Content Marketing is the only marketing left.
~ Seth Godin
Everything is content.
You may be wondering why I opened my recap of Content Marketing World with a quote by Seth Godin, who didn’t speak at Content Marketing World (CMWorld) 2015. Or why I crossed out the word “content” in my title. Rest assured, this erasure and the reference from Godin almost 7 years ago are quite deliberate.
On Day 2 of CMWorld 2015 while I was microblogging with over 3500 “content marketers” from all over the world, I looked up at my Twitter feed and noticed that CMWorld had been trending—trending to the tune of 15k tweets. That’s right. 15k tweets in less than two days about a “pesky” new marketing discipline. Indeed, CMWorld was dominating Twitter and competing aggressively with Inbound2015, a conference with more than 5 times the participants. I had what any Tarantinoesque, postmodern gangsta might have called “a moment of clarity.” Of course, Godin’s declaration has now become a reality, but more intriguing is the fact that Content Marketing as a discipline has become so oversaturated that it’s actually redundant to juxtapose the words “content” and “marketing” together.
Content isn’t just mainstream. Content is just marketing these days. You are either doing content or you are not marketing. That’s it. That’s all you really need to know from CMWorld. The rest is just footnotes as they like to say in academia.
I heard a few thought leaders at the conference talking about Content Marketing as if it were still a revolution. I understand the impetus to continue to speak about content in revolutionary terms—after all, content’s capacity to disrupt is why I became a content marketer. Content Marketing was once the insurgent “DIY” marketing movement. It was about inspiring our audiences. Wowing them. Even—gasp—entertaining them. It was the anti-marketing revolution, which finally empowered marketers to stop “selling” and start providing real value to their audiences. Who wouldn’t be down with that?
But it’s not a matter of whether Content Marketing is still a “revolution” or if it’s “sold out” to the corporate machine. If you’re still wondering if content marketing is a flash in the pan, then you’re missing the whole point. That’s like wondering whether the air you breathe or the water you drink is still revolutionary. You either breathe or . . . wait for it . . . you die. You either do content or you fail. That’s it. In every decision that could produce fatal consequences, contemplating or meditating about your actions means risking certain death or risking your failure—your reflexes must bypass your brain and just kick in. Your organization doesn’t have time anymore to mull over the idea of whether you’re going to get into the content game. You just don’t have a choice anymore. It’s Content or Death.
We’re entering or have already entered a post-content paradigm complete with a counterrevolution of its own. And if content has become the essential element of any marketing strategy and/or program, there are wide-reaching implications and challenges. Although I attended many inspiring and thought-provoking sessions at CMWorld, I’d like to spend the remainder of this recap post discussing 3 key counter-revolutionary trends that I witnessed from my experience at CMWorld.
Trend #1: Content is No longer King (Or Queen); Audience Is King
Yes, I know. Suggesting that content is no longer king is tantamount to heresy in the content world. But before you shout “Blasphemer,” hear me out. Without a doubt, one of the best sessions I attended was Chad Pollitt’s talk on content promotion. It sounds like a run-of-the-mill “how to” session, and I went into it thinking I was going to learn about some new channels to promote my content. But I left with so much more. Pollitt voiced something that had preoccupied me as a content marketer for some time: How do we deal with content’s increasing invisibility? Or put into other terms, in a content-saturated market, how do we deal with our ever-shrinking audience? Facebook’s organic reach is less than 2% and Twitter is soon to follow. Search engines will no longer be able to keep up with “tomorrow’s content volume.” All social media will be developing native content and media companies will be either buying or building their own content marketing agencies.
What this means is that those organizations who will thrive will be those that can access an audience because you cannot persuade them, if you can’t access them. In such a climate, “Content is no longer king,” according to Pollitt, “Audience is king.”
The implications, if this is correct, are massive. The most obvious being that those who get access to audiences will have the “keys to the kingdom.”
Trend #2: Content is Customer Service; Customer Service is Content
In my previous life, I marketed customer experience software for the company that developed (and trademarked) the Net Promoter Score (NPS). So I get that to be successful in today’s “yelpified” world, companies must go beyond customer service to true customer advocacy. It’s no longer a luxury, but a necessity. By now, we’re all familiar with this stat: it costs 7 times more to acquire a customer than to retain one. In fact, CMOs are now being evaluated primarily on their CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) ratio. Yet 80% of our revenue comes from just 20% of our customers.
