Last week, I was lucky enough to be one of thousands of content marketers who descended on Cleveland, OH, for the Content Marketing Institute’s annual Content Marketing World conference. The conference brings together marketers, industry experts, and vendors to talk all things content — from social media and search to workflow, strategy, and everything in between.

After four jam-packed days, I left Cleveland with a litany of notes, ideas, and a better understanding of how content can drive sales and conversions in the e-commerce (and brick-and- mortar) spaces.

Because I think a lot of our clients and other marketers can benefit from some of the things I learned during my time in Cleveland last week, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Content Marketing World 2017 for e-commerce managers and marketers in today’s world.


1. Want to drive the bottom line? Build an audience.

“The most important thing in content marketing today is building an audience,” Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World, said in his opening remarks. In the wake of an increasingly fragmented media space, Pulizzi calls attention to how businesses are increasingly behaving like media companies.

This shouldn’t be news to you. Companies from Red Bull to General Electric are increasingly investing in media operations; more recently, we’ve seen Amazon and Apple investing heavily in content creation as well (just look at Amazon Originals, which have swept up awards traditionally reserved for Hollywood powerhouses).

The reason, according to Pullizi, is pretty straightforward: People aren’t buying all the time, but they’re consuming content almost always. Where content marketing was once focused solely on driving sales, it’s now being used as an avenue to create loyal audiences (who, coincidentally, also happen to have some purchasing power when they get around to it). And in a world where we’re constantly barraged by content in the form of ads, YouTube videos, notifications on our phones, and everything and anything else on the internet, building up a loyal audience who respects your brand and derives value from its content is crucial.

The content you choose to invest in, Pulizzi says, should reflect this shift. No longer are people content with content that solicits, sells, and masquerades as being helpful. People now look for content that informs, entertains, and helps them understand the world, whether in their personal or professional lives.

This was a point hammered home by quite a few other presenters and workshop leaders. According to Jay Acunzo, a keynote speaker at Content Marketing World and the founder of Unthinkable, “it’s really easy to be average nowadays.” An example: If you want to know the best time to tweet, you likely Google it (Google says 3pm). Guess what? Every other marketer is doing the same thing, so 3pm is no longer the best time to tweet.

The solution, Acunzo says, is to focus on what the customer wants and not on what your business needs. As it turns out, there’s usually a neat intersection between the two. “When we pay more attention to the customer than the industry, the customer pays more attention to us,” he says.

The takeaway: Whether you’re reaching out to customers via social media or penning a blog post, always strive to build an audience by asking a simple question: What do your customers care about? 99% of the time, people aren’t in buying mode, but by using informative and entertaining content to keep yourself in the conversation, you can become the place people go to when they are ready to buy.

2. Your marketing metrics are all wrong.

For me, this was the most interesting takeaway from Content Marketing World: If you’re using clicks to measure engagement, you’re doing it all wrong.

Before I unpack this one, let’s journey back through time a bit. In the early aughts (well before that, but whatever), advertisers and marketers had a revelation — they could now measure customer journeys through clicks, page views, and sign ups. And with that, they could quantify leads and interest. This led to the advent of the modern marketing funnel: Build awareness, stir interest, inspire consideration, and then let a sales guy close the deal.

What’s missing in this whole lead generation strategy, says Elle Woulfe, the VP of marketing at LookBookHQ, is the qualitative angle. We’re increasingly pushing leads to sales that aren’t even in the realm of interest, let alone consideration. How many times have we all downloaded eBooks or signed up for something to get some information with absolutely no intention of ever buying the thing, product, or service in question? (Possible answer: A lot.) That’s kind of a problem.

“What is marketing supposed to do?” Woulfe asks (rhetorically, might I add). “Educate buyers. That’s it — we’re supposed to equip people with the right information to make a decision.”

Instead, the advent of lead generation has increasingly led marketers to focus on, well, leads. The end result: “You end up targeting people with no intention to buy and no idea why you’re calling them,” Woulfe says.

The solution: Start measuring how much time people are spending on a page and whether they’re actually reading, viewing, or engaging with what you’re putting out there. Quantity isn’t a proxy for quality, and the better the engagement you’re getting from prospective customers, the more happy everyone is.

The takeaway: If you’re not already doing it, start measuring engagement with your content. You might be getting thousands of page views every month and that’s great, but if people are spending 10 seconds on your pages at a time then you’re not really reaching them.    

3. Turn traffic into leads with killer calls to action.

In the Google age, it is unlikely that people come to your home page on their own and find products from there. Instead, they’re way more likely to land on one of your product, category, or content pages by way of a — you guessed it — Google search. And that should affect how you treat your content and, more broadly, your website at large.

“Think of every page on your website as a landing page,” says Garrett Moon, the CEO and cofounder of the marketing firm CoSchedule. And here’s where Moon bucks the common approach to page building not once, but twice: “Always have one call to action, never two; and consider getting rid of the sidebar — it’s takes away from your call to action.”

Whether or not you follow through with this advice, Moon’s point stands: Whether it’s a purchase button or a sign-up form for gated content, make sure your call to action is clear and actionable. How clear should you make it? Moon advises beginning any page with your call to action (albeit, not in an over-the-top kind of way) and ending that page with the same call to action.

