Great Content Marketers Need CASH

As the field of content marketing evolves, it’s becoming more of a science and less of an art. While no marketing discipline will ever be purely a science, content marketing, to be effective, needs to be measurable, repeatable, and sustainable. A key element of this evolution is the identification and development of attributes that make for a great content marketer.

My thinking on this topic has developed as I’ve built out a B2B demand generation team at Apptio over the last two years. The approach that I follow is to single out the traits that would differentiate a content marketing candidate if I were hiring today. Through this exercise, a handy mnemonic leapt out at me: CASH.

By 2bgr8 [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
So, what makes up CASH?

Curiosity, especially when it goes hand in hand with empathy, is a prerequisite for effective content marketing. Great content marketers have an almost anthropological understanding of their prospects and customers.

Great marketers start by putting themselves in the shoes of their prospects. They’re relentlessly curious about the needs, wants, desires, challenges, and motivations of their prospects. They develop an understanding not just of the environment in which their prospects function, but also of what’s important in turn to their prospects’ customers.

They don’t just stop there, of course. Great content marketers also map out milestones in the journey that prospects take from being unaware of the marketer’s solution to being a happy customer and a reference.

Content marketing isn’t about creating content for its own sake. It’s about creating and merchandizing content to attract, engage, and convert prospects. Measuring and optimizing for outcomes is essential. How does a great content marketer do this?

The first step is to understand the different stages of the marketing and sales funnel, and the stages that need improvement. Sometimes a business needs more inquiries. Other times, it needs to do a better job of converting Sales Accepted Leads to Qualified Active Opportunities. A content marketer must understand and align the funnel stages to the current snapshot of her company performance.

The second step for a content marketer is to form a hypothesis about the type of content that she needs to produce to improve this performance. The type, medium, and depth of content needed varies by stage, but unless a content marketer can make the connection between the funnel needs and content, she can’t truly be effective. To gauge content effectiveness, the content marketer must figure out the leading and lagging indicators of content efficacy. And what she can do to improve these.

The third step is to figure out the conversion and optimization economics associated with getting this content in front of the right prospects at the right time in the right forums. While storytelling skills, which I cover below, are essential for this purpose, it’s also important that a content marketer understand the efficacy of distribution channels (search, social etc.) in terms of their cost and other revenue performance indicators. Beyond understanding, the content marketer should be comfortable in driving performance in these channels using levers such as multivariate testing and quick experimentation.

What skills does a content marketer need to do this effectively? Familiarity with Google Analytics or other web analytics tools, a basic understanding of statistics, and the ability to pick up multivariate testing is what comes to mind. Let’s not forget a desire and an aptitude for manipulating Excel! Excel is a marketer’s best friend.

Every piece of content has at least one great story embedded in it. It has a hero – one that the prospects can identify with and root for. Cue Joseph Campbell and his Hero’s journey.

A good content marketer tells stories. Stories that capture the imagination of prospects, elicit an emotional response, and make the prospects act to take the next step in the buying journey.

Good writing skills complement storytelling. But it goes beyond just writing; to thinking about how to tell stories with the variety of tools we have out there. It’s about making great presentations and applying that skill to media like SlideShare. It’s about video marketing. It’s about understanding how you can tell stories on social media like Twitter. It’s also about injecting the right amount of tension and conflict in a blog post.

Storytelling skills can be learned. Here are a couple of great books on the topic:

A content marketer that gets results is one who’s not afraid to hustle. So, what is hustle in this context? It’s a can-do and positive attitude. It’s the ability to roll up your sleeves and get things done. It’s dogged persistence and grit. A part of this is work ethic. Sure. But more of it is about creativity. Flexibility. And agility.

A lot of content marketing is about reuse, recycling, and repackaging of existing content. This isn’t about laziness. It’s about ROI. A great content marketer understands and internalizes this in all her marketing activities. She starts by curating content before moving to creation and cultivation. She’s always looking for new channels and formats to get her content out in front of prospects. She spends time on and learning the new tricks of the trade. She engages with influencers in her sector and gets them to contribute on her blog. She finds current memes and attaches to them in clever and engaging ways.

If push comes to shove, I’ll take this quality over most of the others, though a good mix is always welcome!

What do you think? What other traits would you add to the list above? Chime in via the comments below or tweet me @dhamdhere

Where I learn about Content Marketing

I’m driven by learning. I feel fortunate in that, because as the famous Dorothy Parker quote goes: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” It also turns out that the best leaders are insatiable learners.

Over the past two years, I’ve been building out the content marketing function at Apptio. Content marketing also happens to be one of my passions. Based on a suggestion by Ruchika Tulshyan, here are the sources I trust for learning more about the evolving field of content marketing and, to a great extent, marketing itself.

The sources below are a mix of websites, Twitter feeds, and email newsletters. While you don’t have to stick to that mix, I do think you’d learn a lot by following the sources below in one media or the other.

