CCO NOVEMBER 2021
The future of content and marketing couldn't be clearer. Try the ideas in this issue to sharpen your approach and rise above.
CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER
<strong>In This Issue</strong>
What comes next? No one really knows. But we're gonna need better content.
We've experienced the next normal. We've celebrated the grand reopening (less grand than expected). Are we content to head back to a winter of (mostly) digital content?
Regardless, we're just going to have to roll with it. The only thing we know for sure is that the demand for digital content and experiences will stay strong.
OK, we also know you'll have to get (even more) creative to capture your audience's attention.
I could cite a stat about the increase in content, but why? We're all living the same reality of overflowing inboxes, social feeds, texts, DMs, IMs, and streaming queues (not to mention all those virtual events we signed up for and never watched).
While companies are waking up to the power of content marketing, content teams take the brunt of the pressure. And whether the investment in content will match the increased expectations remains a question.
Our recent research study found that one in five content marketers said they expect their content marketing budget to increase more than 9% in 2022. And though many content marketers saw increased resources in 2021, others told us they had to do more with existing resources. (You'll learn more about the findings in this issue.)
One more thing we know: Content leaders are innovative thinkers. Just look at the inspiring programs created by the 2021 Content Marketing Award winners.
To help spur your thinking, Robert Rose points to three disruptors to watch in 2022. Linger over Robert's take, but here's a spoiler: Content is every bit as important to business as products and services.
After all, content is a product. Content is a service. If your organization doesn't agree, their strategy might need some work.
Let me know what you think of the issue.
3 Disruptions That Affect the Future of Content and Marketing
Content and marketing are evolving. Again. Robert Rose explains how the dramatic changes of the last 18 months affect their future – and how to shift your thinking to prepare.
Tap Into the Power of Short Video
You have 90 seconds. Learn how to make them count in this Content Marketing World presentation from Amy Balliett of Killer Visual Strategies (a CCO subscriber exclusive).
How'd You Make That Awesomely Innovative Content?
Content leaders from Salesforce, AARP, and more share the stories and lessons behind their award-winning projects.
Curiosity Can Save Your Content (Don't Tell the Cat)
Sure, you can exploit human curiosity with dramatic headlines and provocative social posts. But it won’t pay off – unless you understand how to keep audiences reading, watching, and clicking for more.
Trend or Fad: What To Do About ClubHouse, TikTok, and Emerging Social Spaces
It seems like everyone’s talking about social media upstarts. Should you listen? The experts we asked offer differing viewpoints. Here’s how to figure out yours.
How To Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough(er)
Resilience isn't (only) an individual trait. Creating a resilient content operation takes a village – and a framework. Here’s how to build one.
Don’t Let a Poor Customer Experience Derail Your Content Results
Andrew Davis offers a CRM company some unsolicited advice about what that acronym means.
• Editor-in-Chief: Kim Moutsos
• Creative Director: Joseph Kalinowski
• Public Relations & Video Consultant:
• Feedback: email@example.com
<strong>3 Disruptions That Affect the Future of Content and Marketing
<strong> The dramatic changes of the last 18 months will affect your plans. Here's how to shift your thinking to get ready.
“We’ve seen two years’ worth
of digital transformation in two months.”
That quote from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella perfectly captured the upheaval the pandemic caused in 2020.
But the changes didn't stop in 2020. Here's a look at three major disruptions that will likely affect content and marketing in 2022.
By Robert Rose
“Companies are waking up to the power of content marketing due in part to the pandemic,” Stephanie Stahl recently wrote of the latest findings of CMI's annual research.
I agree, and I want to add some observations based on consulting and advisory work with more than 30 brands over the last 18 months. I've spotted several trends that stand to change the way companies approach content and marketing.
Identifying the implications of these disruptions will help you adjust your strategies for what comes next.
CMI Research Director Lisa Murton Beets talks about the changes in how companies value content marketing and other findings from B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2022.
Consumer time-shifting and brand legacy
Wow, that sounds important, doesn’t it? It’s just a fancy way of saying things are moving faster, and people have a lot more choice in content.
You’re no doubt familiar with time-shifting in the way people consume content. But let’s finally put the goldfish theory to bed. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s the idea that humans now have less attention span than a goldfish.
Of course, this isn’t true. People have way more of an attention span than goldfish do. People have no problem binging Ted Lasso, Game of Thrones, or Squid Game.
It’s not attention spans that have shrunk – it’s patience.
And it's not just patience with interruptive-based advertising that's shrunk, it’s patience with any interruptive communication.
For example, a recent study found Americans answer less than half of all calls on their mobile phones.
Not only do people dislike interruptions, but they also know they can skip to something else with a click or tap. Don’t like that TikTok video? Swipe up. Don’t like that Netflix show? Close out of it and dive into something else. Don’t get the answer you need within eight seconds of that search result click? Click back to try again.
The brand half of this disruption fascinates me. That lack of patience and the ease of acquiring replacement content takes away some of the ability to build a brand legacy.
In 1958, the average life span of a company on the Standard & Poor’s was 61 years, according to McKinsey & Company. Today, it’s less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that within five to six years, 75% of the companies on the S&P 500 will be bought, merged, or fail.
Attention spans haven't shrunk – but patience with any kind of interruptive communication has.
With that rapid evolution, product and service brands have become more like startups, fashion, or media in how quickly they launch, rise to fame, gain trust from an audience, and then fall out of favor or get replaced by another.
The content brands launched or acquired by these companies are becoming as important to the business as its products and services are.
The scarcity of physical presence
That gets to the second disruption we see.
One thing we've all realized in the last 18 months is how special physical presence is. There’s nothing like the absence of something to make you realize how much you value it.
Interestingly, this forced scarcity triggered new preferences. People have realized that some things are better served in a non-physical representation.
Consider the so-called Great Resignation. If you look at labor statistics, the trend has been happening for the last 10 years. But there’s no doubt that it's accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
More people now say, “I’ve come to value working from home,” or “Is my physical presence at my job site worth more than it was before the pandemic?”
