Five things I learnt at Content Marketing World 2015

In Content Strategy by Rob JohnsonLeave a Comment

Content Marketing World 2015 has just wrapped up at the Cleveland Convention Centre. It was both refreshing and exhausting. Exhausting because if you’re Australian you have to fly half way around the world to get here (and I’m still a bit jetlagged). And refreshing, because it’s rare to attend a conference where you learn so much, so quickly, from people at the cutting edge of what we do.

Although you wander around thinking, “I’ve got so much more to learn”, it also feels like the rest of us are not far behind some of the best and brightest.

This morning, author and former war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran gave an address about some of the work he’s doing with Starbucks following on from the book For Love of Country, co-written with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. It’s early days, he admits, but it revolves around using storytelling as a way of generating social good.

He said that when he started, he was expecting sneers from former newsroom colleagues about ‘selling out’. Instead, all he’s got has been curiosity and applause. Even more satisfying, he can identify and quantify the social good his storytelling is achieving.

As he was coming on stage, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi, broke the news of the University of Canberra now offering a degree in journalism and content marketing. It does feel like both those professions are merging, and frequently for a greater good.

But that wasn’t the only thing I learnt:


Lesson 1: It benefits storytelling to refine it as a tool, not just celebrate it as an art.

One thing the trade of journalism has brought to marketing has been skills in storytelling. Marketers, who aren’t always storytellers themselves, seem a little in awe of that.

But what content marketing can now give back to that storytelling skill in some detailed, data-backed insights into how to make stories better.

That was a key lesson I got out of Ardath Albee’s fantastic session ‘From Content to Conversion’, where she explained in detail how refining marketing personae can inform and add depth to storytelling, and how each can be made significantly more powerful as a result of that.


Lesson 2: Print books are not dead

I have spent so much freakin’ money this week on books by Ardath Albee, Joe Pulizzi, Drew Davis, Ann Handley and others that I’m going to have to throw my clothes out to meet the baggage weight requirements on the plane. Content marketing professionals will tell you if you want authority, write a book, and they practice what they preach.


Lesson 3: Google’s getting spookier

Rand Fishkin of SEO firm Moz seemed a little intimidated by the topic of his talk: ‘Advanced SEO practices that will blow your mind’. He said, modestly, that he wasn’t sure if he could live up to its promise. But then he went on to talk about Google’s movement to a machine learning model. He also detailed his experiments demonstrating it in action. The result? A whole new list of SEO priorities we all have to think about.


Lesson 4: Better content makes the world better

It sounds a little grandiose to say that, doesn’t it? I don’t think writing in any form is going to change the world. But what good writing, and good storytelling, can do is spur people to action, and that action can change the world.

Whether it’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s books with Starbucks, or just Ann Handley’s eloquent call for bigger, braver and bolder content, there is a consensus that we can make content that makes people act. And if we can do that, why not make them act in good ways? After all, as Handley said, “The biggest missed opportunity is playing it too safe.”


Lesson 5: The business benefit of spreadin’ the love

Fear is all around us. Apparently 44 per cent of people are afraid of others hearing them go to the toilet (I read that on the back of a bathroom door in the convention centre). One of the classic fears of companies dipping their toes in the murky waters of social media is getting a public bullocking from a dissatisfied customer.

But Jay Baer’s presentation (he’s got a new book coming too, like everyone else) gave some great insights into the tangible business benefits of hugging your haters. And rather than seeing social media critics as crazy, gibbering fools, he says you should see them as “the unelected representatives of your dissatisfied customers”. They are going out of their way to help you with your business.

Just as importantly, he said, customer feedback is a petri dish for content marketing. It’s where great ideas flourish.


There was so much more that I don’t have the space to write about it now. But Drew Davis’s insights on Google Trends as a tool was inspirational. Lee Odden’s advice on optimising content through SEO and social media was brilliant. The insights on using content to build small businesses from Michael Stelzner (from Social Media Examiner), Brian Clark (from Rainmaker.FM) and Joe Pulizzi were all inspiring.

Pulizzi and the gang at the Content Marketing Institute got some schtick in the local trade press recently following the announcement to stop Content Marketing World Sydney. The suggestion was maybe content marketing was losing its shine. But the insights, knowledge and lessons here shows that isn’t the case at all.

However, if you want to learn this stuff now, it involves a trip to Cleveland. Which is a nice town.

I might go out now and see some of it.

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