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Are You a Content Marketing Expert? Take the Black Belt Test

by Andrew Crestodina  |  
October 22, 2012

Some content marketers rise above. They are the real thought leaders. The true experts. In this post, we set the standard for the highest level of content marketing: the black belt.

Are you a content marketing expert, a search marketing master, or a social media ninja? Let’s find out once and for all.

Here are ten of the most advanced techniques, the highest level skills. They achieve maximum impact with minimal effort. If you’ve mastered something on this list, it’s official: You’re a black belt.

I’ve listed some of the greats as examples. These are the masters you’ll want to study to advance. But true masters don’t stop at one technique. They perfect several, earning their second-, third-, or fourth-degree black belt.

How many of these have you mastered? More than one?

You Conduct Original Research
You are the primary source. You conduct leading industry surveys, exclusive interviews, rigorous experiments, eye-tracking studies, keyword injections, and more. This all-powerful technique makes you highly relevant in your niche arena. (Brian Solis)

You Newsjack
First, patience and listening, then lightning speed and accuracy! This is how you slip into breaking stories, steering attention toward a brand or idea. (David Meerman Scott)

You Read Patents
You also read other legal documents. You read and report on court transcripts, congressional testimonies, leaked documents, and privacy laws. You know the rules of the game, how they change, and the impact on search and social marketing. This lets you see moves before they happen. (Jennifer Ledbetter)

You’re Connected at Google and Facebook
You know people within the companies that power the industry. They answer your calls. You carefully balance trust with truth, allowing you to pass through gates with questions and answers. (Danny Sullivan)

You Write and Sell Books
Few write books. Fewer still write and then sell them. This technique requires creativity, discipline, and persistence. But you combine the writer’s focus with the promoter’s energy and it pays. (Ann Handley)

You’re Global
You walk the earth. You travel far to distant lands, speaking to packed rooms. You’re influential in faraway pockets of superfans. Your content has been translated into many languages. You’re big in Japan. (Darren Rowse)

You Cross Media Channels
You move gracefully from print to the radio, to TV, and back to the web. You’re not bound to one channel. You surround your target audience with audio, video and text. They can’t escape, and they wouldn’t want to if they did. (Carol Roth)
You Create and Run Major Events
Many practice in the dojo. You create the dojo. You are the host when the industry comes together: your format, your sponsors, and your speakers. Year after year, you name the time and place, and the registrants come. (Liz Strauss, Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley)

You Trigger Virality
Some doubt that this is even possible, but you know how to strike the nerve clusters of the masses. It’s part instinct, part math, part luck. You attempt often and succeed repeatedly. (Emerson Spartz)

Hidden Masters: You’ve never heard of most black belts. They work quietly in specialized fields, delivering targeted traffic with devastating skill. They seek no glory. They seek only to drive results ...and to perfect their craft.

How Do You Measure Up?

  • Have you mastered at least one black belt technique?

  • Can you really call yourself a content marketing expert (or “social media ninja” or “PR guru” or “SEO master”) if you haven’t?

  • Has anyone ever mastered all 10? Is there a 10th-degree Black Belt?

Andy Crestodina is actually not a black belt in content marketing, but he’s working on it. He is the strategic director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. You can find Andy on and Twitter.
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Andrew Crestodina is strategic director at Orbit Media Studios, Inc. (

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  • by Angela Neal Mon Oct 22, 2012 via blog

    Great post Andy. I hate terms like "black belt" and "guru". Especially when self-denoted. The fact that few people have mastered any, let alone all, of your points above and yet aren't constantly trying to improve their craft is exactly the reason why.

  • by Robert Widdowson Tue Oct 23, 2012 via blog

    Love the point: Write AND sell books. It's extremely difficult to write an book but even more difficult to sell it in large enough numbers that it covers the cost.

    It's humbling to read this list. We're all in training. Always learning.

  • by Ramon Pintó Wed Oct 24, 2012 via blog

    Una bona norma: no fer cas de tot allò que porta en el títol la paraula clau GURÚ

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