By Stephanie Stahl published September 12, 2019

The Most Important Lesson Learned at Content Marketing World

Let’s face it. There’s no shortage of content to consume these days. Content for content’s sake has become a bit of a problem for some brands as their content marketing efforts and teams have grown and matured.

But consumers, customers, and prospects don’t necessarily need more content. They need content that is meaningful, actionable, fun, amazing … anything but excessive and mediocre.

People don’t necessarily need more #content. They need content that is amazing, says @editorstahl. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

CMWorld keynoter Henry Rollins talks a lot about the responsibility of content producers to be authentic and the need for “an element of moral goodness.”

When I had the opportunity to interview headliner Mindy Kaling – content creator extraordinaire – I asked her about this responsibility.

After all, she’s the woman who wrote 24 episodes of The Office; created, produced, and starred in The Mindy Project; and brought a fresh voice to the recent movie Late Show among her many achievements. She’s a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and use social media for good.

Mindy started to speak and stopped. Then she said, “Good for Henry Rollins … But I create based on what’s funny to my friends.”

The audience chuckled.

The motivation for these two high-profile, highly successful creatives (and keynote presenters at Content Marketing World) are different, and yet, both Henry and Mindy possess the same essential ingredient for success – they know the meaning behind their work and they know what is meaningful to their audiences.

After all, though their messages and delivery were unique, it was clear the CMWorld audience – based on applause, tweets, and feedback – found significant value in their words.

Reflecting on the whirlwind week of Content Marketing World, I realized Henry and Mindy aren’t unique. Many, if not all, the presentations, questions, ideas, expo hall conversations, and more centered on the value – and necessity – of meaning.

Drilling down on the meaning of success

In kicking off CMWorld, my colleague Robert Rose gave a sneak peek of our upcoming annual research results – 88% of successful content marketers put audience information needs above all else.

88% of successful #content marketers put audience information needs above all else. @cmicontent #research Click To Tweet

These marketers know people won’t connect with something if they don’t have a reason. And if audiences don’t connect, the brand won’t find any meaning in its content marketing. No meaning means no ROI.

And even if you get that ROI over the long term by developing a meaningful relationship with your audience, your content marketing program still may not be safe from the ax. CMI founder Joe Pulizzi shared: “Content marketing programs do not get killed because they don’t produce results. They get killed because the person who controls the purse strings doesn’t get it.”

#Contentmarketing programs get killed b/c the person who controls purse strings doesn’t get it. @joepulizzi #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Your content marketing has to have meaning for internal stakeholders as well.

Take a moment to let that sink in. What does your company’s content marketing program mean to them? They need to see a value beyond the numbers.

And as you look for the meaning to share with your target audience, the wider public, your executives, your co-workers, etc., keep in mind the thoughts of Find The Red Thread’s Tamsen Webster: “Do people seek to change what they want and believe? No. They look to validate what they already want and believe.”

People look to validate what they already want and believe, says @tamadear. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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Yes, to be successful, you must know the meaning that will resonate with your audience. And you must see where that meaning overlaps with your brand’s strategy.

Going viral is good, getting business is better

Scott Stratten serves up a great example. In his keynote talk, the “UnMarketing guy” related the story behind his now-infamous millennial rant.

He posted a short, bland intro explaining that the rant clip was an excerpt from a keynote speech on his Facebook page. It got 50,000 fans and 250,000 views. Most of those fans likely were familiar and followed the UnMarketing page as the fan numbers were similar for the post and the page.

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Scott thought he could do better. He reframed the video with text above and below, “What Old People Mean When They Say Millennial.” When he added more context – more meaning – to the video, the views jumped to 13 million. Whoa!

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And yet, those numbers didn’t mean a lot to Scott. He makes his living delivering keynote speeches. How many bookings did he get from those 13 million views? None.

But when Scott refocused the meaning for his target audience (people who recommend or hire keynote speakers) and for his business (to make money by giving speeches), he produced a standard demo reel video. It garnered a lot fewer views but got double-digit bookings.

Scott’s example serves as a great lesson in finding and staying true to your meaning – and learning how to use it to deliver the value someone else seeks.

Changing times for new and old

The next morning of CMWorld, the juxtaposition of Kathy Button Bell, chief marketing officer at B2B brand Emerson – a brand over 125 years old – and Nilla Ali, vice president of strategic partnerships at BuzzFeed – a brand 16 years old – helped me clearly see a critical factor. Finding and delivering meaning is not a one-step process. It requires evolutionary and proactive thinking regardless of how long your brand has been in business.

How do you do that? Kathy had a good suggestion – and one that worked well for Emerson – do the unexpected in a familiar setting.

What resonates with your existing audience now may not work in a year. But to figure out what’s changing, you must be willing to take a few chances. For example, deliver something different to your existing audience but do it in a way or through a place with which they’re already familiar.

What resonates with your existing audience now may not work in a year. @editorstahl #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Take this ad that appeared in The Wall Street Journal as part of its quasiquicentennial (125th anniversary) campaign promoting #ILoveSTEM and featuring self-proclaimed science nerd and YouTube sensation Hank Green.

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Or use something that has been meaningful to one audience and see how it works with another targeted audience, like this video of Emerson employees celebrating and sharing their meaning with the wider #ILoveSTEM audience:

But whatever you do, always be searching for the next meaning for your audience and your brand.

Whatever you do, always be searching for the next meaning for your audience & your brand. @editorstahl #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Grow the bond

When you dive deeper into meaning, a stronger bond between audience and your content (or your brand) is more likely to form. And that’s the key to successful content marketing programs. As Ann Handley says, we shouldn’t be asking our audience for their attention, we should be asking for their trust – and demonstrating why we deserve it.

We shouldn’t be asking our audience for their attention, we should be asking for their trust. @annhandley #CMWorld Click To Tweet

And none of that can happen without first knowing the meaning for your brand and your audiences.

But wait. Being meaningful for your brand and your audience isn’t enough. You should know your meaning – what role do you really play on your content marketing team? Go beyond your title. Dig deep to figure it out. You can’t be everything to everybody (or do every element in your program successfully).

In that exploration, reflect on the smart insight of Alyssa Greenfield – inspired by something Mindy Kaling said at CMWorld, “Whenever I’ve tried to go into someone else’s lane, I’ve always failed.”

As Alyssa shares, “Whenever I go to a conference, I always feel a bit of information overload when I get home … But I think this is a great reminder that no session at any event can tell you what to do when you get back to the office. It’s about figuring out what’s important to you and then making it work for your lane – not the speaker’s lane or the lane of anyone you met at the event.”

To help you find more meaning from Content Marketing World (whether you were there or not), I am sharing a few other thoughtful pieces from attendees – stick to those who can help you zoom in your lane or perhaps find a new one:

What do you think? What CMWorld teachings resonated with you? What new meanings did you discover? I’d love to hear in the comments. And if you wrote a post, please share as well.

Content Marketing World returns Oct. 13-16, 2020. And of course, you can stay connected year-round. Subscribe to our weekday newsletter. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Stephanie Stahl

As General Manager of CMI, Stephanie leads the brand’s event, digital, print, and e-learning operations. Previously, Stephanie served as VP of Content Marketing for UBM’s Technology portfolio, providing strategic guidance on content development, content optimization, audience engagement, and go-to-market platforms for technology clients. Stephanie also spent many years as Editor in Chief of InformationWeek. Find Stephanie on Twitter @editorstahl and LinkedIn.

Other posts by Stephanie Stahl

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