And this change doesn't apply just to work. People consider whether they need to go out or to be somewhere in person more carefully now.
Over the next year or two, demand will rebound for in-person presence at restaurants, business meetings, sporting events, concerts, and more. But in-person presence might remain a supply-induced scarcity for some time.
How will that scarcity affect marketing and the importance of content in marketing?
As physical presence remains precious, in-person events (once the most effective content marketing tactic) will become luxury items. So the content at these events has to be better and different to coax people to attend.
More immediately, this trend puts increased pressure on digital content experiences. Why? Digital content platforms now act as a physical presence proxy.
All digital content (virtual events, thought leadership, email newsletters, and so on) must be differentiated. Audiences expect more – and content competition will get exponentially crazier.
If physical presence remains scarce, in-person events will be luxuries. That means the content will have to be better – and different.
When you see Salesforce, a B2B company, investing millions of dollars to evolve their Dreamforce conference into a B2B streaming service to compete with the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime, you can see how important digital content experiences have become.
The decline of trust and truth
It feels as if the world is more divided than it's ever been. And honestly, it’s hard to know if that's true.
But we do know that trust in mainstream institutions is the lowest it’s ever been.
Whether it’s government, mainstream media, businesses, or even non-profits, people are awash in an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of all institutions and their leaders.
While there is much to discuss that's bigger than business and content marketing, this disruption is a direct and pointed opportunity to help shape the future of marketing.
When the bar is so low, marketers have an opportunity – and perhaps even a responsibility (a discussion to be had over a good whiskey) – to create trust and truth.
Great marketing convinces customers to invest in something that creates wealth for the business. But not all customer investment must involve a purchase.
You can monetize marketing in a different way – through time, attention, referral, personal data, and brand loyalty – even trust.
And all of this can be converted into wealth for the business.
The future of content and marketing
When you put these three disruptions into context, you can see a future of marketing if not the future of marketing. Marketing's future involves:
- Creating trust and truth
- Assembling audiences and offering differentiated digital and physical content experiences
- Respecting the audience’s decreased patience for interruptive communication
Content and marketing are evolving. Again. But, this time, content strategy and content marketing as a practice are becoming more valuable and more enriching to the business.
What if content marketing as a practice and its output were treated as if they were as important as your organization's products or services?
What if marketing were seen as a profit center where the primary function is to create experiential products for audiences that can be monetized in multiple ways – only one of which is the expanded or ongoing purchase of the traditional products and services?
Put more simply: What if the content marketing approach to adding value, monetizing audiences, and treating content as a product is the future of marketing?
The quickest way to get into trouble is to predict the future. But we can shape it.
As Dennis Gabor, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize, wrote more than 50 years ago in Inventing the Future:
"Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers cannot predict the future … All it can do is map out the probability space … Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability all the time …. The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented."
In CMI’s research this year, we say the “giant has awakened.” I say, “Yes, and look out – because we are the future.” CCO
Robert Rose is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for the Content Marketing Institute. He’s provided content marketing and strategy advice for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow Robert on Twitter @Robert_Rose.
<strong>Tap Into the Power of Short Video</strong>
<strong>You have 90 seconds. Make them count.</strong>
The data doesn't lie. Many people would rather watch a video than read text.
Amy Balliett (Author, Founder, and CEO of Killer Visual Strategies) says that when your high-quality videos stay under 90-seconds, you can expect to see an increase in conversion rates and a better chance to rank higher in search results.
But 90-seconds of video is just 210 words of narration. Can anyone tell a brand story in such a short time? Amy answers these questions and more.
This Content Marketing World 2021 presentation is a CCO subscriber exclusive.
Hit play to watch this full-length Content Marketing World presentation.
<strong>How'd You Make That Awesomely Innovative Content?
<strong> Get behind-the-scenes insights from leaders of award-winning content programs at Salesforce, AARP, HBO, and other B2C and B2B brands</strong>
How Salesforce Uses Content To Lead Through Change
In March 2020, the world changed seemingly overnight.
Salesforce responded to the new reality of business seemingly overnight, launching its Leading Through Change content initiative on March 17.
That’s not a typo. The first blog of the program launched days before California issued shelter-in-place orders and travel essentially shut down.
How did this huge company pivot so quickly – and deliver results that surpassed expectations?
Leading Through Change won Project of the Year in the 2021 Content Marketing Awards. And it's one of the reasons Jessica Bergmann, who drives content strategy at Salesforce, earned the 2021 B2B Content Marketer of the Year honor.
Here's the remarkable story of how the program came together. –Stephanie Stahl
The answer to how Salesforce launched Leading Through Change so quickly sounds simple. The company relied on a documented content strategy and trained all of its 1,300 marketers to follow it.
But that simple answer obscures the months of effort behind it. The underlying work started in July 2019, when Jessica kicked off a “content revolution” at the tech giant.
VP of Content and
As part of that revolution, the team launched an integrated planning effort that had content strategists working with each line of business and industry team to document their content strategy for the year.
The content series that grew out of that work (360 Perspectives) paused when customers’ business challenges changed due to the pandemic.
But the revolution’s principles laid the groundwork that enabled Leading Through Change:
- Make content an integral and strategic partner in marketing planning.
- Co-create content with Salesforce customers and partners to earn trust.
- Stop “random acts of content” in favor of series and content that leads the audience to a next step.
Turning in time
When COVID hit, Salesforce stopped all marketing, including the 360 Perspectives series Jessica’s team had spent months preparing.
“Companies’ needs had changed,” Jessica said. “The messages and campaigns we had planned prior to COVID were no longer relevant.”
When the pandemic hit, Salesforce canceled planned content series that no longer felt relevant.
In rethinking their marketing approach, Salesforce made three pivotal decisions:
- Every new program needed CMO approval.
- Nearly all content offers were ungated for the first time (gating didn’t feel right when their goal was to help during COVID, Jessica said).
