6 Key Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2018

As I write this, I’m currently sitting in an airplane, clad in half business casual and half comfy clothes I carefully packed at the top of my carry-on to change into as soon as I got through security.

That’s right, this is the post-conference attire I hope everyone gets the chance to don in their lifetime. This time, I’m coming from Content Marketing World 2018 in the ever-humid, but surprisingly lovely, Cleveland, Ohio.

Did you go? I hope so. Tell me: Did I capture your last week well?

If you missed it, I promise to not make too many inside jokes, because you’re going to want to hear each and every one of these learnings.

I was particularly inspired by number six—but don’t scroll forward, or you won’t get the impact of the most important takeaway from this year’s Content Marketing World.

1. Document Everything That Matters to You

Are you a writer? Maybe your answer to that is a resounding, “No! I’m a marketer!”

Well, too bad. Throughout sessions and perhaps most memorably in Joe Pulizzi’s keynote, the message was clear: Marketers are responsible for writing.

Content, of course. But that wasn’t Joe’s orange-clad point.

He stressed the importance of documenting two things that you might otherwise leave up to chance:

  • Your content strategy. Did you know that about one-third of marketers have a documented content strategy? Ouch.
  • Your goals—personal, career, and otherwise.

Here’s the thing: writing down your goals makes you infinitely more likely to actually accomplish them. With that in mind, it’s pretty easy to understand why failing to write down two of the most important things that drive your day-to-day (at work and at home) is going to leave you aimless and unaccomplished.

And, as we learned in the keynote, once you’ve written these things down, treat them like the most valuable content you have. Take 15 minutes out of your day, morning and night, to review them. Keep them top of mind and focus on them.

Ask yourself: What do I need to do to actually accomplish these goals? What steps do I have to take today? Tomorrow? (Insert varying degrees of increasing time, etc., etc.)

2. Be Unreasonable with Your Goals

We’ve heard it time and time again: Don’t be better than the other guys, be different.

Setting unreasonable goals was hugely advocated throughout the inspirational sessions. Boosting engagement, driving real revenue differences, finding ways to pull not just ahead but leagues away from your competitors by giving outstanding experiences with your content.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

Please note that being unreasonable with your goals does not mean you should be unreasonable with everything. Here are things that are not just unreasonable, but unwise:

  • In setting high goals, we will never fall short.
  • If we fall short when trying something new, it means our audience doesn’t like variety.
  • Our content can stay the same and still generate the same engagement.

In fact, this kind of thinking hints at my last point—which is by far the best. But please, I beg you: resist the temptation to scroll. I promise it will be better in this order.

3. Be Consistent

If you’ve ever tried to change a habit, you know it’s not easy. It takes repetition, dedication, and focus. Now think about your brand’s messaging.

You’re probably trying to influence the behavior of your buyer. Who:

a) has no reason to change (unless you give it to them),

b) isn’t focusing on changing their behavior because, well, see (a), and

c) is just as set in their ways as everyone else.

If changing behavior is hard even when someone dedicates themselves to changing, think about how hard it is to change the thinking and behavior of a person you’ve probably never even met.

Marketers’ best bet to battling this problem is consistency. Repetition is key. Keep showing your message. Be present in the conversations and channels that matter. Be patient, but be persistent.

4. Strategy Is Choosing

Remember how two out of three marketers don’t have a documented content strategy? Before you send the marketing team to the biggest conference room in the office to write yours (I know you’re just itching to), let’s talk about what a strategy should really look like.

Things a content strategy is not:

  • Your content calendar
  • A list of vague goals
  • A piece of paper you created the week after Content Marketing World that went…somewhere?

Things a content strategy is:

  • Choosing one thing to be the best at—and then diversifying once you have authority
  • Priorities with actionable execution that revolve around your buyer personas
  • Takes a unique angle on a problem your customers need to solve

I once learned a good check to evaluate your strategy: Write down the exact opposite of it. For example, if your strategy was:

“Create a highly-tailored blog that addresses key pain points with highly visual content.”

