Designing an effective online marketing strategy is key for creating continuous business growth. Businesses often rely on content marketers like myself to design marketing strategies, reach their prospects and growth-hack their businesses.

These days, you'll find many marketing clowns parading themselves as experts when they can't achieve any sustainable marketing results even if their lives depend on it. Again, I've seen many really good content marketers who become complacent about their progress or success and then go outdated. There are also marketers who follow trends and continuously try to keep up with the changing landscape.

And then there are those who are in an "elite" category of their own. These are marketers who get real results, create trends, challenge conventional wisdom and continuously push the limit. Not only are these folks building their own businesses and influence, they also serve as educators and provide inspiration to marketers and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Meet the eight content marketing thought leaders I'm following closely this year. These top content marketers are worth their salt and are some of the marketing, thought leadership and innovative best of their generation.

1. Abdullahi Muhammed

Abdullahi Muhammed is a writer, content marketing consultant and the CEO of Oxygenmat, a content marketing agency with a portfolio of over 300 clients, which includes some of the biggest brands in the world. Featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, USA TODAY, Search Engine Journal, The Next Web, HubSpot and more, Muhammed is a World Economic Forum agenda contributor and writes for some of the Internet's biggest publications.

He recently ran a blogging niche site on the side for a few months to experiment with his marketing skills. The result? The site attracted and sold to a group of investors for $280,000. Interestingly, he'd published just 8 posts on the site when he sold it.

2. Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, widely regarded as the premier training platform for digital marketers, which includes the biggest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. The author of four epic books on content marketing, Pulizzi is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council.

My favorite quote from Pulizzi is from his book, Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less: "Your customers don't care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you."

3. Kotton Grammer

Kotton Grammer is a highly sought-after marketer and entrepreneur known for founding Kotton Grammer Media, an 8-figure Internet advertising and media company. He also cofounded the popular SEO mastermind, OMGmachines.com, through which he has consulted over 10,000 digital marketing agencies and sold over 30 million dollars in online information products since 2015.

What I find unique about Grammer is that his website ranks #1 for highly competitive keywords like "Chicago SEO," "Orlando SEO," "New Orleans SEO," "St. Louis SEO" and "Memphis SEO". Talk of walking the walk.

4. Josh Steimle

Josh Steimle is a content marketing thought leader and the founder of MWI, an international agency providing content marketing, conversion rate optimization and web design and development for some of the world's biggest brands including LG, Sony and Symantec. Steimle is a TEDx speaker and has written for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Time, Mashable, TechCrunch, Fast Company and VentureBeat.

One of his most remarkable campaigns was using politics to garner attention for a client during the 2016 election cycle. The client makes beard oil, so Steimle creatively photoshopped beards on the top 10 presidential candidates, including the women, and posted the images online. The result was instant virality with a ton of news media coverage.

5. John Rampton

John Rampton is a serial entrepreneur, marketer and the founder of Due. He has founded, purchased, grown, and sold multiple businesses and has been listed as one of the 10 most influential PPC experts for the past several years. Rampton has worked with brands such as Adobe and Smug Mug, and contributes to Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, TechCrunch and Mashable.

If you only take one advice from Rampton, it's this: "Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. Their needs and wants impact every aspect of your business, from product development to content marketing to sales to customer service."

6. Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius is a leading digital marketer and the cofounder of Louder Online, a consulting company specializing in intelligent search, content and social marketing. He has helped companies like Salesforce, IBM, Unilever, Ford, LG and Land Rover with large campaigns.

Perhaps what's most interesting about Agius is his having created a truly global marketing company with offices in Sydney, London, New York and Los Angeles. Plus he knows how to be everywhere, contributing to Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, Social Media Examiner, HubSpot and some other leading publications.

7. Daniel Wallock

Daniel Wallock is a marketer and published author who's worked with BMW i Ventures, The American Heart Association, Amazon Studios and Sarah Lawrence College. He's been featured in The Huffington Post, Forbes, Los Angeles Times and Yahoo News.

The best part of his story? He was born with dextrocardia, a condition where the heart is on the right instead of the left side of the chest, and had to undergo multiple open-heart surgeries. That would be enough excuse for many people but Wallock used it as fuel as he creates amazing marketing campaigns including the viral crowdfunding campaigns for Perseus Mirrors and OneX, both of which raised over $100,000.

8. Joel Contartese

Joel Contartese is the Managing Partner of Media Monsters and has managed over 10 million dollars in influencer marketing budgets and acquired over 50 million followers for some of the world's top brands including Flavor God, Shredz, Skinny Bunny Tea, Aloha and Lyfe Tea.

Shredz was the first company to heavily monetize Instagram, and Contartese led that strategy. Interestingly, the blueprint he and his team built is now being used by companies like Sugar Bear Hair and Fit Tea.