Updated: October 11, 2022
This year, I went to CMWorld — again. (It was so great last year that I decided to go again in 2018! And I plan on going in 2019, too.)
I brought Hannah, our Content Director, with me. And we had a blast.
Content marketers getting together, talking about content, is always a good thing in my book.
The event happened Tuesday, September 4 — Friday, September 7, in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio. Hannah and I attended the kickoff party at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, the keynotes and sessions in the Main Conference Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and took flights home Thursday night.
Besides the sessions and speakers, it was absolutely wonderful to see friendly faces while there — hug friends, meet online friends IRL, talk content, and chat over breakfast and dinner.
I walked away with some great insights from the event. Here are my major takeaways from this year’s trip to Content Marketing World.
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CMWorld 2018: 8 Biggest Takeaways & Content Marketing Lessons
This year’s keynote speaker to start the event was Andrew Davis, and to wrap up the event was Tina Fey, aka Liz Lemon, a huge attraction for many of us marketers.
(Also, YAY for #girlpower and bringing a woman to deliver the main and final keynote! Kudos, Content Marketing Institute team.)
Before Andrew Davis opened with the first keynote, Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi took to the stage.
1. Today’s Most Important Marketing Element is Trust
First: Robert Rose introduced the “player” to fit well into this year’s theme at CMWorld, Game On.
Player 2 in today’s marketing, he revealed, is trust.
As marketers, he said, we’ve entered the game of talent, trust, and technology. AI is out there. Tech is sophisticated. But the values we have will come from talent driven by trust.
The media trust isn’t there. We’ve got to create it and deliver on it, as marketers.
Joe Pulizzi took to the stage next, amidst many whoops of joy from the crowd (I may have added to the noise — he is, after all, one of my all-time favorite content marketing heroes). We all miss him, ever since he ended the PNR With This Old Marketing Podcast and stepped down from CMI after it was acquired by UBM.
Of course, even if he did sell CMI, he sure didn’t let go of any of his stylish orange outfits.
Two new things I learned about Joe:
- He majored in rhetoric
- His favorite book: Stranger in a Strange Land (I bought it and plan to read it!)
Joe said that on his first few months off (the first time in years he’s had that much time off!), he studied success. And here’s what he learned.
First, he asked this of all of us: Have you made a positive impact in the world? During his sabbatical, Joe studied success, and he found that most of us have programmed our brains in a way that precludes success. We have a great opportunity to start with a clean slate.
Success (in marketing and life in general) only takes three things:
These three things will make us successful. They will also make our marketing successful.
Joe said that if we lead our mission statement with “making money,” we’ve got it wrong. We need to serve. Serve our audience first.
He recommends we review our goals every night and when we wake up in the morning to be successful.
- Our recorded goals aren’t big enough
- We do not put in enough repetition (consistency)
- We don’t clear the garbage that stops us from achieving our goals
Joe said that in all the content marketing strategies he’s helped implement, and the ones he’s studied, the minimum time was 9 months, average 18 months or longer, of implementing content to see success.
Joe recommends focusing in on the right things and cutting the clutter. When he hears, “Not enough time to hit my goal,” he answers: the average American watches 3 hours of TV a day, which becomes a decade at 80 years old. We have the time, it’s what we choose to make time for.
Content run amuck was the most common error when he and Robert Rose consulted and helped brands build content marketing strategies.
Even if it’s a big, scary goal. In 2009, no one knew what content marketing was. Joe wanted 150 people to come to the first CMWorld, and 600 did.
Whatever you do, if you believe it to be true, it’s true. — Bill Durham.
3. Forget About Snackable Content: Create Binge-Worthy Content that Focuses on the Curiosity Gap
A repeated takeaway I heard in many sessions this year at CMWorld was this one: comprehensive content > bite-size / snackable content. In fact, I heard many marketers recommend that those two words — bite-size and snackable! — should die.
Andrew Davis, a highly-rated speaker at last year’s CMWorld, took to the stage as the opening keynote for Content Marketing World 2018. He’s a bestselling author and keynote speaker. And what he shared was terrific.
First, Andrew asks, have you heard this from marketers?
“I wanna gut it and create snackable content.”
Andrew recommends that we forget about creating “snackable content.”