The opposite would be:

“Create a blog that isn’t tailored and ignores key pain points with content that’s visually appalling.”

Voila, we’ve found a strategy that isn’t actually a strategy. Any respectable strategy is built to engage a brand’s audience in a way that is unique to them. So, a better strategy would look something like:

“Create a blog targeted to marketers that enables them to up level their content from TOFU content marketing to a full-funnel content operation.”

Oops, I just gave away the secret behind The Marketeer, the very blog you’re reading right now. Admittedly, that’s not the comprehensive strategy, but you can get a foundational understanding of what a strategy should look like. A content operation is something that we uniquely push, and is the backbone of our high-level strategic thinking.

If you’re just getting in the game, keep in mind of how important it is to focus on the quality of one channel and format before trying to spread your wings to be the best webinar, eBook, blogger, pilot, doctor, unicorn, etc. in the world. Focus, establish your authority, then diversify when you have trust.

5. Earn Your Audience’s Attention

Raise your hand if you’ve been told, “That email’s too long,” or “Keep it under [x] words,” or “Aubrey, you spent way too long talking about points 1-5 before the best, most amazing point at the end of your blog.” No? Just me? Strange.

Here’s the point: long-form content is not bad. In fact, it’s the opposite. Sure, sometimes you wrote too much to say too little. “Kill your darlings” is still written prominently over my computer desktop.

But to say that our audiences are incapable of focusing on a video longer than six seconds or can’t read a blog that’s more than 500 words isn’t just a falsehood—it’s insulting to our audiences. This is B2B life, folks. Your audience is smart, capable, and looking to be entertained.

If your long-form content isn’t engaging, it’s your fault. Don’t blame it on a flighty audience.

Furthermore, it’s the responsibility of content creators to not just hook people with an interesting first sentence or, God forbid, a clickbait headline that doesn’t deliver. Once you have attention, maintain it. Keep giving value throughout your content and the experience. As Michelle Park Lazette said in her session, give gold nuggets consistently to earn your audience’s continued attention.

And with that, I present to you my greatest nugget of gold. The biggest takeaway from Content Marketing World 2018, and I didn’t even gate it! Here it is:

6. Delay the Reveal

The best content cultivates curiosity and suspense. Andrew Davis proved this with two amazing show and tell examples. The first was a mystery box, the second was viral video content (he certainly knew his audience).

We watched two videos, each of an exploding watermelon.

The first: a firecracker that blew it up immediately, in regular time and then slow-motion. It was exciting, I won’t lie. Check it out, I think you’ll agree.

But the second video had a different spin. Two Buzzfeed employees spent 40 minutes on Facebook live, with a similar mission to demolish my favorite melon. But their technique was a bit different. One by one, they placed rubber bands around a watermelon until it squeezed it until it exploded. It only took a mere 690 and 800,000 viewers to do, but 40 minutes later, everyone was left wondering how they got so enraptured by something so mundane.

Can we once and for all put to death the idea that long content is not the enemy? The enemy is boring content—content that doesn’t engage our customers’ desires.

And, before I lose you to B2B-focused claims of “I sell the most boring product ever, I can’t make it interesting,” notice that I didn’t say engage your product. I said desires, and I meant it.

Want to connect to your customers’ desires? Here are your three steps to creating a curiosity gap:

  1. Create a desire. Wanting to see a watermelon explode, or maybe wanting to solve your customer’s biggest pain point.
  2. Threaten the desire. Will it happen? Won’t it happen? What’s the common enemy of achieving this desire?
  3. Delay the reveal. Let ‘em sweat. But, always give a reveal, and make sure it’s worth the time they’ve invested.

And please, for the love of all that’s not clickbait, don’t overstretch your reveal. If you create an unrealistic desire and leave your customer feeling cheated, you just ruined all credibility. Suspense turns to resentment if it’s not met with resolution.

See You at Content Marketing World 2019

Well, folks, my airplane doesn’t have outlets and my laptop (and I) both need a nap. I hope you had an amazing time at Content Marketing World 2018, either in person or through this recap. And I hope to see you next year!

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