Voices of Content Jam 2018: Bolder, funnier and brutally honest

Content Jam 2018 was all about voice. How do you express your bravest brand voice? How do you capture your customers’ true voice? And what’s the most potent way to combine them?

No one can answer these questions alone, least of all me. So I’m glad Molly Kipnis joined me this year for her first Content Jam. (It was my fifth.) She’s our ace social media coordinator and my consigliere on the StudioNorth blog, and she came up with a fresh way to recap everything we learned at this year’s event.

“Maybe we can do it Andy Crestodina-style,” she said. (Andy ends his emails with the sign-off, If you’d ever like to collaborate on anything at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out!) “We reach out to everyone we meet and quote them in the post. That way, at least we know it’ll get shared on social.”

Yahtzee! We asked each Content Jam speaker to share the best question they heard about their topics, and each attendee to name their top takeaway. One week and approximately 117 emails later, here’s our official Content Jam 2018 recap.

Pathological empathy

If the label fell off your content, would readers still know it was yours?

That was the question posed by best-selling author Ann Handley, CCO of Marketing Profs, during her opening keynote on “Bigger, Wilder, Braver Content.” A readily identifiable brand voice, she said, is an asset that constantly tells people “who you are and how you work.”

She showcased examples of “pathological empathy” from organic baby food maker Plum Organics, which creates content such as “Do Your Partner” about key issues in new parents’ relationships, and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who writes his eagerly anticipated annual shareholder letters as if his entire audience is his sister Doris.

One question I got three times was, How do I find and develop a unique brand voice? Here’s my quick advice:

  1. Find three specific adjectives that best define you and your brand. You can’t cheat and use words like “trustworthy” (table stakes) or “revolutionary” (eww). But instead be as specific and descriptive as possible.
  2. Create guidelines about how to apply each adjective, and where, and how, and when.
  3. Apply it consistently. Post that chart or those guidelines EVERYWHERE.

As a consulting and training business, we produce a LOT of content, and I struggle with what is free content and how to protect our consulting revenue stream. Content Jam makes me think about this in a new way.
Diane Yetter

President, Sales Tax Institute

Funny you should ask

Copywriter Lianna Patch, owner of Punchline Conversion Copywriting, gave a breakout session on “How to Be Funny (Even If You’re Not): Improv-Inspired Copywriting Tips for Better Retention.” Along with great tips on where and how to incorporate humor into your content, her best advice was about the “why”—a funny, offhand remark makes people think you’re in control.

One of the best questions I hear is, “What if my industry isn’t used to humor, or isn’t innately funny?” I love this question because humor is universal. I always suggest trying something small like a single joke in an email, then building from there based on reader feedback.

Content Jam forced me to think about my marketing plan in a different way. The speakers were incredible at teaching how to put your brain in a place that allows for new ideas.
Kaitlin Obermeyer

Digital Marketing and Social Media Specialist

From idea to video to new clients

Sarah Jo Crawford, founder of Sparkworth, made a compelling case in her morning breakout session that everyone—yes, even you, no matter how camera-shy—should use video to answer a question or solve a problem you know your audience has. Once Sarah started publishing her own videos to LinkedIn, customers began contacting her saying “I don’t know what you can do for me, but I want to work with you!”

The best question I received was what kind of ring-light is best for creating your first video. And the answer? Whichever ring-light you have. And if you don’t have one —which many of us don’t—a window. Don’t let little details like perfect lighting slow you down. Create the videos first with what you have, add tech later. The content quality will always outshine the video quality.

Content Jam is both inspiring and practical. You’ll come away re-energized with an overwhelming amount of new information that you can start implementing today.

Griffin Caprio, CEO and Jenn Dudley, COO


What makes a great storyteller?

Podcaster Shannon Cason, host of Homemade Stories and The Trouble, delivered “Brutally Honest Storytelling” from the first seconds of his presentation, talking about the “fifth time I lost everything” and “playing blackjack with my wife, my daughter and my condo.” Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, he shared his 10 rules for authentic podcasts, and reminded us, “businesses are personal.”

After the conference people told me they wish they could be more bold. They wished they could bring more of themselves into their work. So I asked them why they can’t do it. The underlying answer is FEAR. If we can break through the fear and be more honest in our content, we become the major players in our companies, businesses, and industries, not just faceless players.

