Last week, I attended the Content Jam conference in Chicago, which was hosted by Orbit Media. It was an incredibly inspiring event, featuring smart insights from a number of experts. If there was a theme to the conference, it was how marketers can overcome content shock and provide value to their audience without getting lost in the sea of information that fills people's screens. I wanted to share some of the valuable lessons I learned from some of the speakers:
Andrew Davis: Killer Content
Andrew Davis is a bestselling author and acclaimed speaker, and he showed why with his opening keynote. He looked at how we currently experience information overload, with 17 new web pages being published every second, and he demonstrated how people search for information haphazardly by detailing an amusing process in which a mention of meat loaf led him to search for recipes, shop for cooking pans on Amazon, and take detours to investigate the career of the musician Meat Loaf.
So how do marketers cut through all this noise and reach their audience? Davis offered some great advice, boiling it down to memorable quotes like "Get rich, target a niche," and "Build a relationship with your audience before they need you."
The examples that Davis provided were especially fascinating, and they showed how creating content that your audience trusts and building those relationships is the best way to find success with your content marketing. These inspiring success stories included:
- Bart Van Olphen, who brought people's attention to sustainable fishing and created a new business by regularly releasing short cooking videos on Instagram.
- The Chicken Whisperer, who built a huge audience of hobbyist farmers through a weekly online radio show about raising chickens.
- Jenny Doan, who turned a small quilt shop into a business empire through a regular series of YouTube instructional videos.
These examples showed the importance of creating content on a regular basis, building trust, and delivering value that your audience didn't know they needed. Davis really demonstrated how even though we may feel overloaded with content, if we find our audience and deliver the value that only we can provide, we're sure to find success.
Ian Lurie: Tactics for Amazing Content
Ian Lurie has been involved in online marketing almost since the beginning; in fact, he believes that his company created the first ever content marketing, in the form of a guide to HTML that was published in the mid 1990s. In his presentation, he looked at how people need to realize that everything is content, not just blogs, and while marketers often don't control the process by which content is created, we do control the tactics we use to provide a good experience for our audience.
Lurie offered a number of helpful tips for creating content, including:
- Write in plain text rather than in a program like Microsoft Word. Learn Markdown formatting and use a tool like Dillinger.io to easily convert your text to HTML.
- Create content more quickly by using a tool like TextExpander to easily insert common phrases or boilerplate into your content.
- Be concise in your writing. Don't abuse adverbs. Use active voice. Avoid "plague words" (Lurie provides a helpful list and alternatives here). When editing and proofreading, use tools like Grammarly to find errors and Hemingway to make sure your content is easily readable.
- When using images, make sure they have a purpose; don't just treat them like white space. Avoid lame stock images, but if you must use them, make them your own, such as by using a tool like Comic Life to add speech bubbles. Sites like Pexels and Unsplash are great sources of free stock images, and tools like Snagit are great for annotating screen captures. Pablo is a great tool for creating feature images.
- Pay attention to site speed. Make sure your images aren't too large; use tools like Imageoptim or Ceasium to compress image file sizes. Use the right image formats: PNG for line art, JPG for photos.
- Format your text for easy readability. Paragraphs should be 4-5 lines long, with no more than 13-15 words per line. Break up your text with headings, with no more than 3-5 paragraphs between each heading.
- Choose the right format for your content. Don't just jump on the bandwagon and create whatever form of content is currently popular. Make sure your content fits the format. Infographics are good for high information density. Longform content is good for sharing a narrative. Blogs are versatile, and are good at conveying one idea at a time. Slides are good for a progression of ideas. And white papers are good for punishing your audience.
- Repurpose your content. If you do have a white paper, break it up into a series of blogs that are easier to consume. Build on your previous content and expand into new formats. Update any content that is out of date. Roll content up from multiple related content pieces and keep it alive.
- Piggyback on the success of third party sites. Publish on sites like LinkedIn, Quora, Reddit, Medium, and Slideshare to reach a larger audience and coopt their ability to rank higher in search results.
