15 Tips (of Various Types) From Content Marketing World’s Experts

content marketing world 2014

The weather’s nice. The food is orange. And there are the biggest names in content marketing everywhere you look (and a constantly cursing Oscar winner to boot).

Content Marketing World is an experience full of unique character and packed to the brim with information, tips, and ideas. The speakers and attendees come from all types of backgrounds and represent just about every possible job title in the content marketing industry.

That makes for some good variety in the knowledge you walk away with at the end of the week. Here are fifteen of my favorite tidbits from those full days in Cleveland.

1) Forget funnels and focus on moments of inspiration.

Does the sales funnel still accurately reflect how people buy? With the way the internet has changed how people research and shop, Andrew Davis suggests we’re looking to an outdated tool to understand buying behavior.

There’s not a simple, linear process behind making a purchasing decision anymore. What there is now is an internet full of ideas and stories. To get the attention of your potential customers and make a connection, you need to play on the level of the things they’re paying attention to online. You need to work toward creating moments of inspiration.

2) Start using Google Trends. Yesterday.

Another tip from Andrew Davis who insists that Google Trends is the most underused tool in marketing today. If you want to understand what people care about, what they’re talking about, what they’re thinking about and searching for (and of course you do if you’re in marketing), Google Trends is the tool to show you.

google trends

What people are thinking about today

3) Speaking of Google tools, you’re not doing enough with Google Analytics.

Andy Crestodina (another Google Trends fan) has figured out a lot of the best tricks for getting more out of Google Analytics. Trends are good for figuring out what people are thinking about more generally, but Analytics is where you figure out what they’re coming to your site for and what they’re doing when they get there.

If you use Google Analytics effectively, the data you glean can help with keyword research, topic development, and refining your strategy as you go.

4) Use tools, but don’t let them take the place of strategy.

Content marketing tools abound. We’ve got the aforementioned Google tools, a dizzying array of software, social So many tools! Graphic via Curatanetworks, tools for organizing your content creation process, amplifying the reach of your content, tracking performance, and so many more.

Kristina Halvorson offers the reminder that we can get carried away with our tools and tactics. Content marketing isn’t just about what we can do or think might be cool to do, it has to be strategic. Don’t let those tools distract from creating and sticking to a strategy.

5) Use personas. But remember, they’re not a creative writing project.

Personas are content marketing 101. We all know we need them, but the harder part is making sure they’re based on something real.

It might feel fun and creative to sit down and write out what you think is going on in the mind of your ideal customer, but unless you’re basing what goes into your persona on actual interviews or data, you’re writing fiction. Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker brought up the inconvenient truth that for personas to do their job and make your content marketing strategy more effective, they can’t just be a creative writing project.

say "no" for a better content strategy6) When creating a content strategy, saying “no” isn’t just ok, it’s important.

This is another gem from Kristina Halvorson (and one of the pieces of advice on this list that can easily extend to life beyond content marketing). Marketers are creative people and, as such, we tend to have more ideas than we can reasonably execute.

An important part of developing a content strategy that will be effective and sustainable is the ability to say “no.” Producing a blog post a day, a weekly video series, and an infographic all this month might sound like a great plan ­– but do you actually have the resources to execute that plan? Carefully consider what you can accomplish, so you create the most effective and efficient strategy within your means.

7) Always ask “why?”

Another Halvorson tip: think like a five year old. Every step of putting together your strategy and creating your askwhycontent, ask “why?” Why are you doing this? Why is this important?

Just keep asking until you get down to those big, hard-to-answer philosophical questions. If your content answers everything up to that point, you know you’ve dug deep into something really useful.

8) Writing is not grammar, it’s thinking.

You may have noticed a few sentences in this post that start with “and” or “but.” Well Ann Handley told me I could :) .

The grammatical rules that may have seemed like gospel when you were learning to write in school aren’t the most important part of writing well. In fact, any time they have a negative influence on the readability or personality of your content, they should be set aside.

