Editors like me never used to think about advertising, except to make sure there were no plane crash stories next to the airline ads.

content marketing editors logoBut lately some us are joining the “Mad Men” crowd via content marketing, which addresses a nagging challenge of the digital age: It’s way too hard to do online ads well, and way too easy to do them badly. Do any of these experiences ring a bell?

  • Several weeks after I buy a piece of fitness equipment on Amazon.com, they’re still sending me emails pitching this product … because I really need an ad for something I already own, from the people who sold it to me.
  • carOne day I advise a Facebook friend named Brooke not to buy a new car; a day later I get a Facebook ad advising me to buy a new car … because telling somebody not to buy something must mean I want to buy one myself.
  • A day after that, a Brooks Brothers ad on Facebook seems to think I need a new suit. I’m not in market for high-end menswear, but I do have a Facebook friend named Brooke. Top that, Don Draper.

Ads tracking my online behavior range from comical to creepy, but they almost never entice me to click. Hence the rise of content marketing, which aims to create advertising that clicks with people. Fortunately, it needs a lot of editors to make that happen.

friendsWhen executed well, content marketing creates helpful or entertaining experiences that help companies bond with the people who buy their stuff. The idea is that companies treat their customers like Facebook friends, passing along inspiring, educational and helpful stories in the hope that when folks get ready to buy, they’ll go with their friends first.

Companies with enough resources hire writers, artists, Web designers, numbers crunchers, social media managers and more to create these experiences. The content marketing editor’s job is to stand by their brand while tying all these tasks together.

Editors have a reputation for devoting their lives to minute distinctions in grammar and sentence structure. Content marketing editors love language and the intricacies of communication as much as any kind of editor, but that’s only a sliver of the discipline.

Picture of a shield for article on content marketing editors as guardians of digital advertisingHere’s what it takes to excel as a content marketing editor:

  • Fanatical devotion to accuracy.
  • Intuitive sense of what consumers want.
  • Business-driven outlook.
  • Facility with data and technology.
  • Flexibility across many media channels.
  • Mastery of language and style.
  • Knack for storytelling.
  • Ability to manage creative people effectively.

Let’s look at these in more detail:

Fanatical devotion to accuracy

checkmarkThe rap on marketing is that it says whatever it takes to get people buying. A content marketing editors’ job is to convince companies that they have a vital business interest in publishing accurate, authoritative information that never attempts to deceive consumers.

These days it’s amazingly easy for a few individuals to trash a company by pointing out the differences between what a company promises and what it delivers. Companies that build integrity into their products and their content often find that their customers are their loudest defenders.

Editors with a journalism background have well-developed BS detectors that can help companies steer clear of saying anything that discerning customers will find implausible.

heartIntuitive sense of what consumers want

Content marketing editors have to put themselves into the shoes of the people they’re creating content for. Because most editors have a publishing background, they already have the training and inclination to create content that a consumer will find useful.

Editors also help create customer personas — snapshots of the desires of a typical buyer of a company’s products. Once those personas are in place, editors make sure all articles, videos, tweets and other content are speaking to the targeted customer.

moneybagBusiness-driven outlook

Content marketing has to help a company attract more customers, make more money and expand its market share.

Editors from the journalism world have the toughest time dealing with that, but they are also best poised to deliver content businesses need: stories that are objectively true. Of course the content needs to shine a positive light on a company, but it does not require a hard-sell approach.

The key is that content marketing will be measured, and its success will be judged on how well it turns prospects into customers. Skilled content marketers know when to inform and when to pitch, depending on the customer’s readiness to buy.

toolsFacility with data and technology

In marketing, everything is measured and much of it is automated. Content marketing editors need to know their way around a content-management system, how to edit photographs and videos, and how to navigate a host of applications that streamline marketing processes.

Content marketing editors also need to be able to understand how website traffic data translates into consumer intent, and they must have a grounding in optimizing content so Web searchers can find it.

flexFlexibility across many media channels

The best content marketing editors work with print, video, email, social media, webinars, events, SEO — just about anything that can create an experience that helps companies nurture relationships with customers.

This is a tough transition for a lot of traditional editors, especially those from the world of print publications. This is why it’s usually helpful to hire editors who already have experience in multiple content marketing initiatives.

dictionaryMastery of language and style

Content marketing editors have to know Strunk and White backward and forward. At the same time, they must learn to let go of their pet peeves and latch onto the stuff that readers and companies care most about.

In-depth knowledge of grammar, form, structure and style is fundamental to content marketing, because one of the first jobs of a new content marketing project is to develop a style guide to make sure everybody on the team is saying certain things the same way.

The larger the company is, the more complex its brand requirements tend to be. Editors have to be able to flag anything that diverts from brand guidelines and know when to grant an exception.

handwritingKnack for storytelling

There are a lot of ways to attempt to tell a story, but only the editors who have the best sense of storytelling can excel at it.

It starts with recognizing the prospects of a story and knowing how to start with an acorn of an idea — a sentence or two from a writer or a manager — and help it grow into an oak.

Hands-on editing of content is one of the most subjective parts of the process. The best editors start with a powerful introduction, ensure that ideas flow naturally from one section of the story to the next, and end with a strong, memorable conclusion.

conductorAbility to manage creative people effectively

Skilled editors understand what motivates writers, artists and other content creators. Creative people need a rare combination of hands-on encouragement and hands-off disengagement that turns them loose to invent wonderful things.

The key is helping creative people feel like they’re having an impact while helping the company do the things that it wants done.

Great editors make sure their creatives have firm guidance on what they’re expected to deliver. When the content is in hand, they collaborate extensively to keep their people engaged in the process.

A reality check on content marketing

Content marketing is advertising. It’s not journalism or one of the social sciences. Content marketing serves business purposes and content marketers have to answer to executives in the same way executives have to answer to investors.

Before the explosion of digital communications, companies talked down to their customers — they made noises about the customer being king, but customers didn’t have any way to talk back to companies.

Today any customer can say anything about any company in a venue accessible to the entire world. Some companies are terrified at the concept of customers being on more equal footing, but other companies are recognizing that they finally have a chance to really talk to their customers and build relationships that last.

Credibility and trust are the anchors of those relationships. And that’s why editors trained to produce credible, trustworthy content are a good fit for companies that see the promise of digital media.

Find out more about content marketing editors

I’ve created several social media resources focusing editing and content marketing: