Approaching Digital Purposefully: What I Learned at Boston’s Content Marketing Conference

Published: May 30, 2017  by 

Too much meaningless noise exists on the internet, and Content Marketing Conference by Writer Access is here to change that. I flew to Boston, notepad and camera in hand, to learn from the best this industry-within-an-industry has to offer (and to consume a few lobster rolls along the way).

A common thread (creating purposeful content) wove itself through the three days of workshops, speakers, and keynotes, and I came away with a better understanding of how and why to get to the point, for our customers’ sake.

Boston skyline in early evening
Boston skyline view from my room at the Westin Waterfront

Cut Out the B.S.

At BigWing, we try to employ the BLUF philosophy on internal emails: Bottom Line Up Front. Josh Bernoff, the first workshop presenter at Content Marketing Conference, takes that a step further. Bernoff said BLUF isn’t just for emails. Use the same practice in your writing and your readers will thank you because they’re not trudging through meaningless fluff to find your actual point.

Fix Toxic Writing

Bernoff blamed “toxic” writing on three main culprits: passive voice, jargon, and weasel words. What’s a weasel word, you ask? It’s those habit words we rely on like a crutch to sound important, but truthfully, they add nothing of value to our content. They can’t be measured and they make your sentences wimpy. Words like:

  • such
  • just
  • a little
  • a lot
  • amazing
  • incredible
  • numerous
  • deeply

What do those words really mean? Can you define “a lot”? Weasel words must be ruthlessly banned from your content if you aim to be a better writer.

Finally, Bernoff presented his ROAM process for outlining content. Think about the Reader, the Objective, the Action you want them to take, and the iMpression you want to leave about your company or your client’s company. Your content should address all of these things.

yachts parked in the Boston harbor
Yachts in the Boston Harbor

The Content Moneyball Theory

Arnie Kuenn followed with his workshop full of content wisdom, including his theory that good content and baseball odds have more in common than you’d expect.

  • 1 of 4 pieces is a hit – mildly successful, meeting the minimum goals
  • 1 of 36 is a home run – securing a link, mentions from outside sources, or meeting other rarer success metrics
  • 1 of 1,691 is a grand slam – going viral

The statistics are just approximations, of course, but Arnie’s point is to set realistic expectations from the get-go with clients. We have an opportunity to educate our clients on the amount of time and effort required to give content the foundation for success, but even still, sometimes we’re playing an odds game on the internet. There is no secret formula for making a piece go viral.

Don’t Scoff at Low-Volume Keywords

One thing you can do to boost your chances? Write about what nobody else will. Go after those low search volume (but still relevant) keywords and kill it with unique content. Someone out there is searching for it.

Arnie suggested two solid types of content that tend to work well for the more “boring” products or industries: buying guides and behind-the-scenes highlights. Educate customers choosing between multiple types of widgets with a handy guide, or show potential recruits a day in the life at your office. Boring products don’t have to equal boring content.

Boston highway at night
Boston’s vibrant nighttime skyline captured while walking back to my hotel from dinner

Popularity and Influence Are Not the Same Thing

Lee Odden dropped a truth-bomb with this nugget of wisdom: influence is not popularity. Influence is the ability to spur action. Sharing his expertise in influencer marketing, Odden said it’s better to use an influencer with 800 hyper-focused, hyper-engaged followers than one with 800,000 followers who couldn’t care less about your product.

Romance these influencers. Don’t ask for too much, too soon. Start small and build up to a big ask. Include your dream influencer on a list first, give them a shout-out, and work your way up to a question on Twitter and then perhaps a full-on interview, but consider what you can offer them, not only what they can offer you. Influencer marketing HAS to be mutually beneficial.

Winning Friends (and Influencing People) on the Internet

Andy Crestodina’s message is simple: Whoever is most helpful wins.

80 percent of people on the internet simply want to read, do research, learn, or pass the time. They don’t have buying intentions. Only 20 percent of internet visitors come with purchasing intent.

Therefore, if you spend 80 percent of your content efforts helping, not trying to sell but simply being helpful, the long-run dividends will be well worth your time. What’s more, being up front and transparent with readers about who your target audience is and who it’s not will build trust and ultimately bring you more of the RIGHT customers. Simple, yet powerful concepts.

staircase in alleyway in Boston
Alleyway staircase in Boston’s South Harbor district

Think About a Pyramid of Needs

Another way to win friends on the internet? Be needed without being needy.  Melanie Deziel presented a concept she’s developed through years of journalistic writing and that she now carries over into her career in digital content: People will read something if it meets a need.

Why does someone NEED your content? What physiological or social need can it meet? Think about a pyramid of needs, starting at the most basic level of human necessities:

  • Eat/sleep/breathe/drink
  • Fear/safety/love/belonging
  • Confidence/self-improvement
  • Morality/creativity

Your content is about something deeper, and if it can speak to one of these needs, customers are more likely to appreciate it.

people walking on sidewalk at night in BostonChallenge the Status Quo

Nadya Khoja knows the best content is bold content – content which challenges popular opinion, offers a new perspective, or reframes the question. The question isn’t “How serious is the malaria epidemic in Africa?” The question is “What is the deadliest animal in Africa?” and the answer is “the mosquito.”

The world doesn’t need another piece of content echoing others’ sentiments. The world needs content that isn’t afraid to be different. Does your business do things differently? Great. Share your motives and your reasons. Back up your claims. Tell us the why. Real thought leaders answer the Why.

Certain words carry more value than others

Did you know our brains are hard-wired to be attracted to certain words? Nancy Harhut knows, and she’s spent years researching ways to create content our brains crave. Simply placing words like “best” and “free” in our titles automatically increases engagement chances. As do words like Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Those five W words send a trigger to our brains that says “this will answer your question” and voila – another reader. Worried about sounding clickbaity? Don’t be. “Clickbait is only clickbait if it doesn’t do what the title said it was going to do,” Harhut said.

Make things easy and appeal to the senses

Harhut advised us to “opt for easy” by using signifiers that tell readers “this isn’t complicated.” If you make a list, use an odd number of items. Research has proven odd numbers are more attractive to readers than even. Help your readers out by breaking up longer paragraphs into shorter two- or three-sentence chunks.

Lastly, Harhut shared that our brains crave content that appeals to the senses. Set the scene. Describe how things feel, smell, look, sound, and taste. The more of a sense readers can get of your product or service through words, the more likely they’ll want to experience it for themselves.

silhouette of Boston skyline at twilight
Boston skyline at twilight (all photos from The Big and Bright)

Final thoughts from Content Marketing Conference

At the end of the day, people care more about value than cost. That’s why our content has to deliver on value above anything else. With every piece we write, we must start with a purpose and end with a value offering. Our content cannot waste readers’ time or we risk losing their business, or worse, their trust.

While I enjoyed exploring New England and learning applicable content marketing tips, OKC to Boston makes for a long trip. Want to learn how to create better digital marketing messaging from the nation’s foremost marketing minds, in a central location like Oklahoma City?

We have the perfect conference for you.