What matters is the thought that goes into the work. Writing must be useful and meaningful and something your reader can relate to. More than any proper use of a semi-colon, that’s what makes writing good in the world of content marketing.

9) Whenever you could use some extra writing inspiration, check out style guides.

Do you ever look over the style guides produced by some of the companies putting out great content? I have to admit, I never really thought to, but Ann Handley recommends it as a way to keep your writing fresh.

A few she specifically recommends are:

If you know of any other good ones worth checking out, let me know,

influencer marketing

Find influencers with Followerwonk

10) If you don’t have one already, develop a plan to start connecting with influencers ASAP.

In his talk on influencer marketing, Lee Odden stressed how people are much more likely to trust experts than brands. This is a pretty intuitive point: how much more likely are you to make a decision based on the advice of a person you trust versus that of a brand?

That makes any expert in your industry with an engaged audience somebody you want to know. And more to the point, somebody that you want to know and trust you well enough to share your content. This isn’t easy though, you need a plan to best determine which influencers you want to connect with and how best to establish, nurture, and maintain that connection.

11) Be sure to target actual influencers, not just people that are popular.

It’s possible for someone to have a large following and obvious popularity, without being a person with influence. Odden explains the distinction: a brandividual is popular, but an influencer can create popularity.

Popularity might be measured in things like followers, but an influencer is likely to have a more engaged audience. Their followers aren’t just passive listeners, but make a point to interact and become a part of the their community. That’s how you tell the difference.

12) But don’t just target the already influential, look for people on their way up.

Every powerful influencer out there started as someone with no fans or audience. The road to cultivating influence is long and slow and most of those who reach the end get some help along the way. And they remember the help they got.

Says Odden, “Work with an influencer, they’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.” Keep your eyes open for the people who are on their way up and look for opportunities to connect with them as well.

13) Get ready for adaptive content.

Context plays a huge role in how and why people buy. How huge of a role? It turns out that personalized content can mean 3-10 times as many conversions.

Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker talked about the growing trend of adaptive content. You’ve already seen glimpses of this ­– things like personalized ads based on sites you’ve visited and seeing different versions of a website on different types of devices all count as adaptive content.

The technology for businesses to do even more personalization in how they deliver up content is already there; it’s just a matter of jumping in and using it. But you can’t jump in without a plan. In the mantra familiar to any and all Content Marketing World attendees: the strategy must come first.

14) Slow down and fix your shit.

Both Kristina Halvorson and Jonathon Coleman gave this line a nod. Along with #15, it’s one of those pieces of advice that’s useful in pretty much all aspects of life. Rushed work and hasty decisions rarely produce results on par with what you get out of a well thought out and carefully executed strategy. Take your time and do it right.

15) It’s all about empathy.

To produce content people want to consume, you have to understand what they like and need. We talk a lot about personas in the realm of content marketing, but we always have to remember what the real point of those personas is. They’re worthless if they don’t help us empathize with the people we’re trying to reach.

In the emphasis on getting out a large quantity of content quickly (see #14), it’s easy to lose sight of what the purpose of the content is. Catchy headlines followed by posts that repeat familiar facts might help content creators reach their quotas and satisfy the higher ups, but are you creating something that people will actually appreciate?

Always have the people on the other end of the computer screen in mind. If you’re not making an effort to empathize with their needs, it’s time to start.

5 Key Takeaways for Freelancers from Content Marketing World 2013

freelance content marketingThe whole concept of content marketing is  changing how businesses value and approach many of the skills we freelancers most excel at.  While the Content Marketing World conference is definitely not put together with freelancers top of mind, it provides a good glimpse into what our clients and potential clients are thinking about, the directions they’re moving in and the best ways we can provide the value they’re seeking.

