The overarching message at the annual Content Marketing Sydney conference held on 16-18 March? Change your behaviour or die. Get buy-in from the top, or die. Stay the same and die (slowly).
It might describe why content marketing has been taken up by big brands (resources, budgets) and small businesses (an agile, ‘give it a go’ approach). It’s the middle-men who are lagging behind.
What the guys at the Content Marketing Institute – founders Joe Pulizzi and Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose – have done exceedingly well is turn their evangelism for content marketing into advocacy.
Of the delegates I spoke to in marketing roles, all could see how a content-first approach would benefit their business.
Why? Because content marketing is gaining traction for a reason. More brands are driving a content-first approach to grow awareness.
Most are doing this by creating content that isn’t directly related to their products or services – instead, they’re listening to what their audiences want to know and developing content to suit.
Smart brands don’t want to be reliant on platforms they don’t own or can’t control (I’m talking to you, Facebook). At the heart of this, brands are learning the power of a good story.
Who was there?
After two days of listening to some of the brightest and most passionate international and local presenters, strategists and brands describe their experiences and generously impart their knowledge, I’m pumped to be part of the next phase of the ‘good ship content’.
Sessions ranged from developing and inspiring creativity in your organisation, to how to optimise your content.
We listened to case studies from some of Australia’s big gun brands – Tourism Australia, CPA, ANZ, Flight Centre, Bupa and Domain.com.au. We delved into history, and saw a glimpse of the future. We gained insight into how to form better strategies.
The topic everyone covered: how to get buy-in from your organisation to develop your own content programs. The advice was practical, interesting, inspiring.
Some presentations were better than others – Robert Rose, and Andrew Davis in particular who was an absolute tour de force and someone I’ll be following keenly from now on.
But one message was clear. Content marketing – whether you agree or not, or like it or not – is here to stay. Brands, big, small and especially those in between, better stand up and take notice. Or die. Simple as that.
So, what went down at Content Marketing Sydney? Here were some key points that resonated.
The content marketing revolution (or why marketing is changing).
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute and author of the new book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, said in his keynote address:
“Content marketers are the change agents of the future.”
It’s a grand statement, spoken to a room of believers, but an ebullient Rose provided the context. To understand why this is the case, he first took us back to 1996.
To paraphrase Rose: we’re just under 20 years in on this digital experiment and for the first time the marketing funnel we’ve used basically unchanged for the past 200 years has undergone a significant shift.
Digital has disrupted not only how we do business, but how we perceive businesses.
Loyalty no longer belongs to the product or service, or even the brand, but to our experience of a brand. With it, we’re testing our limits of outrage. As customers, we expect to be listened to now. (My fellow Augustine, Corinna Fenwick, wrote a great article about this and what happens when social turns ugly. Check it out here.)
Amanda Gome, in her presentation with Lauren Quaintance on ‘How to build a brand newsroom’ said much the same thing. Amanda, Head of Digital and Social Media at ANZ, used to think the shift was a once in a generational shift, she now believes it’s the biggest shift in our history.
These are big sweeping statements, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of presenters for a content-led approach. The evidence they gave us – through multiple personal examples and case studies – suggest the shift is hard to ignore.
Think story before medium.
Traditional marketing generally goes something like: “We need a print campaign, we need to do something on Facebook.”
Content marketing says: “Create your story or experience, then choose the best format to deliver it in.”
Many marketers choose the former thinking, “we need a blog, we’ll write a blog article, let’s put it on the blog,” when video, or a podcast, may be a better format to tell the story.
More than one presenter implored marketers to think like TV or movie executives, and create experiences that connect your brand to your customer’s universe.
The biggest and best example of this? The Lego Movie.
Having trouble knowing what to write about? Tell your customers’ story, not yours. Sarah Mitchell and James Lush from Lush Digital gave a fantastic presentation on ‘how to find and tell stories to maximise business opportunities’.
The insight: it’s not about you, it’s about your customers and what they want to know/hear/read/see/experience. Find the newsworthy piece in your communication – it’s usually buried in paragraph 16 of your press release (after the product or service has been described at length).
How do you tell a great story?
A great story, Lush says, is about TRUTH, an acronym he uses to describe how to develop a newsworthy piece. It stands for topical, relevant, unusual, trouble (the ‘spice’ or drama) and, finally, the human.
From Tourism Australia’s Paul Hogan ad campaigns and the power of harnessing many voices on social media into one TA voice, to CPA’s Naked CEO, creating stories for your customers is at the heart of content strategy. Create one, create many. Be consistent, be constant.
Process not project, time to think beyond campaigns.
Creating content is an ongoing dedicated process, not a project to be started, produced, completed, reported upon and shelved.
Content marketing moves beyond singular campaign-based stories into constant, deliverable content that informs your ongoing business and marketing objectives.
Everyone had a process. Seven steps, five steps, 12 steps: from Arnie Kuenn of Vertical Measures eight steps for generating more leads, to Joe Pulizzi’s six steps to monetise (read on). Having a documented process is central to success in this space. Otherwise, how else would you measure your progress?
