By Michele Linn published January 1, 2017

Unsolicited Advice: 6 Letters Every Content Marketer Needs to Read

unsolicited-advice-content-marketers“Who’s perfect?”

“No one!”

This is a common dialogue I have with my daughters when they make mistakes — as we all do. I’m a big fan of not aiming for perfection but rather trying to be the best version of yourself.

Of course, the same is true with marketers. No one is perfect — and considering the speed at which our industry has been changing — we can all learn from each other. It’s in this spirit of making us all better that Andrew Davis shares his suggestions to marketers in each issue of Chief Content Officer magazine in his column, Unsolicited Advice. (Shameless plug: You can get a free subscription to CCO.)

While we don’t run Andrew’s columns as part of our regular blog schedule, we adore them and wanted to share them with you this holiday season. Enjoy these six insightful letters now or bookmark them for when you have some time. Either way, I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.

Do something with all of your survey data

Tim Mapes
Senior Vice President of Marketing
Delta Air Lines

Dear Mr. Mapes,

Do me a favor: Stop it with the surveys. Or at least do something productive with them.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Delta Airlines (as much as any other air carrier.) On the whole, your planes are comfortable, your flights are on time, and your service is amenable.

I fly a lot. In the past year I’ve flown almost 500,000 miles. That’s more travel than most people, but every time I step off one of your planes, you send me a survey. A quick check of my inbox for the year reveals you’ve sent me 83 surveys. Eighty-three.

In the early days of our flying relationship, I took the seven minutes out of my day to fill out your lengthy questionnaire (which included questions like: “Did you notice any particular scent in the jet bridge?”).

Here’s my question: What are you doing with all this data? I can’t remember a single acknowledgment that the insights I provided are enhancing my flying experience.

You’re not the only one inviting me to fill out surveys to help “improve my experience.” I get surveys from hotels, car-rental agencies, shoe stores, and restaurants. I recently received a three-minute survey from my barber.

If you’re going to ask me to take seven minutes out of my day to fill out your lengthy questionnaire, I expect you to take seven minutes to explain how you’re using my data to improve the Delta experience.

So here’s the deal: If you tell me exactly how my survey responses are being used to improve your airline, I’ll take the time to fill out the questionnaires. Otherwise, stop sending them.

If you’re going to send a @delta survey, tell me how you’re using data to improve my experience. @drewdavishere Click To Tweet

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (February 2016)

Don’t just talk content marketing, do content marketing

Dear Agency Executive,

I just Googled “content marketing agency” and found a list of the “most amazing” content marketing agencies in the world. It’s an impressive list … and maybe you’re on it.

There is only one problem. Every single agency named has a sexy client portfolio and a bucket full of industry awards to prove it, but none of them – exactly zero – apply content marketing to their own business.

Shame on you.

I know you do great work. I can see it right there on your website. I’m impressed with the content you’ve created for your clients. I’m fascinated by the results you’ve delivered for those you serve. You’re dazzling me. But if you truly believe in the power of content marketing, where is YOUR content?

I get it. You’re busy doing paid client work … but consider this: What if you could reduce the amount of time and money it took to secure the next client by creating valuable content today?

Reduce the time & money it takes to secure next client by creating valuable #content today. @drewdavishere Click To Tweet

You’ve hired smart people. (I can tell. I read your About Us page.) Why not require every single one of your staff members to create one piece of content for the agency every month? Even an organization with a staff of 15 people would have a content platform brimming with surprising insights.

Take the advice you give to your clients: commit to creating valuable, consistently delivered, high-quality, unique content to build a relationship with those you serve and those you want to attract.

Here’s the deal: Start at the top. If you post every week one piece of good content designed to help your next client better market its products and services on its own, I’ll share every post with my audience.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (April 2016)

Use common sense with your nurturing programs

Craig Tinervin
Director of Performance Marketing

Dear Craig,

I love your 30-day email drip campaign! Unfortunately, I signed up for your competitor’s CRM tool 28 days ago, and you’re still sending me tutorial emails. Why not allow me to tell you I’ve purchased something else?

Pipedrive seems like an excellent tool and the tutorials you send every other day are nicely produced and engaging. As far as I know, there is nothing “wrong” with the content you sent us.

Each one of your drip emails offers me two choices: watch the tutorial video or unsubscribe. Don’t you think you’d learn a lot more about your audience’s buying cycle and your competition if you allowed subscribers to tell you they purchased someone else’s product?

