Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Content Marketing Grows Up: A Content Marketing World 2018 Recap

It’s hard to believe another Content Marketing World in Cleveland has come and gone. It was my sixth! From a giant video game screen to seeing Joe Pulizzi back on the Content Marketing World stage, Content Marketing Institute went all out as usual to continue offering the best marketing conference available.

Every year I look for themes and trends that will drive the next year or so of content marketing. This year felt a little different. Instead of focusing on what content marketing is meant to do (build an audience that you can eventually monetize through content) and how to build it into our businesses, it seems like it’s grown up a bit (or leveled up to stay with their Game On theme!).

According to Robert Rose, we’re now at the point where a new player is joining: trust. Trust is built by truth. And, our job as content marketers is to create content that shapes the beliefs that create the truth which leads to trust. This year’s sessions (at least the ones I attended) offered tips and strategies to help us do that. The themes showed us multiple ways to produce content that resonates with our audience to keep it from being lumped in with all the mediocre content out there.

Think For Yourself

Authenticity was a big theme, but that’s nothing new. What was refreshing though was Jay Acunzo’s advice: think for yourself. Stay away from best practices because what works for one brand isn’t necessarily going to work for another. There are specific contexts and circumstances that lead to success. What’s important for brands is to understand what’s going to work best for them. 

We need to ask questions. Better open-ended questions. Seek out the answers you need until you find the right answer for you. Acunzo says, “We need to stop acting like experts and start acting like investigators.” Following that up with:

“Exceptional work isn’t created by the answers others give us but by the questions we ask ourselves.”

How many times have you looked for best practices, applied them, and were underwhelmed by the results? Best practices lead to mediocrity because they are applied by many and in a different context than the original. To truly stand out, you need to learn more about your customer.

He referenced his upcoming book, Break the Wheel, explaining the concept and how it came from Game of Thrones. Each kingdom is a spoke in a wheel, one may be on top now until the next spoke is on top. It’s a cycle of the same. The only way to break the cycle is to “break the wheel.” Similarly with content, if your content is just a collection of best practices, it’s the same as spokes making their way to the top with the same average content. Break the wheel by finding your own answers and thinking for yourself.

The Curiosity Gap

What do you do when you’re bombarded with reports and stats that claim people have the attention span of a goldfish? This thought has been used for a number of years (I wrote a blog post in 2014 explaining why the idea is crap). The answer is that we end up shortening our content because we think that's the only way people will read it. So, we pull things out. Ironically, according to Andrew Davis, we remove the things that make the content interesting. What we fail to realize is that good content gets consumed. Average content does not. Davis explained how to pull people into your content by focusing on our curiosity. People are curious. We want to know things. We want answers!

When Davis took the stage with a giant box and gently set it on a table, we wanted to know what was in it. Did he tell us right away? Of course not, he teased and played throughout his presentation before revealing the contents. Appropriately enough, he explained exactly why we wanted to know: 
  • Between what we know and what we want to know is the Curiosity Gap
  • The Curiosity Gap creates tension which is the emotional anxiety we feel
  • By playing on this tension, we go from wanting to know to needing to know; we need closure
  • Finally, there is the payoff: The outcome which needs to be proportional to the tension your content creates

Stated as a formula, here is how you earn audience attention:

Attention = (Tension/Time) x Payoff

Many of us are creating case studies and white papers for our clients and companies. Most of these don’t include curiosity gaps, tension or payoffs. Our customers already know the story because noone is going to create a case study in which their company failed. But, if you reorder the elements, you can create curiosity gaps. Start with the result and delay revealing how they did it for as long as you can. Think like a reality TV editor who creates enough tension before every commercial break to keep you watching for the payoff. 

Let Your Audience to the Talking

Who do we trust? Our friends and family. Who don’t we trust? Companies. If you can get your customers to tell your story for you, you greatly increase your credibility. Here are two approaches to build strategies to do that.

