A conference where you spend 100% of your time listening, rather than on your phone, is a good conference.
Ben Lerer, CEO of Thrillist Group, and ummm… lots of other things, reminded us that “virality is not a strategy; it is the [potential] outcome of a [kick-ass] strategy.” The “we want you to create a viral video” request has not come my way in the last couple of years, thankfully. But a former colleague of mine just told me (while his eyes rolled into the back of his head) that his new CMO briefed their agency to come up with one last month. And I cringed. So I love this quote.
Dana Reinglass, Chief Storyteller + Managing Director, Digital Engagement, United. All sounded so sweet until the United part, right? I’m thinking perhaps she said yes to this conference a few months ago? But she was so great-natured about all of it, which reminded me and I assume most in the audience, that while sometimes sucky stuff happens, we can live to tell the tale. In response to a question about her approach post-incident, she said, “[United has a relationship with its customers], so I’m treating it like I would do with any other relationship. After an issue in a personal relationship, you have to regain trust first. Every time you put out a new piece of content, you have to look at it through the new lens.” She’s also taking the age-old advice of Winston Churchill referring to the United Nations being formed following WWII, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And lastly, on how she is engaging United employees to be part of the brand’s content marketing program: “People want to know that what they do matters.” Yes, they do. Every manager in every company in every industry should have this on their wall.
Shafqat Islam, CEO of Newscred, included some terrifying statistics in his presentation (I wish he included sources!) The meat of his talk is well-represented by two specific quotes: “The goal isn’t to be good at content. The goal is to be good at business, using content. That is what will move content marketing from a cost center to a profit center.” And one we’ve heard before but not necessarily as eloquently (and frankly, it’s a really good one to remind ourselves as we review work every day): “Be the thing they’re interested in vs interrupting the thing they’re interested in.”
Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify, has an agency background like me and so this quote, referring to the creative process, was particularly resonant: “There’s a drawer filled with sadness which is great stuff that never got made.” As my husband is a creative director, I live with that drawer. (Seriously, there is a “drawer,” in the form of a stack of papers shoved into a notebook, but he reviews all those dead ideas whenever a new brief comes along and if there’s a match, believe me it gets presented. And every so often, lemonade gets made.) I also loved this insight, particularly relevant to me as a runner, that was uncovered through reams of listening data and that disproved an ingoing theory: “People use music when they run not to help them perform better but to help them forget that they’re running.” So the playlists you’d think people would want to listen to while running are actually very different from the ones they actually do. This type of revelation is the kind that can lead to truly breakthrough communication.
Then these two completely charming guys from Merck, not the sexiest of brands, came up to the stage: Hans Riis and Marty Kovach, both Content Strategists. They were self-deprecating on behalf of their organization, and explained in quite hilarious detail, what it is like to come up with legally-sound communications within the pharmaceutical world, and also what it is like to get those they work with to understand the value that non-product-based content brings to the business: “We’re earning the right to sell to the customer in the future.” This is such a difficult concept to sell to those who manage the budget, which was Shafqat’s point about moving content from a cost center to a profit center. Much easier said than done, though perhaps within the world of pharma they could make the argument that content is to marketing what R&D is to product creation… a required investment for future success.
The most interesting part of BNY Mellon’s Global Head, Corporate Marketing Aniko Delaney’s talk came at the end, when she shared the brand’s Career Quiz. As anyone who’s ever looked for a job knows, the search is a mind-numbing process. Anything to make it more interesting is welcome, and this bank has figured out that providing a better experience for future employees to search for a career with them is a major opportunity to share their own brand values. I took the quiz for fun, and it rightly defined me as a “Brand Champion.” Given my answers, it wouldn’t take rocket science technology to put me in this bucket, but it left me with a really positive (and quite different than I had going in) perception of the brand. This is content marketing. I’ll now view future BNY Mellon comms through this fresh filter.
Clay Hausmann is CMO of Aktana, an unlikely company for his background. In fact, I had to look this one up and double-check that it was indeed the same Aktana that this guy was associated with. And it is! Aktana is a “pharmaceutical CRM Tool for Life Science Sales & Marketing” and Clay, a brand strategist at heart, was encouraging us to approach writing briefs and brand narratives the way that screenwriters approach their own work. He started by making fun of himself and the rest of the brand advertising strategy industry for their typical brand pyramids and 100-page powerpoint decks. He told us to buy the book Story which focuses on the art of screenwriting. So unique a recommendation at a marketing conference, I might just do it. Because I, too, have been guilty of creating those 100-page powerpoint decks.
Lindsey Nelson, CMO of Vox Media, admitted to us that “as a media company, Vox is susceptible to the same intoxication of the next new thing.” Yes, aren’t we all. Buzz marketing was that thing ten years ago …. “and here are some buzz marketing ideas for you to consider.” Huh? How about the rest of the stuff in the deck… won’t generate any buzz? And a few short years ago, we included a Pinterest idea in every single deck we presented. I didn’t even understand what it was at the time, but it had to be there. Experimentation is absolutely a mandate, but latching on to the next new thing just because it’s the next new thing rarely pays off.
There were a couple of perspectives shared on how to use content, and what content to use. I empathized with the VO, Global Digital Brand + Marketing at Sun Life, Cynthia Stark, who said “as much as we need to be customized in our content, we’re also dealing with a lot of human truths. Why recreate when there is so much content that already exists?” That’s a freeing realization. I dealt with the same scenario when at E*TRADE, where so much of the content we wrote felt so similar to content that already existed. It’s part of the reason I hired Newscred – to gain easier access to that existing content rather than reinventing the wheel every time. But that of course didn’t preclude us from writing our own, more unique pieces as well. Making those more unique pieces go further than just a single hit, however, has to be part of the strategy. As Javier Boix, Senior Director, Storylab, Abbvie put it: “You want to start playing with the content vs just generating volume.”
The last speaker was Jill Cress, CMO at National Geographic. Perhaps the most impressive part of her talk was her absolutely calm and collected reaction to the fact that video, a core part of her presentation, just stopped working halfway through. You can tell a lot about a person under pressure, and I think this is a woman I’d love to meet. A theme she kept coming back to was that “relevance is about continuing to be useful for today’s consumer.” (What a great perspective coming from a marketer of a century+-old brand; there are a lot of much younger brands I’ve worked with that would be smart to recognize this truth!) In content marketing, we often think about how to “entertain” and “engage” consumers; “useful” isn’t a word I hear too often. Might a “utility” filter applied to content marketing programs help lead to more business-generating ends?
The one area of content marketing that seems to have grown significantly over the past couple of years that wasn’t mentioned? Podcasts. I’m going to suggest Newscred invite Matt Lieber, President and Co-Founder of Gimlet Media to #ThinkContent 2018. Why Matt? Why Gimlet? Because Matt’s wife, Ellen, is my running partner. They’re great people. And Gimlet produces great stuff. And life and business work better when you introduce good people and stuff to other good people and stuff.