Quit blaming the goldfish and focusing on the short “attention span.”
Our audience has “no time” — but they can binge watch Stranger Things.
So, what they’re really saying is that will MAKE TIME to consume content that holds their interest.
Forget “grab their attention! It’s all about the headline!”
…Maybe we need to make more content like Stranger Things.
Andrew brought in the example of a “mystery box.” Creating mystery around your products, services or content, is a great way to build retention and engagement.
For example, there are over 36,000 mystery boxes available for sale on Amazon and eBay! People buy and sell these daily just for the fun of knowing what’s in a “mystery box.”
Another example: one of IKEA’s highest-performing ads is “Where Life Happens.” It’s also a YouTube ad with one of the highest retention rates. 39% of people watched the whole 4-minute ad — centered around one person doing nothing.
Andrew says you cannot buy attention. It’s actually earned over time. We need to slow down and let people consume our content.
He said, “What ingredient does the IKEA ad use to draw and maintain interest?”
Marketers should be creating more curiosity gaps. This is “the void” between what people know and what people want to know.
One of the best examples Andrew brought up:
800,000 viewers for a Buzzfeed watermelon explosion video recorded live on Facebook. One man: “I forgot to pick my kid up from school! What am I doing with my life waiting for this watermelon to explode?”
THAT is creating a successful curiosity gap. And curiosity gaps create tension, which builds interest and heightens retention.
Take them through wanting to needing to know.
The need for closure comes after you’ve built up the right tension.
He also said that your content must deliver what was promised. The payoff must be proportional to what was built.
However, this success element can be used for good or evil.
Andrew said, don’t do clickbait. Instead, earn attention by inviting our audience to chase answers. Don’t leave your audience with zero questions. For example: Testimonials and case studies have NO tension. Some big brands have spent $2.6 million on creating hundreds of these ugly, boring testimonial reels.
Think like a reality TV editor.
Learn to raise the stakes. Show the audience something they love and threaten it.
4. When It Comes to Content, Focus on Results > Attention (Featuring A CoSchedule Case Study)
One of my top favorite breakout sessions at this year’s CMWorld was from Garrett Moon (CEO of CoSchedule), on How to Find Your Content Core & Actually Drive Revenue from Content.
He opened his talk with a convicting statement: Our success metrics are wrong. We focus on attention instead of results.
Garrett recommends doing your due diligence in keyword research and strategic thinking before publishing a post, to make sure it fits into the content core, a sweet spot between what your audience cares about + the value your business provides.
- Your product needs to fit into your content.
- The softer your CTAs, the softer your sales. Have a direct connection.
- Connect your content to the value your company provides. This is the extra step BESIDES creating great content that people care about.
- Orient your blog around one call to action.
- Optimize to amplify what’s working.
I loved his point about a CTV > CTA: Joanna Wiebe calls her CTAs a Call to Value, not Call to Action.
An example of a CTV: “Find the best marketing tool for the job in 20 minutes.” This shares the value in signing up for CoSchedule for a free trial (the CTA).
Garrett recommends target customer interviews. This is a GENIUS way to interview a customer: CoSchedule gets their guest invited to their podcast and then spends 10 minutes asking them questions. Getting real pain points from an interview net you a deep, high-level place to write for your audience from.
The audience Q&As sparked some great answers from Garrett, as well. I wrote a few notes down just from this 10-minute session at the end.
Q: Is there trust lost if you’re doing CTAs in each blog?
CoSchedule’s CTAs are to a free piece of content, so they don’t do a “hard sell.” This is important. They don’t try to get them on a demo right now. If they can get the reader to think like they do, it will lead them down the customer path. You can do more than you think and not break that trust.
Q. What about paid vs. organic traffic?
CoSchedule does not do any paid promotion. It’s not enough to get people to see your content. If you’re paying for that traffic, you’re throwing money out the window if your conversions are zero. Garrett says his brand targets organic search completely. (Another reason I love CoSchedule! We believe the same about organic search > paid traffic.)
5. Don’t Fret About Email Unsubscribes — #NotMyDoris
Ann Handley delivered an amazing keynote called, “What Gives? How a Reader Challenge Kicked Me in the Patootie (and What We Can Learn From It)!”, and it was awesome.
