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The Career-Defining Skills Every Content Marketer Needs  

In digital marketing, you learn to take the unexpected in stride. But the sudden interest in generative AI creates a new wrinkle that threatens to stop your team members in their (career) tracks. 

Yes, AI tools can tackle tedious content tasks, which – in theory – could free your team to focus on projects they’re passionate about. But AI’s powerful capabilities can cost your workforce by rendering their content skills obsolete and making them more susceptible to lay-offs. 

Add in job market volatility, economic uncertainty, and the rapid pace of digital change, and even highly skilled content pros may worry about their career prospects.

You can help them stay relevant by identifying and investing in the skills they need. (You may want to do the same for yourself, too.)

What skills are most critical to a successful and fulfilling career in content marketing right now? Data from CMI’s Careers & Salary Outlook for 2024 and advice from experts speaking at this year’s Content Marketing point to these areas: 

  • Working with new technologies   
  • Data analytics/data science
  • Management skills   
  • Audience development   
  • Creative skills  

A cloudy career outlook calls for sharper skills  

According to CMI’s career research, content marketers feel good about their jobs, with a majority (54%) saying they feel engaged at work. Yet, many feel less confident about their career longevity.  

The potential impact of generative AI factors heavily into their concerns.  

  • 62% say writers and editors will earn less respect  
  • 55% say writing will become commoditized 
  • 46% say they fear lower compensation  
  • 44% predict fewer jobs for content marketers 

Their worry hasn’t discouraged them from seeking content job fulfillment and advancement. But with only 25% seeing a clear career path within their companies, they’re increasingly likely to pursue work opportunities elsewhere.    

Top skills to build 

CMI research found that “among those who view advances in AI as inevitable, many say honing their skills is a way to stay relevant and protect the value of their work.” 

Which skills are they most eager to explore? Not surprisingly, learning to work with new technologies like AI is at the top of the list (48%). Data analytics/data science (42%) and management skills (42%) are close behind.  

But are these the right skills to focus on? Experts presenting at Content Marketing World 2023 offer these insights.  

Working with new technologies (48%) 

Trust Insights’ chief data scientist Chris Penn says marketers don’t need a systems engineering degree to succeed in an AI-driven content world. But he recommends learning the technology’s fundamental workings and how they relate to various aspects of marketing –  such as content creation, distribution, and consumer consumption habits.

“Investing the effort to acquire a working knowledge of AI principles is key to staying ahead in the marketing arena,” Chris says.  

As companies increasingly turn to AI-powered productivity tools, knowing how to use them to your brand’s best advantage will be critical. “Prompt engineering is a skill everyone should become familiar with. Everyone who uses productivity software will need to learn it to maximize their productivity,” Chris says. 

Cathy McPhillips, who is chief growth officer at the Marketing AI Institute, feels those skills will help marketers feel more fulfilled in their careers. “Marketers need to overcome the fear of AI to understand how it can help us do our jobs and love our work even more,” Cathy says.  

Data analytics/data science (42%) 

The University of Rochester’s director of content strategy and assessment, Brian Piper, advises marketers to skill up in managing data collection and storage, particularly regarding consumer privacy. “We will all need to focus on data privacy compliance to ensure that we’re not collecting, storing, or using data in a way that creates risk for the customer or our business,” Brian says.  

According to Karen Hopper, senior director of performance marketing at Bully Pulpit Interactive, marketers would also benefit from a better understanding of how marketing attribution works – and how to tie it to business outcomes. “In times of economic turmoil, being able to confidently say that each dollar invested in marketing yields $3 in sales is gold,” Karen says. “But if you can’t match the investment to the outcomes, it’s impossible to make this argument.” 

Expertise in analyzing trend data is another emerging area of importance. ACD/Labs’ digital marketing coordinator Jesse Harris says the marketplace volatility we’ve experienced since the 2020 pandemic reminds us that consumers’ priorities are becoming harder to anticipate. A firmer grasp of predictive analytics will make it easier to tweak your marketing in response to changing conditions.    

But Jesse points out it’s not just about data analytics. Marketers should be able to gather direct customer insights, too. For this, he recommends brushing up on how to conduct compelling customer interviews. “Quantitative and analytics tools are more helpful when you already know what to look for or what questions to ask, which often comes through direct interviews,” Jesse says. 

Management skills (42%) 

Inbar Yagur, director of content and product marketing at Lusha, feels future marketing teams will need to focus more on the things that AI can’t do, like managing collaboration, strategy development and planning, and connecting with consumers on a human level. “When boiled down to its essence, marketing is about getting people to engage with your business. You still need humans to help facilitate that and make it effective,” Inbar says. 