Talk Triggers

Jay Baer has a new book coming out called Talk Triggers. In it (and through his session), he discusses creating a word of mouth strategy. The main idea is that by giving your customers a story to tell, they will create customers for you. The following statistics help to prove this point:
  • 19% of all purchases are caused completely by word of mouth
  • 50% of all purchased are caused primarily by word of mouth
  • 91% of B2B purchases are caused primarily by word of mouth

Talk triggers are strategic, operational choices that compel word of mouth. There are four requirements for creating a talk trigger that can grow your business:
  • It must be remarkable: We discuss things that are different and ignore average
  • It must be repeatable: It is far easier to use content to amplify something that is always true
  • It must be reasonable: Experiences should be big enough to be talked about, but not so big to be untrusted
  • It must be relevant: Your content must have context and accentuate who you are and what you’re about

User Generated Content

One way to make sure your content is authentic is to let your customers create it. Jacquie Chakirelis talked about the benefits of user generated content (UGC). UGC is any content that is contributed by unpaid persons. It has a definite effect on the performance of the content. According to Salesforce, UGC improves performance on every digital marketing channel:
  • 90% of visitors spend more time on a webpage that has UGC
  • 73% increase in email campaigns using UGC
  • 50% increase in engagement with UGC
  • 5x the click through rate with UGC
  • 10% increase in conversions by using UGC
And, the Ipsos Millennial Social Influence Study:
  • UGC is 35% more memorable than other media
  • UGC is 50% more trusted than other media
  • UGC is 20% more influential on purchase
Getting your audience engaged is how you build strong social content. Encourage your customers to interact with you. Create content that makes them the hero and gives them opportunities to create content you can use (don’t forget to get their permission).

Do Something Different

With so much content out there, sometimes it makes more sense to take a different approach. Zag when everyone else is zigging. The following two approaches are clearly taking the lesser traveled road.

Who Needs Google When You Have Propinquity

Everyone has to play the Google game, right? Maybe not. Tom Martin points out that we’re mathematically going to lose with Google. We have to rank on pages 1 or 2 (really, it’s just page 1). 99.999349% of those trying to rank, fail. Instead of playing by Google’s rules, what if there’s another way? That way is propinquity. What?

Propinquity is the concept that with greater physical (or psychological) proximity between people, the greater the chance that they will form friendships or romantic relationships. It applies to content in that if you can get your content on the websites where your customers are, you can reach them before they go to Google. And, if you’re able to get your content on multiple sites, you could rank for specific keywords from all of them which can help protect against any Google algorithm changes. All that said, this is not an easy approach. But, if you can do it well, you’ll definitely have an advantage.

Signature Sound

When you think of audio content, you probably go right to podcasts. But, what if you could create a signature sound for your brand? Instantly recognizable sounds include Southwest's "ding" or the voice of Tom Bodett for Motel 6. 

Tom Webster explained that audio content requires a different approach to your story. We experience it in a different way. Sound is very important to brands. There is a ton of content for the eyes, but not much for the ears.

Audio is the fastest path to connection. What we hear, we feel.  It’s a faster trip to the brain. When you hear something, you don’t have to think about it like you do with things you see. There aren’t a lot of brands focusing on audio content, so take advantage.

Speaking of Different…

This year, a few speakers took new approaches (at least new to me). The results were presentations that stood out:
  • Avava Leibtag: Starting out the session with a sing along to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” may have been the best opening I’ve seen. She offered writing tips based on the songwriting approach of many of our favorite artists, complete with video. This was simply my favorite session.
  • Andrew and Pete: Besides being entertaining on their own, these two turned their presentation into a game show that got us all involved to help the “winner.” Oh, and their main message was how to stay out of the content “Danger Zone” through the Remarkability Trifle. Yes, you read that right…Remarkability Trifle.

  • Joe Lauzaskas: I was intrigued by his session because it was about the neuroscience of storytelling. Oxytocin fosters human emotion. He examined if oxytocin can be released through stories. Stories illuminate our minds as neurons fire together. Stories make us remember and care. Content marketing works because our brains are programmed for stories.

    But, what’s so different here? Well, Lauzaskas ended the presentation with a live neuroscience experiment to see how five members of the audience would respond to an emotional ad (even though he was advised not to). The results may not have gone as expected as the responses waned after about the midway point of the ad instead of peaking at the end and the emotional payoff. That said, it was an interesting look at what he just presented in action.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my post. This is just a portion of what I learned.  There was so much more. I didn't even mention Tina Fey, Ann Handley, Dewitt Jones, Melanie Deziel or Andy Crestodina! They were all incredible! As always, this event left me inspired and energized. It’s always bittersweet as the event comes to a close each year. I’m excited to apply everything I’ve learned, but sad that It’s going to be another year until I get to experience it again.I'm happy to say that at year 8, it's still going strong.


  1. Thanks for the inclusion Jeremy... always good to hear that folks take something meaningful away from one of my talks.

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