Game on! Are you ready to level up your content marketing game? Attendees at last week’s Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio certainly were, as they gathered to attend the world’s largest content marketing event. Featuring presentations, keynotes and workshops from content marketing leaders from around the globe, the annual conference aims to educate and inspire – and it certainly delivered for me as an attendee! Here are my eight big takeaways from this year’s event:

1. It’s time to level up. As alluded to in the intro of the post, the theme of this year’s Content Marketing World was “Game On!” Not only did it make for some fun opportunities to play Skee-Ball and bingo, the theme was a timely tie-in to the state of content marketing today. In recent years, content marketing has gone from struggling for acceptance to an essential part of marketing strategies for businesses of all kinds. With that shift comes great responsibility, and you could hear this echoed throughout the conference. While leveling up means different things to different marketers and brands, to all of us, it means creating content that better resonates with our audiences.

2. Trust is essential. From keynote speeches to breakout sessions on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and everywhere in between, “trust” was easily the word of the conference. Without it, brands have nothing because audiences aren’t willing to give anything to or form relationships with brands they don’t trust. Tapping into the game theme of the event, Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose kicked off the conference with a talk entitled, “A New Player 2 Has Entered the Game.” In it, he revealed that the new Player 2 that we face in our content marketing efforts is trust. Rose pointed out that through content, we have the power to shape belief, which is a powerful responsibility. In his session on the GDPR, Tim Walters from The Content Advisory addressed trust like this: “Trust is the strategic high ground in the coming battle for consumer data. And marketers are on the front lines.”

3. Longform content still has tremendous value. As Andrew Davis said in his entertaining and informative keynote on the importance of the curiosity factor, “Quit blaming the goldfish.” In the age of mobile, we’ve been repeatedly told two things about our audiences: they have the attention span of a goldfish and they have no time. Through examples including mystery boxes, an IKEA ad essentially about nothing and two videos about exploding watermelons, Davis debunks those assertions and shows that audiences are capable of paying attention as long as brands grab and hold their attention. His session and others at Content Marketing World highlighted research and analytics from real-life brands and campaigns that demonstrate the continued success and impact of longform content.

4. Standing out is a must. One big downside of the success and acceptance of content marketing by businesses is that content marketers in general have become a bunch of copycats. We often look to what our competitors are doing and do our own version of the same. In her breakout session on how competitors can improve your content strategy, Crayon CMO Ellie Mirman turned the idea of getting content inspiration from our competitors on its head. She encouraged the audience to “find the white space” in a given topic to provide more value to customers. Find the angles of a given topic that your competitors aren’t touching and fill in that open space. Throughout Content Marketing World 2018, speakers referenced creating amazing content for our audiences, and how not mirroring our competitors is a big part of that.

5. Meaning matters. In a thought-provoking keynote that opened the second full day of the conference, Kathleen Diamantakis of T Brand at The New York Times challenged us all to make content mean something. She asserted that what’s happening in content mirrors what is happening in our lives and the world today – we are often faced with choices that are either empty or enjoyable. We need to strive to deliver content that isn’t empty, or content for the sake of content, because it contributes nothing to our audience and the world at large. Diamantakis challenged attendees to make content mean something by creating content that focuses on serving a genuinely valuable purpose in someone’s life, whether in a seemingly small moment or a critical one.

6. Newer isn’t always better. Email is the old kid on the marketing block, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted by marketers looking for new ways to connect with audiences. Ann Handley, author and inaugural winner of the Content Marketing Institute’s Hall of Fame Hero Award, delivered a keynote in which she chronicled the tale of a reader of her newsletter who challenged her to increase the frequency of her distribution. For email doubters, Handley presents this powerful case: “Email is the only place where people (not algorithms) are in control.” To improve their newsletter efforts, Handley advised the audience to be more intimate in their approach by acting like they only have one subscriber and focusing more on the “letter” part of “newsletter” than the “news” part. She said, “Be specific enough to be believable and universal enough to be relevant.”

7. The process is hard. “Writing is the worst,” said author, playwright and actress Tina Fey at the beginning of her keynote session. Not surprisingly, the audience erupted into thunderous applause. That’s because content marketers know that the process of creating content is hard – a sentiment that was echoed throughout the conference. Because it’s hard, we often end up fearing failure. Or as Fey put it, we look at it like, “I don’t want this to go down on my permanent record.” She encouraged the audience to embrace the understanding that not everything will be perfect and that you just start fresh with the next thing. Or, as comedian Tim Washer phrased it in his opening for Fey, “There are no mistakes, only gifts.”

8. You have to stick with it. Did you know that it takes an average of 66 days to make a new behavior automatic? That’s a stat that Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi included in his opening keynote. In a departure from his keynotes in years past and following a nine-month sabbatical, Pulizzi’s talk was more personal in tone and centered on setting goals and creating a plan for your life. Naturally, from someone known as “The Godfather of Content Marketing,” the talk still contained many nuggets of content marketing wisdom. Content marketing is all about building an audience. To build that audience, Pulizzi advised attendees to focus on doing one thing well first and then to move on from there. After all, he said, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Happy Marketing!

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