I spent last week alongside 3,499 of my peers from 50 countries at the biggest content marketing event of the year: Content Marketing World. It was my first time attending and first time in Cleveland, Ohio. My colleague Cheryl and I were able to cross a few things off the tourist list which included a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and trying out a Michael Symon restaurant down the street from the House of Blues.
I think they should rename the show Content Marketing Universe, because “World” seems so tiny compared to the actual breadth of the experience. It was a jam-packed schedule for serious learning and some great entertainment, with a little time to catch up with friends, connect with experts, check out the expo, tweet and grab a periodic phone charge in between. It was a bit of a blur.
Here are a few of my favorite soundbites from some great speakers that capture the spirit of my takeaways from the event, namely:
Reflecting on the past give us insights to improve in the future
“The only way we can differentiate is how we communicate” – Joe Pulizzi
The conference kicked off with an industry wake-up call full of excitement and high energy, but sobering at the same time. The Gartner Hype Cycle plots content marketing at the “Trough of Disillusionment” phase which means:
“Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.”
Right now the current CMI benchmarking speaks volumes on the state of content marketing. Only 32% of brands report that their content marketing efforts are effective. What’s interesting is the correlating data point: Only 32% have a documented strategy. It is still very much content marketing in the wild.
Do the right thing for the right reasons
“Strategy is a decision to take a path” – Kristina Halvorson
This means stopping to think about the why, what, and finally, the how. In that order. Kristina had another important message in that there is power in saying no. The temptation of the “Big Idea” can mesmerize any seemingly well-grounded individual. We should spend our efforts providing our customers what THEY want instead.
It’s not about you
“Behind every piece of bad content is an executive who asked for it” – Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner reinforces that notion, saying that brands are consumed with their own stories and not their customer’s. As a result “most content stinks” – which may explain why 60-70% of it goes unused. Again, this speaks to staying focused on WHO are we creating content for and what questions we are answering.
Brenner also pointed out we don’t offer enough early stage content. In a later session, his colleague Shafqat Islam likened the traditional funnel to a pretzel as customers work to self-educate more and more. He reported that 96% of site visitors aren’t ready to make a purchase. And, page views really only tell you so much. Content shares are an important, but often overlooked, metric. 68% of people share content to give others a better sense of who they are. Again, it comes down to:
- Does our content speak to our customer’s identity?
- Do you know who they are and what they want?
Keeping the customer first assumes you really know who they are — not who you think they are. One of my favorite session titles was “Stop Making Stuff Up: How Insights into Buyer Persona Decisions Guide Content Strategy.” Adele Revella gave a great beginner’s class to help ground folks on the basics of gathering buyer insights so that “you don’t have to guess.” A systematic approach to persona building can be pivotal to speaking to what matters to the customer – and in a way that resonates.
“Marketing is a filter and not a magnet” – Doug Kessler
There was general consensus that marketing has a marketing problem. Kessler spoke about the need to “alienate less likely buyers” and to attract ideal prospects through “insane honesty”.
Culture is the elephant in the room
“To summarize the summary of the summary, people are a problem” – Charles Cooper
The hardest nut to crack besides developing a sound strategy, documenting it, and creating relevant content based on our buyers’ needs is culture and change management. The session on how to take an Intelligent Approach to Content from the folks at the Rockley Group stressed this important point.
Too many suffer from the dreaded “it’s not my job syndrome”. But, reorganizing is only part of the solution. Sarah Leitz-Compagnoni and Luke Miller shared their experiences and lessons learned as they journeyed into the world of “pragmatic marketing” and restructured their organization to meet the goals of their content strategy. They recognized that to successfully effect culture change, you must separate actual challenges from people problems and know that you’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
Everyone can be creative
Through some insane honesty of his own, John Cleese had us rolling with laughter from start to finish from his days with Monty Python (“It’s just a flesh wound!”) to dealing with multiple ex-wives and our beleaguered political state. No one was safe! More importantly though, his keynote explored the unconscious inner workings of creativity and how you can employ different ways to use your brain depending on what you need to accomplish.
“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” There is a time and place to be creative and critical.
All in all it was a great experience, but the true highlight of the event was to connect IRL with our content friends and cohorts! Stay classy Cleveland.
Jenny is a digital content strategist, who leads customer-centric engagements that focus on understanding B2B buying behaviors and developing custom roadmaps.
Her expertise is creating buyer personas and mapping digital content journeys to assess the multi-channel user experience. She helps clients operationalize plans across workstreams and identifies processes to create efficiencies in marketing operations. Jenny also has extensive time under her belt developing and managing customer advocacy programs and community building.
She has helped a diverse group of organizations including Cisco, VMware, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, BMO Harris, Capital One and many others become more customer-centric.