10 things I learned at Content Marketing World

Shatner serenades PuizziSpeakers at Content Marketing World 2013

I’m sitting at Cleveland airport after two days of Content Marketing World and, to be honest, I don’t know what just hit me.

I’ve called myself a content marketer for years but this is the first time I’ve found myself in the company of even ten other content marketers, much less 1,700.

As I said in my session, I haven’t felt like that since my Bar Mitzvah (and kept expecting someone to shake me by the cheek and stick a check in my pocket).

It would take many posts to capture all I learned (or just, kind of absorbed) at this event so I’ll just do a random brain dump:

1. Meatspace is way better than social space.

I’ve spent a lot of time online with some great content marketers – but had barely actually met any of them.  So it was fantastic to actually spend time with  Hunter Boyle, Ann Handley, Tim Washer, Ardath Albee, Tom and Tamsen Webster, April Dunford, Robert Rose, Joe Pulizzi, Joe Chernov, Michele Linn, Andrew Davis, Jay Baer, Jason Miller, Jim Burns, Jeffrey Cohen, Jesse Noyes, Michael Brenner, Kelly Gorgone, Carlos Hidalgo, Marcus Sheridan, Sarah Mitchell, Rob Yoegel… (I’m going to plead jet-lag for running out of names here — I know there are just as many again).

These are the people who are lifting this discipline up by its bootstraps and I felt embarrassingly good pretending to be their peer.

(And I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get to meet Lee Odden or Adele Revella or Sarah Mitchell or other folks I promised myself I’d at least say hi to.)

2. Content marketing is growing up fast

When you get a whole bunch of smart people working a new discipline, everything progresses at hyper-speed, on every front. Pick any angle or dimension or feature of content marketing – content creation, discovery, distribution, promotion, analytics – and there are people focusing on it, experimenting with it and developing new tools and techniques around it.

Content Marketing World is like getting a core sample of the entire discipline in a few days. And it’s very impressive. We’re getting good at this stuff.

3. Process is not killing creativity.

As we watch the industrialization of content marketing, you’d think creativity would be shoved aside in favor of operations and plumbing.  Some of that is happening but I’ve seen a lot of fantastic creative too. Ann Handley‘s session on Innovation in Content Marketing was eye-opening (as everything Ann does tends to be). One of my favorite pieces was the world’s first Instagram film (mutoscope-style) by The Toronto Silent Film Festival.

People aren’t just cranking out bland content – they’re making fun, useful, entertaining, intelligent stuff, too. That’s encouraging.

4. Great content is coming from unexpected places.

You expect Red Bull and Nike to be doing great content. You don’t expect the big tech giants to be doing so (beyond Velocity clients of course). You’d be wrong.  Tim Washer at Cisco is doing very cool work – including a really great documentary called The Network Effect about networks and their impact on the planet.

GE Aviation is another favorite, with their Celebration of Flight program and stunning Paths of Flight video.

5. Content Marketers are hitting a concrete ceiling.

The Content Marketing World audience was a pretty young crowd.  That means most content marketers work for people whose careers were built in traditional marketing. So most are struggling to sell this new kind of marketing to the people who can fund it.

I saw evidence of this all over the place: the biggest obstacles to successful content marketing are internal. This will change as the new generation takes over, but until then we all need to get good at marketing content marketing. Fortunately, we’re naturally good at this.

6. Joe Pulizzi and the CMI team are impressive as hell.

We’re lucky to have such a talented community-builder and one that’s also great at finding fantastic people. I’ve never been so well-treated at an event (including my Bar Mitzvah) and rarely see such a real commitment to serving a community.  These guys deserve every bit of success that’s coming to them.

7. Cleveland is actually a cool city.

I didn’t see much of it but what I saw is way cooler than the bi-coastal snobs will tell you (disclaimer: I’m a recovering bi-coastal snob). It’s a good size, you can walk to lots of things (including two sports stadiums) and has that midwestern friendly vibe going on.

8. Too much orange can cause migraines

I never actually got a full-on head-splitter but at times I thought I could detect that flickering visual thing that often precedes the all-singin’-all-dancin’-all-wishin’-I-were-dead experience.

Joe: next year? I’m thinking pastels. Just sayin’.

9. There are some great vendors doing amazing things for content marketers.

I discovered a bunch in Joe Chernov‘s excellent session on content marketing tools, including Percolate, LookBookHQ, Genwi, Uberflip, Contently, LittleBird, Papershare, Influitive, Optimizely and TrackMaven.  His slides, outlining the reasons he chose these vendors, are available on Joe’s Blog.

