Ann Handley takes CMWorld 2018 on her journey from content ghost town to boom town

Ann Handley CMWorld 2018
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Even before she began her Content Marketing World keynote about an unexpected twist in her career, Ann Handley experienced another one.

The chief content officer at Marketing Profs was still backstage at Cleveland’s Huntington Convention Center on Wednesday when she was announced as the first-ever recipient of a new ‘Hero Award’ given by the Content Marketing Institute and an inductee to its Hall of Fame. The award recognized Handley’s track record in contributing to and supporting the content marketing community around the world and her expertise — and it was having that expertise questioned which provided the inspiration for her keynote.

Last December, Handley said, she received a message from a man named Ben in Amsterdam who wondered why she had only sent out three editions of her personal newsletter, Total Anarchy, over the course of 2017. When she tried to put him off with excuses about her busy schedule, Handley said she couldn’t get one of his replies out of her head.

“Seriously Ann . . . what gives?” he wrote.

Ann Handley

“Each time Ben responded — I am not proud of this now — he kind of pissed me off,” Handley admitted. “I was kind of defensive. It was like all the excuses we hear from bosses, CEOs and clients who tell us why they don’t have time to create content . . . I’ve been on this journey along the way to figure out what do we need to focus on to get — at least in my case — from content ghost town to boomtown.”

Since January, Handley said she has retooled Total Anarchy and grew her subscriber base from 3,000 to more than 10,000 people. In the process, she said it has taught her about why other brands don’t take advantage of platforms they’ve built or use them effectively.

Whereas most firms focus on the “news” component of a newsletter, for instance, Handley suggested harnessing the power of letters to convey insights in a conversational way. Newsletters should also be specific enough in their content to be believable but universal enough to be relevant, she said. Finally, great newsletters or content assets always have a “tell” — clues about show they can only come from the person or organization that created them. She pointed to newsletters from CB Insights, Warren Buffett and others as good examples of content marketing excellence in action.

“One of the things I found out is that e-mail is still the backbone of content marketing efforts of many brands out there,” Handley said. “It’s the only place where we decide what’s going to be there, not an algorithm. I want to be in a place where people want to be.”

Missing Mission Statements

Handley isn’t the only one who occasionally needs to relearn content marketing lessons, or apply best practices. In another session, Chicago-based Orbit Media Studios CMO Andy Crestodina said barely more than one per cent of marketers do things that have demonstrated success. This includes having a strong content marketing mission statement that can inform everything from topics to distribution tactics. He offered the following equation to help marketers make the process of crafting one a bit easier:

[Our content] is where [Audience X] gets [information Y] that offers [benefit Z]

“Everything the publishes aligns with its true north,” he said. “It correlates with results . . . and it makes a great CTA.”

Another often overlooked opportunity is original research, which Crestodina said didn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. He showed how, beyond doing its own surveys, Orbit has aggregated publicly-available salary data from PayScale and Glassdoor to offer an analysis of changes in how much content strategists and others make annually. Another research project used sites like Alexa and Quora to assess what’s considered “standard” in web site design. Both pieces regularly outperform most of the firm’s other blog content, he said. The key is to ensure you use titles that allude to “[Blank] statistics,” or include such phrases in SEO copy.

“(People) want something to link to. They’re looking for something to cite. That’s what we’re trying to win here.”

In the days when it was occasionally described as “brand journalism,” many marketing teams tried to learn as much from traditional editors and reporters as possible. In a CMWorld session on B2B monetization, Jeff Herrmann, founder and president of Madison, Michigan & Market, said brands today may want to take a second look at traditional media’s business model instead.

While both regular newsrooms and content marketers are focused on niche audiences and resourced to generate and syndicate stories, traditional media uses third-party measurement tools to set value that don’t exist in B2B. Similarly, the willingness of an audience to ‘pay for’ content may equate to giving contact information versus actual money. Finally, he noted that content marketers need to factor in firmographics as well as demographics, with e-mail addresses as a “universal ID” of sorts.

“We’re no longer competing on size, but on audience composition,” he said.

Content Marketing World continues on Thursday.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.