Who am I to tell you about content marketing?
I am no veteran in the field.
No impressive track record of running successful campaigns for famous brands. No team under me. Not a single publication under my belt (save for my blog posts?) or industry accolade.
I got my first content marketing job at a small digital agency in 2016. I had zero marketing experiences or marketing qualifications. In fact, I was lost in life, had no idea what career I wanted, and didn’t even know what content marketing was. I got the job on the basis of strong writing skills.
It was a bloody struggle to build a content marketing career. I cut my teeth in the agency world. Long hours, fast pace, many demands to meet, and worst of all, the office politics. Since I left agency land, I’ve worked in a scrappy little start-up and now, a global corporation.
I’m no “thought leader”. But I am a hard-boiled practitioner who worked my way up.
Why am I writing about content marketing?
Thank you, people of Reddit Singapore, for the inspiration.
There have been some recurring themes that got my attention. People talking about how miserable they are in their current jobs and wanting out. People feeling scared about the ongoing pandemic and worried about their futures. People asking about jobs that are in demand and how to get in.
I can relate to these themes.
This year, I was fortunate to find a content marketing job at a global tech company, amidst the pandemic. Content marketing and other digital marketing roles are definitely still in demand. Over the years, I’ve advised folks on how to get started in content marketing. Now, I am consolidating my knowledge and experiences into a blog post. This is my way of giving back to the content marketing field.
- You don’t need a marketing degree to work in content marketing
- There are no formal certifications to become a content marketer
- Content marketing is not just about writing (part 1)
- Content marketing is not just about writing (part 2)
- How do you get started in content marketing when you have zero experience?
- What other non-writing skills do you need to be a good content marketer?
- There are several ways you can progress in your content marketing career
- What are some useful content marketing resources and groups?
One more thing: advice is autobiographical. Take what I say not as The Truth, but as a point of reference.
1. You don’t need a marketing degree to work in content marketing
This also applies to many other digital marketing roles.
My degree has nothing to do with marketing. My ex-colleague, who ran marketing campaigns, did have a marketing degree. But he said that most of the things he learnt were not useful and different from marketing in practice.
Digital marketing is a dynamic field. New technologies come and go, and techniques can get outdated fast. Most of the things you learn in a classroom will probably be outdated by the time you graduate a few years later.
In a way, digital marketing is like web development and software development. You get into the field by doing things, proving your skills, and constant learning.
2. There are no formal certifications to become a content marketer
In project management, there’s the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. In accountancy, there’s the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.
But there is no formal certification recognised by the “content marketing industry” and demanded by organisations worldwide.
If you are new to content marketing, you can do some content marketing courses. Understand what content marketing is all about, how it fits into the digital marketing ecosystem, and see if it interests you. Most courses issue certificates at the end.
But these certifications are usually not job requirements. Almost anyone can take a content marketing course and pass it. It is not enough to claim that you know about content marketing, you need to demonstrate content marketing skills. I discuss more about proving skills in point five.
3. Content marketing is not just about writing (part 1)
Content marketing job ads often call for strong writing skills. In fact, many people who are new to content marketing start as content writers.
But it’s not enough to write impeccably.
I once spoke to a bloke who was curious about content marketing. He had taught English and participated in poetry competitions. I had to emphasise that good content in content marketing is not about literary value. Nope, content needs to be relevant and helpful to the people you want to reach.
Let’s say you’re an insurance company. You know that there are people who want to find out more about insurance or have a problem that insurance can solve. Here’s how you can engage these folks via content marketing:
Write a series of blog posts on insurance for beginners. What is insurance, the main types, how to choose, things to look out for when buying etc. You can also publish an eBook on “what (target group) needs to know about insurance”. Perhaps launch an email newsletter that features the stories of people who use your insurance products.
The aim of the blog posts, eBook, and email newsletter isn’t to hard-sell. Instead, you want to educate people on insurance and how they can benefit from it.
Content marketing is about putting out consistent, useful, and reliable information on your subject of expertise. Over time, people are more likely to trust your brand and consider you when they have to make a purchase.
It’s crucial to understand your target audience well. What are their problems, needs, and desires? Why are you in the best position to help? Then you can craft effective content that resonates with people.
I’d go as far to say: when it comes to content marketing, it’s more important to be a good marketer than a good writer.
4. Content marketing is not just about writing (part 2)
I focus a lot on written content in this blog post as this is the type that I am most familiar with. Also, some of the most common types of content are text-based. Think eBooks, blog posts, email newsletters, and more.
But to be clear, content marketing isn’t limited to written content. Some ideas are best explained or reinforced via other media, like images, audio, or videos.
