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 former member of the CMI team, she served 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 30, 2017

How to Adopt a Customer-Centric Strategy for Your Content


Does your company look at content through customers’ eyes? Here’s one way to tell: Look at your marketing content. For starters, riffle through some titles. Do the words typically convey customers’ concerns? Or do they mostly call attention to the things you sell?

If products hog the spotlight, you’re missing opportunities to build customer relationships and, ultimately, revenue. You’re also missing opportunities to streamline your content efforts throughout the organization, including distribution, management, and reuse.
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By marcia-johnston published November 20, 2017

Scale Your B2B Content With Artificial Intelligence: Ideas and Tools Marketers Can Try


“Same house, right?” The question came via Facebook Messenger from a friend who was coming over for dinner. Under his message appeared two options: yes and no. With one touch of a fingertip, my answer appeared in a blue bubble as if I had typed y-e-s myself.

That experience, a first for me, was so logical, natural, convenient, and simple that I hardly noticed it. An app had recognized my friend’s message as a yes-no question and had presented me with ready-to-use replies. Nothing about the exchange shouted, “Hey! Check it out! Artificial intelligence at work!”

Only after I heard Paul Roetzer’s Content Marketing World talk did I realize that my experience represented exactly that: artificial intelligence at work.

In fact, artificial intelligence is at work all around us. And this “science of making machines smart” (Paul’s favorite definition, which comes from Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of Google DeepMind) is beginning to open possibilities for B2B marketers who want to increase efficiency, boost performance, and create a competitive advantage.

If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be Paul’s mantra: “Try it!”

If you take away two things, let the second be “Don’t wait!”

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By marcia-johnston published November 16, 2017

Why Marketers Need to Think Like Data Scientists (And How to Do It)

marketers-think-data-scientistsYour company may not employ data scientists today. And you might be fine with that. Consider, though, that if you’re not working with a data scientist or at least thinking like one, you’re missing something: the ability to say “I know” instead of merely “I think.”

That distinction matters when you’re talking with executives, says content marketer and consultant Katrina Neal. “If you walk into a meeting in a next-generation data-driven organization and announce, ‘I think this campaign is going to work,’ you could risk being humiliated in front of your colleagues and asked to leave the room.”

A marketer who says “I think” in front of data-driven execs may be asked to leave, says @Katrina_Neal. Click To Tweet

On the other hand, if you walk in with what you know, people listen. They might even approve your budget.

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By marcia-johnston published November 8, 2017

What to Do After You Press Record: A Formula for Videos People Love

formula-videos-people-lovePeople are flocking to Amy Schmittauer’s YouTube series, Savvy Sexy Social. As of this writing, she has 75,947 subscribers. Wait, 75,948 … 949.  Wouldn’t you love to know why?

Hint: It’s not because her brand name includes the word “sexy,” a word she chose because she advises marketers on how to bring out the sexy in whatever they sell.

Her popularity comes, at least in part, from her discovery of a formula for making videos that people love.

Amy Schmittauer Landino, a consultant in video content marketing and author of the book Vlog Like a Boss, spilled her secrets at Content Marketing World in her talk How to Create and Repurpose Video Content for More Attention. While I won’t reveal everything (how sexy would that be?), I will share her nine-part formula for what to do after you hit record.

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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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