Content Jam is the best possible place to shake up everything you thought you knew about marketing and reignite your passion for creating content in the first place. I can’t wait to see you there in 2019.
Clare Vanderweele

Content Marketing Manager, echogravity

“Boldly swipe their words.”

What do you do with the mad that you feel?

When you feel so mad you could bite?

You might recognize these lyrics from Mister Rogers’ song “Mad That You Feel,” but Fred Rogers didn’t write them. They came from a real question a child once asked him, which is why they resonated so strongly with his audience.

Joanna Weibe, co-founder of Airstory, demonstrated this concept flawlessly in “Mirror, Mirror in My Inbox.” Want to create better and more relevant emails? A simple, open-ended survey question can capture the exact words and thoughts your customers use.

“Boldly swipe their words,” Wiebe said. “Stop ignoring the customer voice. Take what they say, and say it back to them. This will feed 90% of your content.”

I appreciated Joanna’s tips on gathering customer data and insights. Create a simple survey asking your reader ‘What was going on today that caused you to subscribe to this newsletter?’ then begin aggregating the responses to identify what your customers are thinking.
Terri Fisher

Marketing Director, RSM US LLP

Personas you’ll actually use

Mary Garrick, VP of Brand & Creative at Upward Brand Interactions, showed us “How to Build Data-Driven Personas You’ll Actually Use.” Combine well- scripted interviews with social data-gathering tools and email data intelligence, and your insights into “what they want and why they don’t have it” will inform creative that gets dramatically better results.

Favorite question: What do you recommend people do who are just starting out and don’t have much data to work with? Answer: You can learn a lot from competitors, or brands with similar products or services. Start there. Tools like DemographicsPro, Audiense and SEMrush help you build the groundwork of your own persona development and data-driven targeting strategies.

Start with smarter personas, determine their search intent, and identify information gaps that we can effectively fill. Everything we do is about the customer. The sooner we start acting on that realization the better. Otherwise we’re just adding to the noise.
Clare Vanderweele

Content Marketing Manager, echogravity

Case studies = human stories

Joel Klettke, Founder of Business Casual Copywriting, shared his “Case Study Blueprint” for turning customer success stories into sales. Klettke outlined his process for capturing and capitalizing on excellent results, from clearly defining your strategy to getting client buy-in to applying the finished study to every segment of the sales funnel. “The stories you tell,” he reminded us, “will be the stories you attract.”

I got a great question about how to handle case studies when the client is in a heavily technical or complex niche. Our answer has been to ask, “What is the most meaningful metric here to you, and why?” Customer success stories really aren’t about exploring all the complex, technical ins-and-outs of an industry. They’re human stories. Remember that, and you’ll be just fine.

Run, don’t walk to Content Jam. Not only were the speakers amazing, but the size of the event was perfection.
Sarah Jo Crawford

Founder, Sparkworth

A top 1% content strategy

Andy Crestodina, CMO & Co-Founder of Orbit Media, shared his guidelines for being better than 99% of your competitors at deploying content strategy for lead generation. (As always, he made the tactics sound easy—nothing you can’t do yourself without sufficient time, focus and initiative.) These include:

  • Publishing your content mission, which makes you three times more likely to succeed
  • Conducting original research—identifying what people in your industry “often say but rarely support,” and
  • Collaborating with Influencers who have already built the audience you’d like to reach. “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.”

That last point, of course, was the inspiration for these blog posts. We hope we’ve made some good friends in the process—and if you’d like to add your own thoughts about Content Jam 2018, please leave us a comment!
My top takeaway from Content Jam is that content marketing is an ever-expanding, always-evolving discipline. You should attend as many conferences and networking events as you can so you can learn, learn, learn. But you absolutely should put this one at the top of your list.
Greg Mischio

Lead Strategist and Owner, Winbound

This is a special event with unprecedented access to the incredible Andy Crestodina and a bunch of other world-class speakers and sharp and fun attendees. Also, don’t leave early like I did. You’ll miss the marching band or whatever Amanda Gant and Andy do next year to top that!
Ann Handley

CCO, Marketing Profs

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.

Molly Kipnis

Molly Kipnis

Social Media Manager

Molly is the Social Media Manager at StudioNorth and the only currently employed redhead. Things Molly likes: theatre, dogs, french fries, and the color pink. Things Molly doesn't like: birds (especially pigeons), the cold, and writing in the third person.

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