Attendees at Content Marketing World 2016
Marketing Content Strategy

Skyword’s Top Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2016

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Co-written by Linsey Morse

Cleveland: These days known as Championship City…or, at least content capital of the world for one week every September.

With over 3,500 conference attendees from all over the globe this year, representing top B2B, B2C, and nonprofit brands, Content Marketing World continues to grow in size. Why? Simply, content marketing—in its many manifestations—works, and marketers everywhere want to learn more about it and do it better. In this article, we wrapped up our top takeaways from the 2016 CMW action on Wednesday and Thursday for those who couldn’t make the trip or just want to revisit the presentations, so you, too, can be a better content marketer—starting today.

Wednesday

Welcome to the Content Marketing Revolution, Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute

On Wednesday’s opening keynote, Joe Pulizzi talked to the crowd about the importance of committing fully to content marketing, with plenty of Star Wars puns and references, jokes about Cleveland, and his affinity for the color orange. “You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no grey area,” Pulizzi said.

In a recent CMI study, only 20 percent of marketers said they are fully committed to a content marketing approach. Pulizzi questioned how marketers are able to be successful with this lack of commitment. “I believe that mediocre content will actually hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all.”

It felt like a dare. “This purgatory is killing us right now, and I want you to be successful,” he said.

Pulizzi urged marketers to target one audience at a time, with one mission and message, telling a different story and publishing consistently. He left us by telling the story of Loot Crate’s success, and how the company grew to be worth over 100 million dollars in just a few years—all through the power of its content marketing efforts.

Inside LEGO’s Content and Social Program, Lars Silberbauer, Senior Global Director of LEGO

Wednesday morning, Lars Silberbauer, Senior Global Director of LEGO, talked about selling LEGO’s product: a plain, plastic brick. “It’s a generic product,” he said. “Content and connecting with people around this brick is where we think we can make a huge difference.”

LEGO values storytelling more than most brands—of course creating the LEGO Movie a few years ago with its team in Los Angeles, but also across YouTube and other social media channels. In fact, its fans create 20x more content than the brand produces. LEGO has set the scene for engagement, allowing people to tell their own stories for and with the brand through online video.

Silberbauer also talked about the importance of global user engagement through social media. “The fact is, consumers are not showing up on Monday morning. We need to have 24-7 engagement across all platforms.” That’s why the brand drives up to 26 years of video content views every day on YouTube.

But more importantly, it’s about creating experiences for people across the world, understanding their needs, and supplying the answer through engaging content.

“For LEGO, through research and ongoing engagement, we’ve identified two core needs: building together and pride of creation,” said Silberbauer. He talked about how marketers need to understand human social behavior before they can succeed on social media, and how building together and pride of creation can tap into that part of humanity, showing pictures of children playing with LEGOs together and holding them up proudly to the camera.

“It’s amazing how much you can do if you understand the social needs of your consumers,” Silberbauer said.

Content’s Fortune and Glory: How to Make Friends, Rank High and Get Famous Online, Andy Crestodina, Co-founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media

Crestodina opened his presentation by sharing his finances in the early years of Orbit Media, when, at his least profitable year, he made $924. “This presentation is about helping you guys make more than $924,” Crestodina said.

He went on to explain that topics are the first thing that makes or breaks a content strategy—and the difference between good content and weak content is huge. So, what makes a piece of content great? For Crestodina, the keys are:

Original research. This can come from observation (choosing a data set and analyzing/repackaging it), aggregation (bringing existing data points together into one central place to answer a question or solve a need), and surveys (ask yourself what people in your industry often say, but rarely support—then find that missing stat and report on it. As Crestodina said, that will make you “the primary source for an important piece of data in your industry”).

Strong opinions. Strong, controversial, and shocking opinions drive views. Case in point: “Content Shock,” after which, as Crestodina put it, Mark Schaefer “owned the internet for two weeks.”

Collaboration with others. “If you want to be included in other people’s content, you should start including them in yours now,” Crestodina aptly said. By including other people in your stories, you not only help them increase their personal visibility and build a relationship with them, but also reap the benefits of their audiences, which can drive more views overall to your content. It’s a win-win situation that pays off time and time again.

Crestodina challenged the audience with the following: “How many people are waiting for your article to go live? Make sure it’s not zero.” By bringing some voices into the fold with your next story, you can ensure you have an audience with an audience that’s eager to read.

Killer Content: How Brilliant Brands Create Less Content and Deliver Bigger Success, Andrew Davis, Founder of Monumental Shift

We create a lot of content (there are about 30 trillion indexed web pages).

Davis started off his presentation by introducing his content paradox, called Information Overload: we’re creating more content than ever, but there’s no way we can consume it all.

