Content Jam 2019: The science of being human




StudioNorth Content Director Dan Gutknecht and Social Media Coordinator Valerie Mies contributed vast swaths of this article.

When people rebel against marketing, what are marketers supposed to do?

According to Mark Schaefer’s opening keynote of Content Jam 2019, we’re in the midst of the third great rebellion against marketing:

  1. No more lies! Laws banned deceptive advertising.
  2. No more secrets! The internet made all information available.
  3. No more control! People can and will avoid marketing entirely.

When 600 million people run ad blockers and 80% of Americans say they don’t believe ads of any kind, how can marketers reach their audiences? (A recent suggestion from BoJack Horseman that we just call commercials “immersive product-placement journeys” probably isn’t the answer.) Schaefer—a widely read author and blogger—said the only solution is to stop talking about our “why” and start talking about the consumer’s “why.” Give them something to belong to and make them the hero.

His favorite example was this video from The North Face, pulled entirely from user-submitted footage.

The title of Schaefer’s session was “The Most Human Company Wins,” and our team viewed every other Content Jam session through that lens. We asked ourselves (and everyone we met at the after-party) this question: How can what you learned at Content Jam help you make your content more human?

Here’s what we learned.

Schaefer’s point … is that we have to realize that we are not the center of the universe. We are a part of the customer’s universe—and typically a small part. If we can collaborate to tell their story (and humbly interweave how we play a role in it), then we move from the rat race to the human race. Then we’re more human.
Greg Mischio

Owner, Winbound

The perspective The North Face used to connect with their clients has already affected how I approach mine. The emphasis on letting clients know I understand their problems and frustrations comes long before any discussion of my solutions.
Rafi Arbel

President, Market JD

Data working for humans—not vice versa.

The day’s second session, from Moz Senior SEO Scientist Britney Muller, almost seemed like the opposite of Schaefer’s. What could be less human than “Machine Learning for SEOs”?

But when we thought about it, the topics weren’t in opposition at all—they were complementary. After all, no matter how human-focused your messaging is, it can’t connect with other humans if those humans never see it.

Muller’s session was a crash course in tools and tactics for helping computers learn to find our audiences (or help them find us). From Google’s new BERT algorithm to natural language processing to OpenAI text generators, she shared a dizzying array of solutions she insisted anyone could implement—along with four simple questions that form a non-dizzying machine learning framework:

  1. What do you want to solve?
  2. Do you have data to train the algorithm?
  3. Could you collect the data?
  4. What data do you have access to?

Seer Interactive VP of Innovation Wil Reynolds also blew our minds during his closing keynote by describing his unconventional approach to playing paid search data and SEO against each other. Who else pursues zero-volume search terms? Turns out, hundreds of terms with just one click can bring in more revenue for less spend than the high-volume terms everyone chases.

Connecting with more humans for less money. That’s good, right?

We have incredible tools at our disposal, but making sure we never lose sight of the importance of human-to-human connection is critical to any marketing success (regardless of whether it’s B2B or B2C).

Lyndsey Maddox

Director of Business Development, Digital Third Coast

From heroes’ journeys to shopping carts.

Two Content Jam breakout sessions focused on storytelling—a quintessentially human activity. But we don’t just tell stories. We live them.

Jordan Bower—Chief Storyteller at Transformational Storytelling—started his “Transformational Storytelling in the Age of Distrust” breakout session relating how he walked from Washington State to Mexico in a failed attempt to win back his lost love. What he gained along the way was a profound appreciation for how stories can connect people.

Stories are increasingly important when traditional identities are changing. The traditional identity of “employee” has little relevance in today’s mobile, rapidly evolving workforce. And while a “leader” used to be someone who told the team what to do, today leadership can come from anywhere.

We, as marketers, have to help our audience navigate this new reality—helping people shape their ideal identity by solving their unmet needs. And we connect with them through relatable stories that show we’re all on this journey together.

Confronting dwindling brand loyalty and widespread distrust has forced marketers to find new ways to appeal to their audience. Jordan Bower has demonstrated proven ways that entirely flip the script—truly listening to clients and artfully telling their stories. In this new era, be iterative in your process and use design thinking to create authentic connections with your customers.

