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Our Top 11 Content Marketing Takeaways from #CMWorld 2017

Last week, thousands of marketers from all over the world descended on the Rock N’ Roll capital of the world, Cleveland, OH, for the seventh annual Content Marketing World Conference and Expo.

Featuring more than 130 speakers, keynotes and panelists, dozens of different tracks, and a whole lot of orange, the four-day event was exciting and inspiring. And the TopRank Marketing team was out in full-force, providing live coverage, learning from some of the best in the business, dancing to 80s classics and making new connections.

While it’s nearly impossible to distill all the inspiring insights we collected during the event into this one post, we’re going to try. Below we share a handful of insights that really resonated with our team.

#1 – Shoot for resonance — not reach.

Content marketing was born out of the need to satisfy our audience’s thirst for knowledge and to satisfy their questions. But with so much content out there these days — it’s more important than ever to ensure your strategy is hyperfocused on who you audience is, what they need from you, and what will truly resonate — not just reach — your audience.

During his keynote address on opening day, Jay Acunzo, creator and host of Unthinkable.fm, encouraged the room to start thinking ourselves — not just rely on industry best practices — and have a renewed focus on creating content that makes meaningful connections with our audience.

“When we pay more attention to the customer than to the industry, then the customer will pay more attention to us,” Acunzo stated. “[We need to] stop focusing on reach and start focusing on resonance.”


Stop focusing on reach & start focusing on resonance. – @jayacunzo #CMWorld
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#2 – All you need is less.

It’s certainly no secret that we’re living in a world of content abundance. But if we want to create content that really resonates and makes our audience feel something, we need to remember that less is more, according to prolific writer, marketer and speaker Ann Handley.

Using the classic E.B. White novel, Charlotte’s Web, Handley declared the title character the best content marketer in the world. Using just four phrases — Some pig, terrific, radiant and humble — Charlotte was not only able to save little Wilbur’s life, but also make Farmer Zuckerman believe and feel he had something special.

“Think of how Charlotte was able to save a life with just [a few] words,” Handley challenged her audience. “How can we use our words more intentionally? How can we make a difference?”

The bottom line? You don’t need more content. You need better content. Content that helps your audience see, feel, taste, hear and touch the story you’re telling.


How can we use our words more intentionally to make a difference with our content? @annhandley #CMWorld
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#3 – Stories are all around you — and mostly right under your nose.

Marketers often feel they don’t have the time, budget or resources to effectively create compelling, story-driven content. But, according to GE’s Chief Marketing Officer Linda Boff, inspiration is closer than you may think.

As Boff imparted her experience and knowledge onto the crowd during her keynote address, one of her most compelling slides simply said: “Stories are right under your nose — we just might need to change the lense every now and then.”

So, leverage the people, resources and data that you do have to iterate on how you tell your story and come up with new ideas.


Stories are right under your nose. – @lindaboff #CMWorld
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#4 – Give everyone a seat at the content marketing table.

Quality content is the foundation of every marketing strategy. And while you may think the success of your content marketing initiatives rests in the capable and creative hands of your marketing team members, you may be missing out on a big internal opportunity.

According to Jillian Hillard, the Director of Brand and Product Marketing for Electrolux Home Care and SDA, North America, getting the content marketing buy-in of key players from multiple departments can give your strategy wings.

“Everyone needs to have a seat at the table in the beginning,” Hillard said. “This creates community of openness, trust, camaraderie, support and gets everyone excited about the new journey.”

Some of the departments — or characters as Hillard said — that need your consideration could be: product development, sales, finance and customer service.

“Once your organization [as a whole] sees the value, then content marketing becomes contagious,” she said.


Once your org sees the value, then #contentmarketing becomes contagious. – @JillianHillard
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#5 – Design video content to hold attention.

Video content marketing has gone from the next big thing to the current big thing. Brands that pump out a ton of text-based content are now flooding the attention marketplace with video. And just as we had to learn how to make content work for marketing, we’re all still figuring out how to make effective marketing video. That’s where the incomparable Andrew Davis, an author and in-demand speaker, provided some insight.

While we like to think our audience will click play and hang on to the end where our CTA lives, we know they bail early. So, our goal needs to be to occupy their interest and their desire to know over time. And to put it simply, it’s not lack of attention span that causes our audience to bail or become disinterested. It’s the lack of content designed to hold attention.


