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 November 2, 2017

How to Use How-To Content to Create and Retain Loyal Customers


Does your team focus on the top of the marketing funnel, developing most of your content to create brand awareness and nurture leads? If so, you may miss the rewards that come from focusing on the bottom or (depending on how you define your funnel) below.

I’m talking about focusing on the content needs of people who are on the verge of buying what you sell, people who have just bought, and people who are between purchases.

One company that’s doing just that – with gusto – is outdoor-gear retailer REI. Its library of how-to content, which contains over 500 in-depth articles and videos, is proving that how-to content (aka utility content) can create and retain loyal customers. So says Eric Hess, senior program manager for content marketing at REI, who presented REI’s How-To Guide to How-To Content at Content Marketing World.

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By marcia-johnston published October 26, 2017

8 Rules for the Startup Marketer (or Anyone Who Wants to Think Like One)


If you work in a big, established company, a presentation on being a marketer on a small team, especially a small team in a startup, may not seem to apply to you. But the wisdom 2015 Content Marketer of the Year Vishal Khanna has to share extends to anyone who wants the flexibility and performance possible when you act like a startup marketer.

For most of his 15-plus years in marketing, Vishal has been his organization’s only resource for marketing, communications, and media relations. “Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve had a low budget, no staff, no resources, and limited access. In that situation, you’ve got to be creative,” he says.

Whether or not you think of your company as a startup, put on your startup-marketer hat, and consider which pieces of Vishal’s advice might make all the difference for you.

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By marcia-johnston published October 19, 2017

Why Savvy Marketers Close the Pre- and Post-Sale Content Gap


Do your company’s pre- and post-sales content teams coordinate their efforts, reaping all the benefits that can come of doing so? Or do the teams work on their own without much communication, maybe without even knowing each other’s names?

I’d guess that you’re nodding at the second question. It’s rare that I hear of these teams working together. When I do, as happened at the Intelligent Content Conference, my technical writer’s heart goes pitter-pat.

At ICC, Andrea Ames gave a talk ­– Closing the Gap Without Falling Into It – on IBM’s efforts to close the gap. In her case, the gap takes the form of marketing on one side and tech communication on the other. In other companies, the sides (aka silos) go by different names.

Whatever names your company uses, the idea is generally the same: Presales teams sell. Post-sales teams explain. Rarely the twain shall meet.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

This post sums up Andrea’s main points, including her insights and images.

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By marcia-johnston published October 12, 2017

What to Consider When It’s Time for New Marketing Technology


Marketing automation tools. Social media tools. Collaboration tools. As a marketing leader, you’re faced with a crushing number of marketing technologies to consider: almost 5,000 of them, falling into some 75 categories. When it’s time to consider new technology, how on earth do you know what all to consider?

B2B Marketing Academy co-founder Peg Miller has some guidance. Peg talked at the Intelligent Content Conference about Your Next Marketing Technology Implementation: How to Survive, Thrive, and Keep Your Job. In this post, I sum up what she had to say on three points:

  • Prioritize people and process over technology.
  • Seek as simple a solution as possible.
  • Ask questions from multiple perspectives.

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By marcia-johnston published September 28, 2017

How to Make Your Content More Relevant in Search: 3 Lessons From Big Data

content-relevant-searchWhat’s the next best thing to having Google sit down next to you at your desk, gaze over its glasses at your screen, and tell you how to improve the visibility of your web pages? Listening to Searchmetrics founder Marcus Tober.

In his Intelligent Content Conference talk, Mastering the World of Deep Learning: How Big Data Is Making Content More Relevant in Search, Marcus shared some insights gleaned from years of studying search analytics across many industries and topics.

A pioneer in search-analytics software, Marcus has watched search engines get better and better at figuring out which web pages people will find relevant. He has seen search engines evolve from reading people’s text strings to practically reading their minds. Based on what he has learned from big data about SEO visibility, Marcus urges companies to do three things with their content:

  • Develop a niche
  • Get rid of redundant, outdated, trivial content (ROT)
  • Update the remaining content to address people’s intentions

Marcus’s advice is not new, but he backs it up with data. His numbers reinforce the importance of doing these things that we all know we should be doing.

Though he isn’t sitting next to you, read on for what this European Search Personality of the Year has to say.

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By marcia-johnston published September 21, 2017

A Step-by-Step Process for Scoring Your Content


Think of a piece of content your team published recently. On a scale of 0 to 100, how would you rate it? And how would your rating help your company?

Stumped? Consider the method that Jared Whitehead devised for scoring content performance.

Jared works as an analyst in the marketing operations group at Red Hat. After 10 years of growth and acquisitions, the B2B technology company found itself in “constant chaos” with its approach to content.

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By marcia-johnston published August 31, 2017

How to Implement a Content Marketing Platform in a Global B2B Organization


Over the course of 18 months, Rachel Schickowski and Stan Miller implemented a content marketing platform – a hub for all the marketing content of Rockwell Automation – for a team of 600 marketers around the world.

Most of us wouldn’t have a clue how to accomplish such a feat. Luckily for us, Rachel and Stan shared their story at Content Marketing World, Implementing a CMS in Global B2B Organization.

(Note: While they used the term “CMS” in the title, they later clarified that the term “content marketing platform” better fits what they’re talking about.)

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By marcia-johnston published August 28, 2017

Designing for Better Analytics: 5 Decisions Web Designers Fail to Make

designing-for-analyticsWhen I say, “website design,” what comes to mind? Graphic design? Interface design? User experience design?

How about analytics design? That’s what Andy Crestodina thinks of. Andy – who has provided web strategy and advice to more than a thousand businesses, and written the book Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing – encourages all companies to consider analytics when designing or redesigning a website.

The bad news: If you fail to make analytics-friendly design decisions, your website will work against your analytics, preventing you from getting insights that could benefit you.

If you fail to make analytics-friendly design decisions, your site will work against you, says @crestodina. Click To Tweet

The good news: It’s easy to make analytics-friendly design decisions.

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By marcia-johnston published August 27, 2017

Ex-SNL Writer Reveals How to Spend 5 Minutes a Day to Improve Storytelling


Want to get more creative in your marketing, especially your storytelling? Spend five minutes a day doing something that masters of improv do: Play with words.

That was stand-up comedian Tim Washer’s advice in his talk, How to Use Improv Techniques to Improve Your Storytelling, at Content Marketing World in 2016. He walked us through some examples, which I’ll share in this post.

First, in case you missed my recent article based on this same talk, let me fill you in on who this guy is. In addition to serving as social media manager for Cisco Systems’ Service Provider Marketing group, Tim has worked on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, studied improv under Amy Poehler and written for her on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, and worked as a “corporate humorist” for clients like Google, IBM, FedEx, and Pepsi.

Tim knows corporations and humor.

Read on to learn from an improv master how to become a more creative marketer. (All images come from Tim’s presentation slides.)

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By marcia-johnston published August 17, 2017

How to Tear Down Silos to Create a Culture of Content


You’ve probably heard Marcus Sheridan’s story. He is the guy whose blog, sometimes referred to as “the Wikipedia of fiberglass swimming pools,” saved his pool company during the economic crash of 2008.Continue Reading