3 Days in Believeland: What We Learned at Content Marketing World

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Until just last week, my knowledge of Cleveland was limited to its sports teams. So, when the opportunity to attend Content Marketing World (CMW) arose, the chance to “flee to the Cleve” (à la Jack Donaghy) was rather endearing.

Cleveland SignSet in a sea of orange at the Huntington Convention Center in Downtown Cleveland, CMW is an inspiring mix of over 3,500 freelancers, strategists, and some of the best minds in content marketing. Add to that over 120 sessions and workshops, you would have to make a rather valiant effort not to come back to the office with fresh perspectives. Some tracks were as expected, such as writing, B2B marketing, and B2C marketing—while others, such as ROI, Search & Data, and Email Conversion, were more esoteric and heightened curiosity.

Throughout the conference, four overarching themes maintained relevancy:

  • Content marketing is storytelling
  • We are trying to reach humans and should speak to them as such with an emotional element
  • Knowing your brand is key to telling your story and why that story is important
  • Simplify—less is more, get to the point

The Pre-Game

Day one was all about the workshops. Jonathan Kranz of Kranz Communications led the writing boot camp. His main points were familiar to anyone with a writing background: Be clear, be memorable, and align your messages in a logical order. More surprising, though, was his idea of “3D Storytelling” for business stories. According to Kranz, the three Ds—Desire, Danger, and Drama—are what make your story effective. The desire being what your customer or client wants, danger being an obstacle standing in the way, and the drama being the hook that ties it all together to explain what your company does to help.

The Highlight Reel

Days two and three were booked solid with keynotes, sessions, panels, and networking (snacks included). Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, kicked things off complete with orange shoes. His message was clear and concise: Content marketing is here to stay. He added that, as content marketers, we don’t just market—we tell stories. As such, it’s up to us to build an audience, learn about what they are interested in, and then give them that story. At the end of the day, it’s not what you want to tell them; it’s what they want to hear.

Cleveland Exhibition HallEach and every speaker and session was informative, enlightening, and inspiring. The following are a few of our favorites and some messages that stuck:

Travis Wright of CCP Global and The Sales Lion’s Marcus Sheridan shared a similar sentiment: Marketing and sales need to work together.

Linda Boff, CMO of GE, enforced the storytelling theme and GE’s efforts to make human connections. While this is tough to do in the industrial space, it’s imperative to remember that you’re still selling to people, not industries.

The most notable takeaway from Carla Johnson of Type A Communications was that “bad pitches kill great ideas.” The idea is to take the audience through your entire thought process—from inspiration to execution—as you experienced and foresee it. Sharing your own observations helps inspire others, and with inspiration comes excitement.

MarketingProfs’ own Ann Handley enforced a lesson we all are familiar with but often need to remind ourselves of: Good writing is concise. This point was also driven by Josh Bernoff, who added the human perspective of treating your reader’s time as more valuable as your own.

Jay Baer - Collage of Content Marketing Tips

Jay Baer suggested most content that companies produce fails, but it can be fixed by simply adjusting the topic, format, message, and amplification channel. He also reiterated the human concept—that your audience is humanity, and regardless of your industry you are talking to people. Although people are busy, they’re not too busy to engage with what’s relevant to them.

Finally, the man who needs no introduction, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, took to the stage to talk all things storytelling. Much to the crowd’s surprise (and delight), he wasn’t here to talk about Hollywood—he was here to preach reinvention in the digital age, collaboration, true creativity, and storytelling that engages people.  Watch a clip of Gordon-Levitt’s keynote below!

The Post-Game

When the event came to end—heading back to Boston with an Amazon cart full of books and a plethora of new tools to play with—one thing became abundantly clear. We are no longer making a case for content marketing, as everyone is already on board. Now, it’s about how to do it better and what that looks like.

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