10. There’s a kind of content that I’ve been under-valuing.

JayBaer and Marcus Sheridan both talked about a kind of content that’s not particularly sexy but can be hugely powerful: the kind that discovers every question a prospect or customer might ask at any stage in the buying process, then systematically answers them.

It might be in a simple FAQ or series of instructive videos. But, as Jay points out, questions add friction and our job is to remove friction, so people glide into the waiting jaws of our rapacious sales animals. We’ve tended to focus on the ‘home run’ content but I’m now a believer: content has a big educational role to play at every stage.

Bottom Line: I’m really glad I attended Content Marketing World (even though BA made my life suck for 24 hours on the way home). If you haven’t been to CM World yet, you’re in for a treat next year.

Other Round-ups:

Joe Pulizzi on the Content Marketing Institute blog

Maggie Jones on the Marketo Blog

Jason Miller for LinkedIn.

Amanda Batista of Oracle/Eloqua.

Rebecca Bredholt on Vocus.om.

Mike Gingerich on… MIke Gingerich.

Jenna Hanington at Salesforce/Pardot.

Michael Brenner on B2B Marketing Insider.

Sadie Cornelius on We Rock Your Web.

Brad Kuenn at Vertical Measures.

Hunter Boyle on Digital Marketer.

Lee Odden on the Top Rank blog.

Jason Miller of LinkedIn.

Jason Stewart on Annuitas


I’d love to go next year Doug; sounds like an incredible event. Was really interested to hear what you got from William Shatner?

I do recommend it. Unfortunately, I missed the Shatner keynote — had to catch a plane.
That would surely have been my highlight. Especially if he sang Mr Tambourine Man (Google it… a career highlight).

Excellent point about lots of brilliant minds working together on content marketing. There is no wonder that content marketing is progressing with leaps and bounds. We will be in the era of e=content marketing and out the otherside before we know it.

Sorry to have missed you too Doug.

That is one fine tile image you have there at the top of the post BTW 🙂

Doug…absolutely loved this…even the orange comment. It makes me want to make Content Marketing World 2014 even MORE orange next year! Seriously my friend, it’s awesome to have you part of this revolution. So much left to do…

Great meeting you in person, Doug. Thanks for making the journey! It was an amazing week and you nailed the recap.

Thanks for the comments, guys:

Sydney: onward and upward!

Lee: You too. Did I steal that tile image from you guys? I thought I stole it from the CMI!
(If I did, I’ll credit or remove: your call).

Joe: You couldn’t make it more orange if you tried! (It’s probably a really bad idea to dare you though…).

Carmen: Thanks! Great meeting you too — but way to briefly.

Doug, Great recap and thanks for linking to my own random dump recap. I really love that your #10. You know I’m your biggest fan but as I’m trying to sell content marketing to lots of old school marketers (your #5) I always tell them that they don’t have to be great or amazing. All they have to do is answer our customers’ top questions. As Marcus Sheridan says “they ask. we answer.” If we can get that simple message across the the executives who run marketing departments around the world, I believe there will be a massive shift from marketing that stinks to marketing people at least don’t hate 😉

Hi Doug, nice round-up. It’s great to hear how successful the conference was, I’m gutted not to have gone, but with so many good write-ups I’m sure I’ll be able to take a something away, even if it’s envy :-). I love the way Joe calls this a revolution too, so true and just makes me feel so good about being part of something so new, but so incredibly crucial. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Hey Doug – great write up. Sorry you missed William Shatner… the first few minutes were a little shakey, but he got into his stride and it was all good. We added our own round-up today if you want to add it to your list above. We cover Shatner in it too. http://www.verticalmeasures.com/content-marketing-2/content-marketing-world-recap/ Thanks! – Arnie

I had a fantastic time at Content Marketing World — and thank you for being there, too. Wonderful to hang out, and wonderful, too, to read your recap. Who else is still adjusting to real life after all that awesome…? 🙂

Thanks guys — yeah, I’m going through a bit of post-Cleveland de-compression too.

Doug –Really wonderful to meet you in person! I have loved watching your work throughout the years as it truly inspires me. Your wrap up captures both the learning and fun that I had last week. My head is still spinning a bit with everything I learned and everyone I met (in the best possible way). Looking forward to seeing what the future brings! Hope to see you next year as well.

Great meeting you too (finally) Michele. I really appreciate your encouragement from Day One.
Onward and upward (and see you soon).


I missed this 🙁

It was great meeting you too. Please let me know if, and how, we could ever work together.

– Rob

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