What’s the content solution for your brand? Fill a content hole. Create content your audience doesn’t know they need, but they fall in love with it once they discover it. Davis recommended targeting a niche, a defined, specific audience, that you know will be more likely to engage with your content.

Davis told the story of Bart’s Fish Tales, how Bart van Olphen, sustainable fishing aficionado, created a brand through content marketing—15 second cooking tips episodes on YouTube, blog content, subscriptions, and eventually, his own branded canned tuna. “Treat your content like a product,” Davis advised.

But he also stressed the value of consistent storytelling in inspiring people to buy things they didn’t know they needed, citing Jenny Doan’s YouTube marketing success to build her 50 million dollar brand, Missouri Star Quilt Company. In a tiny town in Missouri, Doan has filled a content hole and made her the star of the town (though her products are online, people travel all over to visit the store). This message was similar to what Davis writes about in his recently published book, Town Inc. and what he spoke to Skyword CEO, Tom Gerace, about at last year’s Content Marketing World:

The Biggest Challenges and Opportunities in Content Marketing: a Q&A with Leading Technology Marketers, featuring Rob Murray, President of Skyword

Murray, along with other panelists, talked to the crowd about the biggest opportunities and challenges of content technology today. Rather than sum up all of their insights from the session, here are a few of the top quotes:

Vanessa Porter, Director of Marketing, SnapApp:

“Figure out your business problem first, then figure out the technology to fill that gap.”

“People don’t want to be chased forever and ever by a salesperson. Make it easier for prospects to know if they’re in or out.”

“The only way people are going to keep engaging with you is if they have a good experience with your brand.”

Robert Murray, President, Skyword:

“Understand the software you own, and leverage that. Every [vendor] has a customer success team.”

“Take time to make sure you understand what’s in the [technology] releases.”

“Go back to your company—educate, inform, and get consensus. You’ll reduce organizational friction if everyone understands how it works, what’s involved, and how it affects the whole chain.”

“There are lots of different technologies out there—make sure they’re integrated.”

Andrew Stark, SVP Content Solutions, PulsePoint:

“The biggest problem I see right now is marketers having to justify their investment in creating content and finding a way to properly measure their investment to adjust their budgets.”

“Just like you’d be hiring someone, it’s a great idea to check references [for technology vendors].”

“I do believe we will have artificial intelligence writing content instead of humans.”

How to Create a Scalable Content Marketing Program, Allen Gannett, CEO and Founder of TrackMaven

Gannett opened his talk with a few questions: How much of our job truly should be in tech as marketers, and how much should be creative? How much should be art? How much should be poetry?

These are big questions, and ones that seemed objectively unanswerable—until Gannett masterfully broke it down.

The dictionary defines creativity as, “the ability to make new things or think of a new idea.” “But what new things?” Gannett asked. “I want that ability.” To get a better grasp on creativity and understand its role in content marketing, Gannett studied creative geniuses JK Rowling, Paul McCartney, and Taylor Swift—as well as the case of Netflix, which has experienced unprecedented growth on both a national and global scale.

Here’s what he found:

  • Although many creative geniuses can’t quantify the sources of their great ideas, creativity itself isn’t about that flash of genius or lightbulb moment when you finally land on a good idea. “Most of us engage in flash-of-genius marketing,” Gannett said. “We don’t actually follow a system—and it’s not working.”
  • Through intentional creativity, you, too, can be as seemingly effortless a creative as Taylor Swift. Gannett broke the process of human creativity down into four actionable steps:
  1. Start with infinite possibilities—that’s essentially the blank canvas everyone’s mind is when they’re thinking up a new idea. Anything is possible at this point.
  2. Use data to reduce your possibilities, so you have a finite set of ideas.
  3. Use humans to curate and provide feedback on those ideas, and let them make the final decision on which to choose.
  4. Examine your results, good or bad, and use your findings to inform your data filter and human curation process when you reiterate. This is best summarized through the words of Scott Borchetta, founder of Big Machine records and discoverer of Taylor Swift: “I encourage our artists to dig deep and always do their best work. If one of them gets stuck creatively, we tear it down and build it back in their own image.”

Take Notice: What It Takes to Inspire Audiences and Distinguish Your Brand, John von Brachel, SVP, Content Marketing Executive at Bank of America

Brachel, upon entering the financial industry, was asked to bring to life the information that people wanted. Could people trust a large institution in 2008 and 2009? Yes, but only because they would trust the people inside the company, and what they had to say.

