5 Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2023

Between sessions, keynotes, networking, and social conversations, Content Marketing World hosted by Content Marketing Institute was nothing short of incredible.

With a large number of session speakers, at a minimum, mentioning AI and its impact on content creators, the theme remained the same – content is still King. Content creation is just evolving.

Robert Rose may have said it best in his opening remarks, “Content marketing is what marketing is becoming. It is no longer a weird experiment in some back room with a tiger team.”

Here are some other key takeaways straight from the CMWorld podium:

The Science Of Surprise

Nancy Harhut and Derek Thompson pulled back the curtain on a marketing secret weapon: surprise. In Harhut’s session, “The 10 Best Customer Behavior Triggers You’ve Never Heard Of,” she shared some great examples.

Take, for instance, subject lines like “Dressed to CHILL” or this headline from ProFlower, “We’re PRO-FRESHINALS”. These unexpected twists not only catch our attention but also intensify our emotional response, as studies from the University of Glasgow suggest, by an astonishing 400%.

Snippet of ProFlowers email that says "Trust Us. We're Pro-Freshionals"

It doesn’t stop at words. Images can play this surprise card too. They can disrupt expectations, creating an immediate connection with the viewer. Just think about the impact of an unexpected visual element in an otherwise familiar context.

A clipped image from Instagram of Walmart's post with a person wearing a tiger head and the caption, "Attention part animals: Maskimals has something fun for you and your whole zoo..."

The American Marketing Association gets more granular into the mechanics of surprise by saying: Typically, we anticipate a direct object relationship after a verb (as in “Amazon delivers diapers”), yielding low syntactic surprise. Conversely, an adverb following a verb is less expected, resulting in a higher surprise quotient (think “Amazon delivers fast”).

Derek Thompson, writer for the Atlantic, really drives this point home – “to sell something that is surprising, make it familiar. To sell something familiar, make it surprising.” It’s a dynamic dance between the expected and the unexpected, a balancing act that keeps audiences engaged and intrigued.

This insight showcases how surprise isn’t just a fleeting emotion; it’s a potent tool in the marketer’s arsenal. It captures attention, embeds itself in memory, and ultimately influences consumer behavior in profound ways. It’s this interplay of the familiar and the surprising that truly shapes effective marketing strategies.

Curious if your key message carries the element of surprise? Check out this free Syntactic Surprise Calculator.

AI’s Growing Impact

Artificial intelligence (AI) remains a relatively new addition to many marketers’ toolkits. While some use it to facilitate content creation others are all-in on using it to generate content for entire web pages, blog posts, and emails.

Andy Crestodina presented some compelling use-case scenarios, illustrating how marketers can leverage AI to significantly enhance their efficiency without losing the human touch.

He advises content marketers to explore AI’s potential for identifying opportunities and proposing adjustments to existing content, conducting gap analysis, and assessing semantic distances.

However, our favorite recommendation is the use of AI in shaping buyer personas and subsequently evaluating content for alignment with these specific profiles.

Take a look at his initial prompt asking Chat GPT to help him build a persona for a commercial satellite operator who works for a global telecommunications company:

Snippet of Chat GPT. The prompt reads: "Build me a persona of a commercial satellite operator who works for a global telecommunications company. List the roles, goals, challenges, pain points, and decision criteria for selecting a spaceship launch services company"

While a solid starting point, GA4 inadvertently omitted crucial customer decision criteria observed within the commercial satellite operator customer base.

Chat GPT prompt reads: "Add the following to the decision criteria for selecting a launch services company:"

Now, for the fun stuff. Andy asks Chat GPT to use the persona to evaluate a singular piece of content from their website to determine if the content aligns with their customers information needs.

Chat GPT prompt reads: Review the following webpage content. How does it align or not align with Jessica's information needs."

Now you have a blueprint for content areas you need to flesh our on your website page:

Snippet of GA4 analyzing website page content in relation to buyer persona's information needs as a satellite operations manager.