- Customer and market insights teams informed all new plans and messaging.
From listening to customers (and their insights teams), the company found a need for information about how to go digital fast.
Companies needed to figure out how to keep employees working successfully remotely.
And they needed to tackle new business challenges, like deciding when to go back into the office and how to operate safely.
Out of those and other insights, Leading Through Change was born. The goals were straightforward:
- Provide actionable, global leadership content from the community, world-class experts, and Salesforce leaders.
- Create a forum for community and conversation with peers.
- Show humanity in a time of turmoil, while positioning Salesforce as a trusted partner.
Bringing change to life
Taking the series from goals to a quick launch took some doing. Everyone got involved.
“We put all the wood behind one arrow,” Jessica said, “We went through one weekly approval process.
We worked in one system. We all worked through one planning process.”
In a way, the crisis brought about the content revolution the team had been working to bring about for months. The content team had a seat at the strategy table. And the desire to co-create with customers proved helpful for the Leading Through Change initiative, just as it had for the earlier series.
“When the pandemic hit, no one had all the answers,” Jessica said. They had to ask, “How can we lead through change with our customers, experts, and partners?”
The answer was to put customers at the front of the series. “They were telling us how they were navigating the pandemic’s impact,” she said.
As Salesforce explained in its Content Marketing Awards submission: “We created content about what we knew — leading with values and customer-centricity — while tapping into the expertise of international medical experts, CEOs, and government leaders.”
Salesforce teamed up with CEOs and luminaries from various industries. Tapping into experts helped the team take on topics they hadn’t covered before, including well-being at work, upskilling, success from anywhere, and vaccine management.
For example, they published a series of articles and videos based on interviews with Dr. David Agus, such as this one about why companies should consider hiring a chief health officer.
They also created a resource center and filled it with helpful guides, including the COVID Response Playbook and How to Safely Reopen Your Business.
The content also recognized other big changes happening in 2020 and 2021 as conversations about justice, race, and inclusion were elevated in the world.
Music for Change: Hear the Next Generation Raise Their Voice for a Brighter Future helped Salesforce enter conversations around justice, race, and inclusion. The virtual event highlighted original songs from students around the world and featured celebrity judges will.i.am, Jewel, Dave Wish, and Dr. Ron C. Smith.
For example, the company hosted Music for Change: Hear the Next Generation Raise Their Voice for a Brighter Future, a live competition featuring original, digitally produced songs from students around the world. The event featured celebrity judges will.i.am, Jewel, Dave Wish, and Dr. Ron C. Smith.
Leading Through Change content focused on challenges – like how to safely reopen a business – identified by the customer insights team at Salesforce.
"This combination of interviews with experts, thinking at the forefront of change, talking about product innovation, and then bringing in a moment of entertainment and levity got customers excited,” Jessica said. “They were proud to be part of it.”
Ultimately, Leading Through Change took a multimedia, multinational approach that crossed broadcast, on-demand video, blogs, audio, online learning modules, and social media channels in over 20 countries and 15 languages.
In the first month of the series, organic prospect traffic to the site increased 47%. The live broadcast series reached more than 600 million viewers on owned and social channels, with an average of 10 million views per episode. Salesforce’s blog newsletter audience grew by over 70%.
Organic traffic to the site increased 47%. And Salesforce’s newsletter audience grew by more than 70%.
Form completions through webinars grew 80 times, which led to nearly all of the 5% year-over-year engagement growth in the first month of Leading Through Change.
Leading Through Change helped Salesforce internally, too. It aligned to the need for new products that empowered sales teams and met that need with products like Work.com and Vaccine Cloud.
Salesforce used the project’s success to attract new attendees to Dreamforce – its biggest event of the year – which took place virtually in 2020.
Through LinkedIn engagement retargeting, the company earned more than 600,000 impressions for the 2020 Dreamforce registration page and 1,400 clicks.
It also got the notice of the business world. As Matt Derella, global vice president of Twitter, explains:
"The Leading Through Change show has been a lighthouse example of a business adapting to change to create value for their customers and advantage versus their competition.
"The quality of the content and the scale of the conversation is breathtaking. After their initial envy, other leading brands are learning from and trying to catch up to Salesforce’s innovative approach."
Leading Through Change proved transformative for content strategy and content marketing at Salesforce. And, as with any transformation, it wasn’t easy.
When you tell everyone there’s one content initiative they all need to get behind, you can expect pushback. As Jessica said, “Of course, there’s friction.”
Working in a single system helped because everyone could see what they were working toward.
What really helped, Jessica found, was to change the conversation from “No, you can’t do this,” to “No, this doesn’t align to our approach, but here’s how you can modify or consolidate this idea to be included in the series.”
Eventually, the results spoke for themselves.
And the lessons learned continue to inform their work on new content projects (including the print magazine Vantage Point, which launched this summer, and the all-new Salesforce+ streaming service).
Ultimately, the experience “was a major learning curve for a lot of the team, " Jessica said. "We were stronger afterward. It streamlined our processes and changed the way we operate and develop content across the board.”
Now, that’s leading through change. CCO
Watch the award ceremony for the 2021 B2C Content Marketer of the Year to learn about the finalists and winners, then turn the page for more details about their innovative work.
AARP Goes Deep With Niche Content
If your content is for everyone, it’s for no one.
No one would accuse AARP of ignoring that truism. The association’s massive-circulation publications offer pitch-perfect content for the over-50 crowd.
In the last few years, they've gone even deeper, creating niche publications for often-overlooked audience segments.
Sisters From AARP, which targets Black women over 40, is one shining example of this strategy. The weekly newsletter and website won the 2021 Content Marketing Award for Best Digital Publication.
Sisters From AARP
Sisters' editor-in-chief, Claire McIntosh, established the pub's keen editorial focus and fresh, distinctive voice –and it earned her the 2021 B2C Content Marketer of the Year honor.
