Content Marketing Boldly Goes Forward: 7 Trends from #CMWorld

content-marketing-shatner-cmw2013-345x230What an amazing week this has been!

As many of you know, Content Marketing Institute hosted our annual Content Marketing World event in Cleveland, Ohio this week. While we expected to gain insight on many storytelling and content marketing strategy topics (which we certainly did), a number of surprising themes emerged throughout the discussions that took place at the conference — in sessions, in workshops, and in hallway conversations, as well as behind the scenes.

Though far too many lessons were learned to list them all here in detail, here are a few of the powerful content ideas and trends that stood out in the minds of the CMI team — and the participants who shared their thoughts with us.

We’ll be digging into many of these ideas (and others) in more detail — here on the blog, as well as across Content Marketing Institute’s other content offerings — so be sure to check back in the upcoming weeks and months.

Purpose

No matter what industry you’re in and who you are marketing to, your content needs to be planned around a clearly outlined purpose. Why do you exist — and why do your customers think you exist (warning: these could be vastly different)? It’s vital to understand the why behind your content strategy before you can even begin to put together the howand the where.

On a related note, this year cause marketing — which ties your brand to a larger purpose — took a more prominent role in discussions than it had at previous #CMWorld events. One highlight was Russell Sparkman‘s new infographic on how to create a purpose-driven content engine.

Takeaway: Before building your content marketing strategy, ask yourself these key questions:

  • What is your mission statement?
  • Why has your organization decided to create content in the first place?
  • How can you create something meaningful for both your brand and your audience?

Risk

In his keynote address, The Coca-Cola Company’s Jonathan Mildenhall aptly stated, “If you don’t have room to fail, you don’t have a way to grow.” To succeed, we need to embrace a culture of risk, which allows us to try new things. Failing forward quickly is OK — and should even be encouraged — as there is no better way to learn.

For a bit of inspiration on moving away from your comfort zone, read what contentgroup’s David Pembroke learned about fear and content marketing during our evening event at Cleveland’s House of Blues.

Takeaway: It’s time to get uncomfortable and experiment. Make a commitment to try at least one new idea that pushes the boundaries of your standard content M.O.

Fluidity

Jonathan Mildenhall also discussed the concept of “liquid storytelling” — marketing that is fluid and can easily “zig” when the market or audience trends “zag.” Similarly, Kathy Button-Bell, Chief Marketing Officer at Emerson, remarked that her organization’s marketing “lives in beta,” as they are constantly evolving what they create and the processes they use to create it.

Takeaway: We live in a dynamic world, where the only constant is change. Learn to embrace the chaos as you evolve your content marketing strategy and tactics, and don’t expect perfection each and every time.

Creativity

Yes, we’re all busy (as you’ll see in our upcoming CMI research study, “lack of time” was cited as the top content marketing challenge); but one thing you need to prioritize — and not outsource — is creativity. Though a spark of creativity can occur anytime and anywhere, it doesn’t always fit neatly into your project timelines. So, while it’s great to schedule creative meetings and plan your content marketing efforts around big, innovative ideas, it’s also important to prepare for it to happen organically — or sometimes not at all. To quote keynote speaker Jay Baer, “Inspiration does not respond to meeting requests.”

Takeaway: Don’t forget to step back and have some fun. Build time into your content marketing process to brainstorm, share ideas, and really get creative, but also be ready to shift gears to incorporate great ideas that pop up later on.

Attention

It’s certainly not news that we’re all inundated with information these days, and that marketers need to create remarkable content that will be heard above all the other noise. But it’s also important to remember that your competition for audience mindshare isn’t just coming from the other companies that play in your space — you’re competing for attention with every data source out there. What’s Jay Baer’s barometer for grabbing his attention and getting him to spend time with your message? “Are you more interesting than my wife?

Jay also noted that there’s a distinct advantage in creating content that directly addresses people’s challenges and informational needs. So if you want to grab attention, your goal should be for your content to answer every conceivable question your target audience may have, so all they are left to do is focus on enjoying it.

Takeaway: To determine whether your content will be worthy of their attention, think about your answers to these questions:

  • What is your core audience already spending time with?
  • What can you do to be more useful, valuable, interesting and/or entertaining than that?

Insight

Many conversations at CMW focused on data and measurement — just as they do at all digital industry events these days. But this year, in particular, there seemed to be a strong focus on deriving insight from these data points — i.e., how to process all the facts, figures, and feedback we’re collecting, and how to use that information to inform and improve our future content efforts.

Takeaway: Instead of simply collecting data to share with management, have a plan in hand for what you will be doing with the data you collect. If you aren’t prepared to leverage what you learn as part of your ongoing content marketing strategy, consider shifting some of your metrics resources into more creative or productive efforts. 

Tools

More than ever before, creating effective content marketing today requires efficient and robust tools, such as content management systems — particularly in an enterprise environment. But it also requires the know-how to work with these systems and integrate them into your existing marketing (and business) processes. Too often, our industry’s practitioners don’t have a full understanding of the technology they are working with, or know how to use it to their full strategic advantage throughout the organization.

Sadly, this is more than just a technology education and awareness issue. It’s a product of a general failure to communicate — across functional disciplines, across languages, and across siloed teams.

Takeaway: Content management solutions are evolving toward breaking down these knowledge and interaction barriers. But it’s also up to content marketers themselves to “walk the walk” when it comes to sharing information, learning to use more efficient processes, and evangelizing cross-functional participation. For example, try de-siloing your content calendar by involving other teams in your development efforts and getting their valuable input right from the start.

While the content marketing industry has made tremendous strides in all directions over the last few years, Content Marketing World 2013 confirmed that there’s still a lot we can learn from one another. I know our editorial team is looking forward to using the insights we’ve gathered to enhance our content efforts, and I hope you came away with many actionable ideas, as well.

What were some of the surprising things you took away from the event? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Also, I’d like to give a huge thanks to everyone who has been writing about the event. Posts are below — and please feel free to add yours — or others you’ve read. We’re excited to share what we learned at #CMWorld with our readers and other Content Marketing Institute evangelists.

To quote my mentor, Don Shultz, “So, let’s get on with it!”

If you were unable to attend Content Marketing World, or missed a valuable session, you can still access over 40 audio sessions, as well as many of our keynote video performances via our Video On Demand portal.