Content Jam 2016: Five questions content marketers must answer—better
Last week’s Content Jam in Chicago was the most focused, most vital and most entertaining yet. It was also the most challenging.
Not challenging as in difficult. Challenging as in, I walked out feeling challenged to do my job better.
One session after another drove home the idea that, no matter how well we content marketers may be building our brands, connecting with our audiences and delivering our clients’ ROI, there are still so many ways to improve.
New depths to explore. New victories to aspire to. New boundaries to push—and push through.
To challenge myself to be a better content marketer, I’ve resolved to ask myself these questions—and answer them better—between now and Content Jam 2017. If you consider yourself a content marketer, maybe you’ll be inspired to answer them, too.
1. IS OUR CONTENT WORTHY OF BEING ITS OWN BRAND?
“Change the way you think about content by treating content like a product,” said Andrew Davis in his opening keynote. A strong content brand, he said, builds a relationship with your audience before they need you—and can even help generate that need.
“When people fall in love with your content, they will buy your stuff.”
As proof, he pointed to Bart van Olphen’s “Fish Tales” Instagram site—which turned a content brand into a multi-million dollar packaged foods brand—and Tractor’s Supply Company’s Chicken Whisperer series. Both are great examples of content that makes an appointment with a narrow niche audience.
“What time in your audience’s life can you own?” he asked. Can we create content so vital people look forward to it, purely for its own sake?
2. IS OUR CONTENT BASED ON A VISION FOR SOMETHING WORTH SUBSCRIBING TO?
“Content marketing is not just supercharged campaign marketing,” he said. “What if, instead of looking at content as an alternative form of marketing, we approach it as a different form of business activity?”
From mega-brands like Red Bull (Red Bull Media House) and Adobe (CMO.com) to specialized B2B companies like Schneider Electric (Energy University), marketers have raised the value of content to a strategic function in its own right. They win opt-in subscribers who are more likely to be long-term customers and brand evangelists.
“Create a vision for building something worth subscribing to,” Rose urged, “Then work backwards to create assets that support that vision.”
3. DO OUR B2B PERSONAS REFLECT ACTUAL CUSTOMER QUESTIONS?
We all create personas. But Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, insisted most of us don’t go deeply enough into our customers’ on-the-job concerns—meaning we can’t create content that answers their actual questions.
“’Inefficiency’ is not a pain point,” she said.
She urged us to discover the questions our composite customer actually asks: Why should I care? What can I do now that I couldn’t do before? How do I convince my boss? What kind of pushback will I get? These questions—and your answers—can then form the infrastructure for a storyline in which our customer is the hero.
But how do we deepen our personas? Ardath suggested starting with a LinkedIn advanced search. “If you can find one of those ‘day in the life’ group conversations with people in a highly specialized field, that’s a gold mine.”
4. IS OUR CONTENT THE BEST ANSWER?
Andy Crestodina—co-founder of Orbit Media, which organizes Content Jam—gave a lightning-fast overview of analytics, optimization, authority and search ranking strategy that, frankly, left me feeling like I was unworthy of being called a content marketer.
(Full disclosure: I’ve been reading Andy’s blog for years, met with him at his office, and have heard him speak at least five times. He’s easily one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and he explains his tactics in clear, painstaking detail. Regardless, I’ve found putting those tactics into practice to be monumentally difficult, leading to feelings of inadequacy approaching a full-fledged psychosis. Anyway …)
All that search stuff, if you do it right, leads people to our content that answers their questions. It’s up to us to make sure that content is the best answer on the web.
But one way to make sure we have the best answer is to invent the question in the first place. Orbit’s original research into questions no one else was asking—about evolving blogger methodology, for example, or footer design best practices—rank among their best-performing posts.
Speaking of best practices ….
5. DO WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO TRUST OUR INTUITION OVER “BEST PRACTICES?”
“Best practices are a problem,” said Jay Acunzo, VP of marketing and support at NextView and host of the “Unthinkable” podcast. “Good marketers follow best practices. Great marketers create their own practices.”
Acunzo is a venture capitalist—ultimately, he’s about results. So when he urged us to make the leap from what the data says has worked to what our intuition says might work, it wasn’t because he champions creativity for its own sake.
It’s because “You can’t build something big by doing it the same way as everyone else.”
He shared three examples of “unthinkable” content strategies delivering results that would have been impossible with conventional thinking:
- The hilariously “wrong” blog post that got Eddie the Terrible pound puppy adopted in two days
- The amateur blogger who turned his depression-driven 1000 Awesome Things into a publishing sensation
- The startup side project that exploded into Unsplash, everyone’s favorite alternative source of stock images
Of course, if going against the grain were easy, we’d all be on the board of Apple. Acunzo emphasized the importance of finding joy in the process of content creation—making the process itself, not the outcome, our motivation.
“Our job is not to be creative,” he said. “Our job is to create.”
For those of us who generate content every day, making every new project a fresh act of creation may be the key to answering all these questions. Will it work? Ask me in a year.
Senior Copywriter Jeff Segal writes blogs and social content for several SN clients, while crusading tirelessly against the words provide, quality, strive and utilize.