Five human lessons from Content Marketing World 2015

Content Marketing Institute held its fifth Content Marketing World this year in Cleveland, OH. It is reputed to be one of the largest in-person content marketing events in the world, with over 3,500 attendees from 50 countries, 225 speakers and 80 sessions. One of the key themes I heard throughout the conference was about being human, as the following five lessons illustrate:

1. Who are you – and are you human? (@halvorson, @jonkranz, @annhandley)

In her keynote, Kristina Halvorson shared a great story about a paper towel manufacturer that was intent on launching a new content marketing program on its website but missed a key “why” – that is, the main reason customers currently came to the website was for coupons. She suggests starting with the “why” first to help you hone your strategy before trying to decide on the content and tactics. Why are you doing what you are doing and why do your customers come to you?

Image credit: No hibernation for the Content Strategy Bear
Image credit: Anouschka Scholten

To illustrate, she gave the example of a bear going to the river and standing with its mouth open to catch a fish. In this example, the objective is to eat, the tactic is to stand with the mouth open, and the strategy is going to the river to fish. If the bear chose a different strategy (going to the forest) but with the same objective and tactic, he would catch no fish. Any good business strategy will focus on business outcomes and customer satisfaction, so the key is identifying opportunities for differentiation – what will set you apart? It’s also important to remember that people don’t have relationships with brands – they have relationships with people. So, when thinking about your audience, keep these questions in mind – what do they need to do (what are the top tasks they need to accomplish here), and how can I help them?

Jon Kranz offered another dimension on differentiation in his content lab for professional services. You start defining your content turf (who you are) by finding the intersections between your knowledge and expertise on the one hand and your customer’s needs (or hot buttons) on the other hand. Taking it one step further, if you can identify the “fires,” or that which is urgent (immediate risks or opportunities) to your customer, there’s a real opportunity for differentiation because you don’t have to educate a customer on urgent fires (they already know it’s an issue). Examples of this would be things like needing a plumber now for a broken water heater or a security expert for a data breach being faced now. From a content point of view, it can also help you determine what should be urgent (shorter, topical, practical, tactical, hooks, SEO) and enduring (longer, evergreen, visionary, strategic, educates, CEO).

Image credit: Allison Brook
Image credit: Allison Book

Ann Handley also gave some great advice on differentiation, what she calls the “rule of FIWTSBS,” or “find interesting ways to say boring stuff.” She says there are three keys to successful content, which are BIGGER stories, BRAVER marketers, and BOLDER voice.

BIGGER stories are about the brain. It means putting your business into the context of what people care about – how do you lead your squad (would I want to join?), what gifts do you offer that can make the customer smarter, and how do you make the world a better place?

BRAVER marketers are about the heart. It means moving away from the typical marketing content of “here’s the problem; here’s how we overcame it; everything is awesome” toward more authentic stories that will resonate more with the audience because they focus on narrower, more realistic personas of your audience and specific challenges they may be facing. That is, are you talking to a narrow audience and does your content tell a different story with a specific POV?

Finally, BOLDER voice is about the guts. It is essentially your tone of voice, which equals culture (who you are) X story (why you do what you do) X empathy (what you are like to deal with).

2. How human is your audience? (@PamDidner, @annhandley, @crestodina)

Being human or “finding the human” was a theme throughout many of the sessions. One of the key elements of this is making sure that you have defined your audience as real people, or personas, as Pam Didner noted in her session on global content marketing. So, if one of your target audiences is CIO buyers at large enterprises, for example, then a persona should be developed for that audience that profiles them as a “real person,” with a name, a bio, job description, goals, pain points/challenges, likes/dislikes, etc., so that you know what kind of individual human being you’re targeting with your content. While some of these elements may be an educated guess, or extrapolation of data, Ann Handley suggested these sources to help build and narrow your audience persona: base it on real people, surveys, customer conversations/interviews, reading what they read. You may also want to challenge assumptions about your market and use data from different sources to refine (e.g., marketing automation, CRM, BuzzSumo, Hubspot Demographics Pro).

Image credit: Buffer blog, Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner’s Guide
Image credit: Buffer blog, Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner’s Guide
Image credit: Andy Crestodina
Image credit: Andy Crestodina

Regarding the use of analytics as a source, Andy Crestodina demonstrated exactly how much detailed information you can pull on your audience in terms of who they are, where they came from, and what they are doing on your site, such as what device or browser they are using, how engaged they are, how many are international or millennial, what social networks they are coming from, etc. This is an important competitive advantage for businesses today as recent research by the IBM Center for Applied Insights has shown that analytics is changing the nature of how businesses operate and make decisions – in fact, seven in ten of the leading businesses say data-driven insights are integral to their decision making. However, there’s still a significant untapped opportunity in terms of how businesses can act on deeper audience insights to deliver more relevant content as another recent study shows – while increasing customer loyalty and advocacy was a top goal for social pioneers, 70 percent of those surveyed who have deployed social analytics aren’t using those insights yet to influence key engagement decisions.

3. How human is your content? (@jaybaer, @nick_offerman, @pamdidner)

Image credit: Kingman Ink
Image credit: Kingman Ink

Jay Baer gave an excellent keynote on “does your content pass the Mom test?” Quite simply, if your Mom doesn’t like it (or understand it), then nobody will. As he shared, while Mom may love us unconditionally, she’s also uniquely equipped to tell us the truth. And passion will be the differentiator to Mom because Moms can sense passion. If you are just creating content to fill up a spreadsheet (or calendar), it’s not likely to pass the Mom test.

