Content Marketing World 2016

The content marketing show must go on

In Ideas by Peter Gearin

Australian marketers learnt a lot about commitment and consistency from the experts at the world’s largest content marketing event, in Cleveland.

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
“I want you to love me”, Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick played a two-hour set after the first full day at Content Marketing World 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is not just the home of the event organisers, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), it has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Headbanging is a bit of a preoccupation here, whether it’s belting out 70s hits or trying to convince sometimes sceptical corporate executives that content marketing is truly worthwhile.

The Japanese press described Cheap Trick as “the American Beatles”, which is strange on many levels. The group had a string of hits in the US and Australia but is almost entirely unknown in the UK. So for CMW16 delegates from outside the US, Cheap Trick seemed as bizarre a choice as the anodyne Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) as closing keynote speaker. But perhaps the organisers had subliminal messages in mind as the lyrics sung by the old-time rockers told something of the challenges facing content marketers in the US, Australia and around the world. Content marketing seems to be on a never-ending quest to be wanted, needed, loved.

CMI boss Joe Pulizzi successfully framed the September event in his opening keynote as content marketing’s battle for commitment. He cited research that showed that just 20 per cent of businesses were “full committed” to their content marketing program. The other 80 per cent were either “somewhat committed” or not committed at all. He said that those companies that are only somewhat committed should stop their content marketing activities immediately, because to be less that fully committed was a waste of time, money and energy.

Pulizzi’s message resonated with the 3500 delegates, including the dozens who travelled from Australia for the four-day event. While it’s clear that many companies in Australia and New Zealand have some kind of content marketing program in train, much of it is seen as “experimental” or “at the pilot stage”. Any marketing activity needs to show return on investment, but content takes time and patience to show its true worth in attracting sales leads or saving business costs. It can be tough to justify, difficult to do and hard to track. But that didn’t stop Telstra, Westpac, nib and a number of Australian universities sending senior staffers to the event.

“If you’re going to find a formula that works for your business, you need to be prepared to trial and re-trial.”Monash University's Rebecca Adam

Rebecca Adam is group manager, content strategy and development, at Monash University in Melbourne. The main reason she was in Cleveland was to see how the field of content marketing was evolving internationally, and to understand the challenges and see how others were overcoming them. “We’re trying to establish content marketing within our organisation, so any information I could glean on how to make it work was helpful,” Adam says.

One thing she discovered was that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to content marketing. “The opening by Joe was eye-opening,” she says. “It seems there are a huge number of businesses really struggling to grasp the concept of content marketing and how to make it work for their business.”

She says her main take-away is the importance of taking measured risks. “If you’re going to find a formula that works for your business, you need to be prepared to trial and re-trial,” she says.

The University of Queensland’s Justin Laing also attended CMW16. The senior manager of strategic marketing and communications in the Faculty of Medicine says he has adopted much of the advice the CMI shares online but was keen to get a taste of it live. “I think the US is a couple of steps ahead of Australia in embracing content marketing and moving away from the more traditional ‘push’ approaches,” Laing says. “Rubbing shoulders with some of the best content marketers in the world was fantastic and I learnt just as much from the smaller breakout sessions as I did in the keynotes.”

Like Adam, Laing says it’s important for marketers to follow Pulizzi’s advice and commit themselves to content. “I know that I’ve always been a bit risk-averse and non-committal to content marketing because it’s a long game. As one of the presenters said: ‘We don’t ask our customers to marry us on the first date’. A big take-out for me was that we need to make that leap. It’s a big step away from traditional marketing and we need that support from the top. How do we get it? Probably through baby steps.”

Was there anything he heard that he could put into action straight away? “Digging down into why we’re doing what we’re doing is marketing 101, but it’s something we don’t always do.”

Irene Pollak is digital marketing strategist at Brisbane-based digital agency Rumble Media. She went to Cleveland to understand the latest ways she can help her clients, as well as connect with peers and representatives from software companies who were onsite. One of the key things she gained from the experience was the importance of creating quality content across all platforms.

“If you’re generating poor quality content but gathering high web traffic, that will dirty your data by attracting the wrong client base while losing trust with the people you really need to work with,” Pollak says. Like others at the conference, she says she is keen to remove or streamline content activities that haven’t been effective and to work harder on “higher-level customer persona development”.

Saw it at the airport, it was on TV.
Read it in a magazine, runnin’ down the street.
Makes no sense, but I hope it’s gonna last,
the next big thing, I really gotta laugh.
 “Writing on the Wall”, Cheap Trick

James Dillon is content manager at Gorilla 360, a Sydney-based ecommerce digital marketing agency. He is a fan of the content marketing approach. He says it’s “the human-friendly alternative to the annoying, interruptive advertising that continues to clog our screens, pages and airwaves”. He attended CMW16 because he wanted to learn more about the craft and meet world-class authorities in the field.

“Content Marketing World is the place on earth where the best in this business come together to share ideas, advice, inspiration and a whole bunch of laughs,” he says. “Personally, I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet the inspirational content creators leading our industry around the world.”

The main thing Dillon got out of the conference was the need for marketers to create quality content experiences. “Brands that can make the shift to an audience-building mentality will start to dominate those focused on their own products and services,” he says. “We need to create the type of content experiences our customers genuinely want to read, watch and listen to. If we can create the best publication in our niche, we can develop lasting relationships with our audience, and convert their trust into repeat sales.

“I’m so excited to see the mentality change from ‘marketing’ to ‘content’. We need to develop the systems, processes and structures required to craft customer-delighting content. The community at CMW is committed to making the ESPN, New Yorker and Pixar of our industries, and I can’t wait to see it happen.”

He says the one thing he learnt from CMW16 that he was keen to bring back to his team is the concept of “slow work”. “It’s so easy to get sucked into the mile-a-minute daily marketing production line,” he says. “At least an hour a week can be set aside to deliberate, to think, and to plan those truly remarkable experiences. We can make room for this deep work by cutting the fat of the content we produce that our audience just wouldn’t miss were it banished.”

Remember, after the fire, after all the rain
I will be the flame
I will be the flame
“The Flame”, Cheap Trick

Will content marketing be the flame to lead businesses to customers’ hearts and minds in 2016 and beyond? The message from CMW16 is that it well might be if it’s done the right way … with quality, consistency and commitment.

Links & references

Content Marketing Institute website

Rebecca Adam’s take on the learnings from CMW16

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