Former-Journalist-Turned-Content-Maven Shares 5 Takeaways from Content Marketing World

Former-Journalist-Turned-Content-Maven Shares 5 Takeaways from Content Marketing World

Mary Lou Brink   |     October 21, 2021

As the new self-proclaimed content maven at Falls & Co., I was thrilled to attend (in person!) this year’s orange-laden, high-energy, fast-paced Content Marketing World conference.

A simple way to put it: Content marketing is storytelling. And storytelling isn’t exactly a new skill for me. I’ve been telling other people’s life stories for more than two decades … but as a journalist, never a content director. Attending CMW for the first time gave me the opportunity to explore the differences and similarities between the two.

Here are my 5 key content takeaways from the week:

1: Persona of interest

There’s more to building personas than you think. Basic demographics such as age, gender, race, income, education and media habits are all important when crafting the right buyer persona. But also make time to weave psychological profiling and mindset/motivations into your personas.

This was a backdrop cadence throughout several seminars – and rightly so. Psychology traits are key in determining how and why people do what they do, in this case make purchase decisions, according to Michael Bonfils, CEO of SEM International. This theory, based somewhat on The People Code by Taylor Hartman, segments persona personality styles into colors:

  • Red = dominant
  • Blue = compliant
  • Green = steady
  • Yellow = influential

A red trait or dominant personality, for example, thinks winning is everything and often seeks respect more than love. He or she connects with content that helps him or her reach the “elite” status. Think about it this way: An advertising campaign featuring professional athletes wearing expensive running shoes.

Marcio Moerback from Datasite and Jenny Magic from Convince & Convert also echoed the concept in their seminar. When creating personas, sometimes less is more. Focus more on the buyer’s mindset and motivations and less on his or her age or income.

If you’re feeling adventuresome: Try being more inclusive when creating names for your personas. Steer clear of gendered names such as Driven Dan Drummond or Meek Martha Murphy.


2: SEO: Search outside the box

Google isn’t the only game in town. Consider treating YouTube and Pinterest as search engines. Your users are.

Pageviews aren’t everything, Katie Tweedy, content marketing supervisor at Collective Measures, reminded us in her seminar, “The New Wave of Search.” Sometimes smaller numbers indicate more-committed customers, either through their page depth or engagement. Prioritize time spent analyzing your search engines in the following order:

  1. Most current traffic – this tells you who is coming to your site now, how often and location.
  2. Converts the best – what spots on the site are capturing lead information or closing a sale
  3. Highest engagement – this shows who is interacting the most on your site and potentially how long they are staying on your site.
  4. Most opportunity to grow – from where you see some traffic originating and with a little more effort could boost that number
  5. Test new platforms or small platforms for new audiences.

On the search horizon? Privacy-centered search engines, as more people learn about – and grow concerned over – personal data collection. Some search engine up-and-comers: Brave, Qwant, DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Ecosia and Peekier.

What makes them more secure? Brave, for example, has its own index, is ad-free, gives collaborative results and has greater location control.

3: Interview like a journalist

Think like a journalist. This one shouldn’t be difficult for me! Interviews are the backbone of all stories, whether news articles, podcasts, blogs, white papers, infographics … you name it. Creating epic content comes from conducting epic interviews.

Bernie Borges, vice president of global content marketing at iQor, stressed that clearly communicating the goal of the interview to subject matter experts (SMEs) is vital. Other helpful hints included:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Get the right people around the table
  3. Take copious notes and record the interview
  4. Expect the unexpected and think on your feet
  5. Summarize what you heard them say

4: The art of storytelling

The art of storytelling is thousands of years old, dating back to cavemen drawing a sequence of pictures on cave walls.

A more recent example is the holiday story Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The family favorite is an exceptional example of a framework for telling our own brand stories. It’s also a great example of content marketing. Who knew? Robert May, a middle-class fella who dreamed of writing the great American novel, found himself a marketing writer with Montgomery Ward. One holiday season in the late 1930s, he was tasked with creating a Christmas story that would inspire Chicagoans to shop. The result? Rudolph and his shiny red nose.

If he can do it, we can do it. The key to success, however, is inviting your audience to be a part of the story instead of pushing company-centered messaging, according to Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs.

Break the story down like this: Rudolph and his shiny nose is the product and Santa is the customer who needs a problem solved. Rudolph makes Santa the hero of the story by supplying a “product or solution” that Santa needed, when he needed it most.  

It’s simplified, but the framework of Rudolph can tell any good story, including yours:

  • Once upon a time there was (product/service): Bright nose
  • It has the capacity to do (superpower/offering): Light up a room or sky
  • Doubters (what do the haters say): Called him reindeer names
  • Why is the product needed: Break through the winter storm
  • Why important now?: Save Christmas
  • Brings community together/solves problem: Children happy everywhere

In summary, stories add context. Context adds value. And invite your audience to be part of your narrative.

5: Orange isn’t the new black

Orange is a big part of the CMW branding. Attendees and speakers alike don orange, and the godfather of content and founder of Content Marketing World, Joe Pulizzi, even wears orange alligator shoes. There are orange snacks and decorations tucked in every corner. Orange, orange, orange. Even if you don’t love the color, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the coolness of it all.

This week, everyone, whether former journalist or long-time content marketer, looked good in orange. Seeing thousands of people open their minds to learning and being excited about honing their craft was inspiring and contagious. As a “newbie” to this industry, CMW opened my eyes to the numerous similarities between journalism and content marketing. And the newly learned skills already are being applied in the content we are creating today at Falls & Co. – including this blog.

For years, content marketing gurus have loved to hire journalists, and now I know why. All the same attention to detail, emotion, and preparedness goes into telling brand stories as any other. After all, storytelling is storytelling.

Learn more about how Falls & Co.’s content strategies and storytelling can help you achieve your brand’s content marketing goals.

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Mary Lou Brink

Mary Lou Brink is senior director of content at Falls & Co. She has spent more than two decades as a newspaper editor. In her integrated marketing career, she shepherds digital content through the strategy, creation, review/approval and publication processes to ensure timely and high-quality deliverables for a wide range of clients.