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7 Moments of Clarity from Content Marketing World 2017

I know it’s been done, and probably pretty cliché, but I originally wanted to call this blog post Fear and Loathing in Cleveland. I was so in love with the idea that I started writing the lede while standing in line to board my plane in Green Bay.

“I was somewhere in the air over Chicago when the antihistamine finally kicked in … “

My trip did start in a Hunter S. Thompson-esque fashion. Nursing a mild hangover from Labor Day weekend, running late after oversleeping, un-showered with bloodshot eyeballs thanks to the ragweed in the late summer air, I was leaving Wisconsin in a fog.

That wouldn’t last long.

What I experienced after arriving at Content Marketing World 2017 in Cleveland was nothing like the inebriated story of paranoia from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Instead, it was a gathering of like-minded people looking to make revolutionary changes in their approaches to marketing.

Sometimes, I did feel intellectually intoxicated as I drank directly out of the firehose of advice from just some of the more than 200 speakers at this year’s event. However, there were many times those insights hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was in those moments when everything became very clear.

Now it’s time to put it all into action. After poring over my notes from four days in Cleveland, I’ve pulled seven of those big ideas to share with you.

1. Best Practices Lead to Average Work

There is a ton of marketing advice online. But are “best practices” truly the right way to approach your marketing strategy? If famous marketing bloggers start saying the best time to Tweet is 3 pm, and then hordes of marketers start Tweeting at the same time, is it still good advice?

Content Marketing World keynote speaker, Jay Acunzo of the Unthinkable podcast, says that instead of Googling for advice on best practices, it might be wise for marketers to start trusting their intuition. After all, anyone can Google the same information you’re finding.

Jay points out that no company aspires to be a 5. We want to be 10s, but we won’t get there by following best practices because that’s the same as following the crowd. Jay says “questioning conventional thinking leads to better decisions.” He used the inspiring story of Death Wish Coffee to illustrate how an unconventional strategy can lead to success. Hear more in Jay’s podcast on The Best Practices Fallacy.

2. Unite Sales and Marketing as “The Revenue Team”

I was pumped for the opportunity to hear a legendary content marketer speak in person. That’s why I grabbed a front row seat to hear Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion talk about knocking down the silos of sales and marketing departments. Pretty sure he sneered at me because I was snapping too many pictures, but I digress.

Marcus has a stellar success story about using content marketing to keep his pool business alive during the height of The Great Recession. Today, he’s a sought-after speaker and consultant who teaches companies how to use content marketing to drive sales.

Every company wants their sales and marketing teams on the same page. The problem is those departments are often operating in separate silos.

There were several gold nuggets of advice in Sheridan’s presentation, but one of the best was that we need to stop thinking of sales and marketing separately. Sheridan says, “the future will be built on revenue teams that do it together.”

He suggests establishing a sales and marketing mission statement and making sure sales reps and marketing work together to define goals, develop a strategy, and create content. Marketers need to get better at producing media that helps the sales team now, and sales needs to participate in content creation and distribution so they become more invested.

Sheridan believes the easiest way to get content viewed by prospects is to have the sales team use it with prospects and buyers. Sales reps will be much more likely to use and promote content marketing efforts if they are part of the process and understand how it can make their jobs easier. If sales knows content marketing can cut sales meeting times by 80%, meaning they can close quicker, they’ll be more than willing to pitch in.

The importance of uniting sales and marketing came up in other presentations, too. For example, in her industry lab on the final day of Content Marketing World, TREW Marketing founder Rebecca Geier cited a statistic from SiriusDecisions indicating companies with sales and marketing alignment experience 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability.

content marketing work sales and marketing graph

Some of Element’s most-successful content marketing programs are those in which sales is closely involved from strategy through execution. That’s why we keep working to help our clients knock down those silos.

3. Audience Collaboration is Powerful

There was such a huge line to see celebrity keynote speaker Joseph Gordon Levitt, I couldn’t figure out where it started or ended. I ended up standing in the back of the exhibit hall as JGL delivered a very insightful look at how the internet has changed the media landscape.

You may be familiar with his production company and Emmy-winning show Hit Record. It actually began as nothing more than a message board the actor put up after he briefly left Hollywood for college and couldn’t get hired when he returned.

Today Hit Record is one of the most interesting experiments in creative collaboration you’ll ever see. But, what does all that artsy stuff mean for marketers? Above all, don’t underestimate the power of your audience.

An excellent example of this came from another keynote speaker, Kate Santore of Coca-Cola. She explained how the beverage giant’s #ShareaCoke campaign led to impactful, audience-generated content.

That includes this hilarious and heartfelt video, which has been viewed millions of times. It shows the true power of content marketing goes far beyond what your marketing team or your agency creates. In the digital age, not only is every company a media company, every person is a media company.

Santore said Coca-Cola couldn’t have created a better advertisement themselves, and this video didn’t cost them a penny.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Kill Your Sacred Cows

“Know your audience” is a mantra of content marketing, but even the best of us need to be reminded to listen closely to what the people and businesses we want to reach are trying to tell us.

Adele Revella is the founder of the Buyer Persona Institute, which specializes in customer/audience research and how it relates to the buyer’s journey.

Both your most-loyal customers and the prospects you failed to win can teach you a lot about how to improve your marketing efforts and overall business. Yet, there are times when we are blind to the truth or unwilling to hear what the audience wants.

