What Content Marketers Want From Marketing Conferences (Hint: It’s Not the Porsche)

Content marketers may act like they want the Porsche — but they end up driving home in the minivan. That’s what we learned when we analyzed the viewership statistics for Content Marketing Conference (CMC) 2021.

Thousands of content marketers registered for access to 68 pre-recorded and live video sessions that made up this year’s conference. We checked preliminary statistics after one week to see where their greatest interests lie.

While comedy ignited the greatest amount of excitement leading up to CMC 2021, it also ended up with the lowest attendance. Comedy sessions drew in just 4% of attendees.

That doesn’t mean hundreds of people didn’t check out the comedy videos. It just means hundreds more were more vigorously drawn to the other topics.

Comedy is the Porsche.

The most popular topic category was content planning, the good ol’ practical minivan.


Minivan vs Porsche

What the Metrics Say About Content Marketing Trends 

Content planning attracted 20% of the crowd, with content creation ranking right behind it with 17%. Optimization gained 12% of attendees. Distribution got 6% and performance snagged 5%. Then came comedy.

Like comedy, the keynote speakers also generate a lot of excitement leading up to the event. But in their case, the excitement stuck around. 

Six keynotes took the virtual stage, each speaking on one of the six pillars of content marketing. Keynotes as a whole ranked better than any single topic category, attracting 36% of attendees.

Percentage of Viewers for Each Digital Marketing Category

  • 36% — Keynote speakers
  • 20% — Content Planning
  • 17% — Content Creation
  • 12% — Content Optimization
  • 6% — Content Distribution
  • 5% — Content Performance
  • 4% — Comedy

All this led us to conclude:

  • Content planning is the biggest pain point for marketers.
  • Keynote speakers continue to enthrall, even with presentations that are up to five times longer than a typical session.
  • The order of popularity for the topic categories nearly matches the order in which the topics are listed on the online agenda. Comedy is listed fourth, but it comes in sixth for popularity out of the six topic categories. The popularity of the rest of the topics aligns with their agenda order. 
  • The category popularity matching its position on the agenda indicates marketers are very systematic. And practical. They follow the categories in order down the list, save for comedy. It’s perhaps saved for last. 

Even if fewer people as a whole flocked to the comedy videos, those who did were the most dedicated fans.

That’s because the two sessions with the highest engagement rates in the entire conference were both in the comedy arena:

  • 85% Engagement Rate: “That’s Not Funny: Strategically Use Humor During UNFUNNY Times” featuring Michael Albanese.
  • 78% Engagement Rate: “How to Add Laughs and Not Get Fired (Again)” featuring Don McMillan.

The engagement rate calculates the average percentage of the video people watch, based on the total number of viewers who hit play. 

While those two videos did nab the highest overall engagement rates, they weren’t necessarily the sessions with the most overall views. 

The top-viewed videos in each category (so far) are:

  • Keynote: “How Intelligent Content Inspires Browsers to Take Action and Buy” featuring Andy Crestodina.
  • Content Planning: “Beyond Quippy Copy: Engaging on Social Media” featuring Ashley Faus. 
  • Content Creation: “How to Write Irresistible Email Subject Lines” featuring Liz Willits.
  • Content Optimization: “How to Optimize for Searcher/User Intent” featuring Daniel Russell. 
  • Content Distribution: “How to Strategically Build Out Your Library of Content in One Year” featuring Neal Schaffer.
  • Content Performance: “Content Marketing for Small Teams” featuring Tess Needham.
  • Comedy: “Wordplay: Fewer Characters for More Character” featuring Tess Tregellas.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the most-viewed session in each category to find out what tips content marketers just couldn’t live without. 

1. Get customers to answer these eight questions before you build a webpage.  

“I don’t know how to build a webpage unless I get these answers. If you don’t have these answers, you’re literally just making stuff up.” —Andy Crestodina 

As an ethical content creator, you’d never just make stuff up. But content optimization keynote Andy Crestodina warned that’s exactly what you’re doing if you don’t talk to customers before building a webpage.

If you go in without a solid idea of what your target audience wants and needs, you’re blindly throwing darts. In the dark. With a blindfold on. Against the wind.

Making stuff up is a hard way to market. You’re never sure if you’ll get it right. Ask your existing customers these eight questions, however, and you’ll have all the ammo you need to create a page packed with high-quality content that converts. 

