41 Experts Share Their Top Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2018

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We had a wonderful time attending Content Marketing World this year. This conference is seriously amazing. Not only is it a good time put on by good people, but you won't find a better line-up of speakers anywhere in the world, and for sure won't find a group of people more knowledgeable about content marketing.

We are excited to share the top takeaways from some amazing marketing experts... 


Stephanie Stahl

General Manager, CMI

Trust and authenticity matter more than ever. Clearly our industry is growing and maturing. Content marketing is a proven and sustainable practice. But brands are always trying to improve – to create better content, to rise above the noise. Let’s face it – there’s no shortage of content! So what stood out this year in the many, many great presentations throughout the week was the need for content marketers to build and maintain trust among their audiences -- by being authentic – as a way to stand out. As Kathleen Diamantakis of The New York Times’ T Brand Studio noted, content is one of the reasons we’re in an epidemic of meaningless. Fortunately, content also can be the solution. “If we can achieve meaning, we can achieve vitality, well-being, life satisfaction,” Kathleen said. I think that really resonated with the audience.



Joe Pulizzi

Content Marketing Institute

So many amazing takeaways from this year's CMWorld, but one thing that I kept coming back to was belief. Simply put, most marketers don't believe that they can create the industry's leading information source for their target audience. This means we are not setting our goals high enough. This may be just a matter of time, but content marketers need to understand they have everything at their disposal to become the media company for their industry, and in turn, grow company revenues. But if you don't believe you can do it, it will never happen.



Jay Acunzo

Owner, Unthinkable Media

Content marketing has long been a known approach in the broader marketing landscape, but this event spoke to just how tired we've become of the basics. There were countless talks about bucking the trend, breaking the mold, and other metaphors. (There was even a talk by Doug Kessler about metaphors!) The industry is slowly realizing that "best practices" are table stakes now. They're what works on average, but we don't aspire to be average. They're what works in general, but we don't operate in a generality. There's a renewed sense of trying to tailor our thinking to our unique situations, not merely "the other guy" or the latest trend. The bottom line: When the wave crashes and the tide goes back out, those who will be left are those who dug into the fundamentals. Whoever was merely riding a wave will be taken out to sea. I say, good riddance.



Michael Brenner

CEO, Marketing Insider Group

Content Marketing World 2018 focused on themes that have been common in recent years: build an audience so you can monetize it. We have to be more diverse, more creative, more visual. We heard from a bunch of brands who ironically talked about how awesome they are. We heard about storytelling and personas and strategy and dashboards. And I'm putting some of my own weight behind the promise of AI in content marketing.

But look under the covers and content marketing is being challenged still in most companies. In my own session, I talked about how we need to show ROI but more importantly we have to re-define the role of marketing as something more strategic to the business.

We have to start making content marketing about something bigger than content marketing, something bigger than marketing, and bigger than "the brand." Content Marketing is really just about people using empathy to help other people and that in turn delivers better business results.



Andrew Davis

Best Selling Author & Keynote Speaker, Andrew M. Davis Inc.



Mark Masters

Founder, The ID Group

Let me start off by saying that the main thing I took is that nothing has changed or groundbreaking to reveal within content marketing. However, the principals now sit within the context of the world that we all part of today. With trust at it’s lowest point (as Edelman told us all in January), it provides resonance for businesses to stand for something that holds the truth. With validation, comes trust.

If I had to surmise the 2018 event, quickly, it was about how your business: creates meaning, builds familiarity, is believable, becomes dependable.

Where we all stand today there is an epidemic of purposeless out there. People and businesses are filling spaces with no meaning and no message. There is pressure on us all because of mobile and connectivity that we have to create at a relentless pace or throw money at a wall.

It is time to be part of the change and create a message that is yours and you have the ability to build the right people around it.

It is better to sell via association rather than coercion. The more personal your message and what your business believes in where someone else is in the centre, the greater the opportunity for familiarity.

Ann Handley, summed this approach up brilliantly in her Sunday email (on 9th September), “Fill your room with the events, the colleagues, the community you need to help inspire your best work.”



Ann Handley

Head of Content, Marketing Profs



Andy Crestodina

Co-Founder, Orbit Media

Robert Rose sent shivers down my spine when he showed the "Smile Chart." It suggests that marketers who create things for their clients, without doing strategy or measurement, will soon be fired…

The idea goes like this: there will always be another company that will create content cheaper than you. If you aren't also guiding them on what actions to take (strategy) and showing the impact of the work (measurement) you are doing the lowest value part of the job, for which the client will invest the fewest dollars.

Move up to the big brain work on the sides and say away from the valley in the middle!



Jon Burkhart

Beernote Creator, Jon Burkhart Inc.



