Five Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2018

This was NewsCred’s sixth year at Content Marketing World (CMW), and we feel fortunate to have grown and evolved alongside the content marketing industry. I’ve been to a lot of content marketing events, but the engaged, energetic community around CMW has always made it stand out. This year, I think a lot of us content marketers are really feeling the pressure of being a content creator, distributor, and strategist during the time of peak content velocity and saturation — but we’re determined to rise to the challenge while continuing to tell strong, empathetic stories.

Here are the trends and learnings that stood out to me this year from connecting with attendees on the floor and joining as many panels and sessions as one person possibly can. (It did help that NewsCred was giving out extremely strong cold brew from our local friends at Rising Star).

Formats: Scalability and the shape of content

It’s not just channel proliferation coming at content marketers; there’s more formats possible than ever before. It seemed like podcasts, webinars, VR, and interactives all had multiple sessions dedicated to best practices. And on the traditional side, the elevation of print collateral and printed content (are printed ebooks just… books?) was on full display across the vendor booths.

Technology is making new kinds of storytelling, formats, and sharing possible every day, increasingly at accessible costs with fewer gatekeepers. As Tina Fey joked in the closing keynote, it wouldn’t be surprising if the next multiple Emmy Award nominee came from a Happy Meal.

But there’s still questions about demonstrating ROI with these higher-investment formats. Marketers seemed confident that they should be investing more and more in these formats but described struggling with the increased approval layers, distribution strategies, and measurement strategies that come along with them. 

SEO: Everyone knows it’s important but it’s still not second-nature

With organic search vital to discovery, the convergence of SEO and content marketing certainly seemed top of mind for many CMW attendees. It feels like a given that content marketers need to have beyond-average SERP skills, and there were certainly a lot of partners on the show floor with solutions.

However, SEO still feels a bit silo-ed from content marketers’ daily routines. When Courtney Cox of Children’s Health asked how many in the audience knew about Google’s Answer Box, most of the crowd raised hands. But there was still confusion about how to get there.

This is because SEO is a skill that takes time and investment, alongside a technology solution. It’s also ever-evolving and rather mysterious as Google algorithms change. As one attendee said to me, “I know I have to do it. I just don’t know how I’ll find the time.”

Agile: Now a buzzword with many meanings

It seems like the goal of “real-time” has been supplanted by the concept of creating agile marketing and marketing teams. But what does that actually mean for content marketers? There’s not clear consensus.

Taking an agile approach to marketing was mentioned at different sessions throughout CMW  from “Stay in Control with the Agile Content Marketing Roadmap” to “Adapting Scrum Practices for Marketing” to “Becoming a Renaissance Marketer with the Help of Agile Marketing.” Our CEO and co-founder, Shafqat Islam, also referenced this need to work better together, building trust and agility, in his CMW presentation.

The agile methodology has traditionally applied to primarily to engineering work processes, and I think its zeitgeist-y appearance throughout CMW speaks to the fact that marketers are looking for new ways to work together. We’re feeling the silos more than ever, whether it’s a technology, SEO, or distribution pain point. 

The message resonated with one attendee, a senior director of content marketing: “It’s so true that we can lead integration efforts at our organizations. We’re at the center of all marketing efforts. That’s why it’s so painful for content marketers when there isn’t team alignment.”

B2B: Still struggling with measurement and sales alignment

B2B sessions seemed consistently well-attended and the Q&As I heard were energetic as marketers tried to personalize the learnings for their organizations. But we’re still seeing a lot of the same introductory slides about the B2B buyer journey beginning online (and on mobile), and overall it seemed like the classic content marketing and sales misalignment is still top of mind for CMW attendees.

Measurement strategies for B2B content marketing also got a fair amount of love this year. Leslie Carruthers, president of Search Guru, had a full house for one of the first sessions of CMW 2018 on the relatively dry (I say that with love) topic of conversion tracking. Many of the solutions for content marketers revolve around customizing analytics and attribution strategies not purpose-built for a content-centric, multichannel journey.

Empathy: The secret behind shareable, meaningful stories 

The rather clinical terms like “cause marketing” and CSR have been replaced with a more authentic, human desire to tell empathetic stories. Empathetic storytelling was the core theme or a foundation of many content marketing programs highlighted at CMW. And it’s being positioned as one solution (or at least, alternative) to the challenge of content saturation. 

Inspiring talk from Kathleen Diamantakis of the @nytimes – “If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with an epidemic of meaninglessness. What we consume as humans and create as marketers hopefully can rectify that.” Make content that means something #CMWorld

— Jeff Stehlin (@jstehlin) September 6, 2018

One of my favorite sessions from CMW was from the team at Northwell Health, who have built out a hugely empathetic content program with The Well. They shared their program’s mission statement, and I think it can serve as a great North Star for any brands struggling to find purpose and authenticity in their marketing:

In this time of information overabundance, much of which is inaccurate, unhelpful or even difficult to understand, Northwell Health is on a mission to make a difference as an honest, trusted and caring partner. We’re connecting with consumers to provide them with personalized content that reduces their stress, makes them laugh and ultimately feel more confident and capable on their healthcare journey.

And that’s a wrap on CMW 2018 for NewsCred! Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth for coffee and a demo, followed along with us on social, and attended our session on building better marketing teams. 

Jesse Feldman is NewsCred’s Content Marketing Manager.

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