Imagine what you could learn! You’d know exactly how far into your drip campaign the prospect typically buys another tool. You’d know what CRM they most often purchase, and you’d automatically know if you should extend their free trial – maybe they haven’t made a decision yet!

I’m all for automated drip campaigns. I know they’re effective. But in addition to optimizing your campaign to better serve subscribers you win over, don’t forget to learn from the prospects you lose.

Craig, I don’t want to unsubscribe to your drip campaign without telling you what CRM tool we ended up buying. If you give me the option, I’ll be happy to tell you which CRM we went with, why we chose them, and even the date we signed up.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (June 2016)

Stop talking only about yourself

Marc Baumann
Head of SEO and Content

Dear Mr. Baumann,

I just stopped following @Square on Twitter and I wanted to let you know why. It’s not because you don’t share links to valuable content. You do that all the time. It’s not because I didn’t find the content you post insightful or clever. It is. In fact, I think the content you create on your content platform, Town Square, is excellent.

I stopped following @Square because I realized you rarely (if ever) share anyone else’s content. You’ve established yourselves as experts in the market, and I certainly find much of your content to be objective; but you can’t possibly believe there is no other source of insight or information that would benefit your audience.

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe truly engaged social brands are humble enough to share smart, focused insights with their audience from a variety of credible sources.

Here’s the good news … This is an easy issue to fix. Perhaps your team could try the Social Media 4-1-1 Rule: For every one self-serving tweet, you should retweet one relevant tweet, and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.

For every self-serving tweet, RT 1 relevant tweet & share 4 content pieces by others. @drewdavishere Click To Tweet

Marc, I’d love to refollow @Square. If your team agrees to share even one piece of valuable content every day from a source other than Square, I’ll not only refollow you, I’ll share the best insight with my audience! After all, isn’t that the goal of a truly engaged social brand?

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (August 2016)

Add controversy to your panels

Dear Event Organizer,

Your panel discussions suck. They do. They’re terrible.

In principle, a panel discussion should be great. The ingredients all appear to be there: get a few intelligent people on stage, invite them to discuss a given topic, and let the insights, information, and ideas flow.

There’s only one thing missing.

As someone who has attended more than 200 events in the last four years, I have yet to see a panel discussion that captures, maintains, and piques the audience’s interest. The discussions are not enlightening, and the banter is anything but entertaining.

What’s missing? One simple ingredient: conflict. Yep. That’s it. You need some drama.

Eight years ago in a hotel ballroom in Nashville, Tennessee, I saw the greatest panel discussion I’ve ever witnessed. Four of the most innovative publishers in the world sat on stage to discuss the future of print magazines. The four luminaries agreed on nothing. The discussion was civil. The debate was intense. And the room was mesmerized.

The Future of Media panel ran 30 minutes past its allotted time at the insistence of the standing-room-only crowd and at the end of the day, the debate continued at the hotel lobby bar. Why? The debate brought out new ideas and never-before explored concepts. The audience heard why each person chose a viewpoint. And maybe most importantly, we learned about our own perspectives when we saw them debated on stage.

If you want your panel discussions to compete with – and even outperform – your keynote sessions, add some conflict.

Want your panel discussions to compete w/ or outperform keynote sessions? Add some conflict. @drewdavishere Click To Tweet

I stopped participating in panel discussions three years ago. They’re poorly executed, pathetically planned, and sadly boring.

Here’s the deal: If you decide to embrace a debate and add some conflict to your next panel discussion, I’ll pay my way to your event. I’ll even speak for free. Just let me participate in a conflict-laden panel discussion. I guarantee it will be the best panel you’ve ever organized.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (October 2016)

Stop talking about engagement

Content Marketer
Every Company in the Universe

Dear Content Marketer,

Stop talking about engagement and awareness. Seriously, stop it.

Don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one. In the latest round of Content Marketing Institute research, almost 80% of B2B marketers and 74% of B2C marketers say they use content marketing to raise brand awareness.

Almost 80% B2B marketers & 74% B2C say they use #contentmarketing to raise brand awareness via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Four out of five of us work toward an outcome that I can only describe as “fuzzy.”

It’s not that we shouldn’t aim to influence brand awareness (and presumably measure its impact). And of course, we should continue to measure how many likes, shares, retweets, and comments our content inspires as a barometer of what attracts an audience to our brand’s content. Yes … we should measure a lot of stuff.

