Mark Schaefer and the Manifesto for Mega-Effective Marketing Leadership

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Julia McCoy

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One of our early Content Hacker Spotlights shines on a special person: the one and only Mark Schaefer. He’s lent us his insight and wisdom in today’s interview!

Mark is a marketing strategy consultant (he’s worked for top brands such as Adidas, Dell, and Johnson & Johnson), a faculty member for graduate studies at Rutgers, an in-demand speaker, the co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast, and the brain behind the uber-popular {grow} blog.

This mega marketer has been in the industry for over 25 years, and has no less than seven books under his belt, including the most recent, Marketing Rebellion, as well as best-sellers like The Content Code and The Tao of Twitter.

Get ready to learn as you dive into this interview – Mark is sharing his unique perspective on marketing leadership, why discipline is essential to content creation, and his thoughts on where marketing is going in the future.

Note: Mark kindly recorded his interview on audio for us, and a certain bird made a guest appearance multiple times with an exuberant song. Thanks to Mark for his patience, and thanks to that bird for its “help.” 😂

Content Hacker Spotlight Interview: with Mark Schaefer

1. When did you get started in marketing, and why?

A: I was a journalism major in college, but in my junior year I took an introduction to marketing class and really fell in love with the idea. In the original textbook, Principles of Marketing by Dr. Philip Kotler, he described marketing as a combination of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and I was hooked. I just thought that was the coolest career in the world.

I started out in corporate communications but always wanted to get into marketing. I eventually got into sales, and it led to about a 25-year career in corporate marketing where I did every kind of marketing job imaginable, all around the world. I started my own company about 11 years ago.

2. What’s your favorite part of what you do today?

A: From a marketing standpoint, it’s creating strategy. That’s really my sweet spot. It took me a while to figure out what I’m good at in this life: seeing how trends come together.

I’ve got a pretty good track record of visualizing where we need to go next. I think that’s probably what I’m known for and what I have the most fun with.

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3. What’s one of the biggest challenges you have overcome in your work as a marketer?

A: I think the biggest challenge for anyone today is cutting through the noise to become the signal.

In 2014 I wrote this article called “Content Shock,” which went viral, and since then, content shock has sort of become an industry term to describe the situation we’re in, where there’s simply too much content in topical niches for people to consume.

It’s not that way everywhere, but in most popular topic niches, it is certainly that way today. And so, you’ve got a couple of choices. You can be in a content “arms race” and create better and better and better content to remain the signal above the noise – and that takes money. Or, perhaps you can promote your way to glory – and that also takes money.

So as the world becomes full of content, the cost to compete through content marketing is going to continue to increase. Frankly, it won’t be a viable strategy for some businesses.

4. How has the industry landscape changed since you started?

A: Well, the thing I love about marketing is that it does change so much, and it is changing so fast. To be successful in marketing, you really need to be a change junkie.


If you look at other business functions like accounting, finance, maybe economics, those things change rather slowly – they’re built on solid foundations and regulations that don’t change in any sort of cataclysmic way (usually). But marketing is changing every day. It’s hard to be a generalist like I am – I’m not specific to any certain platform or area, I’m kind of interested in everything about marketing – so it’s difficult to keep up.

I think the way the landscape has changed is just the rate of change. The sobering idea is that today, in this very moment, will be the slowest amount of change we’ll ever experience. It’s accelerating, and that’s a great challenge – and also a lot of fun.

5. What does the future of marketing look like to you?

A: The future of marketing is actually quite difficult to predict right now. (And I feel a little embarrassed saying that, because I just said I’m good at predicting things.)

The reason the future of marketing is so difficult to assess right now is because we have so many mega-trends all coming together at the same time.

Number one: We have the specter of regulation coming with social media.

Number two: Artificial intelligence is going to change everything we do – every task, every type of content. In general, it’s going to make it easy to produce any type of content, but it’s also going to create some challenges from a job perspective. I think voice search is very significant, and virtual reality is going to be merging with social media in significant ways in the next 2 or 3 years – that’s going to create some very exciting opportunities and some very exciting mash-ups.

I also think there is a migration going in some unpredictable ways. For example, arguably, the most successful social media platform in the world right now is Fortnite, the popular gaming platform.

We have millions of people gathering together as friends every single day, spending time together collaborating and having conversations, sharing information between each other. In my mind, that’s the definition of a social network. In some ways, for many digital natives, Fortnite and games like that have replaced Facebook and Snapchat as a place to hang out.

In short, the future of marketing is very uncertain. There are a lot of other things going on, but those are some of the big ones.

