Content Marketing World 2017: Top Takeaways From Industry Leaders

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Joe Pulizzi

My biggest takeaway is from our annual content marketing research.  Those companies that say their successful at content marketing are truly focused on building audiences.  That’s so key to success. Sure, there are lots of areas that delivering content can help a company, but by building a loyal and trusted audience, we can create and deliver new revenue streams like we’ve never imagined.

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Gini Dietrich

Content Marketing World is in my top three conferences of the entire year. I love that the content is hand-selected and that you can have serendipitous meetings in the hallways. It's the perfect mix of content and networking. This year’s conference, like previous years, has been a highlight of my year. The biggest takeaway I have actually didn’t happen in a session—though I have plenty of notes for things I need to do from the sessions. No, the biggest takeaway came from a conversation during dinner. I learned that, no matter how hard you try or how much money your content marketing brings to an organization, there just are some executives who are so stubborn, you can’t affect change. While that may seem frustrating, it was freeing to me. It made me realize it’s not us, it’s them. So, if you continue to bang your head against the wall and can’t get anything done, it’s not you. It’s them. 


Bernie Borges

At CMW 2017, I was pleased to see more sessions on B2B marketing and sales alignment and on artificial intelligence. While marketing and sale alignment is a decades-old challenge, there's never been a better time to cross this chasm through a content-driven approach, aided by powerful marketing technologies. 

Marketers are just beginning to understand the power of AI. A lot of questions remain, including AI's impact on marketing professional's careers. Smart marketers are diving in and experimenting with AI-driven market to streamline aspects of their content marketing programs and learning about AI's true potential. 

The future is exciting with lines blurring between marketing and sales. Organizations who can deliver on the four elements of alignment, mindset, skillset and toolset will outperform their competitors. 


Michael Brenner

Content Marketing World 2017 focused on themes that have been common in recent years: build an audience then you can monetize it. We have to be more diverse, more creative, more visual. We heard from a bunch of brands who talked about how awesome they are. We heard about storytelling and personas and strategy and dashboards, oh and AI - that's a big trend to pay attention to.

What was most interesting to me is that here in 2017 the main focus of discussion in content marketing is still content marketing. In my own session, I talked about how the real opportunity with content marketing is to deliver a better customer experience. That in turn can deliver more value to the business overall. And the best way to do that is by activating employees. 

The bottom line is we have to start making content marketing about something bigger than content marketing, something bigger than marketing, something bigger than our business. I'm hoping we see more of this in 2018.


Matt Heinz

Unfortunately, my takeaway isn’t the most positive.  As enthusiasm for and adoption of content marketing expands across industries and organizations, we still aren’t tracking whether it’s really working – not just based on clicks and engagement but based on sales & revenue influence.  Getting to a level of precision on this isn’t easy, but I still don’t hear enough people asking the question.

Our own research recently showed that the vast majority of marketers aren’t measuring the revenue impact or influence of their content.  We have to bridge that gap better moving forward.


Aaron Dun

It was clear from this year's CMW that content marketing has reached a tipping point -- today’s buyers won’t tolerate veiled sales pitches in the form of content. The old reliable practices like the lead-gated white paper, just aren’t working the way they used to. This type of content has become a commodity that is undifferentiated, with no intrinsic value.  

The good news is that there are so many smart marketers trying exciting new things to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, to get beyond the lead gate and create engaging, valuable content experiences that really resonate with buyers. I am struck by the growing sophistication of the CMW audience and content marketing as a whole. It’s definitely an exciting time to be in this industry!


Ahava Leibtag

My top takeaway was that there’s a lot of options out there right now in terms of technology and companies that can help you with your marketing stack. What was also interesting is that content marketing seems to be becoming a part of a company’s overall marketing efforts and not their main focus, which I think is a good way to keep traditional marketing, brand journalism and advertising in the mix.


Robert Rose 

I’m even more excited by the people I meet at Content Marketing World.  I have two big takeaways. The first is how excited I am to see more strategies focusing on building an audience. This wasn’t just something that I felt at the event - but was proven out in our research. Now 90% of those that are most successful are focused on building an audience as the core part of their content marketing strategy. I’m certainly focused on that - and have launched a new framework at for those who are interested in learning more.  My second biggest takeaway is how many return people, from new companies that I meet.  In other words, these are people who are progressing through a content marketing career and are moving into new and exciting new opportunities at new companies.  I love seeing how people are taking the knowledge of content and building their career on it.  It’s exciting.