Lee Odden

CEO & Co-Founder, TopRank Marketing

Remember the “Marketing” in Content Marketing. Year after year, the CMI and MarketingProfs study reports that marketers are challenged to create a variety of engaging content consistently. As a result, advice about creating more meaningful, engaging, relevant, useful, experiential and especially customer-centric content could be found in numerous sessions at this year’s CMWorld. But what about the marketing of that content?

My workshop on content promotion was full and Heidi Cohen’s session on blog content promotion was standing room only. For good reason: What good is great content if it doesn’t reach your intended audience? A big takeaway from this year’s CMWorld is that many marketers have dropped the ball on content promotion and are ready get back on track by strategically planning content promotion at the same time as creation. Content that is optimized, socialized, publicized, advertised, and Influencer activated gives brands a huge advantage in reaching, engaging and persuading their customers. When brands create and promote amazing content, everybody wins.



Allen Gannett

CEO, Track Maven



Ian Cleary

Founder, RazorSocial



Joe Lazauskas

Editor-in-Chief, Contently



Doug Kessler

Creative Director, Velocity Partners

Well, our passionate community of content marketing evangelists have kind of dissolved into the mainstream of marketing.

It feels like we won! Most marketers understand that giving value to prospects before asking for things from them is a good idea.

Because of that, doing content marketing credibly is no longer a competitive advantage. You have to do it better than competitors.

What ‘better’ looked like at this year’s event was a hugely diverse mix of strategies, tactics and creative.

I was impressed by the way—even as our discipline becomes industrialized—innovation is happening on so many fronts at once.

And how the spirit of experimentation is starting to separate the innovators from the followers.

I came away being even more a believer in ‘home run’ content as a budget multiplier.

Andrew Davis’s keynote on Curiosity showed a great path to this.

Combined this kind of 10x, big idea pieces with the kind of optimization mindset that Andy Crestodina is so great at and you can’t fail.



Douglas Burdett

Principal, Artillery Marketing



Julia McCoy

CEO, Express Writers

"Two of my favorite takeaways from CMWorld '18: first, what Robert Rose said to open the first day of sessions was outstanding. He said trust is Player 2 in today's marketing, and he's 100% right. More and more people are looking for that trustworthy brand or marketer in the middle of all of the noise. My second favorite takeaway would have to be what Joe Pulizzi, my all-time favorite content marketer, shared in his keynote: 'Marketing success only takes three things. Record, Repeat, Remove. Marketing fails when our recorded goals aren't big enough; when there is not enough repetition; and when we do not clear the garbage that stops us from achieving our goals.' Joe shared that the minimum time was 9 months, average 18 months or longer, of implementing content to see success. These were some major takeaways that I've been sharing on Twitter, LinkedIn, and internally with my staff post-CMWorld 2018."



Bernie Borges

Co-Founder, Vengreso



Adele Revella

CEO, Buyer Persona Institute

Want to REALLY Understand Your Buyer Personas? Ask them how they make decisions

I squeezed myself into a crowded session at the Content Marketing World conference and introduced myself to the person seated on my left, who turned out to be a marketer at Sherwin Williams. When Ellen, the woman to my right, said she was getting ready to paint her apartment, I was astonished at our good luck. Here’s your buyer, Sherwin Williams!

Before you read any further, think about what you would say in this situation. If someone told you she was about to paint her apartment, what’s your question? I’ve posed this as a hypothetical scenario to countless marketers, and everyone I’ve asked has responded “What color will you paint your apartment?” Although this is fine for polite conversation, it’s a huge missed opportunity when you want insight into your buyer persona.

Imagine how much more we could learn if we asked “How did you decide what color to paint your apartment?” So I quickly asked Ellen if I could record her response to my question. She agreed when I promised not to reveal her last name, lest her boyfriend happen onto this short video.

If you had only one minute to ask your buyer a question about his or her persona, what would you ask?



Robert Murray

President, Skyword

Brands are no longer ignoring storytelling. Every piece of content is, at its heart, telling a story, but what’s interesting is that companies still lack the knowledge of how to initiate this. Listening to attendee questions after various sessions showed me that while most are on the right track to transforming from ad-centric to story-centric, they don’t have a clear path in mind when it comes to implementation or strategy.

What I noticed during CMWorld was how relevant and timely philanthropic storytelling is. As customers are connecting to brands in a way they never have before thanks to social media, there is more and more pressure on organizations to take a stance on societal issues. If done properly, brands can actually take advantage of this—just look at what Nike’s doing and how much buzz they generated during the show. Tying brand loyalty and corporate social responsibility into content marketing efforts can be the first step for companies breaking out of their advertising shell.



Matt Heinz

Founder, Heinz Marketing

I keep thinking about Drew Davis’s presentation on the Curiosity Curve. What are we doing to keep our audience’s attention? How are we creating value through drama, through better storytelling, even through better content editing?

