If you work in marketing, your world is changing fast. Jackie Yeaney has felt that change, and she has helped companies like Ellucian, Red Hat and Delta innovate in order to keep up.

I asked Jackie what lessons she has learned about using content to connect with customers.

You’ve said that digital marketing isn’t a function — it’s changing everything we do, including how we lead. How is digital marketing changing leadership?

Instead of saying “digital marketing,” I’m trying to get people to say “how do we market in a digital world?” All big companies are worried about being disrupted or “Uber-ized.” Companies’ competitive advantages are getting harder and harder to sustain as newer companies are able to start as digital. They don’t have to transform legacy systems.

Digital isn’t a marketing message. It’s the state of the market.

At Red Hat, we realized that 60 to 70 percent of what business leaders are doing is a self-directed search before a salesperson ever gets to speak to them. Opinions are solidified by then. So we ask “What kind of content and information do they need along that journey? How can we be available where and when they are instead of trying to push content out at them at our convenience?”

It’s not easy to convince organizations to move away from campaigns and the standard sales funnel and more toward conversations, engagement and stories. We need to be at the ready when the buyer is. The journeys are no longer linear, and that’s difficult for organizations to adapt to.

At Red Hat, how did you move the marketing team forward, away from old campaign-based thinking?

Here’s one example of how we changed: We ungated as much of our content as we could — requiring NO input from the user, and when we did require something we made it minimal.

Yes, sometimes using more traditional lead forms is appropriate. If someone signs up for your webinar, you get fairly detailed information. But it’s about engaging them before you ask. Don’t push for the information the first time. Let them raise their hand instead of demanding it from them.

At Red Hat, we also brought content out of our partner portal so it was available to everyone. My argument is, you spent all this energy on this new content, so don’t you want the world to see it? Wouldn’t you rather 1,000 people see it versus 20?

Instead of marketers pushing all the way along, we want to be in our buyers’ consideration set when they’re thinking about how to solve a problem. We wanted them to believe Red Hat was forward-thinking and we could help them see around the technology corner. We could show that with our content and then, later on, prove it with our technology.

How do you keep learning? Where do you find inspiration?

At Red Hat we started something we call The Enterprisers Project, a group of forward-thinking CIOs. We have about 60 CIOs who write content and engage with us at events. IT organizations are Red Hat’s main customers, and this is one forum where we can stay on top of what is forefront on their minds.

I also like to get out in the market with customers and partners. I aim to see similarities and differences in these markets and cultures.

In marketing, partnering with expert agencies is also really important. They make it their job to to stay ahead in their fields.

Online, I rely quite a bit on Twitter. I define categories I feel passionate about — open source, marketing evolution, women in leadership, open leadership — and I connect with influencers on those topics.

What advice do you have for marketers who are just starting out? What do you wish you’d known as a new college grad?

I wish I’d known to focus on building your own brand regardless of the specific job you might have at age 25. The digital era now allows us to build our own brand more easily outside of our organizational walls.

What topics, values and characteristics do you want people to imagine when they think of you? Start engaging online on those topics NOW. Whether you like it or not, you have a brand online that is on 24-7 — especially if you are participating in social media — so manage it, develop it and find the topics and influencers with which you want to be associated.

Also, writing ability is so very important. Writing wasn’t a big part of my early career, but being able to get your ideas and thoughts down crisply on paper in prose is something all marketers (and probably everybody) needs to think about.

Finally, please remember that careers are long and nonlinear. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a series of tradeoffs and compromises along the the way. Don’t be completely unhappy now and suck it up because you believe some wonderful thing is going to happen later. You have to have a decent semblance of happiness in the moment. We don’t know what we’re going to get tomorrow, and you can’t afford to be stuck in a job or relationship and simply hope something good comes around the corner later. Concentrate on being happy all along the way. If you aren’t happy now, find ways to change the situation or get out of it.