We asked Claire to share the Sisters From AARP story and for her thoughts on building a successful content product and team. Here's what she told us. –Kim Moutsos
“I remind Sisters From AARP’s multigenerational contributors that the organization touches every generation,” explains Claire McIntosh, editor-in-chief. “The younger you are, the more you need AARP. Sisters’ outreach and strategy takes that into account.”
When Sisters launched in 2018, the website served as a home for the articles in the weekly e-newsletter.
An April 2020 website redesign made room to showcase themed Spotify playlists featuring Black artists, as well as polls, games, online events, and other exclusive content. It also marked a more concerted push to engage readers and create community.
While the pandemic raged and social justice concerns dominated the news, the team stepped up communication on its Facebook and Instagram channels. Content choices prioritized lifestyle, informational content, and even humor to promote “a sense of belonging and contentment,” according to AARP.
And it worked – the Sisters team sees more engagement on (including enthusiastic comments, not just likes) social channels and more subscribers. They now reach an audience that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
Establishing visual branding and a distinct voice
Before building Sisters’ web, email, and social channels, Claire and the team conducted audience research and tested concepts with its audience.
Claire established Sisters’ content categories, editorial calendar, and brand voice, which she conveys to writers as “the same conversational tone they’d use with a bestie at brunch.”
And when a writer's content doesn’t quite hit the mark, she makes the advice even more specific: “Write it as you would share it conversationally after ordering the second mimosa. We want it to be really friendly.”
Claire takes an ear-to-the-ground approach to guiding editorial decisions and her writers.
“Early on, I shared with senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media Myrna Blyth that I saw my role as a listener-in-chief,” she explains.
She’s tuned into reader feedback, taking ideas and inspiration from reader emails. “It’s the readers who are driving what we talk about. That comes from subscriber surveys, my mailbox, what people are asking for, what they tell us they like, what they tell us they don’t like.”
Readers drive what we talk about. That comes from subscriber surveys, my mailbox, what they tell us they like, what they tell us they don’t like.
–Claire McIntosh (@ClaireRMcIntosh), Sisters From AARP
Claire also listens to colleagues and contributors. “I’ll meet a writer for lunch or virtual coffee. She’ll tell me how she handled things with the school principal when her daughter was being bullied, and I’ll ask her to write about it.”
Working as a content team
Claire works closely with Sisters’ creative director Dian Holton, who shapes its visual branding, and senior editor Leslie Quander Wooldridge, who manages its social media and produces Q&As, celebrity updates, first-person stories, and polls.
All three women are part of a team led by Shelley Emling, executive editor of specialized content, and AARP General Manager Sami Amad. That team produces Sisters and two other niche platforms: The Girlfriend (for Gen X women) and The Ethel (for women over 55).
A group of project management, marketing, design, business development, and web development colleagues supports all the newsletters, social channels, websites, events, and e-commerce offerings that arise from the project.
Claire contributes to AARP print publications, too, shaping the food content for AARP The Magazine.
All that collaboration adds up to signal-boosting power for all the specialized publications. “When you collaborate with innovators from across the enterprise,” Claire says, “you access a breadth and caliber of talent that wouldn’t be available with a dedicated team. You can punch above your weight class.”
Creating meaning and fulfillment
Sisters From AARP connects with a niche that Claire describes as “unaccustomed to targeted media that celebrates and supports them at the age and stage that they — we — are at now.”
Engaging this often-overlooked audience in a way that makes a real difference in their outlook and lives brings meaning to the team’s work.
“This engagement makes a difference as the African-American community faces grave challenges linked to the pandemic, voter suppression, employment and wage discrimination, and racist violence.
"I’m equally proud of how we kindle joy and resilience by elevating fun, friendship, and fulfillment,” she says.
On the horizon
Sisters sends every reader a birthday greeting, which is a great prompt for the recipients to share how they think about the newsletter and what they want. In general, Claire says, “They just want more.”
Look for more of that sense of fun and friendship as Sisters rolls out some new social media initiatives that will make it “more of a party” and a new e-commerce project to support readers with stylish self-care options.
While Claire and her team work on making sure Sisters content reaches its audience in more ways and more places, the team knows its purpose.
“Above all, we’ll advance AARP’s mission to empower people to choose how they live as they age.” CCO
‘Secrets’ of Award-Winning B2B and B2C Content Programs
Ever look at an organization’s content and think, “How do they do it?” Yeah, same.
So we asked a group of admired content leaders – 2021 Content Marketer of the Year finalists – for a peek behind the curtain. (Each nominee this year worked on a winning entry in at least one category in the Content Marketing Awards.)
You’ve likely heard variations of their advice before (hence the quotation marks around “secrets” in the headline). But their input proves that the fundamentals of content marketing work.
Here’s what they told us about why their content programs resonate with audiences and keep the support of business leaders who invest in them. – Kim Moutsos
Senior Vice President,
HBO Max and HBO
Build teams that mirror your audience
Our team reflects the audiences we speak with daily, and our partners also reflect the audience. Both are very passionate about multicultural audiences and creating moments that give back to underrepresented groups.
Our focus is on Black, AAPI, LGBTQ+, and Latinx audiences. In each vertical, we have audience experts, and that was very intentional. We are the experts when it comes to these audiences.
If there’s a multicultural marketing or emerging markets team in the organization, I encourage you to work closely with them to develop your strategy. If that expertise doesn’t exist within the organization, then absolutely
find an agency partner who knows and has experience with the audiences you want to engage.
The Well by Northwell
The key to The Well’s success is our data-driven approach to content creation. We know what our readers are interested in because we study them. We learn about their needs and curiosities at the different stages of life and formulate concepts for content around those findings. And we don’t do it in a stuffy, formal way.
When we started, we were “intuition-driven,” meaning the team (made up of all women/chief medical officers of the household) would brainstorm about the things that mattered to us.
We assumed we knew what people wanted because we were the target audience.
Now that we're data-driven and spend a good amount of resources studying trends to really know what our demo is searching for, I’d say we weren’t wrong, but we didn’t understand how much more people were interested in – topics we hadn’t even thought of.