Doug Kessler

Aside from my undiminished awe for the entire Content Marketing World team, my top takeaway from CMWorld 2017 is “Build Your Own Audience”.

Joe Pulizzi made this the main point of his event introduction — as he and Robert Rose do in their new book, ‘Killing Marketing’ (I’m half way through it – it’s excellent).

Joe and Robert take it further, saying that marketing departments should be in the media business, turning marketing from a cost center to a profit center.

I’m going to take a while to let that percolate through to my lizard brain but it’s definitely a provocative idea with plenty of examples to support it.

The core premise rings true: protect your company from the at best inefficient (and at worst fraudulent) digital and social media advertising cartel. Build direct relationships with your audience and you earn the right to sell them stuff.

Margaret Magnarelli

Margaret Magnarelli

I was really inspired by GE CMO Linda Boff’s keynote. Sometimes we can get caught in “X is what our company sells so X is the topic of our content” kind of thinking. But her examples really showed how she’s pushed her teams to think more broadly than their products. And the fact that they’re being so daring at a giant legacy company like GE, which could just be sitting on its laurels or acting in silos, was really exciting to me. For example, she spoke about the superpowered meat smoker they had their engineers design for campus events; the "moon boots" they had an engineer and a sneaker head produce; the fact that they gave top photographers access to their turbines and big machines for Instagram.  I love that kind of creativity, and it just reminded me to get out of my own boxes.  Jay Acunzo’s presentation following it was a perfect segue for content creators, in that we need to not be samey samey with what everyone else is doing just because we’ve been told it works.


Julia McCoy

At CMWorld 2017, I really enjoyed Jay Baer's talk, How to Get Promoted by Creating Less Content, Not More. Jay made the point that the most persuasive content today is created by real people, not brands. The more content customers and fans you create, the less you have to create. He ended the talk by saying that "Content success is harder than ever, and it’s not going to get easier, especially when we’re fighting against robots." The robots WILL be here in just a few months. He said: "Add the secret sauce of humanity for us to... have jobs. Have a laser focus on relevance, trustworthiness, memorability...not volume." This was a very impactful conversation and has moved my personal content creation needle to re-map and re-focus on creating content that will truly make a difference in my industry and for my audience. I'm inspired and will be starting a new video series and focusing on creating the most real, impactful content I can in my blog and podcast, as well as in the writing we do for our clients at Express Writers.


Andy Crestodina

Jay Acunzo made a powerful point. We should be focused on our audience, not our industry. Yes, we can follow best practices. Yes, we can do competitive analysis. Yes, we can do what the world says we should do. 

But there's another way. We can do something unique, unexpected and original.

My approach to content marketing is mostly about optimizing. I'm trying to get better results by improving what I've got. Incremental improvements. And it works. But Jay reminded me to add chaos to the system. Stop looking at the data. Ignore the past. There may be a radical departure that would make a bigger impact in the lives of my audience. I don't know what it is, but I'm looking and I'm ready to discover it. Thank you, Jay.


John Paul Aguiar

My takeaway from everything I have read and watched from CM World 2017 is bring the personal and bring the quality.

Content that works best going forward is more personal content, content with a story, content that brings people in and talks about more than just your services or products.

Also, quality content has always been king, but it seems to be even more important today. Which makes sense right, with so much content being put out, if you want to stand out and grab people attention you have to bring something different.

You have to be VERY helpful and approachable and informative.

If you can package that content into small, visually attractive packages that is even smarter.


Allen Gannett

Content marketing is maturing to become, simply, "marketing." As what we do becomes less of a niche, and more of a standard, there is both risk and opportunity for marketers. People who grew their careers as content marketers will have the opportunity to rise into corporate leadership. In those roles, they will be able to use audience-driven strategies to build great businesses. On the other side, those who don't rise may see consolidation as content marketing stops being split out as a separate function/budget/program.

Either way, times are a changin'!


Andrea Fryrear

This was my third consecutive year at Content Marketing World, and I'm starting to feel like the takeaway is similar from year to year. But that's not a bad thing -- quite the opposite. 

See, content marketers as a group are clever, creative professionals, but we have to operate in the cruel, constrained world of Business. We have brilliant ideas, but the day-to-day grind of getting stuff done wears them down into average ideas. If content marketers are batteries, we just run out of charge as time goes on. 

So every year we make a pilgrimage to Cleveland and get plugged in. 