This is a critical skill for all marketers but also for sales professionals. Your prospects won’t care about your story until you care about theirs. Progression of storytelling can absolutely manufacture and sustain curiosity until the point that the prospect commits to change. That’s when the magic happens.



Ahava Leibtag

Founder & President, Aha Media Group

CMW 2018, was as usual, a stellar event. I see content marketers still struggling with creating quality content, measuring their successes and dealing with governance and workflow issues. A major focus seemed to be on really thinking through distribution and how that affects the entire content strategy. I see a movement away from talking about knowing your audience—seems that marketers really understand that concept now. But proving to executives that these are the people to target and how to measure the effectiveness of that targeting is still a major challenge.

In terms of governance and workflow, I think this challenge relates back to internal politics and the way marketing, PR and communications departments are structured. Breaking down those siloes and preventing infighting seems to capture many marketers’ energies, not freeing them to be creative and try new things. So we still have a lot of work to do in that area. But people are aware of the challenges much more than they seemed to be—they are asking really excellent questions and trying to find frameworks to solve these issues.



Andrea Fryrear

President & Lead Trainer, The Agile Marketer

Successful content marketing isn't about doing it all. It's about finding the niche that's meaningful to the intersection of your brand and your audience and owning that space. That means being hyper-focused and getting comfortable saying "No" to things that aren't in alignment with your primary goal.



Pam Didner

Speaker, Consultant, and Author of Global Content, Pam Didner Inc.

I love Ann Handley sharing the story of how Warren Buffet writes his annual letters to his investors. He writes with his sister, Doris, in mind. His sister is smart, but does not necessarily understands all the financial and investment jargon. He writes in a way that his sister can understand. He also adds a personal touch with humor and stories so that the letter is not boring to read. Most brands have multiple buyers' personas and it may be challenging to create content with only one persona in mind. However, it's important to clearly articulate who we are creating content for and to not be afraid to humanize our own brands with personalized voice. #Findyourdoris



Peter Loibl

President & Chief Strategy Officer, Concured

CMW 2018 truly built upon the rapid momentum of Artificial Intelligence in the content marketing space. What was once looked upon skeptically with apprehension and fear, A.I. is elevating to a "must have" for marketers and is proving its worth by eliminating much of the day-to-day minutia that marketers struggle with (like time-consuming content audits and competitive analysis) and letting them get back to doing what they do well: being great content strategists and storytellers. The chatter around A.I. this year was truly exciting!



Viveka von Rosen

CVO, Vengreso



Margaret Magnarelli

VP of Marketing, Monster



Zontee Hou

Consultant & Speaker, Convince & Convert

While we're still technology- and algorithm-driven, CMW had powerful reminders of capturing the humanity in our work. Whether it's about creating less content that's more emotionally-driven, the need to employ more empathy in our work, or talking more like people and less like brands, it all came back to that central theme of customers first.



Pamela Muldoon

Revenue Marketing Coach, Pedowitz Group



Robert Rose

Chief Strategy Office, The Content Advisory



Jonathan Kranz

Founder, Kranz Communications

This year’s real theme was…reality itself. People GET the theory behind content marketing, they GET the idea of automation – but now they WANT practical insights rooted in on-the-ground experience. How do you make the most of products and/or services that may not be sexy – or even “interesting”? How do you turn technical features/functions into compelling stories? How can small teams create content with big impact? We have enough thought leadership to get us through the next 10 years; what we really need now is more people who can roll up their sleeves and EXECUTE.



Andrew Spoeth

Director, Digital Marketing, CA Technologies

The content marketing hype cycle is being looked with critical eyes. Is content marketing dead? Has it turned into a purely pay-to-play tactic? Even though it's no longer the latest buzzword, this field is as important as ever as its principles become ubiquitous and seep into other marketing functions.

There is also a lot of talk about format. How long should an article be? Do Instagram Stories work? Etc. (I agree that there is still a huge opportunity for long-form content.) Audio content is also being looked at more seriously by brands with the (re)emergence of podcasts as a hot medium.

Throughout these changes and the evolution of the craft, the fundamentals of creative storytelling will remain. Those that can tap into emotion, and differentiate themselves, will win with their audiences.



Scott Monty

Principal, Brain+Trust Partners

While we're still technology- and algorithm-driven, CMW had powerful reminders of capturing the humanity in our work. Whether it's about creating less content that's more emotionally-driven, the need to employ more empathy in our work, or talking more like people and less like brands, it all came back to that central theme of customers first.



Michael Becker

Digital Content Manager, Emarsys

One of the smartest guys I know, Jay Acunzo, is leading industry rhetoric (and will soon appear on Emarsys' Marketer + Machine podcast) around this idea of finding our own solutions to our own problems — instead of seeking best practices.

