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Epic content. Meaningful content. Revenue-generating content.

You read about how to do better marketing day and night. You get it. Earning an A in digital marketing demands creating effective content. The best of the best do it consistently. You?

Did you get an F this year? Fuuughh! 

You got a D? Damn.

Wait. You give yourself a C? Is that OK?

Maybe you’re above average? Can you do better than a B?

Did someone tell you it’d be easy? Boycott that bonehead.

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Will you become a better marketer in 2016?

Whether you to participate in the content marketing studies or not, you’re familiar with the research. The outcomes change slightly from year to year, but the areas marketers struggle with have held fairly steady.

We mostly have the same pains. We mostly long for the same prescriptions. This year’s top priorities lay it out for us once again…

The majority of B2B content creators want to:

top content marketing challenges

Now this is interesting (and ironic)

The annual benchmarks, budget and trends report also tells us:

  • 76% will produce more content in 2016
  • 51% will “invest” more in content marketing in 2016

(I used quotations for “invest” because the survey actually read “spend,” and my mission is to help marketers make their spend pay, hence my distaste for the word.)

So let me ask you, my marketing friend (and potential sufferer of Spinning Wheel Syndrome)…

Will you produce more, invest more, and get less?

No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

Say no. Say doing so is a no-no. But don’t just say no. Do something. Get better. Say, “Yes, I’m going to…”

Develop better marketing habits

My favorite blog post this past year was written by David Ly Khim at HubSpot. Nope, I don’t know David and can’t tell you his degree of content expertise. I do know he had the excellent idea to ask a group of content experts:

What’s the one habit the best content marketers have?

His great question solicited some great answers. Many were expressed as tips rather than habits, but each should help give you ideas for doing better marketing in 2016 and beyond.

Keep on networking

Jimmy Daly, content editor at Vero 


Making new friends is the key to getting content shared and promoted. In practice, networking just means staying in touch with friends in your industry, reaching out to new people, contributing to sites like Quora, reddit,, and, in general, helping others succeed. Goodwill goes a long way.

Of course, I spend a lot time writing, working on SEO, and creating email campaigns, but it’s all for naught if people don’t know and trust me.

Listen to your audience

Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove


While your job is to ensure that your voice gets heard by others, the most effective habit you can build is actively listening to your audience.

That means reading comments, emails, and tweets and emailing your readers to find out what they’re thinking about, struggling with, and interested in getting better at.

Good content marketers don’t grasp at straws when it comes to picking topics.  If you let your audience guide you, you’ll never be left wondering if you’ve picked a good subject or not.

Research constantly

Joanna Wiebe, creator of Copy Hackers


We all read a thousand things a day, but many people rarely capture or save the best stuff to reference later. So years ago I started keeping swipe files of my favorite emails, newsletters, and campaigns. I also take screenshots of interesting (good or bad) interfaces and experiences. I save data points and anecdotes from the articles I read on my fave blogs and in DeepDyve journals (a killer resource if you write epic posts).

Then, when I’m ready to write, I just slot those snippets of info into my draft posts, and suddenly what would’ve been an opinion piece is a far more credible, engaging post. By living in research mode, I’ve got the data I need to write more convincing and share-worthy content without starting from scratch every time.

Extract knowledge from experts

Kelsey Meyer, co-founder of Influence & Co


When you’re producing content every single day, your own creativity isn’t always enough. I’ve become a better content marketer by learning how to extract knowledge to gather insights from other people for a piece of content.  We do this through verbal interviews, written Q&As, and using a knowledge management template to organize the information we receive from other people.

Watch how content performs

Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz 


The habit that makes me most effective is watching how a ton of content in our space performs (via social media, feeds, blogs, and email) and seeing what works and what doesn’t.  That’s a powerful process because it trains me to spot patterns in what resonates vs. doesn’t and it helps me be a better creator and amplifier.

Obsess over quality

Camille Ricketts, head of content
& marketing at First Round Review


The key to being a standout content marketer is committing entirely to quality over quantity. Someone will always have more time or resources than you to throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. The best thing you can do to truly be different and get noticed is to be extremely thoughtful about what will distinguish you, and put all your energy into delivering on that.

Demand value

Jory MacKay, writer/editor for the Crew blog


One of the best habits any content marketer should practice is to constantly look at your content through the lens of your readers and ask, “Does this provide value?”

