This won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’m a writer, plain and simple. Sometimes I’m a copywriter, sometimes I’m a content writer. Throughout my life, I’ve tried on different kinds of writing. Sometimes it’s journaling, or short stories or poetry, or simply processing complicated thoughts and ideas with pen and paper. But at the end of the day, I’m always a writer.

Just like my own writing career life, a marketing writer’s role today is constantly in flux, changing and adapting as often as our context changes.

While I won’t spend time here talking about the difference between copywriters and content writers, one thing is definitely certain: When it comes to marketing, writers have to be so much more than writers.

Writer and…

The “writer and” role has been a natural evolution, really. Or maybe more of a pendulum swing. Whatever your chosen analogy, it’s clear that simply being a writer isn’t enough anymore. Not if you want your words to be effective anyway.

Yes, at its core, writing is always about the technical stuff like knowing your audience and purpose, having a few persuasive tactics in your back pocket, and a general grasp of language.

But today’s content writer or copywriter also needs a deep understanding of product details, insights about customer service, to exhibit stellar communication skills, show empathy, understand microcopy and user experience, be able to identify motivational triggers, comprehend the ins and outs of a content strategy, be capable of wireframing, analyze pricing strategies, incorporate design thinking, and more recently, be able to analyze and act on data.

It’s this last piece—the data and analytics—that’s been getting a lot of attention lately. So, let’s linger there for a moment.

Data-Driven Writers

“Data-driven marketing” has been de jour for a while now. And like most things marketing touches, the term has gotten distorted (see also: beaten to death), making the idea of “data-driven marketing” fuzzy at best.

At its core, data-driven marketing claims to use insights about customer interactions to predict what’s working and what’s not, all in an effort to do more of the former. The big, elusive question in data-driven marketing, though, is: Which data is most important? To which I’ll say: it depends (I know, I’m that guy, now).

But really, it depends on your goals. It depends on a buyer’s stage of awareness. It depends on where your content fits into your funnel. It depends on intention, and execution, and competency.

And it depends on your writer.

Writers used to be concerned with filling the top of the funnel and gaining traction. That usually meant brainstorming a couple of creative ideas, sending an outline for approval, then going away and writing. Something. Anything. As long as it kept the content calendar full and we could all say we were doing content marketing.

But now writers are being held accountable for content that engages throughout the funnel. This requires different skillsets (to some degree), but also different data points to create a new context within each piece of content and each customer touch point.

Without all this, you’ll have writers (and writing) that lack context. And a lack of context leads to generic writing. And generic writing leads to bad data, which leads to writers working to optimize the wrong things. See the cycle?

The Data Your Writers Need

I hope it’s clear by now that writers need to do more than write, so I won’t belabor that point. What’s more important here is the understanding that your writers need to understand the big picture of your business.

That means they should be embedded with your UX and UI teams, graphic designers, data scientists, and customer service teams. Make them talk to your sales leaders and your CMO. Put them on the phone with customers and give them access to chat logs. Include them in your product launches. Even if they’re not creating content for each of these areas, they’ll gather important data about your company and your customers.

But that’s just on the front end. What should writers know after content is created and published?

You and I both know there are plenty of people who are more than happy to take a generic brief, never ask any questions, write up some garbage, deliver it, and call it a day. But that’s on you as much as it’s on them. Usually, these are the people who wonder why their data isn’t showing the results they want.

And another problem I experience often as an external contractor is that clients want to leave me out of the performance and optimization entirely. Many still don’t measure much after publishing, so why would the writer be informed when they’re not?

Too many companies—and writers for that matter—treat content writing or copywriting like a stand-alone, one-and-done function of the marketing team. Something to get off their plate. But access to key data points about your content’s performance is critical for any writer worth his or her salt.

This is why the “writer and…” shift is so important. It makes sure writers are around to build on results.

Armed with the right info on the front end, a writer who’s invested beyond a deliverable can also help you make heads and tails of what’s working, what needs to change, and what you should stay clear of. Depending on your goals, the data that may help them do this include:

  • Conversion rates
  • Click-through rates (for email)
  • Time on page
  • New sales
  • Exit pages
  • Top performing keywords
  • MQLs vs. SQLs
  • Site engagement

Some writers may not care about a few of these. Others may care about things not on this list. It’s not meant to be exhaustive by any means, but if you can throw in some scroll, click, and heat maps and a handful of user recordings, you’ve given a writer plenty of ammunition. And if they understand Google Analytics—as they most certainly should—make sure to give them access there, too.

Take a moment to notice what’s not on that list.

Personally, I don’t care much about site traffic. There’s such a mix of how people drive traffic that, unless I can see clear attribution to a particular piece I created, I don’t control much there. Also, I’m not concerned about bounce rates. Do I want to know them? Maybe. But only if it directly (and can be proven to be direct) affects what I’m creating next.

We all know about “vanity metrics” at this point—measurements that don’t tell you much in terms of making business decisions. But I’m talking about sharing data with your writer, period. When was the last time you asked them what they cared about and how it influences their writing choices?

Change the Expectation

As the analysis of data changes, so too will your writer’s understanding of buying stages, verticals, product lines, personas, journey maps, and user behavior. As content marketing becomes content operations, marketing writers must become marketing strategists. But you can’t do that if you’re not expecting more of them.

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Chris Cooper

About Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper owns Real Good Writing in Denver, CO where he helps SaaS companies with Seed or Series A funding gain traction and kickstart their marketing program. Visit www.rgwriting.com or connect on Twitter @ElCoopacabra.