Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

By marcia-johnston published August 6, 2017

Comedy Pro Reveals How to Bring Funny to Content [Video]

comedy-pro-funny-contentMake people laugh, and you’ve got their attention. Hit people in the funny bone, and you have a chance to hit them in the heart and gut as well. People learn from humor. They share it. They may even become fans and customers of companies that provide it.

Yet many content teams steer clear of amusing content. They consider humor inappropriate for their brand or they don’t see themselves as funny.

In his Content Marketing World talk, Tim Washer, social media manager for Cisco Systems’ service provider marketing group, invites marketers to rethink their objections to amusing content and start exercising their comedic content chops.Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published August 3, 2017

Want Content That’s More Usable & Reusable? Chunk It

content-usable-reusable-chunk-itAs a marketer, you want to provide the most usable – and most reusable – content possible, saving your team time as you increase the value your audience gets from your assets. But how do you do that?

Here’s one way: Chunk it. In other words, create your content in chunks – think of them as components or modules – according to the types of information you want to convey.Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published July 6, 2017

When Not to COPE With Your Web Images [Video]

when-not-cope-web-images-videoTo think strategically about your web-based visual content, you have to do more than choose which images to use; you must also make sure that those images work for screens big and small.

If an image works for all screen sizes, great. Upload one file (single-source the image) and you’re good to go.

Not all images make your life that easy. Sometimes it’s worth your while to provide multiple versions of an image to give people what they need from the image on any device.

So says Buddy Scalera, senior director of content strategy at The Medicines Company. In his Intelligent Content Conference talk, Creating and Executing a Visual Content Strategy That Scales, Buddy told us that he’s all for single-sourcing … except when he’s not. He advocates for what he and others call “COPE mostly” (COPE-M), especially when it comes to images.Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published June 29, 2017

Bingeable Content: How to Move Buyers Through Your Sales Cycle Faster

bingeable-content-move-buyers-sales-cycle-fasterNot that you or I ever do it – plop down on the couch, put up our feet, click on the TV, and gorge ourselves on a full season of, oh, say, The Americans. Netflix has mastered the art of prompting us – I mean, prompting people – to binge on its streaming content.

Nick Edouard, co-founder and president of LookBookHQ, suggests that we marketers make like Netflix and entice prospective customers with content they can binge on. He made this point at the Intelligent Content Conference in his talk Never Waste Another Click: How Intelligent Content Experiences Can Accelerate the Buyer’s Journey. Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published June 15, 2017

Why a Good Content Audit Is Your Business’s Best Friend

CMI_ContentAudit-01What would you be willing to do to get reliable guidance on what kinds of content to create more of – and less of – to have greater impact on your business? Would you go so far as to *gulp* audit your content?

Don’t click away! Yes, a content audit can seem like an overwhelming task – “something we think is somebody else’s responsibility,” says Cathy McKnight, founding partner of Digital Clarity Group and speaker at the Intelligent Content Conference. “But it is essential to our jobs” as marketers.

This article sums up the main points from Cathy’s ICC talk, Executing a Usable Content Audit That Will Immediately Make an Impact on Your Marketing Content.Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published June 1, 2017

What Are Your Customers Thinking? Search Secrets Hiding in Plain Sight

customers-thinking-search-secretsWhat would you give to read your customers’ minds? In his talk at the Intelligent Content Conference, self-proclaimed “search guy” Wil Reynolds shared some tips for getting as close as possible to mind-reading by using resources – some timeless, some modern – that are hiding in plain sight.

“If you look just at the keywords people search for, you’re missing out on many of their actual needs,” says Wil, who serves as director of digital strategy at his own company, Seer Interactive.Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published May 18, 2017

New Tech Friends on the Marketing Block


The more we as marketers take on sophisticated challenges with our content, like personalizing at scale, the more we need to work with technical specialists. Three such roles I kept hearing about at the Intelligent Content Conference are content strategists, content engineers, and data scientists.

  • Content strategist – someone who plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content (as defined by Kristina Halvorson)
  • Content engineer – someone who structures content for publishing and sets up an organization’s content systems, that is, the technologies that store, deliver, and enable governance of content assets (as described by Cruce Saunders)
  • Data scientist – someone who “can demonstrate the special skills involved in storytelling with [complex] data, whether verbally, visually, or – ideally – both” (Harvard Business Review)

Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published May 4, 2017

Use This Simple (& Fun) Tool to Design Your Content Marketing Message Architecture


Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when CMI published it last year. We’re sharing it now, with minor edits, because a solid message architecture makes all the difference when you’re planning your content.

What is your brand’s most distinctive trait?

What’s the most important thing your company does?

What’s the main reason people should do business with you?Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published April 27, 2017

Are Your Buyer Personas Ready to Take on the World?


Customers’ concerns vary, sometimes dramatically, across regions and cultures. Because these variations present business opportunities, you might expect global companies’ buyer personas to reflect those variations. In fact, many organizations miss this opportunity, applying one set of personas everywhere.

Even organizations that have regional or cultural personas may lack the insights they need to succeed across markets.  Continue Reading

By marcia-johnston published April 20, 2017

30 Habits of Highly Productive Content Teams [Infographic]


If I could hand you a key to productivity, a key that would magically give you some nights and weekends back, what would you expect it to look like? I’m guessing that you wouldn’t picture a workflow.

Yet your workflow may be robbing you of nights and weekends, according to Heather Hurst, director of corporate marketing at Workfront, and Matt Heinz, president and founder of Heinz Marketing, who presented this topic during a ContentTECH session this year.Continue Reading