So I’ve always known that customer service is content and vice a versa. But Jay Baer’s forthcoming book, Hug Your Haters, upon which his CMWorld talk was based, shifts the tenor of this discourse significantly. According to Baer: “Customer Service is the Petri-Dish of Content Marketing.” What does he mean by this? He doesn’t just mean you need to develop content to placate your haters. No. That’s what traditional marketing has always done. We get a customer complaint on Twitter, and then we draft our next FAQ question and post it on our website, right? Wrong. He means almost the opposite. That it is precisely those moments of customer eruption that can become a creative (and even regenerative) wellspring not just for your content program, but your whole company. In short, your haters can become the best thing that ever happened to your company.
Consider one of Baer’s most striking examples in his talk. A case where a customer of an online eyewear company actually solicited advice from the customer service team on her choice of glasses. The customer success team didn’t just tell her “You made the right choice” or “Thanks for buying our product.” No, they wrote a jingle especially for her, telling her how fabulous her choice was and conveying how much they appreciated her business. This jingle became the cornerstone of a whole program for personalized jingles for other customers that weren’t in response to a complaint, but just a way of enhancing their relationship with their customers. I haven’t read Baer’s whole book because it’s not published yet, but he appears to be advocating a kind of preemptive customer success marketing rooted in content that enhances relationships and whose accidental byproduct is customer loyalty.
So we need to take Baer quasi-literally when he says we need to hug our haters. Our haters can become the means by which we improve our marketing, operations, and even product design. An added bonus is that when we embrace our haters, we can transform our company’s greatest detractors into our company’s greatest promoters or advocates.
Trend #3: Events Are Content—Big Content
Yeah, I know that contending that events are now content sounds kinda obvious. But let me explain. Not too long ago, I developed an award-winning content strategy for the largest software event in the world: Dreamforce. Although I was tasked with creating content for the event and promoting it, not once did it ever cross anyone’s mind that the event itself was the content and that everything we were doing for that event was just content production, not strategy.
My recent experience at CMWorld solidified my theory that events are content itself. At CMWorld, I was not only served content by thought leaders in the form of keynotes, sessions, and classes, I was also quite literally immersed in a single end-to-end content “experience.” Whether it was the orange plastered on every wall, tie, and piece of swag or the session titles that were transformed into clever movie posters or a Hollywood Squares versions of a Q&A panel or even the amazingly personalized concert by the Barenaked Ladies (They wrote songs especially for the conference), one couldn’t help leave CMWorld with a favorable impression of CMI.
As attendees, we exchanged content marketing gallows humor; we collectively became inspired by John Cleese; we gyrated at after parties until dawn together. And by the time we left, we were bonded together by a shared experience we will never forget. Many left the conference converted into die-hard fans. People, in short, who will become regular event attendees, content buyers, and brand advocates for CMI. In fact, this blog post is an example of the quality of advocacy face-to-face events can produce in prospects and customers. I always admired CMI as a customer, but it wasn’t until CMWorld that my admiration developed into full blown advocacy. After CMWorld, I feel compelled to tell everyone how awesome CMI is. In short, the CMWorld event became the content that converted me from ambivalence to advocacy. And if, as Chad Pollitt contends, audience is truly king, just imagine what kind of currency you actually possess with a “captive” face-to-face audience made up of hundreds or even thousands of customers and prospects.
Up until recently, the kind of brand advocacy and customer loyalty events produced was intangible—indeed almost immeasurable. But new event management technology now allows you to derive direct revenue and measurable ROI from this immersive content experience. When Event Management Software is integrated with marketing automation, something marvelous begins to happen—you can create highly customized, indeed personalized, event experiences for each attendee–serving them exactly the content they need and nothing they don’t. It allows you to connect them with the right people at exactly the right time. And all of this data is fed back into marketing automation, so you can leverage it in real-time for cross-channel marketing campaigns.
But the best and most innovative marketers out there already know this. Salesforce, Marketo, or CMI all know that face-to-face events provide an unparalleled opportunity to develop the kind of customer or prospect experience that not only converts, but also transforms attendees into loyal advocates for your brand. Events, such as Dreamforce with 150K+ annual attendees, provide such a powerful branding opportunity that they soon take on a life of their own, becoming sub-brands with an almost product-like “aura” for their companies. Events, in short, are the Big Content that help you attract and retain that elusive captive audience, which is swiftly become the currency of today’s contemporary climate.
So yeah, events are content, but they are so much more—they delimit the final frontier of Big Content. The content marketers who grasp this, will reap the twin benefits of events–rapid growth and life-time customer loyalty.