Marketers who want to advance their careers should also boost their abilities to communicate and engage others around change and unblock problems through collaboration and experimentation, according to Breker Group’s Melissa Breker.  

Melissa says it is essential for content leaders to understand human motivation models to cultivate trust, build rapport, and provide the proper support and encouragement to their team members. “From meaningful and challenging jobs to reward systems, understanding people and their needs can increase motivation and drive performance,” Melissa says. “This information is critical for building teams and project structures that are self-sustaining and rewarding for everyone.” 

Audience development (31%) 

Understanding human motivations will also help build trusted, engaged audiences – fundamental to content marketing success. Yet, ViviMae Labs’ Adrienne Sheares says too many marketers make data-based assumptions about their audiences’ needs rather than gathering insights directly from customers through conversations. “Marketers who can speak to their customers will win,” Adrienne says.

To facilitate that success, Adrienne offers this recommendation: “Develop your research skills, particularly understanding the different research methods, when to apply them, and how to eliminate as much research bias as possible. Your results can only be as good as your research.”  

In addition to offering on-the-job research training, encourage your teams to self-educate through online courses, as well as by reading books.

While pursuing her master’s degree in communication, Adrienne shares that she leaned heavily on resources like Research in Mass Communication: A Practical Guide, Designing Qualitative Research, and Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data to strengthen her research chops.  

Creative skills 

The 2024 Career and Salary Outlook finds fewer content marketers plan to focus on developing creative skills like writing and editing (22% vs. 40% in 2023) and audio and video creation (23% vs. 34%). 

This is short-sighted. While AI may do an adequate job with some creative tasks, human creators will still be needed to monitor and improve the bots’ output.  

Bernie Borges, VP of global content marketing at iQor, advises content marketers to sharpen their ability to interview subject matter experts (SMEs). “Marketers who can conduct effective interviews set the stage for great content development. A great interview will bring out the story worth telling while endearing yourself to the subject matter expert,” Bernie says. That deeper rapport can also motivate those SMEs to share the resulting content with their audiences.  

AI also struggles with generating original content, as it can only create copy based on the materials in its training set. Often those materials are protected by copyrights, which is why Garrett Public Relations’ Michelle Garrett finds the industry’s growing reliance on AI concerning. “They pull from what’s already been published,” she says, pointing out that even if it’s not word-for-word the same, it’s not original content.  

Michelle believes sharpening their journalistic skills, like fact-checking and reputable sourcing, will benefit content marketers in their careers. She also recommends they refine their writing skills and continually practice their craft. Even if writing isn’t among their usual work responsibilities, they should do some writing on their own.  

Leaders who do provide writing opportunities – and take time to coach their team members on the necessary skills – may be in a better position to retain their talents. “If I’m working somewhere that wants to use ChatGPT instead of helping their teams improve at writing, I’d leave and find an agency or company that values writers,” Michelle says.  

Support the upskilling journey  

Providing your team members with skills training and support are empowering steps leaders can take to help them achieve their content career goals. CMI’s Career and Salary Outlook suggests a few mentorship approaches to consider:   

  • Listen. Schedule one-on-one conversations to learn more about each person’s aspirations and interests. Opening the discussion permits your team to express their concerns – and their ambitions for the next stage of their careers. It also helps you understand how to motivate them and offer guidance to help them reach their goals.  Opening the discussion gives your team permission to be curious about the next stage of their careers. It also helps you understand how to motivate them and offer guidance to help them reach their goals.  
  • Define and map their paths forward. Only 25% of content marketers surveyed see a clear career path for them within their organization. This can make them reluctant to take on new work responsibilities – or drive them to seek advancement elsewhere. Plot out the opportunities available in your company and define what each role entails. Then, outline each path’s goals, training needs, and milestones.  
  • Offer “stretch” opportunities. Enable team members to expand their work experience from within their current roles. Consider offering focused skill-building exercises, mentorship programs, or one-off “stretch” assignments. 

Every content career deserves a glow-up  

Acquiring new skills in areas poised for significant growth will help your team members feel more confident, capable, and ready to conquer tomorrow’s content challenges.

You can’t force your team members to drink from the fountain of relevant knowledge. But you can lead them along a path to better career prospects.  

Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is director of content strategy at CMI. She describes her role as a combination of strategic alchemist, process architect, and creative explorer. Prior to this role, Jodi spent over a decade developing and managing content initiatives for brand clients in the entertainment, CPG, health care, technology, and biotech industries, as well as for agencies and media brands. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.