Tom Tennant | October 26, 2021
Since 2010, when the godfather of content marketing, Joe Pulizzi, first took the stage in his orange suit, there have been 11 Content Marketing World conferences. I’m proud to say I’ve had the good fortune to attend 10, the most recent of which took place at September’s end in Cleveland.
After 10 years, you would think I know all there is to know about content marketing. Turns out, as Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
Content marketing evolves. A lot of that evolution follows technology innovation, like more complex search algorithms, augmented reality and AI. Even more comes with the way we consume stories, like our social media journey from posts to ‘grams to Reels. Not to mention the expanding world of podcasting.
That’s why, instead of sharing what I’ve learned from a decade of Content Marketing Worlds, I’m revealing the 10 content marketing tips I should’ve learned – and maybe you should’ve learned – by now.
Content marketers, at their core, are creatives, and we can quickly fall in love with our own inventions. Pair us with talented designers and we’ll build you something we swear will win awards. But when we lose sight of the business goal – as soon as we forget that our content has purpose – we’re wasting time and resources.
Whether it is brand awareness, prospect engagement or customer education, our content should have a clear, measurable business goal. Don’t forget that.
Ever find yourself talking with someone who wants to tell you every detail about his trip to see the North Carolina’s Largest Chest of Drawers?
Our customers feel the same way when we only tell stories about our business and product.
How should they feel? Like they’re conversing with someone who listens and ask questions while they tell their story.
Prospects and customers want to engage with organizations understand their challenges and can help them to achieve business goals. Make your content listen and solve for the reader.
It takes nearly seven hours to sit through all three “Lord of the Rings” movies (theatrical release). But that’s nothing compared to how long it took to make them.
Director Peter Jackson and his cast and crew spend seven years making the trilogy. Even more amazing, of those seven years, only 438 days – or 17% of the total time – were spent filming the movies.
“Ninety percent of content marketing has nothing to do with creating content,” Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor, Content Marketing Institute, explains. “Successful content marketing operations start with great internal communication and collaboration. Researching the audience and what they need, doing the product development on our owned media properties, and executing on the hard work of structuring workflows, calendars and technology to facilitate the flow of content through the ‘pipes’ of the organization.”
It’s all the work you do before you sit down at a computer or stand behind a camera – and all the work you do after – that makes great content shine.
As experienced content creators, we often view search engine optimization through the lens of yesterday’s black hat SEO – keyword stuffing, content farms and sneaky redirects – and fail to see the true art and science our modern SEO counterparts command.
When customers ask Google to help them find a product like yours, whether that’s a sports car or enterprise software solution, you want your content to appear first. Without SEO, your website and its fabulous content could linger on page 10 for a long time. And no one wants that.
Collaborate with your search counterparts and let your SEO team elevate what you do.
Think of it this way. Exceptional content without SEO is like the Great American Novel sitting in a box in the back of a bookstore. SEO puts that novel on the shelf – and, when done right, at eye level.
At this year’s Content Marketing World, I was happy to hear a lot of discussion about tapping into emotion to drive engagement. I’ve proselytized this for a long, long time.
The reason why? Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor and Coulter Family Fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and her 2013 video, “Persuasion and the Power of Story.” In the video, Aaker talks about how humans make decisions most often based on emotion rather than facts and figures.
She shares several examples, but the one that’s stuck with me is Rokia’s story.
Rokia was part of a University of Pennsylvania study. The goal? Determine how to best raise money for Save the Children, a charity focused on the well-being of children worldwide.
To test, researchers created two versions of a marketing pamphlet. The first featured statistics about challenges some African children face. The second featured the same statistics – but it also included a sidebar featuring Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali, who daily faced the threat of severe hunger.
Study participants were paid $5 and given the opportunity to donate a portion to the charity. Subjects who read Rokia’s story gave nearly twice as much money as those who only read the stats.
“We used to think it was our rational brain that makes decisions,” says Aaker. “Now we know it's emotion driving decisions, and we rationalize the decision afterwards.”
Make your content emotionally relatable right from the beginning. When your prospects and customers engage, share statistics that help solidify their decision.
If you are a successful widget maker in the world of widget making, the content you produce will often rely on the same industry insights your competition is talking about. Before long, everyone is saying the same thing. It seems impossible to stand out.
