How I Will See Further on the Shoulders of Content Marketing Giants

by | Content Marketing

It’s easy to get sucked into a routine and stagnate toward mediocre results when you’re a small marketing department. That’s when you need to climb onto the shoulders of giants, like I did at Content Jam in Chicago. And with this post, I’ll share some secrets from the biggest (and best) in the biz.

When you’re in a small marketing department, you mostly operate in a low-grade panic. You’re splitting your day between planning for the future, putting out fires in the present, and trying to catch up on all those tasks from the past.

If you do get into a nice groove, which is entirely possible with content marketing, you can achieve success. The speakers at Content Jam, held November 4-5 in Chicago, gave plenty of advice to ensure that short-term success doesn’t slip into a routine, and you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

Meet the giants

Andy Crestodina and his team at Orbit Media in Chicago organize and host Content Jam. This is my third year there, and his team, led by Amanda Gant, continues to top the previous year’s effort — no easy feat.

I’d like to share my big takeaways from each of the speakers I saw. (Apologies to those I missed — I’ll be circling back to you for more insights.) 

These are takeaways I’ve tailored to small marketing departments, knowing what it takes to implement and operate an ongoing content marketing effort when you’re short on resources. To these experts, I’m sorry if I lost any of your message in my paraphrasing. But I think I’ve captured your intent.

Joanna Wiebe, Copy Hackers
Money over education, first person over second.

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna’s tale was a shot across the bow for those who believe the objective of content marketing is to “educate.” Sure, we want to enlighten customers, but at the end of day, we need to make MONEY.

She explained how today’s content should really be transitioned into old-school long-form ad copy, and she noted a classic full page ad from 1924 (see below). Our #1 objective should be to drive leads.

Full page ad

After that big picture kick in the pants, Joanna shared quite a few amazing conversion gems Copy Hackers has uncovered along the way:

  • Write your posts — headlines especially — in first person. People like stories, and the second person puts the pressure on them. (Refer to that piano ad for more proof!)
  • “Formula the crap” out of your headlines. Formulaic headlines are like Harlequin romances; the same approach works time and time again. So don’t get fancy — stick to what works.
  • Tap into the pain. Always put the pain upfront in your posts. It’s what draws people in. Save the positive thinking for when you pull people from the depths of despair.
  • Research-o-rama. Joanna noted that the true key to any successful post these days is to conduct “more research than you can imagine.” The more you put in, the better you’ll perform.

Aaron Orendorff, Founder of iconiContent and Marketer at Shopify Plus
Roll up your keyphrases, leverage your influencers.

Aaron Orendorff

I caught Aaron’s presentation on how to create evergreen content — the true goal for any content marketer. You want a post that sits atop search engine rankings for a specific topic, and has both the backlinks and the useful, relevant content to ensure it won’t get knocked out.

What I liked most about Aaron’s presentation was that in creating an epic piece of evergreen content, he managed to integrate all the important elements of content marketing.  

For example, if you’re aiming to rank for a specific, high-volume keyword, you can create a series of posts built around related long-tail keyphrases and then “roll them up” into a single piece of evergreen content.  

Evergreen content can be epic.

He took the same approach with seeking influencers to be part of your evergreen piece. The most successful pieces of content not only contain original contributions from influencers, but naturally generate backlinks from websites with high domain authorities.

Applying his strategy to a small content marketing effort, you can build up that network of influencers by collaborating with them for a series of posts on those long-tail keyphrase topics. Then, you can tap into their insights for the big evergreen content.

Other takeaways from Aaron:

  • Roll them up big to small (or vice versa). To ensure your evergreen posts are read, you can provide them in downloadable PDFs that readers can download for later. You could also take a big post and make it into an exec summary post — big to small.
  • Create a dream list of influencers. When you start your process, look for the biggest influencers and make your list two times as long as you think it needs to be.
  • “Roll” people you don’t know to get influencers you’d like to meet. This is a simple task of asking influencers if they know anyone who could contribute to your post.