We earn attention by satiating the audience's desire to know over time. @DrewDavisHere #CMWorld
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#6 – Influencer marketing success is built on relationships.

Influencer marketing is booming — and it’s not hard to see why. Influencers add insight, credibility and authority to content, as well as help spread your message to new and larger audiences.

But as TopRank Marketing’s own CEO, Lee Odden, said during his presentation on enterprise influencer marketing: “There are a lot of cowboys out there. … A lot of people are just shooting from the hip when it comes to influencer marketing.”

As a result, if you want to create a dynamic influencer program, your strategy needs to have the perfect balances of great content and strong influencer relationships.

“The stronger your relation and community, the stronger the amplification of the content will be,” he said.


Stronger #influencer relationships = stronger the #content amplification. – @leeodden #CMWorld
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#7 – Content should focus on the why — not the what.

During her session, Lisa Mattson, Director of Marketing & Communications for Jordan Vineyard & Winery, shared how their video-centric strategy is winning over their audience. But one insight bomb that she dropped goes beyond video:

Simply put, it all comes down to storytelling. You need a compelling narrative that’s hyper-focused on why your organization does what it does if you want to connect with and engage your audience.


People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. – @lisamattsonwine #CMWorld
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#8 – Prioritize work to guard against burn-out.

As Workfront’s Heather Hurst and Nordstrom’s Erica Gunn put it: It’s time to stop killing your content team. Your copywriters likely have a full plate and asking them to do more with less won’t work for long. So, if you want to keep your team happy and productive, you need to find a balance between what’s urgent and what’s important.

A project management system like Workfront can absolutely help ease this burden, but it’s also essential to make time for unplanned work. Hurst and Gunn suggested planning for approximately 60% of your team’s tasks so you have 40% wiggle room.


Budget time for unplanned work. – @heatherbhurst & Erica Gunn #CMWorld
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#9 – Stop telling your audience how amazing you are.

As comedian and marketer Tim Washer told the room during his session, when we use amazing words over and over again, they have the amazing ability to lose their amazing meaning. So, if you want to create video that is full of joy for your viewer, you need to stop telling people your company is amazing. Rather, you should start telling them stories and let them reach their own conclusion.


Stop telling people your company is amazing. Tell them stories & let them reach their own…
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#10 – Make culture your ‘North Star.’

According to adidas’ Frank Thomas, the digital world is so complex and volatile that our go-to tools for audience identification are no longer sufficient. Personas, scenarios, observed past behavior — they all change as fast as we can construct them.

So, instead of trying to become what an ever-changing audience wants, why not make culture your north star? According to Thomas, if you’re able to define what your brand stands for and you can become a beacon to your most valuable audience.


Instead of trying to become what your audience wants, make culture your North Star. – @framatho #CMWorld
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#10.5 – Creativity can come from anywhere and everyone.

During her presentation on driving sales through content marketing, Estée Lauder’s Executive Director of Global Content Marketing Alicianne Rand put it simply: “Everyone is a content creator.” And we really liked the sound of that. It’s definitely something we believe in. But Rand also said, we need to make sure our strategies and KPIs are a match for whomever is creating or contributing to the content.

A few things to ask yourself as you plan include:

  • What is my overarching theme?
  • What am I trying to promote?
  • What are my chapters?
  • What are my moments?

Everyone is a content creator. – @aliciannerand #CMWorld
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#11 – Data-driven content isn’t about the facts and figures.

Data. Data. Data. It’s safe to say all marketers agree that data provides the necessary insight to help us optimize content performance, personalize content and prove business value. But the thing is: data in a vacuum isn’t insightful or helpful. In the end, it’s not about the facts and figures themselves; it’s about how we shape that data into compelling stories.

According to Analytics Advocate at Google, Adam Singer, that’s where data visualization can come in pretty handy. Singer recommended “storyboarding” your visualizations before you even pull the data in. Nail down who you’re talking to, what questions you’re answering, and the story you’re telling before you create a single chart.


Storyboard your visualizations before pulling in data. – @AdamSinger #CMWorld #datavisualization
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Share Your Top #CMWorld Takeaways

If you were one of the thousands of content marketers in attendance, we invite you to share some of your favorite moments, insights and takeaways, too. Share them with us in the comments section below.


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