But you can do it, says A. Lee Judge, co-founder and CMO of Content Monsta and a former international deejay. “Most deejays have all the same content,” Judge explains. “And that’s OK, because it’s all about what you do with that content and how you make it original.”
Consider the world of hot sauces. If you’re creating content to sell your own spicy concoction, you might decide to write about picking the right pepper or debating how hot “hot” is. Or you could interview a celebrity guest while they eat increasingly spicier hot wings. You could even call it “Hot Ones” – but chances are “Hot Ones,” the successful YouTube program that relies on that format, might have something to say about that.
Take time to consider the content, then use your own unique vision to mix something new and different.
Content should be inspirational, informational and entertaining. It’s a mantra graying content marketers know all too well. But we often place all our energy on the informational and inspirational and shy away from the entertaining. There are plenty of reasons why, most centered on whether customers will take the client less seriously.
Except funny sells.
Humor is attention-grabbing, relatable and linked to higher recall, making it an excellent choice for brand awareness. It can be gold on social media, too. More than 70% of consumers watch videos on social media to laugh, says a Sprout Social Media survey, and Americans are 43% more likely to share “funny” content than “important” content, according to an Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange survey.
There’s a twist, of course.
“The difference between an individual making a joke and a brand making a joke is that the individual’s only aim is to entertain,” Dr. James Barry tells Contently. Barry is a humorist, professor at Nova Southeastern University and co-author of “A typological examination of effective humor for content marketing.” “A brand has to entertain and connect the joke to their brand image. They’re using laughter to leverage brand familiarity.”
When done right, we get content that’s actively consumed, remembered and shared?
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In a perfect content marketing world, creators have time to ideate, create, revise, shape, rework, mull over, tweak … well, you get the picture. Put simply, business often runs faster than creativity. So, what do you do when you don’t have time to think?
“Go with your gut,” says Michelle Volpe-Kohler, senior writer, Corporate Communications and Engagement, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “Sometimes the client or company is moving so fast you don't have time to bounce things off someone else. Or maybe you must make a quick decision during an interview or when writing on a deadline. Empower yourself to listen to your instincts.”
The great thing about letting gut feeling take the wheel? It guarantees a greater than 50/50 chance of success.
Start listening to your instincts by understanding that “trusting your gut” means tapping into your own experience and expertise. “Practice makes perfect” and muscle memory play key roles here. Every time your favorite Cavs player banks a three-pointer at the buzzer, they’re tapping into the same expertise you have as a content marketer and trusting their gut that the ball will drop.
By the end of Content Marketing World’s first day, I’m exhausted. After 10 shows, you’d think I would remember to take a break, refuel and stay hydrated. But time slips by, and that nugget of wisdom disappears, lost in a sea of similar nuggets. Had I spent some time during the year to thumb through my notes, discard those nuggets that no longer resonated and reviewed those that did, maybe I would have packed an extra bottle of water and a pack of peanuts.
The same thing happens to our content. We produce so much (some would say too much), the best pieces are buried under the average and forgotten.
Taking time to conduct an audit of your existing content to determine what should stay, what should go and what needs a bit of hydrating. Keeping content consistent and up-todate will not only help you surface great content for your customer and client, but could also help your website’s search rank and inspire creators to build even better stories.
As content marketers, we’re tasked with telling stories meant to sell products and services. There’s almost always a commodity involved, and with it, and a philosophy behind selling that commodity. Sometimes, that philosophy may not match yours.
“Something we all should learn, if we haven’t already, is the importance of understanding how the company or client makes money,” says David Thomas, creator and host of The Cognitive Bias Podcast. “What is the business model, really? And are you cool with that?”
Understanding the company or client’s business model results in two positive outcomes, Thomas says. One, it lets you understand what truly represents value for your company. If that’s something you can get on board with, you can do a better job of adding to that value.
“And, two, if it isn't something you can get on board with, you can take action, whether that action is looking for other opportunities or advocating for changing the model,” says Thomas.
There you have it. Ten things I should’ve learned after 10 Content Marketing World conferences. I am sure there are 10 more. Maybe you know of one or two? If so, reach out and tell me what they are. I would love to learn more.
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Tom Tennant is a senior content strategist at Falls & Co. He began his career as a news reporter and trade press editor. Tom shifted to media relations, working for one of the largest financial services companies in the U.S. – and then shifted again, spending more than a decade as a digital marketing team lead and content strategist for a leading enterprise information management software company.