The Cocaine Bear Theory of Content

Even if you haven’t caught Cocaine Bear yet, the lesson still applies. In her kyenote, Elizabeth Banks, actress, filmmaker, and founder of Archer Roose, shared an interesting anecdote about the film. She made it clear to the producers that she was on board as long as they kept the name intact. Any alterations, and she was out.

Why? Because she recognized the power of a name that tells you exactly what you’re in for. Cocaine Bear left no room for ambiguity. It was about a bear on cocaine. Pure and simple!

The takeaway here: when communicating, be explicit about your intentions and expectations. Be direct, specific, and unambiguous.

Another great example of this is her PSA for The American Heart Association. In it, she refuses to gloss over the real symptoms of heart attacks in women.

Her aim was to deliver information that truly resonated with her audience. She emphasized, “you don’t have to choose between entertainment and purpose in your content.”

This leads us perfectly into our next takeaway…

The Significance of Visibility and Humor in Marketing

In the realm of content marketing, the power of visibility cannot be overstated. As John Gonzalez, Communications Manager at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer, puts it, “people don’t think about what they don’t see. If you don’t see it, it’s harder to process how or why it’s important to you.”

Gonzalez’s insight stems from a profound realization: showcasing the intricacies of their work at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer, including the dedicated individuals, the specialized equipment, and the various locations, has a transformative effect. It compels people to truly contemplate the significance of the work being done.

Facebook clipped image from NE Ohio Sewer District showing two workers in a culvert with the caption: "DO Y'all consider culvert walks a date?? (safety disclaimer: do not walk culverts with your date)

This perspective sheds light on a fundamental truth in content marketing: transparency breeds understanding. When an organization opens its doors, revealing the people, processes, and tools that drive its mission, it invites the audience to engage on a deeper level. It establishes a connection that goes beyond the surface.

Humor, in this context, plays a pivotal role. It becomes a conduit for conveying the human side of the operation. A well-placed quip or a light-hearted moment not only captures attention but also humanizes the content. It fosters a sense of relatability, making the work more accessible and comprehensible.

Twitter snipped image of Taco Bell saying: "Turns out we underestimated how many of you love Mexican Pizza. 7x more than we expected, to be exact." NE Ohio Regional Sewer District replied, "We'll be ready"

In essence, Gonzalez’s observation serves as a guiding principle for content creators. It underscores the importance of making the often unseen, seen. By pulling back the curtain and providing a window into the inner workings of an organization, content becomes more than information—it becomes an experience.

Writing For Google Search’s Helpful Content System

What is Google’s Helpful Content System? Essentially, after a Google helpful content update in September 2023, Google is reducing the visibility of content that appears to be written to boost SEO rankings rather than provide valuable information.

The helpful content system created a new sitewide signal – the “unhelpful content classifier.” It’s searching for content that offers little value, low added value, and content that’s not helpful.

The update will "help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn't rank high in search [results]."

In the words of Sherry Bonelli, MS Internet Marketing Google Business Profile Platinum Product Expert, “the best answers are not SEO-optimized content”

If you notice that your rankings have dropped, and suspect you’ve been hit by the Un-Helpful Content Classifier, ask yourself these questions about your content:

  • Does the content contain insightful interesting information that is beyond the obvious?
  • Does it provide substantial value compared to other search results?
  • Does the main heading or title provide a descriptive, helpful, summary, of the content?
  • Does the main title avoid being shocking in nature?
  • Does it provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • Does it provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • If it draws from other sources, are you adding your own insights, value, and originality?
  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it?
  • Is it reviewed by an expert?
  • Does it have easily verified factual errors?

This page by Google explains more about how the system works, and what you can do to assess and improve your content.

Attended Content Marketing World? Send us your favorite insights! Haven’t been before? We hope to see you at CMWorld 2024 in San Diego!

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