Brian Fanzo: Think Like an Influencer
Brian Fanzo is an expert in using tactics like live video to connect brands with their audience, and he delivered a great presentation on how to get the most out of influencer marketing. As he noted, today's digital customer has more power than ever before; people today decide who they want to listen to when determining what to purchase.
Today's customer is more likely to listen to their friends and people they trust when deciding to make a purchase, so brands need to identify the people who are already having conversations about them and use those conversations to bridge the gap between them and their audience.
Fanzo also noted that you shouldn't necessarily associate a big reach with influence. Celebrities might have a lot of followers, but do those followers actually take action? It's better to find someone with a smaller audience that actually inspires trust. Identifying your audience's wants, needs, and desires will help you define what success looks like for your brand.
One thing that Fanzo emphasized is the increasing importance of social video through platforms like Snapchat, Facebook Live Video, and Periscope. This format is the great equalizer, since everybody can do it, and it encourages audience participation. Fanzo shared some striking statistics that really drive home the importance of video:
- 53% of online adults use video to research a purchase.
- 40% of millenials say that YouTube creators understand them better than their friends.
- 81% of all internet traffic will be video by 2020.
Fanzo's enthusiasm about the potential of video and the ways marketers can leverage influencers to connect with their ideal audience was infectious. I'll be sure to explore some of his ideas soon.
Angie Schottmuller: The Persuasive Power of Proof
Angie Schottmuller is an expert in data-driven marketing strategies, and she demonstrated this in her presentation on social proof. She noted that we look to the behavior of others to decide what to do, and social proof, in the form of ratings, quotes, testimonials, etc. is a great way to reduce people's fear of uncertainty.
Schottmuller provided six formats for social proof:
- Sum it - List the total number of customer reviews, photos, likes, etc. that you've received.
- Score it - Display your star ratings or rankings.
- Say it - Include quotes, testimonials, or customer questions and answers.
- Sign it - Show the source of your rankings, awards, certifications, or sponsors.
- Show it - Use visuals like customer photos and avatars.
- Shine it - Display any awards you've won or stamps or badges of approval from authoritative sources.
She also provided a scorecard for grading the different social proof elements on each of the following criteria:
- Credible - Is the information provided believable? Does it come from a reputable source?
- Relevant - Does it answer the questions people are asking?
- Attractive - Is it visually appealing?
- Visual - Is it easy to see and understand?
- Enumerated - Does it include values (ratings, rankings, number of photos, etc.)?
- Nearby - Is it located in a position on the page where people will be looking for it?
- Specific - Are the values specific rather than general (e.g. "95.6% of users reported a positive experience")?
By detailing how different formats of social proof meet these criteria, marketers can examine how well they are answering their audience's questions and helping address their fears, doubts, and uncertainties.
Jay Acunzo: Do What Other Content Marketers Wouldn't Dare
Jay Acunzo hosts the podcast Unthinkable, which looks at inspiring examples of marketers who invest everything in their creativity and forge new paths. He talked about how today's marketers are obsessed with best practices; since we can measure everything, we want to rely on what has been proven to work.
However, while you can be a good marketer by following best practices, you'll most likely end up stuck at "good" and never reach "great." While good marketers follow best practices, great marketers craft their own. They need to make the leap from what has worked in the past and what their intuition says will work in the future. This can definitely be scary, but taking risks is what will end up paying off, and it is what will set you apart from everyone else.
Acunzo shared several inspiring examples of people who turned their passion into a new, profitable enterprises, including the creator of Unsplash, who set up a site sharing free, quality stock photos and saw an immediate increase in business for his company. As Acunzo noted, when you tell stories that people can't resist, people will want to tell stories about you.
This is just a sampling of the great ideas and inspirations that were on hand at Content Jam, and I'm glad I was able to attend and learn so much from these experts. If you were there, or if you have any questions about how to use these own insights in your own marketing strategy, please feel free to leave a comment below. I hope I'll see you at Content Jam next year!