Just one thing separates a bad content marketing team from no content marketing team: the cost.

Far from “the poor man’s copywriting,” content marketing has evolved into a multimedia practice that demands creativity, expert analytics and highly synchronized execution. Half measures will do little more than waste your time and money.

That’s why step No. 1 in structuring a winning content marketing team is unequivocal buy in. You have to want to create a dream team. We’re talking “1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team” good.

Via buzzfeed.com

 

If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s find out what gold-medal content marketing teams are made of.

Part 1: Form

What kind of team are you?

Content marketing teams come in all shapes and sizes.

Yours might be an in-house operation with a substantial budget. It could be completely outsourced to a third party with strict caps on monthly spend and only one internal contact. It might be a combination, where a small marketing team oversees the content marketing activities of an external agency.

We’ve even encountered one-person operations, where a single person acts as content strategist, creator and promoter.

Whatever the case, the shoe needs to fit.

You have to be realistic about your organization’s – or business unit’s – internal capabilities. This may mean making certain trade-offs to operate within your budget. Our advice? Always err on the side of quality. One really strong, well-promoted asset will always outperform five pieces of content that are just OK.

On a more concrete level, any content marketing team must exhibit certain cultural values if it hopes to excel across core functions.

Shared project ownership

“Build marketing programs around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
– The Agile Marketing Manifesto

We cannot overstate the importance of caring. From the outset, every stakeholder – from your stategist to your project manager to your graphic designer – needs to be invested in the project. Cultivate this shared sense of accountability by:

  • Setting clear goal posts.
  • Tieing visions for execution back to these goals when communicating with creatives.
  • Tracking progress at various points in the campaign with the appropriate analytics (e.g., impressions on social, bounce rates on landing pages, etc.).
  • Sharing that progress with everyone, so the entire team can see the fruits of its labor.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70 percent of organizations have the ability to illustrate, with metrics, how content marketing has improved B2B engagement.

Don’t keep that data under lock and key. The greatest source of success in content marketing is enthusiasm and collective pride for what’s been brought to the table.

Agility

“Great marketing requires close alignment with the business people, sales and development.”
– The Agile Marketing Manifesto

This first and foremost means eliminating silos, and we don’t just mean silos between strategists and execution teams. Start at the top, with sales.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Sales and marketing need to be in alignment if you hope to tell a consistent story to your prospects, leads and existing customers. This doesn’t mean you need to initiate sales into your content marketing team structure, but think of them as consultants.

Secondly, try not to think of your content marketing team as a well-oiled machine. You’re not manufacturers pumping products down an assembly line. You’re creative, responsive marketers whose objectives can change at a moment’s notice.

Instead, learn from the late, great Bruce Lee and “be like water.” On a practical level, this means:

  • Holding weekly or bi-weekly meetings to update one another on progress of current initiatives, or to re-calibrate as needed.
  • Leveraging project management resources such as Trello, Asana, Podio, Airtable, etc. to centralize core information and provide updates to the entire team on the fly.
  • Being ready and willing to make adjustments in response to shifting circumstances.

Once again, the Agile Marketing Manifesto, released in 2012, probably summed the goal up best:

“We welcome and plan for change. We believe that our ability to quickly respond to change is a source of competitive advantage.”

Now, here’s Bruce Lee playing pingpong with nunchucks:

Part 2: Function

What key roles need to be represented in your team?

By now, it’s clear that every function on a content marketing team is deeply intertwined. Of course, that raises an important question: What are those functions?

We’re glad you asked, and we’ll tell you.

But first, bear in mind that scale has a lot to do with how these functions will be divvied up among individual team members. In smaller teams, a single person might wear more hats than in say, a well-funded enterprise marketing department, or a content marketing agency.

Ideally, though, all of these core functions will be fulfilled in your content marketing team structure:

Strategy

Your strategists are responsible for creating a marketing strategy that aligns with the business goals du jour. In content marketing, they’ll typically focus on SEO strategy, content creation and distribution goals at a high level, website consulting services, brand awareness and analytics. Strategists are also responsible for aligning budget and execution.

