content marketing world 2019 takeaways

Content Marketing World 2019 Recap: 9 Things I Learned at This Year’s Conference

What a whirlwind Content Marketing World 2019 was! This was my first official marketing conference that I’ve gone to solely as an attendee, and I’m glad my inaugural convention was the mother of all content marketing events.

And I’m here to report…I’m tired. But, in that really, really good way. Know what I mean?

I attended sessions for two days straight, listened to a handful of big keynote speeches and took to the convention floor to meet other marketers and vendors in the industry. Now that I’m back home and have had time to gather my thoughts, I wanted to touch on a few big-picture lessons that I learned in Cleveland this year.

1. There’s a way to document your brand voice effectively. Honest!

To quote Brandpoint alum Nels Gilbertson-Urtel, when describing the term content audit, he pictures “a tie-dyed, six-sided Rubik’s Cube that you have to solve in the dark.” Aka, something impossibly complicated.

That’s kind of how I feel when asked to picture a defined brand voice.

However, Erika Heald has opened my eyes. In her session, “How to Define and Document Your Brand Voice,” she provided concrete examples of something I’ve previously found all too nebulous.

Some of her suggestions:

  • Use a standardized template for your content audit. The example she showed had drop-down fields for items such as business objective per piece, stage in the funnel it speaks to and the persona(s) it aims to reach. The number of phones that flew out to take a picture of this slide was wild!
  • Have a solid process for defining brand voice characteristics. After you brainstorm 3-5 words that define your brand’s personality, create a chart that describes what each means to your company, as well as do’s and don’ts to follow.
  • Always evolve! Once a month, re-evaluate your voice. Does it need updating? Have you had some common edits or comments from your audience or your C-suite? Go through and refresh as you see fit, then redistribute your document and curate fresh examples of your brand publishing something, well… on brand!

erika heald at content marketing world

2. The topic of sales and marketing alignment can be exciting

When you think about discussions surrounding sales enablement content, you don’t necessarily picture a laugh-a-minute conversation, but that’s what Pam Didner delivered in her Thursday morning session.

Pam injected a ton of humor into her 45 minutes, and it was easy to tell she really knows her stuff. She taught us to think of our sales team as its own persona, creating content that falls into their sales journey and eventually, aligning that with content needed throughout the customer-centric path.

The secret? Always communicate. Talk to your sales team, interview them, follow up to see how the content you created for them worked. It’s a never-ending partnership, where marketing is there to activate successful sales.

Pam Didner at Content Marketing World


TIP: Create content literally FOR your sales team, explaining your marketing process or aggregating content you’ve published recently. While a simple end-of-the-week email would be just fine, you can get creative (if you have the capacity)! Ann Handley spoke of industrial cleaning equipment company Tennant’s marketing team creating a podcast for their sales reps.

3. Start seeing marketing everywhere

Speaking of Ann Handley…

Her session was NOT to be missed.

In her speech, Ann taught us how we should look at everything around us in the scope of marketing to give us inspiration on how to build trust in a natural way.

For example, Ann wanted to handfeed a wild bunny in her yard and wasn’t having much success. So, she created a customer journey for Bun. She experimented with different tactics, she met the bunny where it was, she took her time, she built trust, and, at the end of her session, she revealed that she converted Bun into an (eating) customer.

No, we don’t need to be THAT literal with this takeaway, but I did leave remembering that I need to be more aware of how I’m marketed to. How are companies building trust with ME and what drives me to convert and have affinity with a brand?

I plan to be more proactive in taking note of these observations — if I click a clothing ad on Instagram or complete checkout on a skincare’s online site, why? What pushed me to hop along down my own customer journey and how can I apply that to my work?

[Read More: How to Market Your Business While Attending an Event or Trade Show (Free Printable Checklist)]

4. What “be authentic” looks like from a marketing lens

“Be authentic.”

We hear this a lot as marketers.

But a lot of times, the topic ends there. It’s turned into a buzzword-y little phrase that has lost some of its meaning. “Be authentic!!” But, how?