I’m really just touching the tip of the iceberg here. His approach to promoting your evergreen content is truly gold.

Nadya Khoja – Head of Marketing at Venngage Poster Maker
Solve a problem, then get creative.

Nadya Khoja

Nadya’s topic was on the 12 principles of viral content, a phenomenon we usually equate with a YouTube cat video or a catchy dance move.  

But Nadya and her company are far more strategic about their viral approach than just getting a gazillion viewers. Her company, Venngage, creates viral content that creates inbound links, which are critical to search engine optimization.

For any piece of content to go viral, Nadya recommended not to rush into the content creation part of the process — first, focus on the problem you are trying to solve. With that as a starting point, she presented a 12 principles / strategies you can use to develop your own viral content.  

I’ll summarize a few of these principles, with links to examples of content — such as in books, infographics or just articles — that can go viral:

Nadya noted an essential piece of any viral content isn’t just the creation, it’s the promotion.  Her promotion tactics include researching authors who have written on the topic, and asking whether they’d be interested in your content.

She also advocated pitching your content to ten sites to get the content placed, noting that if you get it picked up by one of the major sites, it will soon spread to other sites. 

Gini Dietrich, Founder and author of Spin Sucks
Think options instead of solutions.

Gini Dietrich

Gini keynoted the event, and her presentation focused on the difference between “solutions” and “options.”  “Solutions” tend to be the predefined path that you feel you have to take, and “options” are choices where you have control.

Her message was that you are in control of your professional future and your personal life. Be sure to always seek out your options instead of settling for solutions.

You can also apply this to content marketing. Many experts will offer advice on what you should do, but it’s truly up to you, from a strategic leadership role, to apply your own situation and seek out the options that make sense for your department.

Michael Aagaard, Unbounce
Err and err again…

Michael Aagaard

Because we perform a lot of conversion testing for our clients, I was excited to hear Michael Aagaard speak on confirmation bias. In a nutshell, confirmation bias is looking to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, rather than striving to uncover the truth.

For example, Michael spoke about “torturing data.” This is where you “torture” data long enough so that it will “confess,” or confirm your bias.

The key to overcome confirmation bias, as elementary as it may seem, is to accept the fact that you could be wrong. Ask questions, do research, challenge your beliefs, and use testing to break the confirmation bias cycle.

Michael also showed me the true beauty of a conference like this. At the after-party at a nearby bar, I asked Michael about Winbound’s own conversion optimization process. It was a great opportunity to get his insights.  

If I could sum up Michael’s presentation, I would refer to the brilliant quote he shared from Piet Hein:

The road to wisdom? — Well, it’s plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again,
but less
and less
and less.

Andy Crestodina
The power of collaboration, networking and learning.

Andy Crestodina

I finish with Andy Crestodina, who also presented at Content Jam and the Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media Studios. Anyone who has read my blog knows I’m a fan of Andy’s, and we’ve based much of our content strategy on his approach.

Andy’s presentation included many of the things we do here at Winbound every day, such as collaborative content and refreshing old content.

I feature him not because of what he said at Content Jam (and as usual, he had a lot of valuable things to share), but because of what he did. He brought together hundreds of content marketers and showed us the power of collaboration, networking and most importantly, learning.

Marketing is always evolving.

Marketing is not a static field. It is inevitably easy to slip into the routine, to rest on the laurels of your success, and to ride on what has worked.

But when you learn from the giants, like those at Content Jam, you see further, you see faster, and you see with heightened wisdom. How ironic that the event was held in the “City of Big Shoulders.” It sure was fine to climb up on those shoulders and see all the potential this field has to offer.

Be sure to check out a great Content Jam infographic from George Stenitzer, this excellent post with top slides from Jeff Segal and insightful coverage from Sean Callahan.

Apologies to any presenters I missed at Content Jam. I hope to feature more insights from the conference in future posts!


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Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio has been creating content for many moons. He is the Founder and CEO of Winbound, a sales and marketing agency that provides content and marketing services with a focus on manufacturing and industrial verticals.

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