.
The key to organizing your team is tailoring your approach to your internal reality and needs. With that in mind, what can marketers learn from the study? And how can those insights be applied to help you build the most successful team for your unique circumstances?
Image attribution: Fred Mouniguet
What You Can Learn from Visionary Companies
Understand the options available to you
For any marketing leader focused on optimizing their existing team or building a new one, it's important to think about the options that are available. Building an internal team, centralizing production within marketing, using a dispersed model that puts the focus of control in different businesses but is united by brand guidelines, and outsourcing everything to an external partner are all on the table. What's going to work for you depends on the clarity of your vision, your organizational culture, your budget, and a host of other factors. Analyzing your options and determining what's feasible within the context of your business is the most important step you can take. Explore various options, with an eye toward leveraging your strengths and filling gaps in your existing team and process.
Focus on content strategy
Effective content marketing begins with strategy, so it's smart to start there. When you build a new team or restructure an existing one, determine who will own and create your strategy. Strategy involves a detailed analysis of your audience, competitive landscape, and the market-and then translating that into unique storylines, format decisions, and distribution channels. According to the study, the top companies use a variety of formats. At Visionary firms, 39 percent house their content strategy in marketing, 35 percent rely on content or creative teams, 17 percent entrust it to the executive brain trust, and 9 percent lean on campaign teams. None of the Visionary companies allowed product marketing to dictate content strategy, versus 18 percent of the least sophisticated Bystander companies. In other words, marketing and content were most likely to be tasked with gathering insights, putting them into context, and mapping that to a content marketing process that aligns with business goals. Begin to determine what's right for your business by exploring questions such as:
- Who sets your business goals and objectives? How are those communicated to marketing?
- How much capacity for content currently exists within your marketing department?
- How involved are executives and business leaders (or business unit managers) in shaping and executing strategy? Are people from different areas of the business used to having a voice in content or not?
- What part of the business has the best integrated view of the business?
- Based on company culture, how open will different parts of the business be about sharing goals, feedback, and other strategy considerations?
Image attribution: Charles Forerunner
Your mindset matters
Another key finding from the research is that marketing mindset matters. In response to "Which of the following best describes the current role of content marketing in your organization?" there were a host of different perspectives. In terms of team organization and structure, this matters-both in terms of how you hire and allocate resources and the metrics you set for performance and the culture you're building.
Consider this: 87 percent of the highest-performing companies answered "It's at the core of our marketing," versus just 8 percent of Bystanders. Meanwhile, 74 percent of Bystanders chose "It's a sales tool," compared to just 4 percent of the leading performers. When your content marketing efforts are fueled by a centralized commitment to content marketing, not only does that positively influence your results but it definitively shapes the way you design, recruit, manage, and measure a team's success.
Select the model that's right for you
When asked "Who is responsible for producing (or managing the production of) the majority of content?" there were a variety of answers. Let's take a look at the breakdown of the highest performers:
- The entire marketing team: 39 percent
- Combination of in-house and freelance editorial team: 30 percent
- People throughout the organization: 22 percent
- Agency, advertising manager, copywriter: 4 percent
- Product marketing: 4 percent
While the most successful players tend to rely on either in-house marketing experts or a mix of freelancers and in-house talent, there were shining examples of companies that leverage SMEs or product marketing directors to get outstanding results.
Break down your considerations into three key areas:
- Who will set the standard for translating the content strategy into deliverables such as voice guidelines, editorial guidelines, an editorial calendar, and brand guidelines? How will this be measured and enforced?
- Who will oversee the tactical elements of the actual production process? This might include enforcing deadlines, deciding on topics, and getting individual pieces through production from ideation to writing, copy editing, design, and distribution.
- What will your production team look like? Who is writing, designing, editing, and sharing this content with the market?
While content marketing research shows there is no ideal content marketing team template, it also points to some important aspects to consider when looking at your own team. Starting with the right mindset, determining who will own and create your strategy, mapping out the logistics of production, and knowing the options available to you are all critical. Ultimately, it's most important to assess your own needs and tie them to your goals and resources. With the right planning, your content marketing team will be delighting audiences and making sales-whether you use in-house talent, external partners, or a custom blend of both.
For more information, download Skyword's Inside the Content Marketing Continuum research report.