And there a few other ways to get people to really focus on that call to action. According to Andy Crestodina, the cofounder of the award-winning web design firm Orbit Media Studios, studies have shown that using a picture of a person (or baby or cat or dog) and making sure the subject is staring directly at your call to action drastically improve click-through rates. This is due to a cognitive bias where our eyes are drawn to whatever another person is looking at. Arrows pointing to your CTA would work as well.

Another thing: Long pages consistently perform better than shorter pages. “CrazyEgg made it’s page 20% longer and saw a 30% higher conversion rate,” Crestodina says. “Plus, scrolling is way easier for everyone when it comes to tablets, smartphones, and PCs — you should never use tabs or force unnatural interactions to get more content.”

All this advice, of course, relies on you pushing out and maintaining a content strategy that resonates with your audience. But we’ll get to that shortly…

The takeaway: Treat every single page you have as a landing page and imagine that it’s the first — and potentially last — thing on your site visitors will ever see. What are you going to do with that one shot you have to convert someone? Make it as unlikely as possible that they leave without doing anything. To that end, make your CTAs strong and powerful and minimize anything that will distract people from seeing it.

4. It’s chess, not checkers. With content, strategy matters.

The big thing any marketer wants to do, says Garrett Moon of CoSchedule, is “attract an audience who is excited to discover your product.” And the best way to do that is “to ask yourself, ‘What do my customers really care about?’”

Once you’ve figured that out, you need to get strategic, something that’s crucial when it comes to your content and your broader marketing plan. Long story short, every piece of content should be aimed at achieving an end and work as a piece in a larger puzzle.

Instead of playing with content like a game of checkers where you only look one step ahead, constantly focus on the plays five moves out and make each move a quality one at that. Content that informs, entertains, or tells a story is key to any strategy.

And before you go about writing anything for internal or external use, focus on these questions: Why are you writing it? What purpose will it serve? Does it help your audience answer a question? Does it help you stand out as a place people want to go when they need help?

Oh, and there’s one more thing that we may have mentioned before — engagement. If your content strategy is working, people will engage. Whether that’s measured in time on page, leads generated, PR coverage, or any other number of things is up to you. You need to decide on your metrics, track them, and adjust your content strategy accordingly.

In the parlance of what might be the best movie of all time (here’s looking at you, Field of Dreams), “If you build it, they will come.” Just make sure you build it right.

The takeaway: Have a holistic view of all content generation efforts and make sure every single thing maps clearly to your audience’s needs. Your business needs come second to those of your audience — because when you’re helping them, you’re helping yourself.

5. Testimonials and CGC? They matter — a lot.

Last but not least, a takeaway that’s near and dear to our hearts: Testimonials and consumer-generated content (CGC) matter a whole lot in today’s marketing world.

“The job of the marketer is a bit like an attorney. Imagine if you were defending your client, and you put no one in the witness box,” says Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios. “It’s going to be a problem. Your job is to provide evidence. And for a marketer, testimonials and ratings and reviews do just that.”

No matter how good your marketing copy is, Crestodina says, the vast bulk of it is built on unsupported claims. Sure you can say have the best solution or product (and it might even be true), but it won’t do you any good unless you bring in some witnesses to back up that claim. Don’t tell people how amazing your product is — have your customers show them.

Crestodina points to popular e-commerce sites as examples. Over the years, ratings and reviews have gone from taking up a fraction of the page to, in some cases, almost 50%. That’s a huge jump, and it’s happened because this kind of content moves higher conversion numbers.

More broadly though, content from your customers bolsters your credibility online and helps build up an audience (see bullet point number one in this blog post). Whether you’re pulling in social media content or publishing full testimonials, putting this type of content to work in as many places as possible across your website strengthens your claims — and your brand.

“If you have a community that loves you and loves your brand and likes to work with you, and you’ve figured out a process for working with it, there’s no question: You should leverage that,” says Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute. “It’s absolutely true that buying behaviors are shifting as testimonials and ratings and reviews continue to become more and more prevalent and prominent.”

And that’s a statement everyone here at Bazaarvoice can get behind.

The takeaway: Content from your customers (which we like to call CGC) is more important than ever. And whether it’s from Instagram or a full-throated testimonial video, make this content work for you in your marketing.


Some final thoughts from Content Marketing World

In a particular riveting keynote, the YouTube star Casey Neistat had one resounding message: Attention spans are short, and younger generations can see through a lot of today’s marketing and advertising. At the same time though, the appetite for real content has never been stronger — people are surrounded by it all the time, and the modern marketplace puts a high premium on excellent content.

In today’s world, we’re always one Google search away from an answer and one YouTube query away from a cat video. And on top of it all, we’re always a few taps away from joining in the conversation. As marketers, our core want is to be part of that conversation. And the big takeaway from Content Marketing World 2017 is that we can be if we put a high priority on building excellent content that informs and entertains.

And if you do it right, you’ll get closer to your customers — and likely find a few more in the process.

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