My advice is to get to know your audience and give the people what they want.
Promote your content inside to connect outside
We use Bambu by Sprout Social to share content internally so that it gets shared externally. It’s been a wonderful tool for us.
We had great success in leveraging that for our sales team during the early months of the pandemic, which allowed them to keep in contact with their clients and stay relevant.
We just kept sharing content and data points through this platform internally, and they could then put it right onto their own LinkedIn. They can put it on Twitter. Now we do it two to three times a week, and it’s a constant flow.
Senior Marketing Manager –
Understand what matters to your business
One of the main things we care about is seeing how many Workflow readers engage with the ServiceNow brand in a way that increases the chance that they will become customers (things like what percentage of Workflow readers click off to get assets on ServiceNow.com either directly or indirectly).
I think the exciting opportunity in content (at least the editorial thought leadership side) is to show how you’re contributing not just to brand awareness but ultimately to the business funnel. We’re not product marketers. But it’s important to be able to show that we’re sending people from an editorial experience to the top of the marketing funnel, where they can be captured as leads.
Richard McGill Murphy
Get executives on board
It’s important to have some type of champion at the executive level who will enable you to have the tools you need to get these things done.
That’s it. We couldn’t have done it without the support of my boss at the time.
Strategist – B2B
<strong>Curiosity Could Save Your Content (Don't Tell the Cat)
<strong> Clickbait never pays (at least not for long). Here's how to use curiosity wisely. </strong>
You Won't Believe What Happens Next!
There's a reason clickbait headlines work. But there's risk in manipulating curiosity in your content. Here's how to get it right.
By Jonathan Crossfield
I am a curious person. No, not in the sense that I’m bizarre or odd (stop snickering).
I’m curious in the sense that my ADHD-addled brain becomes obsessed with finding answers whenever it stumbles across an interesting question. Interesting to me, that is.
I recently spent an entire Saturday afternoon confirming exactly how many issues of the weekly British comic Princess Tina were published between 1967 and 1973. (Or rather 1974 – I eventually proved all of the published sources wrong. Take that, Denis Gifford, and your Complete Catalogue!)
Okay, so maybe I’m a little odd.
Everyone is curious in one way or another. After all, curiosity is what makes us human.
And, sometimes, it’s the seemingly trivial questions that lead to the most incredible findings. To Isaac Newton, a falling apple wasn’t just a bonk on the head but a question that demanded to be answered – and led to his theory of gravity. That’s some industrial-strength curiosity.
To Isaac Newton, a falling apple wasn’t just a bonk on the head. It was a question that needed an answer.
To the rest of us non-geniuses, curiosity is what pushes and pulls us every single day to try this, go there, read that, investigate the other.
It’s a big reason why people seek out content. It’s also what keeps someone reading or watching.
With any luck, curiosity can lead them to click on more links (hopefully ours) as they go further down whichever rabbit hole has captured their imagination.
Curiosity explains why people fall for clickbait, too. It may be tempting to take a darker, more manipulative approach to exploit curiosity. But it probably won’t pay off. Here’s why.
Curiosity clicked the link
You’re probably familiar with headlines like these: “Number Four Will Shock You” and “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!”
But clickbait isn’t always so blatant. Merely leaving out a crucial (but ultimately trivial) piece of information from a headline signals clickbait territory.
Consider this headline from my news feed this morning: “Expat baffled by common Aussie supermarket item.”
What is this item?! Is it that baffling? She looks stunned. What are we doing in Australia that would deserve such a reaction from an ex-pat? (To be honest, that’s probably a long list.)
Yes, I clicked. The answer was a capsicum. If you’re reading this in the United States, you call them peppers. Or bell peppers. Just know that you’re wrong. They are called capsicums. Oh, and the other, hotter peppers are chilis. You’re welcome.
Was the answer really worth a dramatic headline, never mind 500+ words of overstretched copy? It was thirty seconds of my life I won’t get back.
Is this clickbait?
Another common clickbait technique uses the headline to pose a yes/no question. This form makes the reader curious by calling into question something they previously had no reason to doubt.
As Betteridge’s law of headlines states, “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.’”
Ian Betteridge of TechCrunch gave us his tongue-in-cheek maxim in a 2009 article that excoriated the practice. “The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.”
Don’t panic. We’ve all used questions in headlines at some point.
Betteridge’s law targets headlines where the question is disingenuous. The curiosity is misplaced. The answer is as underwhelming as an expat’s capsicum.
Content marketing is far from immune to clickbait. I see social media posts and headlines that promise to reveal the one big trick, the five essential ingredients, the key to success in whatever field of interest the marketer is trying to target.
Yet they fail to provide the slightest clue to whatever specific information lies beyond the link.
Of course, the trick, ingredient, or key almost always turns out to be more metaphorical capsicums – particularly for anyone with more than a basic understanding of the topic.
If your ideal audience persona is a novice or amateur still grasping the basics, then capsicum may be enough. But a novice won’t be satisfied for long and will soon start looking for more nutritious fare.
Clickbait headlines might satisfy an audience of amateurs and newbies – at first. But even novices will soon start looking for more substantive fare.
Capsicum content won't cut it when you want to attract more experienced, skilled, or deeply curious readers. Of course, these readers are also more likely to be high-value audience members such as influencers or even potential customers.
Appealing to curiosity can be extremely powerful – when your content can deliver the goods.
Curioser and curioser
You might think interest and curiosity are synonymous. If you’re interested in a topic, you should be curious to learn more about it.
Yet it’s possible for your audience to be passively interested in your content without ever being actively curious.
Consider how many cookbooks are purchased by people who never cook a single recipe contained in those pages. Or how many people avidly watch gardening shows when all they have is a window box.
It’s possible to be involved in an activity without necessarily being curious about it. According to Amanda Markey and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, interest and curiosity are distinct.
A person interested in pottery may want to sit down and throw pots. Or, they may want to know more about the technique, the materials, and the history.
