There were butterflies in my stomach as I rolled down my window and met the gaze of the middle-aged man standing a few feet away. “That will be nine dollars,” he said, in a tone slightly more good-natured than I would have expected early on a cool September morning. I pulled out a twenty dollar bill, and he nodded. “Give me that and I’ll give you a ten and a one…I can do a little bit of math, you know!” he said, chuckling. It struck me as an odd proclamation for a man to make whose job it was to accept parking fares all day, but I thought little more of it as I received my change, pulled ahead and found a nearby parking spot.
I had made it.
It had been well over a year since the notion of attending Content Marketing World first crossed my mind, and though I had been given approval to attend not all that long afterward, I still woke up the morning of September 9th both nervous and excited. Who would I meet? What would I learn? Would I get distracted trying to live tweet and miss key points conveyed by the speakers? Would I spend too much time taking notes and miss the opportunity to make an important new contact that happened to be seated beside me? Would I find the sessions too high-level in nature, wondering whether my company made a mistake paying for my pricy ticket?
There were so many questions.
Soon, there would be answers. Was I ready for them?
There was only one way to find out.
Thus began my experience at Content Marketing World 2014 in increasingly trendy Cleveland, Ohio last month. Butterflies and inhibitions soon gave way to surprise and delight as I made my way through the gleaming new medical mart and into the bowels of the convention center I had heard so much about, but had never had the occasion to visit deep below the beautiful green space that existed at street level. As I hit the tradeshow floor, I quickly realized my learning would begin immediately: I had no idea there were so many content marketing platform vendors in existence, I had no idea there were so many orange-colored foods in the world and I definitely had no idea how valuable Content Marketing World would prove to be.
Content Marketing World 2014 was a blast. More importantly, it was a blast that was not in any way a waste of time. Whether one was attending to find service vendors, meet business prospects, or simply to learn concepts that could be quickly applied to everyday business operations, Content Marketing World delivered. As a Content Architect at AKHIA who handles content creation and strategy development on a daily basis, I was primarily in attendance for the latter reason—education. And I was not disappointed.
Often when we speak about content marketing, we do so at a high level. We explore questions such as, “Do you have a content marketing mission statement?” and “How do you create a content marketing team?” but we rarely dive deep into the details that a daily practitioner needs to know. Fortunately, Content Marketing World offered opportunities to go beyond the basics to deliver tactical advice regarding what to do, how to do it, and when.
Here are my five favorite things I learned at the conference that challenged the way I (and many others) have been thinking, for example:
1. Studies are showing that humans form attachments to brands differently than we had anticipated. We form attachments based on emotional processes based in the brain’s limbic system, not rational thought taking place in the prefrontal cortex. The implication? We should not be appealing so much to a consumer’s critical reasoning when “convincing” them to trust and love brands, but rather we should be creating emotional connections and moments of inspiration tied to the brands we represent.
2. We’re on the right track by creating utilitarian content that fulfills a need or desire for target customers rather than simply advertising the benefits of products and services. We may, however, need to think more critically about how people are finding our content in order to more effectively influence them. We know digital is key, but consumers likely are not navigating directly to brand websites, but rather, find inspiration in the world around them or on social media channels that drives them to research a curiosity on a search engine or other website that curates information that they will find useful. They may not visit these sites to search for a specific product (as we often assume when pursuing SEO), but rather want an answer to a question in many cases. The implication here? That we should focus more on creating moments of inspiration for potential customers throughout their information-seeking journey with our content rather than assume they will eventually come looking for the products and services we offer.
3. We need to be more direct in helping our target audience members. Do they need an eBook filled with the ideas, best practices or tips to better perform their jobs or live their lives? Not necessarily. They may simply need a slide deck of relevant data that might make up one or two pages of that eBook. If our content is not efficiently solving buyer problems and saving them time and/or money, then it may not be the best it could be.
4. There is a word I heard over and over at Content Marketing World that I had never directly associated with content marketing, but should have: empathy. It is the key to successful content marketing because it puts you in the shoes of your target audience member. What do they really want? What are their pain points? What persona do they closely resemble? How do they want to consume information? How do they want brands to communicate to them? These are all questions that seem intuitive to ask, but we so often do not as marketers. Next time you’re working on a campaign, write the word “empathy” on a Post-It note in front of you and keep referring back to it—you may be surprised how it changes your approach.
5. We are still in our infancy, as an industry, in the way we embrace analytics. Everyone talks about it, everyone celebrates it, but few do it effectively. We are still, in many cases, measuring vanity metrics like website visits, follows, and Likes, but we aren’t necessarily measuring what really matters: conversion rate. The only way to calculate ROI effectively is if we are measuring the right metrics, and that requires going beyond views and follows to find out where conversations are and are not happening. The tools are there—whether it is Google Analytics to measure how many people take an action (like an eNewsletter signup) on a web page or marketing automation software giving metrics around a drip campaign—but we need to learn the best ways to use the technology available to us before we can truly feel justified that we’re making a bottom-line impact.
These are just a few insights I picked up in my two days at Content Marketing World, but there was so very much more I wish I could get into. If you’ve read this far into this article, you’re already a trooper, so I won’t take much more of your time. Many attendees have written great follow-up articles, and I’m sure you can learn more there. Alternatively, a few AKHIA colleagues and I put together some blog posts and an infographic of our favorite stats from the conference, all of which you can find here. Better yet, if you can swing it, try to attend next year! You won’t be disappointed. God willing, I’ll see you there.