Best practices represent that which works best, on average. They lead to average results. Applying frameworks, processes, workflows, or ideas that work in general, across the industry, to our unique day-to-day challenges is not necessarily a recipe for success.

As Jay discussed, we have to start challenging ourselves to find our own answers to our distinct questions. His presentation "Break the Wheel: Stories and Ideas for Being Better than Best Practices" struck a chord with me because so much of what we do does seem to evolve from what's worked for others in the past. Read More...



Carla Johnson

Type A Communications

There were lots of great takeaways from Content Marketing World this year. I liked hearing more conversations about where things are going as we get more sophisticated. But one thing that marketers have always struggled with is how to get people to rally around and support projects. This is when a great hallway conversation stuck with me. I had a great talk with Tim Washer about how he got a engineering-driven company like Cisco to say “yes” to using comedy in their marketing. He had a great insight – remove resistance before you walk into a room.

We prep for meetings and think about how to counter the people who want to kill ideas once we give our pitch. But Tim pointed out that the best way to handle this is to take care of resistance before we’re that far down the road. And we do that by building relationships with the people who have the power and authority to support out work. That takes time and up-front thinking, because it’s not about brown-nosing anyone. It’s about building a real, person-to-person relationship.

There was lots of great content across all stages, but I found that this year’s top takeaway came from behind the scenes.



Deanna Goldasich

Founder, Well Planned Web



David MacLaren

Digital Content Pioneer, Media Valet

The time to leverage AI is now.

In content marketing, AI brings the promise of efficiency, ultimate relevance and personalization - a best practice most marketers strive to achieve. However, there’s still a huge gap between the possibilities of AI and the typical marketer’s skill and ability to implement it. The time to experiment with AI is now – in small, measurable and meaningful ways. A great start is to try the many existing AI-driven apps and plug-ins for content ideation, SEO, copy and link optimization, content management, text and predictive analytics. Individuals that can get a head start on mastering AI will develop opportunities to advance their content strategies, their companies and their careers.



Patricia Travaline

CMO, Skyword

What really struck me from this year’s show was Andrew Davis’ keynote on earning attention. In our on-demand world where our audience says they never have enough time, yet they can binge watch Stranger Things on Netflix all weekend, it’s clear that marketers need to do a better job of earning their attention. The ingredient? A curiosity gap—the emotional anxiety we feel when there is a gap between what we know and what we WANT to know. And to build that gap you need create tension over time with a payoff that rewards your audience at the end. I couldn't agree more.



Anna Hrach

Content Strategist, Convince & Convert

One of the key things I keep coming back to from Content Marketing World 2018 is how to better capture and hold the attention of our audiences, but in real and authentic ways. This absolutely stuck with me from both Jay Baer's session on Talk Triggers, where he talked about giving people something genuine to talk about when it comes to your business, plus Drew Davis' talk on creating curiosity gaps. I think both of them hit on some great points about how to not just differentiate ourselves to differentiate ourselves, but how to differentiate ourselves in a way we can really own and make an impact with those we're trying to speak to.



Buddy Scalera

Content Strategist, Visual Storytelling, LLC

Content marketing has gotten more serious about content that converts. We're seeing much more business-focused content, not just content that entertains an audience. They're not just looking at number of impressions, likes, or irrelevant engagements. We see marketers talking about effective content that drives conversions, and how those conversions relate to the business strategy.


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Stephan Spencer

Founder, Science of SEO

This marks the 4th Content Marketing World for me, and they keep getting better! My top takeaway was how elegantly “ego bait” can be executed to get high-value links for SEO. Ego bait is where you work some element of flattery into your content that targets one or multiple influencers. If done well, you don’t even have to hint to them that they should link to your content. The specific example I walked away with is Andy Crestodina’s “2017 Blogging Survey” example that he shared during his talk. The survey findings are sprinkled with “Expert Insights” throughout, done as insets with headshots and multiple paragraphs dedicated to each targeted influencer. What an impressive way to showcase the thought leader/influencer. I’ve shown that example already several times in client meetings and speaking gigs. I intend to drill deeper into this topic with Andy — namely, tapping into the intrinsic motivations behind behaviors like linking and sharing —when I have him on my Marketing Speak podcast later this year.



David Reimherr

Founder & CEO, Magnificent Marketing

There were a ton of amazing things I heard and learned this year and at the top of the list would be these two. Andrew Davis' advice on creating a curiosity gap where you get people wanting to see or read the rest of the story or get the answer they are looking for was huge. This could apply to so many various types of content. Also Ann Handley finally gave me an answer I have longed for which was my question of should we push the company more or the people more in relation to sending out content and building your brand. She suggests that we go strongly towards personal branding and the company brand will benefit by doing so. Also, she really drove home the fact to be yourself, be authentic, and have fun while doing so! This can not be overstated. Be yourself, push the envelope and make some mistakes!