Strategists might go by any number of names depending on your content marketing team structure. Internally, they might be “marketing directors.” Externally you might call them “content marketing strategist” or “account manager.” But a rose by any other name …

Ideation

This is the unsung hero of content marketing, partly because it doesn’t necessarily belong to any one, single role on your team. A case could be made that marketing directors/ associates and agency project managers are the stewards of ideation. But by definition, ideation is development of a creative execution plan for the strategy at large. Thus, it requires input from your strategists, project managers and your production people (writers, designers, etc.).

This is where the “agile” aspect of content marketing team structure really comes into play. More often than not, ideation is a shared effort that requires signoff from multiple stakeholders, and possibly even ad-hoc input at different phases of content development (you’re not married to an idea, after all; if you think of something better during the production phase and can pivot within reason, then by all means, do it).

Execution and creative tracking

That brings us to the doing. Once you have a strategy and high-level creative vision — as in you know the assets (eBooks, videos, paid ads) you want to create — you need someone or someones to create content calendars, and to manage timelines for deliverables, release dates and social posting schedules.

That someone — usually a project manager, managing editor, marketing assistant or combination thereof — also needs to track the progress of those deliverables as the campaign or scope of work moves forward and, if necessary, adjust schedules in the face of the unforeseen.

Production

Your writers, designers, videographers, editors and social media managers are the lifeblood of your content marketing team. Without them, you’re all talk.

If you’re lucky, your internal marketing has the budget, time and resources to produce its own content. But if you’re like the vast majority of organizations, you’ll probably outsource content production to freelancers or to a content marketing agency. And if that’s the case, think of these creatives as an extension of your team. The farther removed they are from the shared vision, the less likely they’ll be to deliver killer content.

Promotion and distribution

You’ve put all this work into creating awesome content, which is great, but now you have to make sure that it reaches the target audience. This requires social media mavens who know how to build a base of followers, and then hook their attention with compelling teasers that will lead them to your content, and deeper into the sales funnel. Likewise, you’ll need strategists who understand how to structure an email drip campaign.

Whether these functions are fulfilled internally by your own marketers or externally by contracted marketers makes no difference. What matters is that you have someone on your team who has dedicated time to promote and distribute your content, and maintain a strong social presence. Otherwise your assets will collect dust, and all your hard work will have been for naught.

Dev and IT

Last but not least, you need people who can help on the technical side of things — to make sure that different content types are loading correctly, and that your integrations aren’t disrupting the user experience.

This is web marketing, after all, and that means you’ll need access to web development experts and site admins to answer the tough questions: Is my site performance optimized for mobile? Are there any hiccups in UX? If you’re working with an agency that has its own CMS, is it exporting multimedia content properly? These are all questions that someone on your content marketing team needs to be able to answer.

Part 3: Finesse

How are you executing?

Ok, so you have an idea of the types of values that drive good team dynamics, and you’re familiar with the core functions that will need to be covered.

That brings us at last to the final lap of building a gold-medal content marketing team: the nuances of execution.

Let results show you the way

As we’ve already mentioned, agility is hugely important in a content marketing team. You can certainly establish an operating rhythm, but don’t get hung up on trying to create a rigid routine.

Instead, let your results determine your next actions. Content marketing has a cycle in that directives are continuously handed off between roles.

For example, analytics-based insights provided by your strategist will influence the types of assets (videos, blogs, etc.) that need to be created, and the channels on which they should be promoted and distributed (social, email, etc.).

Subsequent SEO research might reveal more nuanced keywords that will improve the performance of these assets, which will then impact topic research and ideation. At this point, additional research from your strategist might identify optimal content length, and more specific talking points that will help those particular topics cut through the noise.

Once the piece is produced by your creatives, project managers — the QC gurus of the content marketing world — might identify areas where the content could be improved, or better optimized to align with the strategists’ findings.

Finally, the piece is posted, distributed and promoted. Subsequent analytics might determine that engagement for the piece is high, but clickthrough is low, which could be indicative of a shortcoming in how the content is being promoted. Or, maybe the piece appears to be performing well on search, but doesn’t seem to be generating qualified leads, which could indicate a fault in your site’s UX design.

Whatever the case, the team will need to take action to respond to the newest findings. Consequently, the many roles of a content marketing team will play off each other in unique, and sometimes unpredictable, ways.

And it goes on and on like this, in a never-ending cycle.

Because that, in a nutshell, is what content marketing is: A marathon made up of many sprints.

Ready? Set. Go!

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.