#44: the 8 traits of a senior content marketer

senior content marketer traits

You are reading contentfolks—a fortnightly blend of sticky notes, big content ideas, and small practical examples. Thank you for being here! ~fio

Hey there 👋

Your career path and professional growth are often shaped by the amount of insider knowledge and guidance you have… or don’t.

When I started in content marketing ~12 years ago, I didn’t have peers at work or mentors in my network, so it took me a while to understand some basic career progression facts—for example, that delivering like an excellent tactician isn’t enough to level up; that strategic thinking is a competitive advantage; that seniority is measured in behaviour, rather than time.

Who knows what my job history would have been if someone had explained more things to me, sooner.
But maybe today you can use the advice I needed years ago? 😉

My network is rich with people whose work I respect and trust, so I asked for their guidance on the topic: if you had to choose one or two traits by which you can tell a junior from a senior content marketer, what would they be?

I organised their answers into the eight traits below and added the most representative quotes, but you can read the whole thread here. It’s long, because this is a generous group of content folks!

Experienced/senior content marketers:

1. Put strategy before tactics
2. Use critical thinking + know when to question and try new things
3. Think holistically and see the bigger picture
4. Understand business impact
5. Target content to their audience
6. Build bridges across the org
7. Know when and how to use data
8. Are mentors to others

1. Put strategy before tactics

  • Junior = produces content, as assigned on time. Thinks strategy means making content calendars.
    Senior = thinks about business problems (demand, retention, sluggish pipelines) and thinks about how content could help solve those specific problems.
    Mary Ellen Slayter
  • CEOs, managers, and clients don’t (usually) care if it’s a podcast, a book, or a blog post → these are tactics. They want to know how the content you produce will solve a business challenge → this is strategy. You make yourself immensely more valuable and employable when you move from ‘just’ delivering like a tactician to also thinking like a strategist.
    Me, in this contentfolks issue about thinking like a strategist
  • Focusing more on easy/quick wins (junior) vs. on fewer yet with bigger impact tasks (senior). It’s the perfect companion of your ‘strategy before tactics’.
    Matteo Duò

2. Use critical thinking + know when to question and try new things

  • Junior follows everything by the book. Senior questions everything.Junior doesn’t keep up with industry trends and news, doesn’t connect dots. Senior does. It’s why he/she shares thoughts + always has a lot of ideas to try (but also knows not to follow each — shiny object syndrome, tsk tsk 🤣)
    Masooma Memon
  • A senior never responds to a brief with an “all clear, let me work.” Instead they ask questions ranging from simple to tough that make the brief clearer, and hone in on the strategy behind the ask.
    Martin Šimo
  • Resistance – not just doing stuff because someone told them to, but instead asking questions, poking holes, and offering alternative solutions. This is actually hard work for people who are natural people pleasers.
    Erin Balsa
  • If one thing separates the senior marketers from the junior marketers, it would be the confidence to question people around (even if they are much more experienced).
    Kanika Sharma
  • Number one for me is the willingness to swing big and miss! It wasn’t until a few years into my career that I got comfortable just trying things without knowing if it would work.
    Emerald Nwanne

3. Think holistically and see the bigger picture

  • Senior content marketers think holistically vs. single-form or single-channel. A more junior person tends to talk very specifically about a SINGLE thing: “I wrote a blog post,” “We posted YouTube videos,” “We measured entrances.”A senior person talks about the whole journey and multiple touch-points. They talk about the intent for each asset, how it fits into the bigger picture, and measurement throughout the journey.
    Ashley Faus
  • Understanding the bigger picture, tailoring an omnichannel campaign is what a senior will be capable of, while a junior may look at campaigns more as channel- or format-focused although both of these work for the same goal. And when it comes to content, ability to show content that converts is key for a senior. Basically a senior’s job is to “show-n-tell” and offer the opportunity for the junior to “see-n-apply” to get better their work.
    Preethi Varma
  • Tailor their strategy to the ever-changing market landscape. They think like a CEO. Especially if you work in a fast-moving industry, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels running the same content/SEO programs QoQ, expecting the same results. They don’t wait for their analytics reports to show a 90-day decline in qualified signups, traffic or engagement before exploring new opportunities. As the market shifts & new players enter your category; it’s crucial to commit time, energy and resources to exploring new content types, audience personas, channels etc.
    David ‘DJ’ Oragui
  • Being able to see the whole picture and how the pieces fit together to uncover what’s preventing or slowing growth. Understanding what levers to pull — AND in what order — to drive the most growth, based on that diagnosis. Driving real business impact from that work, not just vanity content metrics (and measuring/demonstrating that impact to your team/leadership)
    Ryan Baum