You don’t have to produce multimedia content by yourself. If you are a content writer, learn to work with video creators, podcast producers, and designers to communicate ideas. At the more senior levels, you’ll need to know how to manage the production of a variety of content deliverables.
You’ll also want to become familiar with one or more distribution channels. It’s not enough to produce awesome content. No, you’ve got to distribute it to the people who would be interested in it. So, get familiar with channels like social media and email.
5. How do you get started in content marketing when you have zero experience?
I got my first content marketing job by demonstrating that I had strong writing skills. I think I wrote a strong cover letter that got the hiring manager’s attention. My “portfolio” then was a bunch of random stuff that I had written. Like, a media pitch and an article I wrote for a public relations newsletter.
Some people join freelance gig sites like Upwork and take up content writing jobs. I hear that these sites are very competitive nowadays though. Several writers have said that Upwork is even rejecting writer applications, because there are too many.
Another way is to pitch to agencies. Write a damn good email pitch that sells your writing services. Having worked in agencies, I know many of them outsource writing jobs that they can’t handle in-house to freelancers (who sometimes outsource these jobs to other writers…)
Finally, set up a blog. Blogging has been incredibly useful for me. In a way, my blog is like a portfolio that demonstrates my ideas, personality, and writing skills. I always include my blog in my job applications. Hiring managers do check it out and tell me what they think of it.
6. What other skills do you need to be a content marketer, besides writing?
Content marketing is part of the wider digital marketing ecosystem. Some useful digital skills that you can learn are:
- Search engine optimisation a.k.a SEO (so that your content will rank high on Google)
- Google Analytics (so that you know how well your content performs)
- Social media (so that you can distribute your content to existing followers and attract new followers)
- Email marketing (so that you can deliver content straight into your subscribers’ inboxes)
- HTML (so that when you upload content to content management systems, and it looks weird in visual mode, you can always go to the HTML editor to fix it)
People skills are important too. A content marketer never works in silos. So, be a reliable team player, deliver good work on time, and don’t be an asshole.
Finally, as you level up in your content marketing career, you will need strong project management skills.
7. There are several ways you can progress in your content marketing career
You can choose the specialist route, or the manager route.
Specialists are content writers who have niches. Your niche can be industry-focused, such as finance, health, or technology. You can also specialise in a type of content. I know of a guy who specialises in writing case studies.
The manager route is the one that I am currently on. I am in charge of the company blog. I plan the editorial calendar, manage writers, edit their work, and publish blog posts. I don’t write blog posts, but I do write email newsletter content.
Content strategist is probably most high-level content marketing role. Content strategists have a broad range of digital marketing skills. They plan and execute content marketing campaigns end-to-end, as well as measure and report the results. Content strategists often have to manage teams as well as various stakeholders.
8. What are some useful content marketing resources and groups?
When it comes to honing my writing skills, I recommend this Facebook group called The Cult of Copy. Colin Theriot, a veteran copywriter, is the guy behind The Cult of Copy. Colin and the group members discuss persuasion techniques, writing effective copy, the business of copywriting, and more. The best thing that I gained from The Cult of Copy is Colin’s “Viking Velociraptor” formula for copywriting. I have used this super versatile formula to write landing pages, blog posts, emails, ad copy, and more. Best US$13 that I have ever spent 🙂
Side note: If you’re wondering about the difference between content writing and copywriting, this blog post explains it well. Content writing aims to educate and raise awareness about a topic. Copywriting aims to get the reader to take a specific action. I focus a lot on content marketing in this blog post, but copywriting is important too, especially if you write a lot of direct-response mailers and web pages.
Another Facebook group that I recommend is The Copywriting Club. Contrary to the name, this group is not for copywriters only. Content marketers of all levels and anyone who is interested in marketing are welcome. This group is a little more beginner friendly than The Cult of Copy. The folks in The Copywriting Club are super helpful and willing to share their knowledge, so don’t be shy about seeking feedback in there.
Finally, when it comes to websites:
- Copyblogger: explains concepts in an easy to understand way. Also, good resources on writing headlines
- Yoast: excellent resources on SEO and how to incorporate SEO into your writing effectively
- AHREFS: their blogging for business course is free and super comprehensive
It’s funny to think that a few years ago, I hadn’t even heard of content marketing. Somehow, I got into the field, stuck with it despite various crap that happened, and built a content marketing career
One thing that kept me going as a content marketer is that I work with words every day. I genuinely like writing and editing. In a way, I am paid to do something that I enjoy.
If you’ve read this far, I hope this blog post has helped you understand how to get started in content marketing. One final tip:
No matter what your job is, know your strengths and passions, and keep building on them.
Feel free to leave a comment or question if you’d like to learn more about working in content marketing! 🙂