This year nobody recharged quite like Jay Acunzo, whose opening day keynote put mediocrity on notice that it's no longer acceptable (I'm not sure how you burn mediocrity in effigy, but if you could then I would have been first in line with a torch). Then you go from that rousing address to hear people like Ann Handley and Andrew Davis showing you -- really showing you, because they do it themselves -- how to put excellence into practice in writing and video, respectively. It's just so energizing. 

For me CMWorld is like a giant battery, and content professionals go there replenish ourselves. We get reminded that content matters, our creativity matters, and fighting the good fight on behalf of our audiences matters. We leave Cleveland ready to go back to Business and do our best work.   

And if I keep getting that same takeaway every single year, just try and keep me away. 


Robert Murray

My biggest takeaway is that even though we're inundated with content, there are still uninhabited spaces to explore. There will always be a place for great, original content. The problem is that it is so easy to copy other brands that have done well rather than create something ourselves. It's hard to ask ourselves the questions that lead to truly original content, but if we don't, we are all trying to occupy the same crowded piece of real estate, and no one can reach an audience that way.


Peter Loibl

What a week in Cleveland! And while I feel this was our strongest speaker lineup of all time, the topic that seemed to resonate more than others centered around marketers’ usage of video in their content mix, and more importantly marketers’ strategic approach to utilizing and maximizing this channel. Those using video as true storytelling instruments to engage with their audience (and potential customers) are ahead of the curve; those using video as an opportunity for ad clicks and pre-roll (frustrating) ad spots need to take what they learned from CMW back to their respective offices and change the way we collective use and enjoy online video moving forward. Create experiences, not CPL ad reach!

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Zontee Hou

I was struck by the consistent through-line at Content Marketing World that data without storytelling is meaningless. We have more data than ever, not only to reach more relevant audiences but to share with our industries. However, without context and strong story arcs, we underutilize the power of that information. 

Speakers including Adam Singer of Google, Margaret Magnarelli of Monster, and Ann Handley of MarketingProfs shared fantastic examples of how to find and tell more compelling stories. And it was sessions like theirs that inspire me for the future, when marketers hone the craft of working with data for communications. 


David MacLaren

My main take away from #CMWorld 2017 was inspired by Joe Pulizzi’s statement: “Content marketing is marketing that serves the audience”.  It’s such a simple statement, yet it reflects two themes that really stood out for me this year: the obsession with customer needs and the ability for AI to deliver relevant content when it’s truly needed.

Crafting content focusing on customer needs shows a true understanding of the challenges and questions asked at different stages of the customer journey.  It means that the company’s content is carefully crafted to deliver value in exchange for the customer’s time and attention. When content is created with this approach in mind, it becomes a highly valuable asset to an organization, similar to the core products or services that the company offers. This mindset, along with the introduction of AI and the right combination of interconnected technologies is what’s making content truly strategic.


Mark Masters

I am based in England and being across the Atlantic, I can still see the same same challenges and opportunities this side when it comes to defining a voice, standing for something and growing an audience.

We have all been looking to target the masses for generations. We live in a world of advice overload and look to find the shortest routes possible for success and sell to anybody and everybody.

Going forward it was clear that an overarching message to be recognised as providing value to others, will always beat stealing attention from someone else.

It is time to look at the audiences that we grow as an asset and not people to relentlessly broadcast to. The only thing that stands in front of many companies is to press the reset button and a change of attitude. The winners and proof is becoming ever more present, no matter what country you call home.


Carla Johnson

Tim Washer's talk on using improv techniques in content marketing was fabulous. He shows the beauty of being able to take the essence of another idea and relate it to the work we do as marketers. From focusing on how to support your partner to finding order in chaos and following the fear, Tim showed how we can go beyond changing how people talk and actually change how they think.


Brody Dorland

I had the pleasure of being on a panel that focused on the topic of how agencies should approach adding content marketing services to their service offerings. My fellow speakers included Paul Roetzer of PR 20/20 and Rebecca Geier of TREW Marketing, both agency owners. Then there was me, a former agency owner turned content marketing software provider. It was very interesting hearing Paul and Rebecca talk about today's challenges that agencies face with trying to sell, develop, staff for and execute ongoing content marketing programs for clients. 

Of all those challenges, the one that we really didn't have a solid answer for was the staffing component. In most cases, high-performing content marketing initiatives are derived out of deep subject matter expertise that packs in value, and are executed by passionate creators with domain knowledge in that specific industry. This equation is hard to come by on the agency side unless the agency has niched out in certain verticals/industries. So if high-performing content marketing initiatives are the goal, there are three options: 

  1. Agencies go niche and focus on comfortable domains

  2. Agencies find and manage long-term relationships with freelancers that have domain knowledge

  3. Companies (clients) bring the creative in-house.

I've seen both sides of this challenge and, from my perspective, I see the trend leaning towards companies making the commitment and taking full ownership of their content marketing programs. But this doesn't mean that agencies won't be part of the mix. There's still value in strategic offerings, execution of multi-media assets, distribution/promotion services and performance reporting services. 