In this Q&A session, Brachel touched on a few important content marketing learnings from his years in the financial services industry:

  • Hire journalists because they’re subject matter experts, but make sure they’re willing to expand their beat.
  • Know the psychographic needs of your audience—define your audience that way and change people’s perception.
  • Storytelling is an art, and people expect it from us. “You have to think about empathy,” said Brachel.
  • Know your audience and tie your content to your goals.
  • Go mobile first.
  • No matter where you are in your career, make an effort to listen to people in meetings. Learn from their strengths.

Keynote – A Look Back at the Best Marketing of 2017, Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

“Marketing is impatient,” Handley opened. “In everything we do, we feel like we have to do it faster. We want more leads, we want more sales, we want more followers and comments and likes—and we want it as fast as possible.”

But to succeed in content marketing next year, you’ll have to slow things down, said Handley. As she explained, all the standout content of 2017 should be deliberate and thoughtful.

So when does it make sense to slow down, and what does that deliberate process look like? Handley broke it up into three questions marketers should ask of themselves and their products, services, and content:

1. So what? Handley described this first question as an empathy hack, saying “in a marketing context, this is reframing a service or product as a clear value for the customer.” By slowing down and considering your offering from the customer’s perspective, you can ensure you’re connecting and resonating with the people you most want to reach. For Handley, the best example of this was the Boyfriend Pillow. She hypothesized on their “so what” process in this way:

Boyfriend Body Pillow

So what?

You can snuggle into it.

So what?

You sleep better when you have firm sleeping support and love in your life.

So what?

Sleeping better is better, and love is good.

2. Wait, what? This is that moment when you snap someone back to attention after they’ve zoned out in your conversation. In Handley’s description, “it’s an important strategic question because it will help you align on the why [of your product, service, and/or content]. Aligning with the why is more important long-term for content marketing than aligning with the how or the what.” Handley studied this question through the lens of Informatica’s Marketing Data Lake and the content published around the 60-day sprint to the data lake that the company underwent. The company also went so far as to explain that prior to their sprint, a lot of legwork went into their process. Here’s why that matters for her:

There is immense pressure these days to hustle more and get more done. We feel like we need to be sprinting all the time. Basing a world view on social media is like watching the last 200 yards of a marathon. Asking “wait, what?” can help us figure out our goal; that one thing that needs alignment in your company?

3. Does this sustain us? Answering this question helps ensure that you’ve put the right processes in place to help sustain your brand. Here, Handley highlighted Gusto, an online payroll, health benefits, and workers’ comp company, which describes itself in an especially human, accessible way, and has put processes in place to help sustain that tone. Handley described her experience using the chat function on Gusto’s website one evening (the company offers a chat box upon visiting its website). The conversation that ensued with one of the company’s senior staff members proved to her that they were spreading the importance of the human connection by making themselves available to customers instead of relying on chatbots. “Gusto thinks it’s helpful to have someone to talk to, and [knows] it’s the thing that makes them special. [The company] made a decision about key moments that help them slow down because they know those are the very things that make them different.”

Content Is Dead: Focus on the Network Effect, Mitch Joel, President of Mirum

The technology and marketing industries are both in a massive state of disruption. Joel thinks this disruption is core to understanding why content is “dead.” But he urged us to not confuse destruction for disruption. Content must transform along with the industry.

His advice to lean in to the disruption?

  • Make sure in-house marketers are producing content (they know the brand story best).
  • Content network and distribution is the future. Driving traffic back to one destination does not work anymore—instead, marketers should be treating all their distribution channels as their own hubs. “What I create for Medium is its own content, its own hub,” Joel said.
  • Depth wins. Why? Because it’s memorable. Snapchat and similar short-form channels may be flashy, but content with depth is much more valuable for brands. It’s also a huge differentiator since many brands are currently skimming the surface with their reporting.
  • Have a nose for news (cover top trends with an original perspective).
  • A familiar tone of voice beats a formal one.
  • The ultimate storytelling platform is augmented reality and virtual reality. They’re going to be mainstream faster than you think.

Thursday

Finding Your Way—A Comedic Look at Finding Your Brand’s Mission, Michael Jr., Comedian

“Today, we’re going to learn a lot—but it’s not going to happen right away,” Michael Jr. stated as he opened his talk. “Comedy is like dating somebody that you really like, and I don’t want to rush this.”

In a presentation that was equal parts comedic genius, literary brilliance, and deeply moving displays of human empathy, Michael Jr. painted a picture for marketers through the example of one of the fundamental building blocks of comedy: the set-up, and the punchline.

He explained that, in comedy, the set-up is that element of the joke when a comedian is doing everything he can to hook his audience and bring them along for the ride, ensuring they’re invested in the world of his story. And the punchline is when he changes direction, resulting in “revelation, fulfillment, and joy.”

