The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) launched a new consulting service last week. Knowing some of the folks behind CMI, I'm sure it will be a bang-up service for connecting with knowledgeable people who can help marketers develop a content strategy that delivers results. Check it out.
Much has been written about how to find the right consultant for a typical project. Standard qualifications include the right expertise, referrals and references, availability, and fee structure. But what are the unique qualifications and attributes that you should look for in a content marketing partner? Here are four:
Someone who listens first, talks later
Any initial consulting session should begin with a thorough exploration of your markets, your customers, your products, your services, and your company. Judge your consultant's listening ability by the caliber of his or her questions. Beware of anyone bearing solutions, especially of the social media variety, before understanding your audience and specific objectives.
Content marketing expert, teacher and coach
Strategy development will be a relatively short-term engagement, hopefully with periodic follow-up meetings to assess progress and make course corrections. Your consultant should provide specialized knowledge that will guide decision-making and execution on an every-day level after they are gone.
For example, the technical aspects of social media, e-marketing and SEO are rapidly evolving. Not unlike your IT staff or IT service providers, your content marketing advisor will keep up with the latest crazes, sort out what's relevant so you don't have to, and pass on appropriate guidance.
The biggest challenge for content marketers today is creating engaging content, as noted in this fairly rigorous study B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends by Junta42 and Marketing Profs. (Much more on this issue another day.) Engaging content has many facets, from topic selection to presentation style. At heart, it comes down to quality.
Your advisor should be an uncompromising proponent for quality. He or she should be able to articulate all of the reasons and research that connect high quality content and audience engagement with marketing results. You need someone who can help you stand up for the importance of quality content when your sales manager pushes to turn your white paper into a sales pitch.
Your advisor should challenge your team to break out of ruts, reshuffle resources, and take some risks. The exact nature and style of this role will vary. People who specialize in brainstorming tend to be good at it. The trick is to build on an idea, or a glimmer of an idea, or simply what you've always done, and flip it around, look at it from a radically different perspective, or simply give it another twist, so that it appears fresh and new. As demonstrated by the output of the best marketing agencies, creative thinking is a habit that can be cultivated.
A final thought. There's no substitute for experience. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't engage an advisor who doesn't have specific experience in your market or industry. Many product and service and marketing innovations result from the cross-pollination and adaptation of ideas from unrelated markets.
This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. What have I missed? What are some of the key attributes of the best content marketers, developers, writers and designers that you have worked with?