Bottom line, creating great content consistently is hard. There's no silver bullet or easy button for any of us. We must accept that, keep trying, and do the best we can.


Pamela Muldoon 

I absolutely loved Jay Acunzo'a keynote "How Brilliant Marketers Find and Follow What Makes Their Stories Different in a World Full of Average Content". He broke down how our intuition is a critical part of content ideation, and though explaining why to do something based on intuition is challenging, having a set of great questions to get us to better ideas is key. Six great questions to ask to take your content from intention to possibilities:

  • What is your aspirational anchor?

  • Why are you the person/team to do it?

  • What is your first-principle insight?

  • Who are your true belivers?

  • What are your constraints?

  • How can you expand?

This is a great baseline to get your content from average to amazing. 


Pam Didner

"Stories are right under your nose." @lindoboff @GE. The writing is on the wall, but the ink is not immediately available. You need to look for clues. 


Rebecca Lieb

Stratgey, strategy, strategy! THEN you can think about tactics.

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Stoney deGeyter

Artificial intelligence is coming to marketing and in a big way. Exactly what or when it will all happen is anyone's guess. Predictions vary wildly, even by those on the cutting edge of bringing it to us. 

We already see new tools popping up that utilize some (very crude) forms of AI. Like most tools, these are not likely to remove the human component completely, but it will cause some significant disruptions to the world we now know. 


Jonathan Kranz

The age of “innovation” is rapidly coming to a close. Real progress will be made by marketers who apply a discriminatory intelligence to their strategy, prioritizing content tactics that are not only deeply relevant to their audiences, but can be practically repeated and expanded by their organizations.


Douglas Burdett

My very favorite takeaway was from keynoter Jay Acunzo: 

"When we pay more attention to the customer than the industry, the customer pays more attention to us.” 

It’s an empathizer’s market out there – the more your customer senses that you understand them, the more successful you’ll be. Sadly, most companies are more focused on themselves and their competition than their customers. And that will never change.


Christoph Trappe

So many changes! So many issues that today's content marketer faces in a world that becomes more and more complex. Yes, you need a strategy. Yes, you need to align your content to it and always go for results. But also, don't overcomplicate things. Be unique. Stand out. Be useful. The best stories win.


Tim Hayden

As always, Content Marketing World proved to be a powerful resource for guidance on storytelling and overall content strategy. From curation to conversion and influencer identification to building addressable audiences, 2017 proved to be the year where speakers and attendees seemed to finally focus on sales being their primary objective, not just the performance of media.

Still, it would be nice to see more of the showcase vendors discussing integration and collaboration with each other, and I believe there is much more to look forward to in 2018 with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and audio/smart speakers each playing a larger role in the content marketing mix.


Patricia Travaline

Marketers need to start thinking about our audiences differently. We've known for a while now that we don't need to depend on third party media companies to reach audiences. Our owned media is increasingly competing directly with traditional media providers, and that's why we're seeing the start of a convergence between product- or service-driven brands and media companies. But the change that we've only just begun to see is in how we value that audience. The traditional point of view for marketers is that the value of an audience is at the point of sale, but with content marketing, the audience is so much more: They amplify our message, they deliver meaningful data to us, they help us refine our targeting. All these things have value. For content marketers to sell our value internally, we need to sell the value of the audiences we're building.


Stephanie Stahl

My top takeaway from #CMWorld was the need for marketers to remember to include human elements in their content. It seems obvious, but often gets forgotten. As Linda Boff, CMO for GE noted, “We are always looking to be exceedingly human and relatable.” I think that’s as critical for a 125-year old industrial company as it is for a modern start-up. Building a trusted, loyal and even obsessed audience is what can give any brand a competitive advantage. Being human and evoking emotions will go a long way towards igniting that obsession. That message was loud and clear at CMWorld 2017!


Anna Hrach

My top takeaway from Content Marketing World 2017 isn't a new concept, but it was heard loud and clear across several sessions: create the content your audiences want. This was heard in Jay Acunzo's advice to pay more attention to the customer than the industry, Jay Baer's approach to making more audience-relevant content with his 5x5x5 framework, Ahava Leibtag's advice on how to create instant connections with customers through content, and so many, many more. It was refreshing to hear multiple speakers and experts talk about what matters most: our audiences.