During CMWorld ’18 and right before her keynote on this topic, Ann was also awarded with CMI’s very first Hall of Fame Hero Award, an exciting moment for all of us watching.
I loved Ann’s face when she won this award. She was totally taken by surprise. #ourhero
Ann discussed how a reader from Amsterdam asked her “do you have a secret email list?” She realized the importance of consistent email campaigns, and now sends out a bi-weekly Sunday email.
Ann shared three reasons why email is a content marketing backbone:
1. Newsletters are the OG.
2. Newsletters done well = 🔥
3. Email is the only place where people, not algorithms, are in control.
She gave us some history: in 1439, humankind was served its first ad. The first printing press came about in 59 BC. The first “media” was a gossipy column providing news about Romans and their day-to-day lives, printed under the byline Julius Caesar.
Ann said that in today’s newsletters and mail campaigns, the most important part of the newsletter is the LETTER.
We like letters that make us feel like we matter, Ann said. Great point.
Warren Buffet’s annual letter to shareholders was addressed to his wife, Doris, and read like a fun, interesting letter.
- Write to Doris
- And don’t fret about “not my Doris”
Meaning, don’t worry about the haters or the unsubscribes.
6. Reframe Obstacles into Opportunities
One of my favorite talks of the entire week was from photographer Dewitt Jones, who spent 20 years with National Geographic taking photographs all around the world. His home is on top of a mountain in a Hawaii island. Dewitt lives to catch moments that portray the beauty of life.
He was a truly inspiring speaker (a top-rated lecturer). I typically never get emotional listening to someone speak, but I was nearly in tears at the end of this talk — it was that beautiful.
Reframe obstacles into opportunities. There is no one right answer.
The picture above — incredibly beautiful — was his case study on this point. He waited too long on a field of dandelions for pictures and got that incredible shot.
Dewitt says instead of asking, What will I take today? ask, What will I give today?
Celebrate what’s right in the situation. Life is about continually finding the next right answer. Keeping our extraordinary vision in focus.
What’s your extraordinary vision?
7. Make Your Content Mean Something
One keynote I really enjoyed was called Making Content Mean Something, and the speaker was Kathleen Diamantakis, Managing Director of Strategy at The NY Times.
I took one point away from this talk that was critical.
Kathleen first raised a really good point: Nike’s controversial ad revealed that we are looking for more meaning in our content.
My favorite takeaway from her talk: Content has become noise. Let’s not add to the noise. Let’s create meaningful content.
8. Human Connections & Knowing Your Audience Will Help You Outperform AI
Hannah, our Content Director, caught an important session called The Future of Content. Speaking was Pete Winter, Managing Partner USA, Tomorrow People.
These were our favorite takeaways from Pete’s session:
- You don’t need to outrun the tiger, you just need to outrun the other person in the jungle with you
- The key to understanding your audience is a human connection that AI can’t do (yet)
- The most important part of content creation is understanding your audience and what they want
How well do you actually know your audience? Well, Pete says, you need to know more about your target audience than they know about themselves.
He recommended knowing your audience’s:
- what their challenges are
- where they hang out
- what their business plans are
- what their needs are
- what language do they use, words, terms
- what does success look like
- what is stopping them from achieving success
- Ask them directly!
- Use social media (great way to see what questions are being asked!) hashtags are a great way.
- Industry publications: magazines and blogs relevant to your audience.
- Network. Go to events like this and build connections. Find out what problems they’ve faced.
Tina Fey Shared Some Great Writing Tips
Sadly, I had to take a flight home and missed getting to see Tina Fey. 😢But I watched the CMWorld tweets, and this quote would have to be my favorite: “What all writers know is that writing is the worst.” Especially GOOD writing. Good writing is hella hard.
“What all writers know is that writing is the worst! *Printing* is fun. Command + P is the best. Everything up to that point is the worst.” – Tina Fey at #CMWorldpic.twitter.com/wKX8ltJwe3
Conclusion: CMWorld ’18 Was Awesome & We Learned a Lot
A cool panorama I took from the main stage audience seats.
This year’s Content Marketing World was not one to miss. I thoroughly enjoyed it!