Lessons from CMW 2016: Slowing Down and the “Why” of Your Content Strategy

September 12, 2016 | Dan Trefethen

And we’re back! Cleveland’s own Content Marketing World 2016 was last week where 200 speakers, 100 companies, and 3500 attendees all assembled in mass to discuss all things content… and to see Joe Pulizzi have a wandering conversation with Luke Skywalker.

The annual event has had continual attendance growth in consecutive years, which really only points to one thing – content marketing works.

However, just because content marketing is a successful strategy, doesn’t mean it’s easy. That’s why an event like CMW can have such a vital impact on both companies and individuals.

Not only can companies get their name out there and show off their features, but marketers can gain tremendous insight from experts and peers about what is and isn’t working.

The modern digital content field is tricky one. There is so much content being produced currently that everyone is having trouble in both keeping up with production, and really identifying what it is they should be producing.

The goal of content marketing is pretty simple, and really aptly summed up by Wednesday night’s headline performer Cheap Trick when they played their long standing hit “I Want You to Want Me.”



But the road to getting that kind of devotion and reaction is not always so clear.

In this post, we’ll go through the overarching themes that were discussed at CMW by some of today’s leading experts, and how you apply these straight to your own departments.

Takeaways from CMW Keynote Speakers – the Big Guns.

Joe Pulizzi

In the kickoff address, Joe Pulizzi took the stage, in very space-ship themed setting, to remark on one key element about content marketing: commitment.

Pulizzi presented the number one fact from a 2016 CMI study: only 20% of marketers said they were fully committed to their content marketing approach. 20%! That means the remaining 80% of content marketers could very well be just phoning it in.

The same research also backed up a finding that those who are committed to their content strategy, the 20%, were the most successful.

Pulizzi went on to say “I believe that mediocre content will actually hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all.”

Ann Handley

Author of “Everybody Writes,” Ann Handley, was one of the closing speakers for day one of the event. Her biggest advice? SLOW DOWN.

“In everything we do, we feel like we have to do it faster. We want more leads, we want more sales, we want more followers and comments and likes – and we want it all as fast as possible.”

Her talk was actually titled A Look Back at the Best Content of 2017. No typos there. Ann went on to review three different marketing campaigns that deliberately slowed down and methodically answered three essential questions:

1. So What?

This question is firmly planted in the customer’s perspective, and should be the core of any of your marketing messages. At a very abstract level, the train of thought should go as follows:

Here’s our product or service. So what?

It does these awesome things. So what?

These things help you with x, y, and z. So what?

X, y, and z are really important for you to accomplish your goal. So what?

Once you accomplish your goal, you can move on to the next goal. So what?

Moving forward is often synonymous with happiness and well-being. So what?

Happiness and well-being are generally the pillars of a fulfilling life. And so on…

The point is that your content strategy and output should touch on all of these questions and answers in some capacity. This is how you unite your customer’s perspective with your own product.

2. Wait, what?

This question is also from the customer’s perspective, but more geared toward the delivery of your content. The “Wait, what?” is how you grab your audience’s attention.

You provide them with a fresh voice and new experiences that they haven’t seen over and over again. Exploring new means and mediums for distribution and communication is what will make your content have a voice and capture attention.

3. Does this sustain us?

Finally, the business point of view. While creating great content is always a plus, there’s still that matter of the bottom line. For every big initiative that takes considerable resources from your marketing team to create, the question of “does this sustain us?” should be asked.

Just like “so what?”, you should be able to answer in the affirmative and have sound evidence to back that anwer up. If you can’t answer yes confidently, you should examine the strategy more thoroughly, tweaking and experimenting, until you can.

An Anecdote

For real-life example of slowing down, Ann recounted an experience she had while searching for a new benefits resource for her company, MarketingProfs. She came upon a benefits company’s website that had the increasingly ubiquitous “Hey, there” live chat box where you can direct message questions to a person, or, usually, a robot.

Ann decided to shoot out a message. The conversation took an immediately weird direction in discussing punctuation, as both parties made small flubs in their text. The chatter on the other end, turning out not to be a robot, was actually the Head of Growth for this particular benefits company.

The company had decided that it was worth it to not only put a human on the other end of the chat box, but to put someone who was actually pretty high up.

Michael Jr.

So this was the speaker who really stole the whole CMW show. Everyone was talking about his 30 minutes on stage.

Michael Jr. is a not too well known comedian, but he’s been around for a while, and he knew what he was doing. Apart from some pretty stellar jokes, he shared an amazing video from one of his shows that demonstrates precisely how content marketers need to think.

For some context, what Michael Jr. does when he’s on tour is he stops halfway through the show to have one-on-one conversation with someone in the audience. He calls it Break Time.

One particular Break Time stands out.

Basically what happens is Michael Jr. asks a music instructor to sing a little bit of Amazing Grace. The music instructor sings it formally perfect – perfect pitch, in key, in rhythm.

Then Michael Jr. asks him to sing it again, but gives him a specific background to inform the delivery. That’s when it gets a little magical. The audience can’t help themselves with the second version being delivered right on point for the specific background given.

So what does this have to do with your content strategy?

Think of the first version of Amazing Grace as the solid, professional, standard content plan. It gets the job done, makes good points, provides information, but it’s a little formal and doesn’t really elicit a remarkable response.

The second version, though, that’s where it hits home. The second version knows the audience, tells a story, and resonates on various levels beyond just hitting notes. The second version is what your content needs to do for your audience.

Stray Observations From CMW 2016

  • Creating original research can be a big way to increase traffic to your site. 4,066 sites link back to CMI because they produce original research.
  • Cleveland’s baseball stadium, football stadium, and basketball arena are all with in a 15-minute walk of each other, right down town. Pretty cool.
  • The Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th street has the best chicken wings I’ve ever had. No hyperbole. They said they would be, and they were right.
  • SnapApp announced a new free tool for marketers, LeadRev, that unlocks your PDFs into interactive experiences in just 30 seconds.


LeadREV TW Banner-1.png


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