Half-Baked Content Marketing Ideas: Front-End vs. Back-End Content Marketers

Half-Baked Content Marketing Ideas is a series of posts I occasionally publish to share raw, unfiltered ideas about our industry. Some might be good. Most are probably bad or too early to tell. All benefit from your input in the comments.

So, here is today's unfiltered, uncertain idea.

I have a confession to make. 

Now, this particular confession is on the level of scrawny, teenage Jay confessing that he wasn't great at breakdancing — which is to say, this is a painfully obvious confession.

Regardless, it’s a confession I must make out loud. Ready? Here we go... 

I only really like content marketing because it lets me create stuff for a living. I'm not actually a huge fan of "marketing."

Bet you didn't see that one coming. (Glances at blog header.) Oh, right.

But here’s my point: I think my desire to create and my love for doing so just for the sake of it makes me better. I think my refusal to shop at Tips-and-Tricks R Us makes me -- and others like me -- different, which is useful when your goal is to stand out and build audience, rather than pump out more listicles.

I think that desire to create first, market second, makes me valuable to a business in 2015 and even more valuable to a business in 2016 and beyond, as the need to create quality content and experiences continues to grow and trump more churn-and-burn, hollow, over-optimized content. (The early adoption wave has crashed, after all. Content marketers can’t just BE anymore — they have to BE GOOD.)

But business isn't art and art alone. I'd argue it requires art and benefits from art, but you still need the science and the metrics and the technology and the efficiencies most marketers obsess over — even for creative things that require actual human beings and a ton of subjective thought. And yanno what? The vast majority of that is wonderful! Done correctly, it can help both sides — your business and your audience. Done improperly, which unfortunately isn't exactly uncommon, it can feel awkward, forced, and low quality. 

So here’s my half-baked idea, which centers around content marketing careers, something I think about quite often:

We should divide up content marketing jobs into “front-end” and “back-end” content marketers. 

There's a strong analog in the product development community (and content is a LOT like a product as many folks far smarter than me have said). In both fields, there are folks that love the part that “physically” touches an audience, and there are folks that love the part that makes it all actually work and scale both effectively and efficiently.

In product, the front-end stuff often requires basic knowledge of code (HTML, CSS, etc.) but mainly focuses on experience and interaction with the end user or customer: design, UX, UI, interactive, user flow, etc.

In marketing, the front-end stuff similarly requires some basic knowledge of the things that feel like "marketing" (analytics, SEO, etc.) but mainly focuses on the things I love: creating the actual content and the experience. In this camp and career path sit writers, designers, video producers, podcasters, and more.

In terms of back-end stuff, that would require more intimate and deep knowledge of the technical and (as some like me would say) more “boring” things.

In the product world, that would mean the more infrastructure-y technology stack that ensures the product actually functions the way it should. I'm not well-versed in this area, but let's go ahead and say that the word "servers" and "scalability" both apply here and leave it at that.

In marketing, this back-end function would include individuals including the following: SEOs, email marketers, analytics experts, demand-gen marketers, CRO specialists, lead nurturing and marketing automation experts, and so on. (Note: I realize there are functions like marketing ops who are more or less perfect for this “back-end” tag, but I’m only discussing the existing roles that people currently tag as content marketers. Perhaps the front-end/back-end delineation could apply to the entire marketing team, who knows? This is cookie dough, not a fully-baked cookie, right?) 

Just like in product, both front-end and back-end content marketers benefit from and probably should have knowledge of the other side. But also similar to the product development world, there's so much to know and master that specializing and developing deeper skills in either area can lead to more successful teams and companies -- as well as more fulfilling careers. And yes, a choice few would be proud to call themselves "full stack" and try to master it all.

Continuing the analogy: Both halves can more effectively move forward in the right direction with the right leadership or steward-like role — a content strategist, publisher, or Chief Content Officer is the marketing analog to a product manager or Chief Product Officer. A managing editor or editor-in-chief might be similar to the head of design/UX in the product world, while the head of demand-gen or other, similar VPs of marketing is your VP of engineering. 

In the end, the need for content creators has never been higher. These are people that can be prolific in both the quantity sense and quality sense. Likewise, the need for marketers who understand tech, distribution, optimization, and analytics has never been higher. These are the people who deal with content simply because that’s the way marketing is done today — if it’s not content, they’re okay with it. It could be banner ads or events or PPC and that’d be fine. But if the front-end group caught wind of that shift, they’d find another field that enables their desires to create. 

Both halves are critical. Both are in demand. Both require tons of knowledge and ability. And both can lead to rewarding, exciting careers. Perhaps it’s time we defined them as such.

You can read my first half-baked content marketing idea (on a talent agency for content marketers) right here.

Posted on June 17, 2015 .