If you’re looking to get into content strategy and want to know which skills you need to possess, or if you’re already working in the field and are hoping to improve your existing skill set, you’ve come to the right place.
Below, I’ll lay out which hard and soft skills are necessary to propel you forward as a content strategist, especially in the realm of B2B marketing. I’ll also tell you why you need a balance of both to succeed.
The difference between hard and soft skills
For starters, let’s establish the distinction between hard and soft skills. When we talk about hard skills, we mean specific, technical know-how that relates directly to the job role at hand.
Soft skills, meanwhile, tend to deal more with interpersonal abilities such as leadership, communication, and strategic thinking.
While hard and soft skills are different from one another, both are equally vital when it comes to developing a well-rounded work persona.
This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty, or worse, recession; you can combat workplace volatility by making yourself as indispensable as possible.
What should go into hard and soft skill sets
When it comes to hard skills, content strategy tends to require a strong grasp of content analysis, development, management, writing/copywriting/editing, editorial strategy, and information architecture. That sounds like a lot, but that’s not it.
Increasingly, SEO know-how is becoming industry-standard as well. (Don’t panic, there’s plenty of software out there to help you if you’re just getting started, such as Moz, SEMRush, Ahref, and more.)
On the soft side of things, you’ll need to possess traits like empathy and strong communication abilities, not just to create content that will resonate with audiences, but to boost your interpersonal relationships across various departments at work and better understand company goals.
Two soft skills have become paramount: strategic thinking and the ability to communicate content ROI.
Strategic thinking is about connecting the dots between business objectives and your content strategies. You need to help executives and sales understand how your content impacts sales, benefits salespeople, and drives demand generation.
Communicating content ROI is as important as strategic thinking. Here is a blog post I wrote specifically on how to approach content ROI.
I do want to make it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all set of hard and soft skills – in order to determine an optimal balance, you’ll need to evaluate your skill assessments/gaps, management’s affinity with the content you create, and other teams’ needs and feedback.
You need to look at what you want to grow as an individual and where you want to take your team to determine the skill sets that you need to possess and grow.
Get specific as you consider and answer formative questions:
What content challenges need solving in your team?
What problems are you currently trying to solve in the context of working with sales or other marketing functions?
I often tell my clients to leverage their content challenges to guide the skills and areas that they need to focus on as content strategists.
You always learn something when you try to solve a challenge.
A good content strategist knows not to leave goals too vague, because it makes it more difficult to deliver demonstrable results.
Keep your goals realistic, clear, and aligned.
Planning is key
When you work on your plan, key elements such as identifying content objectives, aligning brand messaging with company values, establishing your target audience and customer pain points, or even content editorials will surface. You need to address these key challenges as part of your plan.
I often say that you need to plan for your plan.
Conducting a landscape analysis can be an incredibly useful exercise; dig into competitors’ case studies, conduct surveys, and comb and examine existing data. Make an effort to understand anything content-related inside and out.
There’s no such thing as going overboard when it comes to this step, because the more well-versed you are in the current state of affairs, the easier it will be to develop an effective content strategy. Indirectly, your plan can one-up the competition and address your management’s questions and concerns.
Having a solid plan will set you up for success by helping you to stay as organized, streamlined, and consistent as possible.
In addition, it’s important to build templates, workflows, brand guides, and copywriting guidance so that your team and others can massively benefit from processes and templates.
Establishing and utilizing these pre-loaded systems and processes will help ensure efficiency and consistency, regardless of where your content calendar may take you down the line.
While it’s not unlikely that you may find the nature of your content begins to shift as time goes on, things like voice, tone, publishing frequency, aesthetics, etc. will generally remain anchored in place for maximum brand alignment.
Consistent communication and execution will become much easier as a result.
Let’s herd some cats
Content strategists typically have a small team or work extensively with freelancers.
And you work with subject matter experts and various marketing functions, which means it can feel like you’re herding cats a lot of the time.
In addition to being able to demonstrate how your content strategy aligns with business goals clearly, it’s helpful to find senior sponsors from the product team/business unit, sales, or marketing to be your advocates.
Help senior managers see your value-add.
This is where soft skills can really help take your career to the next level. Regardless of where your hard skills stand, being able to maneuver the political landscape, influence others, and communicate with senior management in a way they understand will greatly boost your professional value. You’ll also be adding some wonderful allies to your corner.
In plain English, please…
Perhaps one of the greatest skills a content marketer can possess is being able to relay information clearly and concisely.
At the end of the day, management doesn’t really care about the nitty-gritty of copywriting, CMS tools, information architecture, editorial calendar, or any of the stuff that’s at the heart of what you do. You care, but they don’t!
Essentially, they just want to know and understand the figures.
They want to hear the concrete results of the content strategy and execution. What are the accomplished outcomes or failures of what you implemented?
Based on your findings, how will you adapt and improve moving forward?
This is where you’ll hopefully possess strong analytical skills. If you’re on a more basic skill level in this department, you will want to enlist the help of someone who is well-versed for accuracy.
Use the facts and figures available to you to determine what is and isn’t working so that you can make the appropriate adjustments to future content.
It’s your job to translate your findings into a language that everyone speaks and present the results.
The good news is that, as a content strategist, you should inherently possess impeccable storytelling and communication skills.
Make sure to break everything down for management in a way that can be easily understood, but that’s also compelling.
Explaining the information you present requires finesse – you need to convey the facts, but you must also hold your audience’s attention.
Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a bit of personality, and try to be creative in how you paint the big picture. (For an interesting read, check out Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr; great stuff to consider as you go to create your next report.)
You’ll also want to elaborate on the next steps – what will you implement again, and what will you get rid of based on what worked and what didn’t?
Clearly explain your choices, and be sure to back your plans up with evidence.
Let’s do this
As I say, although there are some overarching skills that content strategists ought to possess, no two professionals’ strengths will be exactly the same.
Continue honing your innate talents, but don’t shy away from cultivating new skills.
And although you may not have a dedicated team at your disposal, don’t be afraid to leverage your communication skills and enlist the help of other members of staff as you develop and execute your strategy. You’ve got this.
What skills do you possess that you’re most proud of? Where can you improve? And where do you feel you fall on the hard vs. soft skills scale? Be sure to share – I love hearing from readers.