Curiosity arises when a specific knowledge gap occurs, such as, ‘What is the difference between high and low fire pottery?’ Thus, curiosity and interest differ by their objects of desire (specific knowledge vs. general knowledge/activity engagement).
This isn’t specific knowledge in the sense of “How to create awesome Instagram Reels.” That’s appealing to an activity-based interest no different from throwing pots.
Instead of taking the information and advice at face value, the curious might be more interested in learning how and why a specific technique works.
In other words, some content is about providing quick answers just to get the job done – no further curiosity required.
Other content seeks to explore, explain, or expand the topic to deepen the reader’s understanding and open up new possibilities – or even lead to new, independent conclusions.
The problem with clickbait is that it creates an information gap that is either an illusion or not worth filling.
The problem with clickbait
In 2012, Loewenstein and Russell Golman published a paper on factors that determine the intensity of a person’s curiosity.
- Importance: How much the information matters to the person.
- Salience: How attention is drawn to the information gap.
- Surprise: Does a new piece of information contradict or violate expectations?
The problem with clickbait is that it fakes or overstates the salience, importance, and/or surprise to create an information gap that is either an illusion or not worth filling.
So how do you ensure your content provides a satisfactory filling for your audience’s curiosity gaps?
Know – Want To Know – Learned
One educational technique used in schools to boost salience and curiosity among students is a Know – Want to Know – Learned chart (KWL).
Before starting a new unit of study or book, for example, a class would brainstorm what they already know about the topic and list it in the Know column.
Then they write what they want to know in the second column – identifying and highlighting their information gaps and fuelling their curiosity.
After completing the book or activity, the students write what they learned in the third column.
A chart with separate columns for Know, Want to Know, and Learned can help content marketers plan content that induces curiosity and retention.
This approach treats curiosity as a product of prior knowledge. In contrast, many brands seem to plan content in reverse: Start with whatever information is easiest to research and tell the audience they need to know it.
This approach assumes the audience isn’t already better informed. It’s more concerned with easy content than with what information the target persona is burning with curiosity to find out.
Content marketers don’t get to whiteboard a KWL chart with the audience before each piece of content. However, a similar approach can help in planning content to induce greater curiosity and retention.
Know: What does the target persona already know – or believe to be true? This also ensures the content matches their skill level and depth of interest. You might assume they’ve already read the articles that come up for relevant keyword searches.
Want to know: What information gaps might they have that your content can satisfy? If the persona isn’t aware of the gap – perhaps because new research challenges previous assumptions – how can you create salience by framing the content in relation to their prior knowledge?
Learned: Does the final content satisfy the highlighted information gaps? Are the answers as fascinating, relevant, or useful as the questions implied?
No capsicums allowed.
Why, why, WHY?!?
If your content is unequivocal and absolute, if it refuses to acknowledge the information gap exists, it risks curtailing the reader’s curiosity.
Unfortunately, content marketing’s obsession with thought leadership means a lot of content frames itself as complete or definitive, under the misapprehension that any hint of doubt might undermine its authority.
If curiosity is created and fuelled by information gaps, it makes sense for your content to be at least a little bit open-ended to give the reader’s curiosity somewhere to go.
As Markey and Loewenstein wrote:
“When information is portrayed, implicitly or explicitly, as complete, curiosity is stifled. But when an information gap is highlighted, curiosity is aroused and exploration increases.”
The people who produce your content need to be just as curious about the topic as the audience is.
Be willing to admit what isn’t known as well as what is. Be open about what’s opinion or theory and what’s a provable fact. Be honest about whether there are other viewpoints or interpretations.
Celebrate information gaps, don’t hide them. Instead, use them as springboards for further research, further content, further links for readers to follow.
And that means the people who write and produce your content need to be just as curious about the topic as the audience is.
Otherwise, you risk running out of answers before your audience runs out of questions. CCO
Jonathan Crossfield describes himself as a storyteller because writer, editor, content strategist, digital marketer, journalist, copywriter, consultant, trainer, speaker, and blogger wouldn’t fit neatly on a business card. He has won awards for his magazine articles and blog posts on digital marketing, but that was so long ago now it seems boastful to keep mentioning it. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.
<strong>Trend or Fad? What To Do About Emerging Social Spaces</strong>
Everyone’s talking about social media upstarts. Should you step in or watch and wait?
All the cool kids are playing with TikTok, Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Spotify Greenroom, and other new social places. You may be wondering if your brand should, too.
Before you join in, consider this advice from the “cool kids” (a.k.a Content Marketing World speakers).
They don't all share the same opinion, but the majority agree: Don’t jump on trendy channels unless your audience is there – and you have enough resources.
Is your brand experimenting with these emerging social platforms?
- Twitter Spaces
- Spotify Greenroom
- All of these
- None of these
Just say no
Ignore them. If you start with a tool/channel and ask how best to use it, you are not being strategic. If you start with a goal and then create a plan to reach it, you are being strategic. Open your toolbox and ask, how can I use this trowel today? There has to be something good I can do with this. I’m missing out if I don’t start working more with this trowel! – Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
Pick two to three channels where you know your audience consumes content. Ignore the rest. How much traffic does TikTok drive to company websites? Zero. How many leads did Snapchat get our clients? None. – Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
Ignore them if your audience is not there. We have a very specific B2B audience (sales leaders). While I really wanted to jump into the Clubhouse phenomenon, after researching bios, titles, etc., we determined our audience wasn’t there. Even though some of my business partners thought we might be missing out – our very specific buyer persona was not active and so we gave it a pass. I don’t regret it.