Marcia Johnston

As part of the Content Marketing Institute’s editorial team, I’ve been attending CMWorld for several years now. I’m always listening for topics I’d like to write about for the CMI blog. This year’s conference gave me lots of excellent fodder. If I had to pick one topic that stands out as a personal favorite, it’s the often overlooked value of content that helps customers and prospects near or at the bottom of the marketing funnel. By taking care of the information needs of people who are on the verge of purchasing from you – or have already purchased from you – you create happy customers who help you bring in new customers. Everybody wins. For the post I wrote about one CMWorld speaker’s talk on this topic, see “How to Use How-To Content to Create and Retain Loyal Customers.“


Nirav Dave

If I have to pick one takeaway - it would be making use of the latest content types such as infographic and explainer videos in a way that aligns with the brand and captures the readers’ interest.

One needs to move over from static half researched content ideas and focus more on creating data-enriched long-form content that resonates with readers, as this is the only way to improve engagement and boost ROI.

The focal point of a good content marketing strategy revolves around telling stories in a compelling way and publishing content consistently as this will aid in continually building a relationship with readers, helping you achieve success in the long run.


Nels Gilbertson-Urtel

Our approach to truly understanding our audience is flawed. This is a concept that resounded in several sessions I attended. But Ardath Albee most poignantly summed it up into a amazing question: “Do you see your buyers as they see themselves?”

So often, we conflate a buyer persona and a target market, even though they’re very different. A target market is a list of demographics shared by a high-value audience. But a buyer persona is so much more powerful.

A good buyer persona outlines what’s important to your high value audience, what their decision-making process is like and, most importantly, what questions they need answered before moving onto the next stage in the buyer’s journey.

This sentiment was reinforced in several sessions, including Jonathan Kranz’s talk “feeding many streams with small teams.” He talked about how, when we focus efforts on creating content based on buyer behavior instead of demographics, we can hone in on what’s really important to our customers and create content that matters to them.


Diane Trim

I think the most important takeaway was that great content is about real humans communicating to real humans about things humans care about. As content marketers and writers, we sometimes lose sight of the audience in the shuffle to analyze data and engineer content strategy. Sure, the content marketing industry is getting crowded, so it's important to stand out. Standing out comes down to the same thing it's always come down to: there are no new stories; just new angles. Great stories, well told, appeal to audiences today, tomorrow and beyond.


Donna Moritz

This was my first time speaking (and attending) at Content Marketing World and it was totally worth the long haul over the Pacific.  I had many takeaways but one of the biggest ones was about storytelling. Linda Boff (GE) said that "Stories are under our nose" in her keynote - and that we need to tell them in a way that is human and relatable. I loved hearing how her team does this through different lenses, whether it be through the lens of a drone or the lens of their employees. I loved her observation that "we can't ask an employee to produce a wind turbine in the morning and be an actor in the afternoon.  They are just being themselves".  
Jay Acunzo also highlighted this when he talked about the team at Merriam Webster and their pivot to just show the world how fun and relevant they really are... skyrocketing their social media engagement. It was a powerful reminder that storytelling is not hard. We just have to trust that our stories are there to tell and find the best way to tell them. And we should be like the team at Merriam Webster....and be "just who we are."


Mike Belsito

I expect Content Marketing World to be the place any marketer and entrepreneur should be in order to get a leg up on how to use content to grow your business.  In my experience, I've often learned that in order to be the best... you should learn from the best.  And the best in the world of content marketing usually converge each year in Cleveland at Content Marketing World.  So from my perspective, there's no better place for marketers to be.


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David Reimherr

My top take-away from CM World 2017 was the extra attention paid towards high quality content and building your audience.  It isn't the first time we have heard this, but there was an additional emphasis paid towards this point.  And I think the reason for this is that the digital space is getting more crowded than ever and you must do your best to stand out and you can only do this by being extremely helpful.  Also, the quality of content being enhanced by video and interactive elements was also touched on quite a bit and these additions can greatly help you stand out from the crowd. 

Another big pointer that I took away was the attention needed on up-front planning.  Many of us are guilty of wanting to jump in and go, but a huge majority of your time needs to be dedicated to up-front strategy and planning before you ever create your first post or video.  With upper-level management calling for more concrete ROI on all of our marketing efforts, it is paramount to have all of your strategy, tactics and goals outlined very clearly from the outset. 



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