Often, that’s because we’ve invested so much in “sacred cows.” You may have perceptions about what differentiates your organization, what your audience wants, or who your audience is that are completely wrong.

Element’s agency principal, Lance Peroutka, has a good story about getting the target audience wrong. Years ago, he was marketing hunting and fishing trips to Ontario, Canada. The assumed target audience was outdoorsmen in states around the Great Lakes and the Northeast. You would think that guys who own boats and RVs, loved deer hunting, and drove pickup trucks would be the perfect audience.

However, the response to the advertising and marketing campaigns was terrible.

After doing some in-depth audience research, Lance discovered that the people who take trips to Canada are actually multi-millionaires with luxury cars and very little hunting experience. These were the guys with money to spend who were willing to drop thousands on a vacation where a guide could make it easy for them.

As Lance explains, “They were just as interested in smoking cigars as they were hunting and fishing.” The entire marketing strategy had to change, but it paid off.

While it can be tough to kill the sacred cows you’ve believed in for so long, having the guts to do so will likely lead to success and profitability.

5. Think Hard About Thought Leadership

Easily one of my favorite and most helpful presentations at Content Marketing World 2017 came from Mike Weir of LinkedIn. His presentation on B2B content marketing strategies had some great eye-openers.

Element is a big believer in the power of thought leadership content. We find some of our best work comes when content creators team up with subject matter experts to make something truly valuable to the audience.

As it turns out, the people who thought leadership content is created for feel the same way. A statistic Weir presented that surprised me shows 49 percent of content creators believe thought leadership content builds trust in a company.

But get this …

81 percent of C-suite executives say viewing thought leadership content from another organization helps establish trust. If your goal is persuading decision-makers at the top of an organization, you cannot ignore the ROI of thought leadership.

roi of though leadership graphic

There’s a lot of emotion involved in the B2B buyer’s journey, and the biggest one is fear. Weir says thought leadership content is crucial because it builds trust and de-risks the buying process.

6. Build B2B “Blockbuster” Content

The title of Mike Weir’s Content Marketing World presentation was The Future of B2B Marketing: Why to Think Like Disney and 6 Other Trends. If you read “Disney,” and your mind went straight to cartoon princesses, you’ve got it all wrong.

Think about the media properties Disney owns: Marvel, Star Wars, The Muppets, Pixar. Of course, that’s barely scratching the surface of the Mickey Mouse footprint. But, to cut to the chase, consider how Disney uses those major assets.

They create blockbuster movies, which are supported by a wide variety of other types of media. There are action figures and Happy Meal toys, comic books and video games, not to mention theme parks and Broadway shows. Disney produces special events and television shows connected to these properties, and even the trailers for its blockbusters are highly-anticipated.

A B2B blockbuster will take advantage of a brand’s expertise. That could mean creating high-value, lead-generating pieces, which are in turn supported by lesser pieces. For example, produce a video series or in-depth eBook supported by blog posts, podcast episodes, earned media, infographics, and social media efforts. The smaller pieces of content point back to your blockbuster content, building anticipation, giving your audience a taste, and making them hungry for more.

Another point Weir makes is that you cannot ignore the potential for paid efforts to significantly boost your content marketing. Even though Star Wars has global recognition and a rabid fan base, Disney still spent tens-of-millions on traditional advertising for The Force Awakens.

7. Can Content be a Profitable Revenue Stream?

The most radical idea I heard during Content Marketing World 2017 came from the founders of the conference and two of the main minds behind the Content Marketing Institute: Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose.

Their new book, Killing Marketing, asks a lot of intriguing questions about the way we’ve been approaching marketing – both traditional methods and online content marketing. Among the questions being asked in the book: What if your marketing could pay for itself and what if it could generate its own revenue, making companies more profitable?

One of the most famous examples of groundbreaking brands in content marketing is Red Bull. It has evolved into a media company that holds events, writes articles, produces videos, and also happens to market energy drinks.

Most organizations think of marketing as an added expense or a cost of doing business. What Pulizzi and Rose are suggesting is that, forward-leaning brands are beginning to realize the power of building an audience and becoming a media company and that’s becoming its own business model.

What if your content wasn’t just a means to push people towards your products and services and instead was part of your products and services?

This is a concept our client, Breakthrough®Fuel, is already adopting. They don’t only think of themselves as providing fuel management services and supply chain solutions. They think of themselves as a “knowledge company.” Offering advice from their subject matter experts (in the form of content) is part of the Breakthrough® experience.

That’s the kind of thing that gets all of us at Element excited, and it’s why I left Cleveland feeling re-energized and ready to create content that cuts through clutter and crushes the competition. Because it’s what we do here at this Northeast Wisconsin marketing agency.

When Hunter S. Thompson left Las Vegas to return to L.A., he wrote that he was “heading straight into frantic oblivion, safety, obscurity” where he would be “just another freak in the freak kingdom.”

That’s not how I felt. Instead, I am better prepared to help our clients become more aware of where marketing is heading next, show them how to take worthwhile risks, and crawl out of obscurity to a place where there’s an audience waiting for what you can offer.

A big thank you goes out to all the presenters and people I met at Content Marketing World 2017 and an even bigger one to the folks at Element for sending me on this enlightening trip!


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