How living in 9 countries shaped me as a content marketer

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What makes a good content marketer?

You might be asking yourself this question if you’re thinking of hiring one on your team, or working with consultants.

The answer is hidden within another question:

What would convince your audience to trust your brand?

  • First and foremost, they have to feel that the brand understands their needs and is actively trying to fulfill them. It’s about Empathy.

  • Secondly, they want to trust the quality of the product or service. Quality is essential and comes with experience. You can’t make the best app in the world, if you haven’t gone through 4 entirely dreadful prototypes first.

  • Lastly, they seek a brand that will grow with them and never feel stale. It’s about Adaptability.

What you should seek in a great content marketing strategist is therefore empathy, adaptability and an unwavering focus on creating quality content.

In your search for a great content marketer, I would go one step further and say that international experience inherently delivers these traits. And that is the premise of this article.

International travel and culturally diverse experiences cultivates the three most essential traits of a content marketing strategist.

Why does adaptability matter with Content Marketing?


Adaptability can feel like one of those catchall words we only half understand, so to avoid any confusion I’m going to clarify what adaptability means to me.

  • Adaptability is about keeping a cool head when faced with major changes.
    It isn’t about accepting any and all changes demanded by higher ups.

  • Adaptability means shifting your focus toward solution building.
    It’s not about avoiding problems or blame.

  • Adaptability is embodied by positivity in the face of challenges.

Adaptability exemplified:

When working with a Chinese social and content aggregator app, I was sent to their headquarters in Shanghai to ‘clarify the content strategy’ with major stakeholders. The night before my meeting with the CEO and CTO of the company, I was told that the CEO had no real understanding of our vision and was considering prematurely shutting the project down.

After the first moments of panic passed, I understood what needed to happen. I had to focus on a solution, keep my cool in the face of skepticism and sell the heck out of it with my enthusiasm. I put together a presentation that night, sat in front of the CEO and pulled him out of his skeptical mindset into one of excited anticipation.

Adaptability doesn’t just mean shifting business priorities, but can also mean managing stakeholders and much more. It is one of the most under-appreciated traits in content marketing, yet, in my opinion, one of the most important.

Travel to learn

When I was 10 years old my family moved to Tokyo, Japan. Prior to that I’d only lived in Europe and the shift in culture, language and educational systems was pretty gnarly. I had to learn quickly.

I’m sure you can see where this story is going - experiencing the cultural shift shaped me, making me more adaptable and now I’m a better content marketer for it…

Sure, that works, but the point I really want to make is that it’s not just about that one experience, but the accumulation of them.

When you combine multiple international experiences, the body and mind begin to naturally absorb the constant shifts of social expectations, communication styles and drives. This means that a person with an international background is able to learn about and truly understand the motivations of an audience faster & more thoroughly.  

How to test for adaptability

This is not as hard as you might imagine. I suggest presenting the candidate or team with a scenario and judging their adaptability based on how well they handle it. For instance:

You’ve been hired to create 1-2 thought leadership pieces for a B2B service, but over a short few months the company pivots towards one of it’s smaller B2C product offerings and asks that you shift to producing 5-6 content pieces a month for this new audience.
The audience, type of content and cadence have all shifted, how will you handle this?

Trust me.

When you hear an answer that sits well with you, you’ll know you’re on your way to a great partnership.

But that’s not the whole bag yet, is it? They might be adaptable but can they create great content?

Does empathy mean better content?

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Empathy is one of the foundations of great content marketing. Much like a great UX designer, content marketing necessitates a client first mindset. It’s not what the content strategist thinks will work, but what they have determined through careful, in-depth audience research. That research then provides the insights needed to step into the client’s shoes and understand their needs and challenges.

This is what I would call educated empathy.

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It’s one of the things that begins to form naturally when you repeatedly start afresh in a new city. Each day begins with the same question: “What is motivating the people around me, and how do I navigate this?”.

After years of training this habit, turning it on for content marketing feels like stepping into your favorite sneakers. Comfortable and ready to go!

There is no question in my mind that educated empathy is not just fundamental to great content marketing, but moreso, it’s the future of ALL content, design and product development.

You already see it all the time.

The newest, most effective websites are ones that put user experience and information accessibility first and foremost. The most sought after brands are those that research their customers and fine tuned their messaging to be hyper specific and emotionally relevant.

Content marketing is central to all of these experiences and reflects the changing dynamic towards Educated Empathy.

If you want to hire the best content marketers and stay ahead of the competition, seek strategy based on empathy.

Manage like a European,
Ideate like an American,
Execute like a Japanese

Adapt to circumstances, understand your audience and taylor your copy, Check!

Make great content?

Unfortunately it’s not that clear cut. Engaging those first two skill sets are crucial but there’s one last one that we can’t go without mentioning - hard work.

Working hard means building experience; experience means working smarter; which in turn means: Great content.

Pretty straightforward, and no two ways about it. You get experience, by getting experience…

Or so you might think.

I’ve identified an experience building ‘hack’ as you might say. I’ve lived in 9 countries, worked in 4 and through the variation of working cultures, communication styles and forms of creative brainstorming I’ve learned to pick and choose what worked best.

For instance, by observing how the Japanese build such incredible efficiency, how American’s foster creativity and how Europeans build consensus, you could leverage all three to create unparalleled results.

I don’t want to even begin to assert that I’m capable of perfectly fusing these cultures. That said, I have pulled best practices from disparate cultures and seen my ‘hack’ work in real life.

My advice is therefore to seek content marketers that don’t just focus on hard work and quality, but also actively pull from external best practices. Individuals who have taken their mono-cultural blinders off and understand that “America isn’t #1” for everything. Just most things ;)

Can you have all this without needing to travel?

The short answer is yes. Of course. Adaptability, educated empathy and work ethic isn’t reserved to global nomads. You don’t have to only hire people with international backgrounds. But pay attention when you have the opportunity to.

They will most likely have inherent skills and capabilities that will be advantageous for your business. It could mean better communication, quality of work and more impactful results.

If you’d like to learn more about content marketing or how to select a great content strategist, reach out to me today.

William LeborgneComment