  • “Don’t strive for flawless, focus on being human and connecting with the audience.” Sean Patrick Keen and Rajul Shah gave an exciting Lunch & Learn session about webinars on Wednesday. They defined authenticity in this situation as leading a real conversation and not being afraid to flub a few words as long as you feel passionate about the connections you’re making.
  • “Write to one person.” When creating email copy, don’t write to a mailing list of hundreds of unknowns. Instead, Liz Willits shared that she picks one person to draft the message to. When you’re thinking of a friend, your mother or an old roommate, your words come out more naturally and the content itself becomes more authentic.
  • “Get over your damn self.” LinkedIn influencer Michaela Alexis gave us eight tips on how to build your own personal brand. Not surprisingly, being true to yourself was a focus of many of the bullet points. Being authentic in this context means embracing what makes you different and not being afraid to be vulnerable, because that’s what people are drawn to and what sets you apart from the rest.

5. Saying hi is only scary for a few seconds

When attending CMWorld, half the fun is learning lots and lots in the breakout sessions, but the rest of the fun is being surrounded by thousands of other marketers who are just as excited as you are to be there.

Content Marketing World 2019 showroom floor

I learned: don’t waste this opportunity. Go say hi to someone, even if you’re scared. I guarantee it’ll go just fine, and you’ll get over your nerves the second after you introduce yourself.

Ask a question in a session! Get the contact info from your seat buddy when you’re waiting for a session to begin. Say hi if you see another convention-goer out and about after the day is over.

You’ll regret it MORE if you get home and didn’t push yourself just a little bit.

6. It’s a great feeling when personal heroes live up to the hype

Let me paint you a picture quick. There’s a scrawny, dorky blonde girl in a small Midwestern college town. She’s 14, she has big dreams of making something of herself and she’s laying in bed with her headphones on, listening to her “Damaged” CD by Black Flag on full volume.

Zip forward a few decades, and now picture that same girl sitting in a convention center in Cleveland watching Henry Rollins give a speech with the same intensity, passion and abrasiveness that he had all those years ago.

Life’s weird sometimes.

Henry Rollins at Content Marketing World

Henry Rollins presenting at a content marketing conference may not be an obvious choice at first glance, but his themes made so much sense in the context of our jobs. “Never put anything out that’s mediocre,” “strive to tell compelling, information-rich stories” and “don’t forget that there are people on the other end of your content.”

You can’t tell me that after hearing how hard he works to put the customer first, you didn’t feel a tiny bit inspired to rise above the status quo.

7. Across ALL mediums, realness and honesty are the key

After Rollins’ impassioned monologue the day before, Content Marketing Institute General Manager Stephanie Stahl asked headliner Mindy Kaling if SHE applies the same moral code to her creative work.

Mindy, stunned, said no. She makes things because she thinks they’re funny and wants to make her friends laugh.

Takeaway being: don’t be something you’re not. Don’t try to force it, because the audience will be able to tell, and you’ll lose any inspiration to keep going.

So, that’s great if you’re a famous TV and movie star. What about us marketers?

Well, keynote speaker Scott Stratten framed it in a more applicable way when he warned of chasing vanity metrics. Sure, 14 million impressions on one post on Facebook looks AMAZING, but if it leads to 0 conversions, does that count as a win?

Be honest with yourself. Focus on what actually matters and don’t spend your time worrying about the rest.

8. Cleveland has some good food

After a long day of furious note-taking, running from room to room and swag-collecting, a content marketer works up an appetite. After hours, I was happy to find that Cleveland had plenty to offer!

Cleveland East 4th Street Area

Our team took a walk over to the East 4th Street neighborhood in town and found ourselves on the cutest pedestrian street, lined with live music, delicious-looking food and fun-looking bars.

If you’re coming back for CMWorld 2020, I highly recommend trying out the food at The Butcher and the Brewer and getting a drink at The Society Lounge while you wait for your reservation to be ready.

9. I have a lot of work ahead of me…and that’s great

Back at my desk on Monday morning, my to-do list looks daunting. (My email inbox, too…)

Attending Content Marketing World this year helped inspire me to see things in a different light, and I’ve come back to the office with fresh perspectives, new connections in the industry and lots of big ideas.

As Henry said, step up and bring fantastic stories to your audience or “die trying.”

I’m excited to dig in!

Did you go to CMWorld this year? I wanna know what you thought! Here are my colleague Lauren’s takeaways from the social media and creative sessions she attended.

If you want to see more takeaways from conventions we’ve gone to over the past few years, take a look at this post.

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