Francisco Lopez de Arenosa

Communications Manager, Valerio Dewalt Train

Jordan Bower’s session was especially impactful. Jordan explained that leaders used to be ‘faceless suits,’ but now effective leaders function as ‘personable activists.’ As a leader in a company, this is a challenge for me to tell a more personal story focused on coaching and guidance.

Mark Bealin

Founder, SearchLab Chicago

In his breakout session, “How Connecting Content and Commerce is the Future of B2C and DTC,” iconiContent Founder Aaron Orendorff tied together several seemingly disparate concepts to illustrate how authentic storytelling can be an important part of online transactions.

He spoke in terms of the hero’s journey—focusing on how the hero (customer) overcomes “hell” (specific customer pain points based on market research) to reach “heaven” (a desired state based on relatable and sharable goals).

In Orendorff’s model, the brand can’t be the hero—but it has to be the hero’s guide. We can weave story elements into tactical experiences that can drive more conversions and increase average cart size through story-driven ad sequences.

I work for a wide format printer and have interviewed dozens of clients on ‘why’ they choose to install environmental graphics. No one ever wakes up in the morning with a goal of just slapping graphics up on a wall. There’s always intent. Content Jam taught us we need to bring these interactions and stories to the forefront.

Jon Davis

Marketing Manager, Cushing

Give us a break. We’re only human.

Dan, Valerie and I couldn’t cover every Content Jam session, but here are a few more we enjoyed—along with more comments from our after-party friends.

Val Geisler, CEO (Chief Email Officer) of Fix My Churn, confessed her love for “zombie customers” who once interacted with a brand but have, for whatever reason, stopped. She recommends a heavy dose of one-on-one customer interviews to learn more about the jobs they need help doing. “Customers need to feel seen and heard,” she says.

Email marketing is a dynamite way to reach current, previous, and potential customers. Val Geisler’s talk at Content Jam sparked ideas about how to reach out in a way that shows people you are listening, and you care.

Jennifer Ball

Marketing Coordinator–Web & Analytics, NABP

Someone apparently so dedicated to his media he renamed himself after it, Owen Video—Marketing Coach at The Video Marketing School—gave a breakout on “The Video Sales Machine: How to Generate Sales Every Day with Online Video.” He insists customers respond best to videos that solve their problems, and echoes Mark Schaefer’s focus on being the most human brand: “Get rid of me, I, we. Start using you.”

Veteran marketing exec April Dunford has helped launch countless products over a 25-year career. in other words, she knows a thing or 12 about helping humans understand new concepts. In “Perfect Positioning—How to Harness a Marketing Secret Weapon,” she reminded us that “positioning” doesn’t just mean “messaging.” It’s a foundational concept of marketing that helps customers “use what they know to make sense of what they don’t.”

Finally, Content Jam driving force and Orbit Media CMO Andy Crestodina’s session, “Content Strategy for Lead Generation,” was essentially a greatest hits album from his blog and previous presentations, revisiting essential best practices and brilliant tactics such as:

  • Gathering insights from internal search
  • Updating older posts for improved rankings
  • Using the good parts of Google Analytics
  • Determining which FAQs are, in fact, frequently asked
  • Getting useful metrics out of social media and video off-links

[Content Jam] makes me appreciate that little things go a long way. For example, responding to reviews on Google My Business or even creating a specific ‘reviews’ page on your website can really make a difference.

Charley Vail

SEO Account Manager, Digital Third Coast

As has been the case with every Content Jam we’ve covered, we’ve taken away too many takeaways to put into practice or even completely grasp. But no matter which tactics or technologies we eventually deploy, we do know this:

In today’s world, marketers can only succeed by letting the customer be the stars of their own stories. That’s just human nature. Good thing marketers are human, too.

Jeff Segal

Jeff Segal

Senior Copywriter

Senior Copywriter Jeff Segal writes blogs and social content for several SN clients, while crusading tirelessly against the words provide, quality, strive and utilize.

Dan Gutknecht

Dan Gutknecht

Content Director

In addition to helping StudioNorth’s clients align their messaging across multiple channels as Content Director, Dan enjoys brewing beer, riding motorcycles, and competitive pistol shooting (not all at once).

Valerie Mies

Valerie Mies

Social Media Coordinator

Social Media Coordinator Valerie Mies manages clients’ social media presences on multiple channels, tracking results and responding to agile client requests.

Share This