Couldn’t make it to Content Marketing World this year? Not a problem – I brought two laptops with me to Cleveland, I’ve been stockpiling branded pens since the moment we landed, and I take very detailed notes. After two days, eleven sessions, and an estimated seven million cups of coffee (estimation based on casual observation, not research, evidence, or math), I’ve got a handle on what’s new and exciting for content marketers and the companies who love them.
For those who don’t know, CMW is produced by the Content Marketing Institute, and it’s the largest content marketing event on the planet. Now in its third year, CMW gathered over 1200 attendees from 35 different countries this week, and hosted sessions with thought leaders like Velocity’s Doug Kessler, Jonathan Mildenhall of Coca-Cola, Jay Baer of Youtility fame, and Ann Handley of MarketingProfs.
There was also a lot of orange food, branded to match the CMI logo. While lesser institutes might have stuck to your normal conference fare of granola bars and potato chips, CMI treated participants to orange cheese puffs, orange crackers, orange soda, orange yogurt, orange mousse, orange hummus, orange cauliflower (who knew?), and orange glazed donuts. There were also oranges, I think.
So let’s dig in! Here are my top 4 takeaways from the conference, which represented the best in content marketing trends, challenges, and thought leadership:
1) The New Biggest Threat to Content Marketing: An Over-Reliance on Competent, Professional, On-Strategy Content
A year ago, only the most sophisticated companies had truly embraced content marketing – marketers were just coming to understand that informative, intelligent, and well-made content was integral to a winning strategy. In Doug Kessler’s session, “In Your Face Content Marketing,” he recalled that last year’s attendees were high on early-adopter excitement. In 2012, the biggest threat to content marketing was, as Doug put it, content marketers cranking out crap.
Only one year later, content marketing has gone mainstream. Early adopters have been proven right, but this also means that quality content marketing won’t confer the same advantages. To compete, content writers need to do more than cut the crap and up the quality – at this point, we all know that if our content is going to win the trust and love of our future customers, it absolutely must be well-written, entertaining, and useful.
The new biggest threat to content marketing is, in the words of Doug, “an over-reliance on competent, professional, well-made, on-strategy content.” But why shouldn’t we rely on competency and professionalism? What’s wrong with well-crafted content that aligns with your company’s strategy? For the answer to that, read on.
2) Content Marketing Needs to Tap into Emotions
As Doug explained in his CMW session, content marketing is becoming a “home run game” – most marketing departments generate only a few truly exceptional content pieces each year, and that’s fine, because you only need a few. These are the pieces that generate massive engagement – the kind of content used by speakers as examples doing presentations. These powerhouse pieces are not only competent and intelligent and on-point, they also tap into our emotions.
Sophisticated marketers have already learned to make smart content – there’s really no excuse, at this point, for cranking out crap – but that isn’t the end of the line. Home run content marketing needs to make people feel something, not just think something.
As many of CMW’s presenters demonstrated, one of the best ways to create emotionally resonant content is to 1) do something remarkable, and 2) document yourself doing it. Think of Nike’s Girl Effect campaign, or Coca-Cola’s Small World Machines project.
In his keynote, Jonathan Mildenhall, VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at Coca-Cola, shared the company’s new marketing mission statement: Content 2020. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 video, it’s absolutely worth the 18 minutes of your time. In short, the video outlines Coca-Cola’s commitment to content that makes the world a better place, in order to introduce and solidify the brand’s significance in people’s lives.
For their Small World Machine campaign, Coca-Cola used their product to create “simple moments of connection” between people in India and Pakistan, and filmed the results. The project created two pieces of deeply resonant content: first, the experience of the people in India and Pakistan, and second, the experiences of over 2 billion viewers who have watched the video since it was uploaded to YouTube in May. Personally, I have some negative associations with mega-corporations like Coca-Cola (blame my hippy parents) and the high-fructose corn syrup they sell (blame my hippy parents again), but my rational mind was no match for such powerful footage. At the end of the clip, I may have had the same thoughts about Coca-Cola, but my feelings about the company had definitely changed.
But you don’t need Coca-Cola’s budget to tap into your audience’s emotions, which brings me to my third takeaway from CMW:
3) Let Your Team Tell the Story
At a CMW session on B2B blogging (presented by Nancy Pardo and Bill Heggie of software company PTC) the two asked who in the room didn’t wish that their marketing team was bigger. It was a rhetorical question – everyone wishes that they had more budget, or more content writers, or bigger bandwidth in general. You may not have the budget to fly to Lahore, let alone to build an interactive live portal machine, but you might be surprised by the emotionally engaging stories you can find in your own city – or even within your own company.
Jodi Navta, VP of Marketing at Coyote Logistics, found herself building a marketing team from scratch when she joined the company in 2011. Two weeks into the job, a shipping emergency meant that workers were pulling 36-hour shifts, and Jodi spent an entire weekend talking to workers, jotting down notes, pulling in context and details. Coming to content marketing from a background in journalism (a common story among participants at CMW, and more on that later), her instinct for storytelling kicked in. When the disaster cleared, she realized she had the material for an emotionally compelling narrative about her company, which she was then able to use in marketing materials, sharing the story with customers and employees alike.
As I heard from many speakers at CMW, your team is an amazing resource when it comes to generating content – often, with a little guidance, they can create the content on their own. As Marketo CIO Greg Higham recently pointed out, your team’s passion for their company and fluency with social media can make them ideal evangelists for your brand. Team members can write for your blog, contribute to an eBook, or sit down with you to brag about their latest victory. Blogs can become eBooks, eBooks can become infographics, infographics can become slidedecks.
In a CMW session with Bernie Borges (of Find and Convert), Borges recommended that if you do ask your employees to represent your brand, you should provide clear guidelines, but you should also give them the option of creating separate social media accounts, dedicated to on-message content sharing.
…and one last little thing:
4) Hire Writers
In session after session, I heard that hiring good writers – whether you hire them as part of your marketing team, or contract with them for individual pieces – is essential to a committed content marketing strategy. A career in content marketing is one of the best places you can land with an MFA in writing, or a journalism degree. As a recent graduate, I know this first-hand. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by how many companies have embraced these kinds of hires. As Nancy and Bill of PTC pointed out, the traditional career paths for writers are in academia, publishing, and journalism – all industries that have suffered in recent years. There were plenty of freelance writers looking for projects at CMW this year, and I know there’s no shortage of experienced, talented writers looking for work. Interested in meeting them? Come to Content Marketing World next year.