Content Marketing World 2017 marked the sixth time I attended the event, so I knew what to expect. What I didn’t count on was getting a big kick in the backside and a reminder from my childhood about how to behave. From the main stage and in many breakout sessions, a common message emerged. Marketers are spending a lot of time and money investing in the wrong things.
I’m still battling jet lag from the 35-hour journey back home to Australia, but there were more than a few ‘aha!’ moments and one or two ‘oh shit’ realisations I won’t forget. I first had success with content marketing more than 20 years ago, when I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It turns out ignorance was bliss — and quite possibly more effective than what I’ve learned about marketing since.
Note to marketers: Quit being average
Jay Acunzo, host of the Unthinkable podcast had the coveted keynote spot awarded to the presenter from the previous year with the highest speaker reviews. He gave a scorching presentation described as nothing less than evangelical.
— Joshua Nite (@NiteWrites) September 6, 2022
Jay railed against those marketers who chase best practice and ROI and do their level best to make the right decisions about their marketing activities. I’d guess that’s pretty much most of us — and certainly most of the 3,500 people in attendance.
“We obsess over how to piss our customers off by pursuing best practices and what everyone else is doing,” Jay said.
He’s right. Whether it’s motivated by trying to prove to management our efforts are effective or we’re trying to secure more budget or we’re just trying to figure out the best way to get better results, we’re an industry deluged with marketers marketing to marketers. We don’t follow our intuition enough. We don’t take enough risk. We Google our way to mediocrity by following the masses to the same conclusions and implementations. Like sheep we jump off one marketing cliff after another in pursuit of the elusive silver bullet to success or with no other reason than FOMO (fear of missing out).
I didn’t feel like I’d been to church as much as I’d forgotten the most common advice from my childhood — think for yourself.
— Sarah Mitchell (@SarahMitchellOz) September 6, 2022
We were lucky enough to snag Jay for an episode of Brand Newsroom. If you want to hear more about an opportunity most of us are missing, have a listen. He was just as inspiring as he was on centre stage.
The audience is the real business asset
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, made it abundantly clear in his opening presentation that our focus as marketers shouldn’t be on each other or even on our own company. We should spend our time attracting an audience and then servicing that audience once we have them.
This adds clarity to an early content marketing edict: Act like a publisher. According to Joe, it’s time for brands to consider themselves publishing companies and treat the audience — not the content — as the major asset to marketing. Once you have an audience, there’s no end to the ways you can monetise it. Joe’s opinion is this focus on audience is going to change how we market and allow marketing to become a profit centre for our companies.
Listen to our Brand Newsroom interview with Joe to hear his enthusiasm about how marketing will change current business models and create new ones in the future.
Focus on better, not more
A common thread in many of the presentations was rethinking volume. Amanda Todorovich from the Cleveland Clinic is running a massive brand newsroom and re-uses content all over the place. She said they build an arsenal of content and then repurpose it as much as possible. Her team breaks up written content into smaller posts for social media, makes infographics from existing content and redesigns the popular Health Essentials newsletter and posts it on Instagram. Everything is then driven back to the original content. Amanda says this repurposing strategy has led to a huge increase — 70 per cent — in organic search rankings.
Killing marketing as we know it
A highlight of every Content Marketing World is hearing Robert Rose’s keynote. He and Joe Pulizzi just released their latest book, Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit. Robert expanded on Joe’s talk about building an audience by asking marketers to consider that maybe everything we know about marketing is wrong.
Robert challenged the room to deliver better value to their audience by forgoing an advertising model and shouty marketing. Instead, he asked us to think about ways we can inspire people who buy our products. He appealed to marketers to consider our actual audience — what he calls the addressable audience — and figure out how we can get a long-term return on our audience. The way to do that is by ending the interrupt-driven, short-term bursts of activity marketers use to get the attention of the people they want to influence. Instead of advertising and campaigns, we need to turn our attention to storytelling and the customer experience and inspire them to act instead of constantly trying to influence them to take action.
I read Killing Marketing before I attended Content Marketing World and I’m glad I did. It’s left me more optimistic about marketing than anything I’ve read in a long time. It feels like I have permission to love my job again by creating great content for a specific audience — my audience.
One of the last things I did before I left Cleveland was speak to Robert Rose on Brand Newsroom. Have a listen to Robert’s ideas about how to kill marketing and feel great about it.
Back to the future for content marketing
In 1996 there wasn’t a single blog to read, the internet was barely a spark and I was working in a culture outside my home country. I was outside my element and didn’t have a lot of resources to consult. What I did know was the pain my customers were experiencing because I’d been in their shoes. I knew exactly where they were having trouble and how to solve it. I started writing white papers and news articles and presenting at conferences, taking on the role of consultant to my industry. Nobody else was doing it, so I got noticed. I laboured over the writing because print was expensive and I wanted the credibility that goes with a journalistic quality of writing. It worked a treat and that was the start of my marketing career.
I always walk out of Content Marketing World feeling inspired, but the advice this year felt more manageable than before — more realistic for daily practice. In assessing those early successes I had back in the ’90s, much of it aligned with what I heard in Cleveland earlier this month. I feel like I’ve got this and it’s something any of us can do.
- Focus on the audience, not on your company.
- Forget about what the experts say to do; trust your own instincts.
- Address the problem keeping your customers up at night — you probably already know how to do that.
- Good writing makes everything better.
- Concentrate on one thing and do it well.
If you’d like to have a chat about how you can become a better marketer by killing marketing, get in touch. Lush has long been focused on building audiences — that’s what we mean when we say we’re experts at brand storytelling with a media mindset.
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