Here’s the thing: let’s not report on it.

There’s a big difference between measuring our tactics and reporting on our success. It’s time we graduate to reporting numbers that won’t cause our CFO and CEO to roll their eyes.

I’d argue this year’s Content Marketer of the Year is unbelievably successful because she reports on her content’s ability to increase margins. That’s right, the Cleveland Clinic’s Amanda Todorovich measures a ton of variables, but at the end of the day, she reports on the revenue she generates. That’s smart marketing.

Reporting on the revenue your #content generates is smart #marketing says @drewdavishere. @amandatodo #ROI Click To Tweet

Let’s understand the massive difference between measuring success and reporting on it.

Here’s the deal: If you stop using the words “engagement” and “awareness” at every one of your marketing meetings, I’ll buy you and your team a pizza. I guarantee the more you focus on affecting revenue, the more successful you and your content will become.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,

Andrew Davis (December 2016)

Over to you

Do you have any unsolicited advice you want to get off your chest to help us all be better?

For more Unsolicited Advice from Andrew, subscribe to CCO, our free magazine that is mailed six times a year. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • seraj bharwani

    Very insightful letters. So much to learn from the writers who took the time provide such constructive feedback.

    Thank you

    • Andrew Davis

      Thanks, Seraj!

  • Bill Widmer

    Dear Automated Twitter People,

    Stop sending automated DM’s to squeeze pages on Twitter! They drive me nuts, and make me want to unfollow you.

    Instead, why don’t you try to *gasp* send personalized messages! Sure, it takes longer – but I bet you’ll get more “engagement”.

    Not to you, of course, CMI – to the people out there who use this tactic.

    Whether you wanted it or not,

    Bill Widmer

    • Charlotte Fleming

      Totally agree.

      Also, dear LinkedIn peeps: please stop sending me marketing messages as soon as I link with you. It’s really very bad manners.

      Thank you,

      • Bill Widmer

        Haha, yes!! Couldn’t agree more. So annoying.

        • Michele Linn

          These are great!

      • Andrew Davis

        HA! Another good one, Charlotte!

    • Andrew Davis

      This is awesome! Wanna write the next column? 🙂
      Love it!

      • Bill Widmer

        Sure, let’s do it! 😉

        • Andrew Davis

          My deadline is Friday.

          • Bill Widmer

            I don’t know if you’re serious or not. If you are, send me an email at

  • Buddy Scalera

    Thanks for posting these as a collection. Andrew’s column is fantastic, and it’s great to have them all here in one place.

    Andrew has an amazing ability to zoom into a key issue that would be frustrating to a customer. Companies would have to pay a lot of money to get this kind of focused, actionable insight, but here it is for free.

    Keep doing these. They are invaluable as a learning tool for all of us working in the trenches.


    • Michele Linn

      Happy New Year, Buddy — and thanks for the comment. I think Andrew is amazing as well. I love learning from him (as well as you and the rest of our community.)

    • Andrew Davis

      Happy New Year, Buddy! You’re the best! I really love writing these and I’m so flattered to hear you like them too!

  • Joan

    Michele, please write more articles like this one!

    Yes, it’s time to stop the Twitter bot, the LinkedIn peep, the Buffer schedule, and then there was the drip email. Lately my unsubscribe button has been busy.

    Personalized messages work, but then that’s too much work for some.
    It’s also time for us to follow this example.

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Joan!

    • Andrew Davis

      Thanks, Joan! I love writing these! 🙂

      • Joan

        Please write some more. Ok, so it’s true, you said “2017 is the year for show me don’t tell me. Time to show everyone. Start crafting real stories.” I’ve been telling all those who would listen the same thing. I’ll refer them to you and then maybe they’ll pay attention.

        • Andrew Davis

          You’re so kind!
          Show me!!! Don’t tell me!!! 🙂

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  • Vince Hordemann

    Fantastic! I think I’ve experienced everyone of these! Now, to make sure we aren’t doing them too…

    • Andrew Davis

      So glad you liked the letters!

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  • Martin Lindeskog

    Andrew: I look forward to read more of columns, so I have clicked the link to CCO. I would love to participate in a panel with you someday in the future! 😉

    All the Best,


    • Andrew Davis

      I’d love to do that Martin! Enjoy the magazine. It’s awesome!!!

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