– Viveka von Rosen, Vengreso
Yes, for research or experimentation
If a new channel or technology aligns with your audience’s interests and behaviors, absolutely keep tabs on the platform. Follow those creating content in your areas and, when possible, dip your toe in the water. The brands that are engaging successfully on these platforms are the ones who recognize they need to adapt to the customs and norms of these platforms to be effective. – Zontee Hou, Convince & Convert
All audience channels are places to listen, learn, and develop a better understanding of what’s happening with your audience and with content formats in culture. Emerging channels are a playground for creativity. Even if they don’t inspire your next campaign or content marketing concept, they might teach you a lesson – or make you laugh along the way. – Andrew Hanelly, Revmade
Experiment. Find what works for your audience. Just because the latest survey says your audience doesn’t go there – don’t trust it. Look for yourself. Maybe the right part of your audience is there. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. – Ahava Leibtag, Aha Media Group
Only if the audience is there
First, evaluate whether your audience is there and if it’s worth it. Too many marketers try to be on every channel. Try to just do two or three really well. If getting on Clubhouse is going to be a distraction for your team and dilute the quality of the content you’re creating for your core channels, it’s honestly not worth it. – Joe Lazauskas, Contently
First and foremost, know your audience. Are they on these channels? If not, keep any investment to a small test. If your audience is there, however, have fun. Test some of your high-performing content topics on tried-and-true channels on these newer channels. – Katie Tweedy, Collective Measures
I don’t believe in chasing airplane shadows. Instead of pursuing the latest and greatest channel – squirrel – think carefully: Is your audience there? Does your message fit with the channel’s substance and tone? And frankly, is it really worth the investment, especially when you’re juggling so many channels already? – Jonathan Kranz, Kranz Communications
One caveat: Inclusivity
Be aware that some of these platforms are inaccessible to some of your audience. Ensure any videos you share are captioned, as 80% of the people who use captions are not deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, on many of the social networks, 80% of the people using them have the sound off. – Meryl Evans, meryl.net CCO
Not convinced yet? Read more opinions in the full-length version of this article on the Content Marketing Institute website.
<strong>How To Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough(er)
<strong>True resilience springs from systems, processes, and planning.
Resilience isn't individual. It takes a village (and a framework).
The beauty of the rock formations in the Royal National Park, Sydney, Australia, inspired the poem on the next page.
By Gina Balarin
Producing the millionth content piece on a subject you know better than you know yourself, then finding inspiration to produce the million-and-first takes? That takes endurance.
Finding a new way to understand the audience or creating a new content type after senior management complains that your content isn’t driving the results? That takes resilience.
And resilience in content marketing takes more than digging deep.
For truly resilient content marketing programs, content leaders must be able to reinvent and find inspiration despite arduous circumstances.
Processes, frameworks, and ensuring clear communication are helpful, but they’re not enough. Resilient content marketing requires a combination
of strategic and political savvy, humanness, endurance, courage, resolve, and strength of character (i.e., grit).
A corporate resilience expert I talked with says resilience takes personal accountability, investment, and time. But it’s about more than the individual. The whole organization must be willing to contribute.
I drew on his advice about business resilience and combined it with my own experiences and observations to create a resilience model for content marketers.
Use these ideas to build resilience – a readiness for whatever comes – into your content marketing programs and teams.
Content marketing resilience model
This model can help your organization build and sustain gritty and resilient content marketing. Resilience requires:
- Structures: Create structures or frameworks to support interconnectivity, collaboration, and support. Allow these to be adapted, moved, and repurposed as necessary to serve relevant goals, but keep people focused on a central piece (like the old green base plate on which you built your LEGO house.)
- Leaders: Think of your leaders as conductors, not commanders. Work with what you already know, what needs to be fixed now, and figure out the best move together. Then lead people in the right direction.
- Flexibility: Realize that the framework itself has elements of flexibility and even ambiguity but empower people and trust them to serve their roles when the time comes.
- Adaptation: Help your team members adjust without changing everything. Don’t ask them to drive a new car on the wrong side of the road. Teach them how to drive the same car in a different environment instead.
- Customers: If in doubt, put the customer’s needs first.
When you're told you didn't hit your numbers or business priorities have changed, being a content marketer leader sucks.
This model sets a general framework that helps create resilient organizations over time.
But how do content marketers apply the concepts to create brilliant content day after day?
I chose five challenges content marketing teams often face and developed these suggestions to help you prepare for resilience in each case.
Even rock erodes
Patiently: water, wind, sun, cold, pressure breaks it down.
But, having weathered, beauty remains.
Pink, orange, black sandstone
and marble-like surfaces
as white, smooth, and tiered
as a wedding cake.
Nature is a patient teacher.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Even a pearl is just a slimy sea creature in a shell without grit.
1. Executive pressure
When execs say you didn’t hit your numbers or business priorities have changed, being a content marketing leader sucks.
You have to defend your team, your work, and sometimes even your very profession.
Consider these resilience lessons and techniques:
- Be aware of human, technological, environmental, and political elements. The situation might not be about you, your work, or your team. In fact, the executives may simply be passing on their disappointment in financial results. And those results may come from market factors or elements beyond anyone’s control.
- Don't expect to have all the answers or a way to solve the problems immediately. Even if you don’t have the answers, you probably have a good idea about where to start looking for them. Give yourself time to reflect and investigate.
- Have a flexible mindset. Be like bamboo so you can bend without breaking.
- Use your words. You’re a professional communicator – communicate. Use every method, tool, and tactic at your disposal to help people understand why you’re facing the challenges and how they can help you overcome them. It’s OK to communicate that you need help, too.
2. Prepare for turbulence and team disconnect
Over time, content marketing teams may change, and team members may lose focus or choose to go in different directions.
You may have to deal with a horizontal team structure where once it was vertical or adapt to account-based marketing and the challenges it entails.
At other times, team members just lose their way. It’s understandable – we all get tired, cranky, and frustrated, particularly when the content we’ve fallen in love with doesn’t seem to be supported by the rest of the business or we just run out of ideas (more on this later).
So how do we adapt? Here are some resilience lessons:
- Focus people on solving the right things at the right time. The greatest idea may not be suitable at one time, but perfect on another occasion. Help team members understand this.
- Keep familiar elements in your core content processes. Create touchpoints people can refer to when they feel like things are going astray. Remind them what they need to do, who’s doing it, and why everyone is in it together. Dig out your content strategy or refer to your company mission and vision.