  1. A community to learn and share about ethical online marketing techniques that drive effective, scalable, and sustainable growth.
  2. A community of inbound marketers to share and discuss the best content and new marketing ideas
Email Newsletters
  1. Moz Top 10: A semimonthly email newsletter sharing inbound marketing news, insider tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team.
  2. Content Marketing Institute Weekly Newsletter: A summary of the week’s CMI blog articles and news along with exclusive content from Joe Pulizzi.
What am I missing? What would you recommend I add to this list? Do chime in via the comments below.

My Favorite Articles for the Week of 12/9

  1. When Marketing is Strategy: This article from the Harvard Business Review Magazine theorizes that the center of gravity for competitive differentiation has shifted from means of production (upstream) to marketing (downstream). A fascinating and provocative read.
  2. Digital Marketing and Analytics: Two Ladders for Magnificent Success: A great blog post from Avinash Kaushik about the importance of evolutionary growth in both digital marketing and analytics, and how they relate to each other. Must read.
  3. 5 Lessons in Effective Copywriting for Nurturing Emails from Ogilvy & Bird: Lessons in writing great nurture emails from the master, David Ogilvy.

My 7 Operating Principles

Some years ago when I was on the Microsoft Visio team, the General Manager there once started a team meeting by presenting his operating principles. These principles gave an insightful glimpse into this leader’s values and also how he had come to rise so quickly through the ranks at Microsoft.


As I build a content marketing team at Apptio, I’ve been thinking about my own operating principles. The 7 principles listed below are what I shared with my team a few weeks ago, and I figured I’d share them with you as well:

  1. Get things done. Practice the art of the possible with a clear bias for action. Without this attitude the following principles matter a lot less.
  2. Take risks. It’s okay to make mistakes. The important thing is to make newer and smarter mistakes. Make progressively better mistakes.
  3. Leadership is about providing clarity. Where are we headed? How will we get there? What needs to get done right now? How can you contribute? Answering these questions for you is my first order of business.
  4. Your success is my success. My commitment to you is that I’ll work hard to provide you with opportunities to grow, the resources to act on these opportunities, and the visibility to get your successes recognized and rewarded. At the same time…
  5. Be proactive in finding and pursuing opportunities. Take ownership of your career and your growth.
  6. Speak up, especially if you have a differing opinion. Consensus is not always a good thing. Disagree respectfully and in a principled manner. Spirited debate leads to a better end product.
  7. Have fun. I take this aspect of my job very seriously!

I reserve the right, as always, to wake up smarter tomorrow, and so some of these principles may evolve over a period of time. That being said, these are a pretty good representation of where I stand today.

What do you think? Chime in via comments below or tweet me @dhamdhere.

Developing a Digital Marketing Curriculum


In the last six years, I’ve had many roles across a wide variety of digital marketing functions. Suffice to say, I LOVE digital marketing. While I learned about the fundamentals of marketing, strategy, and finance at Ross, the course work there was light on digital marketing – at least back in 2004-06.

I’ve been thinking about how I would design a syllabus to cover the important digital marketing skills that I’ve learned in the past few years. Here are the topic areas I’d address:

  1. Web Analytics: What, how, and when to collect and analyze data that provides insights on prospect and customer behavior.
  2. Copywriting: How to write copy that converts across email, websites, social media etc.
  3. Design: Typography, color, scale, and composition.
  4. Multivariate testing: Understanding factors that drive conversions and a mechanism for testing them on a site.
  5. Social media engagement: How to build online communities that scale using social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
  6. Search Engines: Fundamentals of search engine optimization and marketing
  7. Web technology: Understanding web technology and how you can use it be an effective marketer.

This is the first in a series of posts that I’ll be doing over the next few months. In succeeding posts, I’ll write about books and online resources that I used to learn about each of the topics above.

Did I miss a topic? Let me know in the comments.

BusinessWeek looks back at Barnes & Noble missteps

I imagine there are some spirited discussions underway right now at Barnes & Noble on the path ahead. BW has some unsolicited advice:

“Whatever Riggio decides to do with the business he built, he could do worse than remember why people still go to his stores. People enjoy being around books, holding them, turning their pages. As Barnes & Noble’s new head of Nook Media says, richer minds, richer pockets”.

Full article here. This is probably the last of my posts about B&N. I wish them luck.

The Continuing Saga of Barnes & Noble

It’s been about 18 months since I blogged about the challenges that Barnes & Noble faced in the book market. Last week brought some sad news with the resignation of CEO William Lynch. The Nook initiative has not been going well and B&N does not have a lot of options left on the table when it comes to just books, as hopeful as the NYT sounds. One suggestion from HBR: diversify beyond books and become a mini-mall. Irrespective of the path that it chooses, B&N will have to reinvent itself in some way. I’m interested in seeing if this reinvention can build on some of what made it so successful in the past. Possibly its savviness in real estate?

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