Nick Offerman shared his perspective on this idea in the CMWorld wrap-up session with Joe Pulizzi. As he put it, it’s not about trying to create something that will go viral, which never really happens anyway. It’s about focusing on the integrity of what you’re doing and staying true to your passion now.

Pam Didner also gave a great tip for making your content more human in her global content marketing workshop – the idea of mapping content titles to the buyer journey. You may have heard of aligning different content types to different stages of the buyer journey – for example, white papers and ebooks for the Learn/Discover phase. But Pam suggested a different approach for thinking through content creation – focus on the titles first to solve the buyer challenge at each stage.

Photo by Julie Yamamoto (everyone in the room took a photo of this chart by Pam Didner)
Photo by Julie Yamamoto (pretty much everyone in the room took a photo of this chart by Pam Didner)

4. Influencers are human too (@leeodden, @cmcphillips, @moninaw)

In his session on Participation Marketing, Lee Odden shared several great case studies on co-creating content with influencers. One of the stories was about a small business campaign that Intuit ran where it invited small business owners to participate by creating useful content for other small business owners with the prize being a Super Bowl ad for the winning entry. While he outlines several benefits of content co-creation, three of the key ones are quality (tapping into expertise), engagement (connecting with SMEs and influencers), and reach (participation inspires action). Two of these capabilities, mining community expertise and collaboration were also highlighted in a recent IBM Center for Applied Insights study on social business capabilities that looks at how enterprises are tapping into the potential of social technologies.

Image credit: Lee Odden
Image credit: Lee Odden

Lee suggests a modular content approach as a best practice for participation marketing, which is a way of de-constructing your assets into a taxonomy for easy re-purposing. This can work both ways, meaning the smaller pieces of co-created content could be pulled together into larger assets and vice versa.

He also outlined five best practices for influencer content:

(a) Identify, qualify and recruit influencers. Some identification tools include Traackr (blogger focus), Followerwonk (Twitter focus), BuzzSumo, Keyhole, GroupHigh (blogger focus), Appinions, Tribealytics. Lee mentioned that, for best results, he imports the results from multiple tools into a spreadsheet and correlates to see who keeps showing up.

(b) Engage and recruit influencers to participate. Retweet their status updates, comment on their blog posts, liveblog their sessions, interview them, co-create content with them, interact with them during an event.

(c) Collect and co-create content from internal and external influencers and experts. Set clear expectations and deadlines, follow-up and be patient. (See also his article “50 ways to win at influencer engagement”.) Virtually any kind of content can be co-created, from blog posts to white papers to video and graphics.

(d) Inspire content promotion. Make it fun and easy; remember that quality travels and egos are powerful.

(e) Measure ROI and monitor KPIs, such as attraction (=reach), engagement (=content consumption), and conversion (=form data captured).

Cathy McPhillips and Monina Wagner echoed some of these principles in their session on full social media integration (a CMI case study). They said if you engage influencers to help generate content (e.g., interviews, Twitter chats, quotes, etc.) and then give them back bite-sized pieces of content to share to their networks, such as just their one slide or a graphic of their tip instead of the whole piece of content, they will be more likely to engage with you and help amplify the content.

5. Global content marketing is human too (@PamDidner)

One of the surprising AHAs from the Global Content Marketing workshop by @PamDidner was to learn that there’s no secret magic in global content marketing. Yes, you do have to take into account regional differences on things like the target buyer persona, how products are used, laws and regulations, language and culture, and these differences may even impact some elements of the regional plans. But the same basic planning principles and best practices apply. Oftentimes, some commonality can be identified as well. For example, the buyer persona for an IT manager buying a specific part may be the same around the world because they use the part in the same way. Or messaging could be the same around common themes such as family, holidays, safety, etc. Those areas that play into the notion that “deep down, we’re all human,” as Pam put it, can serve as a springboard for commonality.

There’s also no magic way for global content marketing teams to work together – just like teams in North America need to collaborate with key stakeholder teams to align on key planning points, a global content marketing team essentially needs to do the same with their geo teams. Some of the key areas they should align on are the same basic planning principles for any good team content plan:

  • Business and marketing objectives
  • Personas
  • Country priorities
  • High-level editorial topics
  • High-level editorial timeline
  • Detailed list of content
  • Budget

Parting thoughts

To close, I’d like to add my own observation about CMWorld 2015. It wasn’t all just talk – these human principles and best practices were very much at play before, during and after the conference. While I’ve been to many different business, marketing and technology conferences throughout my career, I’ve never seen quite the level of personal attention and outreach as I did with CMWorld. I think one of the things that impressed me the most was seeing how CMI engaged me to co-create content with them as part of the conference, both one-on-one and en masse. While I don’t know if they’ll end up using anything from the interview or the quote I gave them in the follow-up survey, the fact that they reached out in the first place made me pay attention more (raised my engagement level). And, if they were to create any content from what I gave them, I would definitely share it, which is a real-life example of what takeaway #4 is all about. Another case in point (is mind-reading going to be lesson #6?), I just received this in my inbox from CMI while writing this blog post: 9 Free Tools to Co-Create Content.

“Participation marketing is the democratization of content creation and promotion by co-creating content with subject matter experts, influencers and your community.” – Lee Odden, CEO Top Rank

Originally published on the IBM Center for Applied Insights blog Sept 2015

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