For marketers, “Your setup is your talents, your resources, and your opportunities. You use those skills to bring your audience along, before you deliver the punchline.”

Michael Jr. also explored the importance of understanding not just what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it. “You have to ask the right question. It’s not necessarily about what, it’s about why. You have a lot of options for what, but your why never changes. So my why is to comedically inspire people to walk in purpose. But my what is comedy…tv shows…touring.”

To explain, he showed us this video:

You have content, you have information, so why are you putting it out there? And does it connect with your why? [Notice that the second time he sang, people got up and felt like they had to give him space and do something.] Is what you’re putting out there causing people to get up and do something? Or are they just watching what you’re doing? …What is your why? Or are you too busy jumping from ‘what’ to ‘what’ to answer that question?”

Unthinkable: How the World’s Most Creative Content Marketers Do What Others Wouldn’t Dare, Jay Acunzo, VP of marketing and support at NextView

“Good marketers don’t follow best practices,” Acunzo said, a pregnant pause settling over the room. “Great marketers craft their own.”

To be great marketers, Acunzo argued, we have to do more than just abide by the rules we know work. We have to do the unthinkable. And in the presentation that followed, Acunzo explained how we can become great—and what greatness looks like. As a great marketer, you’ll notice three main things: others will tell stories about you, you’ll start shaping the market, and you’ll sell more.

Here are three main takeaways for marketers looking to do the unthinkable:

  1. Celebrate the stuff inside your content. As marketers, we need to be intrinsically motivated to create. That means celebrating the work you do, and digging deep into why it works and why you love it.
  2. Ship. A lot. Acunzo recommended shipping one new thing each week for three weeks. Whether you write it, record it, or share it with a friend, it doesn’t matter. Just keep doing it.
  3. Start with constraints, and launch side projects. Constraints can be a creative’s best friend—despite the feeling many people often associate with creativity, which is one of freedom. And side projects can serve like a gym for your brain, Acunzo said, helping you work the creative muscle, and you should always be looking for the next project you’ll launch.

How, Now, and Wow: The Three Pillars That Can Supercharge Your Content KPIs, Margaret Magnarelli, Managing Editor, Monster

What do we talk about when we talk about content marketing? Eyeballs.

In her presentation, Magnarelli outlined the content strategy that has worked for Monster in the past year (the company has had massive success) but emphasized that building an engaging program takes time. Digital content does not generate traffic all of a sudden. People are not just going to come to your destination immediately. Instead, you need to think about how to push it out to people. There are tons of channels that drive traffic to your site, but you need to diversify your distribution strategy so that when something major changes—like a Google ranking algorithm—you’re at a lower risk of having a huge dip in traffic.

But where do we concentrate our efforts? How can we group our content into buckets to produce for several channels at once?

Magnarelli talked about the how, now, and wow of content marketing:

“How”

One of the main reasons Monster creates content is to differentiate the brand from other job websites in a crowded career marketplace. The job search process is, in Magnarelli’s words, dehumanizing. Its content aims to make people’s job searching experience a little better, story by story.

Monster prioritizes SEO, email, social, paid, video, and syndication (they have a partnership with major media sites like Fast Company and Fortune, but also with 800 newspapers around the country).

Here’s how to find your “how.”

  • Know your customer.
  • Find your intersection point.
  • Unlock your keywords.
  • Split between search and click.
  • Review and repeat.

“Now”

What is “now?” News-, trend-, or data-driven content. Content marketers must operate as journalists—getting stories out quickly, creating your own news, and publishing original graphics and visuals.

Here’s how to find your “now.”

  • Set up news alerts.
  • Watch social/Google trends
  • Have a daily news meeting.
  • Embed news journalists.
  • Dig for internal data.

“Wow”

“[It’s] content created for social sharing or engagement—e.g. infographics, quizzes, humorous lists, GIFs posts—for our own site or for specific social platforms.”

What content stands out and gets engagement? For Monster, sometimes that starts with an experiment. Monster’s satirical article, “Attn. Kanye West: We found a way to help erase your $53 million debt,” performed exceptionally well. “Sometimes you take a risk, and it works, sometimes it falls flat, but you have to be willing to take that dare,” said Magnarelli. This experimentation has also taken shape in new content mediums for Monster, like Facebook Live, or spoof videos a la BuzzFeed’s Tasty.

Here’s how to find your “wow.”

  • Watch the social movers.
  • Get visual.
  • Act natural.
  • Interact with your audience.
  • Let them tell the stories.
  • Experiment.

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Managing editor of the Content Standard, writer at Monster, Sound of Boston, Trill, and others. Hip-hop producer.

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