4. Understand business impact

  • Understanding real business metrics & business impact. Content marketers write content without questions, senior content marketers know the impact of what they’re creating could be and work toward making the highest kind.
    Maeva Cifuentes
  • The ability to understand business outcomes bigger than their KPI.
    Nick Richtsmeier
  • Understanding that content marketing is a growth engine that can & should bring revenue to the organization (tied to revenue goals).
    Dionysios Zelios
  • Two that immediately come to mind:
    1. Being able to think strategically and understand how content fits into the bigger picture of the business and its goals (rather than just focusing on quality of execution).
    2. Being able to apply that strategic thinking to not only creating better content but to show how it’s impacting business growth. Ben Sailer
  • Making the leap to seniority is recognising that although there isn’t as much tangible ROI you can pull from content marketing (the stuff the bosses want to see), you’ll need something to show for yourself while you sit in quiet confidence that content can provide advantages beyond vanity metrics. Building trust, brand awareness, establishing voice in the space and all that other good stuff.
    Molly Johnston

5. Target content to the audience

  • Senior content marketers are better able to proactively apply the BS filter on behalf of whoever you’re hoping will consume your content.
    Seth Merrill
  • Especially in B2B/tech, the ability/skills/desire to find and accurately communicate truly insightful/valuable information/expertise about the industry/topic. In many B2B scenarios, your target audience are experts in the field, and your content needs to have something to say that they find valuable. That requires going a lot deeper than many people are prepared to go.
    Adam Thompson
  • Junior = tends to work in a generic realm. Content is safe — and hard to differentiate from competitorsSenior = confidently gets very specific in every piece of content — who it’s for, when they need it, what single action it needs to propel.
    Mary Ellen Slayter

6. Build bridges across the org

  • Managing up (and across) your organization. You and your content marketing colleagues are the storytelling and publishing experts, which means it’s your job to educate and collaborate with other parts of the business.
    Luke O’Neill
  • Being good at effectively communicating and presenting your work to non-marketers on your team. It’s important to toot your own horn but will also help you hone in and get clarity for yourself when you communicate it to others. Hannah Tangi Elliott
  • The ability to think/see how your function can (and should) support other functions within the company to create an integrated marketing experience. I like to think of it as going from a JV point guard to Varsity. You go from dribbling the ball with your eyes focused on the ball only to being able to dribble while looking up and seeing the whole floor so you know where your teammates are and the possibilities of what needs to happen next to score.
    Ivory Bandoh

7. Know when and how to use data

  • Be as data-driven as possible! I’m all for celebrating, pivoting, optimising and even suggesting new ways to approach keywords and titles – but tell me why/how and have the insights to back it up. So much more impactful to have the data to reinforce your ideas.
    Molly Johnston
  • Senior content marketers are much less certain in advance of what’s really going to work, and work hard to match (a) intuition/expertise with (b) testing/data.
    Shane Breslin

8. Be a mentor to others

  • Good mentorship plays a huge role in fast-tracking careers. That’s what I try to do whenever I’m working with junior colleagues. Give them the bigger picture.
    Katya Oliveira
  • If junior content marketers have good mentorship, then the senior staff they report to should be helping them to see the bigger picture.If they’re pointed in the right direction — shown what senior staff do and are responsible for, are kept in the loop of the why behind decision-making, directed on books and other things they should read — then I’d certainly think a junior content marketer would have a much easier time putting all the pieces together more quickly.
    Ben Sailer

If you are newish to content marketing, I hope this insight will help you level up. And if you are in a well-established senior position already, I hope you will use this list as a reminder of what your less experienced colleagues need to learn from you.
Either way, it’s a win-win 😉