Good content teaches, enlightens, and entertains. It’s not an advertisement for your brand or just some way to highlight new features. It’s a way to show you value your audience’s time and want them to leave feeling satisfied.

To do this, you need to have a deep understanding of just who your audience is. At Crew, our target audience is independent creatives — everyone from designers and developers to writers, marketers, and entrepreneurs. Almost every member of our team is a part of that audience, which makes them the perfect ‘focus group’ for determining whether my audience would benefit from a new article or tool.

Live in “idea mode”

Brittany Berger, content & PR manager at Mention


I think the most effective content marketers live in ‘idea mode.’ They’ve learned how to come up with blog post and eBook topics almost passively—going through life with part of their mind always engaged in how their experiences may translate into content topics.

For example, reading five posts from their RSS reader over morning coffee translates to three new ideas on their own to-do list. They come into work Monday morning with a post outline on lessons learned from their latest Netflix binge.

Of course, this passive idea creation is worthless without some organization, so effective content creators are also meticulous about keeping track of their ideas.  Even if their idea collection is spread out over Post-its, notebooks, and four different online tools, what matters is when writer’s block or an empty content calendar hits, they have ideas to turn to.

Ask questions

Hana Abaza, VP of marketing at Uberflip


As a content marketers, you have to figure out what content is needed, create a dialogue with your audience, and nurture the relationship — all while telling a compelling story and meeting your business objectives.

Kind of a tall order.

Because of this, the ideal portrait of today’s content marketer is someone with a varied skillset that includes a few key habits for success. But, if I had to choose one, I would say that the best content marketers are always asking questions to get a deeper understanding of their audience.

By putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, the best content marketers learn what their audience will love, what they’ll hate, and how they’ll react. This keeps them in relentless pursuit of the right content, the right angle, and the right story.

Be ambitious

Sam Slaughter, VP of Content at Contently


For me, ambition is the most important quality a content marketer can have.  Successful people in our field aren’t content with just making content. They’re driven to create the best work out there on whatever topic they’ve chosen. There are so many things competing for our attention at any given moment, and lots of content just adds to the noise. It’s only the best and most interesting work that’s going to make an impression, and that’s what we all need to shoot for.

The best content marketers aren’t just trying to be better than their competitors; they want to be better than everyone out there, regardless of the source.

Exercise curiosity

Joe Chernov, VP of marketing
at InsightSquared


Ask questions. Ask the CEO what she’s worried about, unpack why some deals close and others are lost. Ask new hires why they joined the company.

You’ll probably get all surface answers initially. Dig deeper. Exercise curiosity. Watch random TED talks. Participate in—even if just passively—communities like Read articles that you want to read (not just those that you are “supposed to” read). Then ask yourself why you care about them. Go to a play. Listen, really listen, to a great album.

What connections can you draw between these personal interests and your business or your audience? Perhaps nothing, but it’s your job to keep trying to draw connections.  It’s your job to keep your self-monitor active. Why? Because these are the places true inspiration is found.

The best content marketers aren’t just trying to be better than their competitors; they want to be better than everyone out there, regardless of the source.

I think I’ll chime in…

Write like a pro

Barry Feldman, Feldman Creative


In “Why Strong Writing is a Skill to Prioritize in 2016,” Michele Linn at Content Marketing Institute, writes:

Last week, I shared one surprising stat from our B2B research: Only 44% of B2B marketers know what success and effectiveness look like. Another finding that jumped out at me – having internal content creators become stronger writers was the lowest-ranked priority for marketers. Really?

She’s referring to CMI’s 2016 research again. Here’s how B2B content creators rate their top 10 priorities…

Not top priorities

Michele, again: As you can see in the research, creating more engaging content was a top priority, and becoming a better storyteller ranked in the middle. How can you do these things without becoming a better writer?

Place writing skills where you want, but if you give this list a good looking over it’s hard to deny 3, 4, maybe 5 of these priorities trace to them. So please understand: to become a better marketer in 2016 and beyond requires professional writing skills. You can buy (hire), rent (contract) or develop writing skills, but you definitely should make it a habit to pursue them.

Seize every advantage you can

Are you part of the majority that will produce more content and invest more in content marketing in 2016? Obviously you won’t lack for competition. It’s my hope you’ve collected some good ideas here, you’ll develop strong habits, and continue to look to experts to seize every possible advantage.

Have a happy 2016.

CM consultant