- Remember, your team isn’t just content creators. Build strong connections throughout the organization to bring the people together to address the issue. Siloed organizations aren’t conducive to resilience. Cross-organizational teams can provide brilliant support to one another, particularly during times of stress that affect one division more than another.
3. Prepare to have your ideas or project killed
Occasionally, content marketing leaders have to say, “This is a great idea, but we have to pull it.”
It’s hard when your team has invested deeply in something (whether it’s a blog post, a webinar, or an in-person event) only to have it canceled. The more invested an individual or team is in a project, the harder it is to get over.
Recovering from a loss like this can take people through stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, and depression) before they reach acceptance.
Here’s what to consider:
- Realize that adaptability takes personal accountability, investment, and time. If you put a lot of work into a project, it’s going to take time to get over losing it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or be resistant to explain why things have changed. When people ask you questions, they aren’t necessarily challenging you or being aggressive, they’re trying to understand.
- Don’t make people responsible for activities they don’t understand or can’t do. But do allow others who can help to step in. Sometimes this means admitting that you can’t do it all yourself and you need help in the form of contractors, outsiders, or even agencies.
The more invested an individual or team is, the harder it is to recover when a project gets canceled.
4. Prepare for criticism
Being proud of the work you’ve done is wonderful. But just because you think it’s fantastic doesn’t mean the work will be liked or accepted by other stakeholders.
To prepare your team for criticism or adapt to receiving criticism yourself:
- Accept the emotions. It’s OK to be angry, sad, disappointed, or hurt. But don’t wallow in those feelings. According to Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, 90 seconds is all it takes to identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate.
- Reflect honestly on whether the criticism has a grain of truth in it. Often criticism that “hits the mark” is the most hurtful. Try to learn from this.
- Get an external perspective. Preferably, turn to someone who can help you find something positive in this experience.
- Remember that criticism sometimes has nothing to do with you or your work. You’re just caught in the firing line.
- Use what you’ve learned to do something different. Address the real issue behind the criticism.
Just because you think your work is fantastic doesn’t mean it will be liked or accepted by other stakeholders.
5. Prepare for the creative doldrums
Some may know it as writer's block, others may just call it lethargy. It has even been referred to as work fatigue.
It’s that feeling which the Mayo Clinic explains as “unrelenting exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest, a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time, reducing your energy, motivation, and concentration.”
I call it the creative doldrums. The term “‘in the doldrums” is what happens in nautical waters where sailing ships can’t proceed because the wind just stops blowing.
You can’t go forward; you can’t go back. You’re stuck.
In content marketing, it’s easy to get stuck in the creative doldrums when you’ve done the same thing for a long time, have felt unappreciated for a while, or fail to see the results of your work.
When you need a big idea and can’t get it and are creatively stuck, it’s time to find new, resilient ways of coping with this challenge:
- Get out of your rut. Do something different. Go somewhere different (virtually if you’re stuck in lockdown). Learn something new or review something old.
- Take care of yourself. It’s very, very hard to be creative when you’re exhausted. Schedule me time and follow through on it. Take more time than you think you need and allow yourself to be blissfully unproductive for a while. (Ironically, taking time off actually helps you be more productive.)
- Ask for help. Turn to your team or even people from outside your team for their advice, recommendations, or suggestions.
- Ask for ideas. Talk to customers about what they need and help create content that solves their problems.
- Revisit an old content type with a new view. Think about what served you well in the past and how you can reinvent it. Direct mail (aka snail mail) is making a comeback in several industries.
When the going gets tough, retrain your brain
At the end of the day, being a communicator who leads other communicators is hard. We have to be creative yet efficient, empathetic yet focused, brave yet able to take the knocks.
I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote that has helped me and many of my communication and leadership coaching clients. CCO
Gina Balarin is an inspirational TEDx and keynote speaker, storyteller, and B2B marketing leader. She is also an MCIM Chartered Marketer with a master's of education in management communication and a member of the Professional Speaking Association. Author of The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People, among numerous other texts, Gina aims to magnify the impact of her clients’ influence through her expert guiding hand, visionary consultancy, and authentic storytelling prowess. Connect with her on LInkedIn.
<strong>Don’t Let a Poor Customer Experience Derail Your Content Results</strong>
<strong>Andrew Davis reminds a CRM company about what that acronym means. </strong>
Welcome to Unsolicited Advice,
in which Andrew Davis dishes out
content marketing guidance
to one unsuspecting target –
whether they want it or not.
This month’s advice goes to the
CEO of a CRM company that's
forgotten the meaning of
Dear Mr. Fois,
Your customer experience is appalling. And for a company that sells a customer relationship management platform, that’s shocking.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed using your SaaS product for four years – so much so that I’ve spent $10,240 with you. Your tool is fast, integrates nicely with our workflow, and has helped my company close $2 million worth of business.
But instead of upgrading my account with Copper, I’m canceling my subscription.
Why? Because it’s clear you don’t honestly believe in cultivating enduring relationships – even though that’s what your about page claims you want to help customers do.
A few weeks ago, I reached out to your customer success team with a few straightforward questions about functionality found only in your premium-tier software subscription.
Obviously, I was interested in upgrading. All I needed were a few encouraging words, a demo of the enhanced functionality, and someone to take my money.
Instead, I interacted with team members who were slow to respond, curt, and unhelpful. Sadly, not one of your team members offered to assist with the upgrade. No one even pointed me to an existing demo.
Mr. Fois, today everyone is in marketing and sales – even your customer service team.
If you’re not offering content that enables self-service, then you’d better work on your human-to-human service.
On that same about page, you claim, “(W)ith Copper, your business will grow the right way: with loyal customers for life.” Clearly, you don’t eat your own dog food.
Here’s the deal. I’m not coming back.
But if you rethink the experience you provide the customers you serve today, you might stop someone just like me from leaving tomorrow.
Whether you wanted it or not,
Host and author, The Loyalty Loop