6. What key traits or skills does it take to be a marketing leader?

A: Actually, I just wrote a blog post on that, so I’m going to cheat and call up that blog post: “How to Be an Effective Marketing Leader in a World of Chaos.” A few quotes from that post:

“The most effective marketing leader wakes up every morning and asks, ‘What world am I living in today? What are the biggest trends of this moment? How have our customer needs changed? And, how do I educate my management about this world and align our strategies so we can move quickly and win?’”

Another key aspect is the power of humility:

“We’re living in a world where digital natives are re-defining what it means to be a business, an employee, and a customer. I’m absolutely awed and inspired by these young people and what they can teach the old guard. They look at what we call ‘marketing best practices’ and think ‘why would you do that to people?’ Oh my goodness, that is a marketing rebellion, indeed!

Being a great marketing leader means being humble enough to relearn your craft in the context of this new world reality.”

Now, another key piece I talk about in my book, Marketing Rebellion, is getting unshackled from technology. We’ve become obsessed with technology, we use it too often as a crutch, we don’t go out and talk to customers – that’s really where the insights and innovations are going to be. We need to get out from behind our dashboards and really connect.

As I mentioned, our world is changing so fast, I think to be successful in marketing today, you do have to be sort of a change junkie and you have to be able to embrace the chaos.

I was talking to a marketing leader last year, and she literally told me “I give up!” The rate of change in the business was beyond her capacity to be comfortable and still do her job, so she decided she was going to retire.

Finally, marketing in the future is going to take courage. Many of the traditional things we’ve leaned on in the past like advertising, social media, even content marketing, do not work like they used to because of all the dramatic changes we’ve seen.

To move into some of these new areas, to connect with our customers in ways they want to be connected with, is going to take really enlightened leadership. It’s going to take doing some things that many traditional organizations are going to be uncomfortable with.

The marketing department of the future is going to be like a laboratory, doing different types of experiments, trying to connect with customers in new and emotional ways. And so, a key marketing leadership skill of the future is going to have to be courage.

7. What are some of your favorite tools or hacks for marketers?

A: You know, it’s funny, I get asked this question a lot, and I guess I’m just old-school. I’ve found a few things that work really well for me, and I just stick with it.

You might be surprised to know the number one marketing tool I use is an Excel spreadsheet. I know that sounds really boring, but marketing starts with analysis and data before you start getting creative. I know people might expect some sort of sexy tip from me, but really, I stick with some of the basics.

The technologies I use every day might be something like BuzzSumo for content discovery; Excel spreadsheets, as I said; WordPress, of course; and some analytical tools – something like Sprout Social.

Since I’m a content creator, I don’t have a lot of time to investigate new ideas, new tools. When I find things that work, I use them for a long time.

8. Do you have any daily habits, hobbies, or rituals you couldn’t survive without?

A: Some people ask me how I can be so consistent in terms of creating such good content every week. Indeed, I’ve been blogging for 10 years, I’ve been creating at least two blog posts a week for 10 years and have never missed. I think that takes a certain amount of discipline. Another word to call it is “routine.”

Number one, you have to be aware of the stories around you every day. You’re being bombarded with ideas, you’re being bombarded with messages, and you have to look at the world through a lens of “how could I create this into a meaningful piece of content?” – a video, a blog post, a podcast, something like that.

Number two, you have to have the discipline to write it down or you’ll forget it.

Number three, you have to have the discipline to schedule time to create – a sacred time each week when it’s quiet, you’re undistracted, and you can pull out your list of ideas and create something awesome. These are the ideas you’ve collected all week. You’ve had the discipline to write them down, you have the discipline to consider them, and you pick the one that seems the most fun, and you start to write.

I think another thing I’ve found is it’s hard to be productive and creative if you’re stressed. So, part of this ritual is allowing yourself an opportunity to relax during this time you’re going to create content.

9. Coffee or tea?

A: That would be coffee, altered in such a way that it tastes similar to a milkshake.

10. What are some great blogs we should be reading or people we should be following on social media?

A: I don’t like answering that kind of question. The reason is there are so many great people out there, and I feel like if I answer that question, I’m certainly going to leave people out that are very deserving, and I really don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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Thanks to Mark for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down for this interview!

If you’re not already following him online (if so, what are you doing with your life?), catch Mark on his insightful blog, on his podcast (co-hosted with Brooke Sellas), and @markwschaefer on Twitter.

And, by the way, if you dream of becoming an all-star content marketer/business owner like Mark…

I’ve got good news for you. 📰

The Content Transformation System, a 1:1 coaching program created by Julia McCoy, was created for entrepreneurs like you.

This one-of-a-kind program gives you everything you need to build or scale your biz sustainably…

Because Julia used these EXACT skills, strategies, and systems to reach six- and seven-figures with her own brands.

Ready to dive in? Apply for your spot in the Content Transformation System today.

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