Jodi Sourini and Lynn Nickels from Rockwell Automation, a US company dedicated to industrial automation and information, gave us the approach they, as the marketing department, used to get buy-in from above.
Here are their ‘7 steps to Gain Support for Content Marketing’:
- Find out what’s needed.
- Embed into existing processes.
- Prove its value by testing in low-risk situations.
- Find the content in your organisation.
- Repackage technical info to make it consumable.
- Create content that helps prospects sell your ideas.
- Employ “what’s in it for me”.
The current siloed approach of PR in one office, marketing in another, sales on the road, and social pumping out posts is old-fashioned. It doesn’t work anymore.
Content is one of the key ways to unify each of these functions, and a documented content strategy is the way to measure the success (or, let’s be honest, failure) of your overall marketing and business and objective.
Note that I said ‘documented’ – according to CMI research, businesses with a documented content marketing strategy as opposed to a verbal strategy are more likely to meet their objectives and deliver on them.
Content marketing is expensive, but if you can show value, no one will complain.
Brian Crisp, editor-in-chief at Flight Centre, in a panel discussing ‘Content Marketing ROI: From Strategy to Sales’ gave us an interesting insight into the potential of content. He described how the Flight Centre blog is now getting more visitors than some of the major metropolitan Australian newspaper websites.
His argument to a Flight Centre marketing department intent on spending advertising dollars with publishers with diminishing reach? Start investing in your own.
And celebrate your successes. Even if, in Brian’s words, that means letting the cleaner in on the fact your story just had a 1000 unique views. It’s the only way to get noticed, and one of the best ways to get buy in.
Start with one piece of totally awesome content that delights your audience.
Many of the presenters, including Coca-Cola through their Journey magazine, extolled the virtues of doing more with less. Of creating one experience so awesome, the rest of your content flows off from the bigger piece in smaller chunks.
An example might be a short video, or research paper, which is then turned into multiple consumable blog articles, social posts or slideshares. The smaller pieces always link back to the core piece.
Repackaging content creates efficiencies, but also increases the opportunities for people to discover you as you’re distributing it in lots of different ways.
Be remarkable at a few strategic touch points, for example the ‘awareness experience’, ‘nurturing experience’, ‘loyalty experience’. The point of creating awesome content? Get good at experiences.
Don’t even try to map your customer journey.
Andrew Davis had everyone buzzing with his ‘meatloaf experience’. Although I can’t do justice to Davis’ energetic presentation, it took us on a ride from him looking up a photo of meatloaf (of the meat-and-potato kind) on Flickr, to buying a ticket for a Meatloaf (the artist) concert.
Did we feel like a plate of meatloaf at the end? Totally.
Takeaway? You can’t always map how your customer got to you, so don’t bother trying. What you can do is influence their experience when they land on your site and through your social presence.
Content marketing is a long game.
Content marketing isn’t for those looking for quick, short-term results. You need to be in it for the long haul. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is a case in point. Joe Pulizzi (rocking the most awesome orange loafers btw), said that it took CMI three years of constant blogging to monetise CMI’s offering. It now turns over $10 million in revenue per year.
Joe says most businesses he works with, on average, take 6.5 months before they start to see results. He was explicit in stating that you first need to build your audience, then monetise it.
He took us through the six critical steps to consider before your business should even consider ‘selling’ something.
While not an isolated activity for the most part that means emails. Your email database is one of your strongest assets. Build it through content that resonates.
Joe’s six steps (in bold, context is mine):
- Find the sweet spot. What skill or expertise does your brand offer? Why is it needed?
- Content tilt. Find your hook, or point of differentiation.
- Build the base. Your email database is everything – because it’s yours, no one, from Facebook to Twitter to Google can take it away from you.
- Harvest your audience. To quote Joe: “Wrap your subscriber in content love.”
- Diversification. Be consistent in your approach, then diversify your product offering.
- Monetise. Finally, after all the steps have been followed, it’s time to monetise your product or service to your audience.
He gave some compelling examples, Ann Reardon at ‘How to cook that’, The Chicken Whisperer, Indium Corporation. And one of the most touted examples of content marketing: Marcus Sheridan of River Pools and Spas, a man whose business was on the brink, but whose blog was responsible for turning his fortunes around.
Lastly, here’s four case studies to help you sell your content marketing strategy to your boss.
Even if your documented strategy is awesome, proof or evidence of business success sells an idea better than you ever can. Here are four brilliant examples of content marketing done well.
BookVideoClub: Top business books distilled in video format and delivered in less than five minutes. It’s an interesting example for the people behind it the idea: a video solutions agency that specialise in business-driven storytelling.
Content Marketing Sydney was an energetic, tiring, inspiring, fast-paced two days. Back in the office the buzz quickly fades away and we’re back to business as usual. The trick is to turn what we learnt into actions, and start developing those plans and building the framework.
Did you go to the conference? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.