5 Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2017

September 10, 2017

Content Marketing World

Content Marketing World held its seventh annual conference earlier this week in Cleveland. Many of the sessions in previous conferences focused, with a perceptible lack of confidence and tangible defensiveness, on proving that content marketing — especially B2B content marketing — works.

Now it has become abundantly clear that content marketing is effective in the battle for attention and for revenue, and so a sea change has taken place in the sessions over the years. Now speakers focus not just on proving the value of B2B and B2C content marketing but on demonstrating how to do it right.

Among the many takeaways that more than 3,000 attendees heard at this year’s conference were these five:

Start by building an audience, then sell them something.

In his remarks kicking off the conference, Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing World, declared, “Content marketing is the most important trend going on not only in digital marketing but marketing in general.” He also declared that the focus on content marketing should be on building an audience first, then expanding what you can sell to them. He cited the example of George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” who famously negotiated for the exclusive rights to Star Wars merchandise. The prescience of that decision is clear: Star Wars movies have generated $5 billion in viewership and $12 billion in merchandise sales. For a B2B example, Pulizzi pointed out that Arrow Electronics, a B2B ecommerce company in the electronics sector, recently acquired EE Times and other industry publications to expand its audience.

It’s not B2B; it’s human to human.

Linda Boff, General Electric CMO, delivered the opening keynote at Content Marketing World. She said the GE uses its content to find the “human in the digital.” Even as an industrial giant that makes locomotives, jet engines, and wind turbines, GE Boff said that the company focuses on telling stories, a construct that humans love and respond to. “We tell stories to inspire, and we tell stories to reach audiences,” she said, adding: “Show up as a person. Don’t show up as a big company. People relate to people.”

Acknowledging diversity can boost content’s power.

In her session at the conference, Tequia Burt, CEO of Contented, examined the potential gains — and pitfalls — when brands step into the diversity debate. Burt cited Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner as exhibit A of how not to approach the subject. But she added, “Brands can do this. You can do it by focusing on developing inclusive content that appeals to the kinds of customers you have — and the kinds of customers you want to attract. Ditch the overtly political messaging and spotlight the diversity of both your employees and your clients.” The United States and its workforce is growing more diverse, in race, cultural heritage, and gender, and Burt said that some brands — such as Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk,” which explored the discussions African-Americans have with their children about racism — have developed effective campaigns celebrating diversity. In her keynote, Boff showcased GE’s diversity campaign, which publicized its effort to place 20,000 women in STEM roles by 2020. Promotion efforts included the YouTube video, “What if Millie Dresselhaus, female scientist, was treated like a celebrity,” which is poised to surpass 1 million views.   

The blockbuster content model has replaced the newspaper model.

In his session, LinkedIn’s Mike Weir made that case that the newspaper model of publishing content is played out. Frequency for frequency’s sake is over. “The newspaper model is very hard for most businesses to replicate,” Weir said. Instead, he recommended the Hollywood blockbuster model. Disney, for instance, builds movies around its reliable franchises, such as “Star Wars” and Marvel superheroes, to create surefire box office demand. Many B2B companies are finding remarkable success with this content model. For example, Weir cited Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” report, which an annual public relations bonanza for Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers.  

Average content is, well, average.  

Gone are the days when traffic and engagement were arrows heading up and to the right. Marketers must do more. Jay Acunzo, host of the “Unthinkable” podcast, said in his Content Marketing World keynote that content marketers should not borrow templates from other companies to produce cookie cutter content. “Average doesn’t work anymore; don’t be conventional,” he urged. “We have to stop doing commodity work.” Actor Joseph “500 Days of Summer” Gordon-Levitt, who also spoke at the conference, offered one pathway to producing content that stands out: The company he co-founded, HitRecord, uses a crowd-sourced/collaborative/community method for producing shining content such as “First Stars I See Tonight.” 

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