As a freelance writer, the tips I’ve shared below definitely lean towards lessons useful for freelance writers specifically, but many of these can be easily applied to freelancers working in any capacity related to content marketing. The growing importance of images and videos was a hot topic, and the need for well-designed websites has always been a crucial issue in content marketing.

Without further ado, here are 5 key takeaways for freelancers from this year’s Content Marketing World:

1) Marketers consider creating enough good content a big problem.

In advance of the conference, the Content Marketing Institute performed a survey to get a clear idea of what marketers are doing, and what tactics are working for them. 55% of those surveyed ranked producing enough content as one of the largest challenges they face.

Couple that number with the 58% planning to increase their content marketing budget over the next year and we’ve got some ripe conditions for quality freelancers to help fill in the gaps businesses are experiencing.

An important distinction here is that word “good” – marketers are bringing increasingly high standards to what constitutes content worth publishing. As the web becomes ever more saturated with content, we have to be able to bring our A-game to the clients we work with to help them develop the kind of content that helps a business stand apart from the crowd.

2) Content strategy is key for effectiveness.

This was another takeaway from the survey. The businesses that jump into content marketing without a plan get less out of it than those that develop a strategy.

While freelancers are often just one part of the larger content strategy for businesses, this is an important piece of information for us to impress upon any clients that aren’t thinking strategically. If we help them develop awesome content, but it’s not used effectively, we’re not really helping. Not to mention, we risk becoming a line item easy to cut out of their budget if our work doesn’t help them make money.

If we want to add value (as we should), we must urge clients to approach their content marketing with a bigger picture in mind.

3) Help out non-customers, even if you don’t see a direct benefit.

This point was emphasized again and again in different talks and sessions at the conference. Jay Baer, whose talk was one of the most popular there, urged the audience to “make marketing so useful, people would pay for it.”

Obviously, if you’re doing freelance work for pay, you’re already thinking that way :)

One of his other really meaningful points was to always think about how to help people in your audience, even if they’re not your customer. Good content marketing means thinking about offering value first, and making sales later.

Hilton created a Twitter account devoted to proactively giving travelers advice on different cities they visit – even people staying at other hotels. Lowe’s shares useful tips via Vine for people interested in home repair and gardening – including one that shows people how to make their own watering can (a tool Lowe’s sells).

Is it crazy to help your competitors’ customers, or tell people how to make the products you sell? Nope. It’s just good marketing.

4) Many businesses are looking for content that’s as good as journalism.

Bill Haggin and Nancy Pardo talked about their successful strategy running a blog for PTC. They made the recommendation to a crowded room of marketers to hire journalists for their blogs. This means:

a) Businesses are placing a value on blogging at a higher level than ever, and

b) They’re willing to pay good writers for journalism-level work.

This doesn’t just apply to writing, David Germano talk about treating your marketing like a media company. Andrew Davis compared content marketing to his previous profession creating kids shows. You have to think like the editors and media professionals whose job it is to entertain and educate an audience.

Having content doesn’t make businesses more competitive, having content that’s more helpful and informative does. We need to be thinking at that level in the work we provide clients.

5) Have personality!

Andrew Davis gave an example of a woman who built a massive following and successful makeup brand out of making short videos that had personality. Lauren Luke’s brief makeup tutorials on YouTube became massively popular. She didn’t spend any money on the videos, just brought a little time and personality to them.

You want people to care about and relate to your brand, which is harder for them to do if it feels like an entity without actual people behind it. Don’t be afraid of humor. Don’t be afraid of using a tone that’s more personal than professional.

If clients tend towards dry industry speak and buzzwords, try to steer them back around to the kind of language their customers actually speak. And don’t ever think any subject’s too dry or dull for some humor, Tim Washer shared some examples of companies that made dull subjects humorous. Who knew router hardware could be so fun?

 

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that I came across many people who exclaimed “we really need more good writers!” or some variation of that phrase. While I hear many freelance writers concerned about finding good clients, those good clients are out there trying to figure out how to find us too.