  1. Take me back to that moment when you first realized that you needed some help.
  2. What almost kept you from buying from us?
  3. What else did you try and what didn’t you love about it, including trying to do it yourself?
  4. What made you confident enough to give us a try?
  5. What made this the best option for you?
  6. Can you give me an example of when this helped?
  7. If you couldn’t work with us again, what would you miss the most?
  8. What’s the number one thing you would tell a friend if you wanted to convince them to use us?
This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed keynote: “How Intelligent Content Inspires Browsers to Take Action and Buy” with Andy Crestodina.

2. If you want people to click to your article from social media, stop giving away the entire article.

“In your social media feed, you need to balance sharing immediately with piquing interest.” —Ashley Faus

Striking that balance can be tough, according to content marketer Ashley Faus. Many brands get it wrong.

They often go to one extreme or the other:

  • They give away the entire point of the article in the feed so people have no reason to click over to read the full piece of content.
  • They don’t say anything to get the reader to click over. They don’t entice them. They just say, “Here’s a good article.”

Neither one of the above is going to get you clicks from social media to the article on your website. But these five tips shared by Ashley will:

  1. Pull a quote directly from the article. This is one of the easiest ways to grab audience attention. “I call it skimming for the tweet,” Ashley says, “when you copy and paste an interesting section of the article verbatim.”
  2. Share a key takeaway or insight from the article.
  3. Summarize the biggest thing the article taught you. This is a great tactic for long-form content that covers a lot of different problems and solutions.
  4. Give the general reason the article is helpful to read, broadly describing the gist of what’s covered.
  5. Ask a question related to the article. People love to feel smart. And questions get them talking.
This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed content planning session: “Beyond Quippy Copy: Engaging on Social Media” with Ashley Faus.

3. Use hooks to get people to open your emails. 

“Hooks are not clickbait. Clickbait involves fooling your subscribers into doing something and then not delivering. Once you hook the reader to open your email, you need to back up the interestingness of that hook.”  —Liz Willits

A hook is a way to get a reader’s attention, and a good one can skyrocket email marketing open rates to more than 80%. Sure beats the average email open rate of about 20%.

Content marketer Liz Willits notes your email subject line can hook people through a wide range of emotions and copywriting techniques. These include:

  • Surprise
  • Desire
  • Curiosity
  • Identification
  • Doubt
  • Urgency
  • Specificity
  • Fear
  • Exclusivity

The biggest caveat about using a hook is to make sure you deliver on your promise. The email content needs to back up the hook or it can backfire against you. Readers feel tricked, get annoyed, and no longer trust your brand.

For email marketing to work, you need to build trust and provide value to your audience. But you won’t reach either of those goals if no one opens your emails in the first place. Hooks can definitely help. 

Real life examples of effective email hooks: 

Subject Line: Why we just ordered 1000 pairs of socks

  • Surprise: What?! Whoa!
  • Curiosity: Why? Who orders 1000 pairs of socks?

Subject Line: What separates winners from everyone else

  • Desire: I want to be a winner
  • Curiosity: I wonder what separates them
  • Doubt: Am I a winner?

Subject Line: Just for Copy Schoolers — private event tomorrow

  • Exclusivity: Just for me and a few others
  • Urgency: It’s happening tomorrow. I better sign up.

Another hook that works well is alluding to a mistake, or something that went wrong in your life. This opens up a story arc, and the human mind is fascinated by the story arc. Your audience is  compelled to read on to find out what happens, how things got better.

This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed content creation session: “How to Write Irresistible Email Subject Lines” with Liz Willits.

4. If you can’t beat them, learn from them. You can learn a lot from big companies that do it right.  

“It’s incredibly useful to be able to look at other companies that have more resources than you and use the lessons they learn, which you can see right on their website.” —Daniel Russell

The big dogs have big budgets, big teams, and big resources to do things in content marketing no small businesses could ever achieve. And you can learn a lot by paying attention to techniques they use that work.

A prime example comes from Procter & Gamble. Daniel Russell had a chance to meet one of the heads of innovation for the brand, and he broke down how their product development works. 

You can apply these same techniques to your content creation process when you’re trying to get at searcher intent.

What problem does your product solve?

What query does your page solve? What search queries does this page give the answer to?

Define the problem.

Define the query. How many different versions of this query are there? What synonyms and related phrases could be used?

How well is the problem already addressed, and by whom?

Who else ranks for this query, and how well are they doing it?

How will your solution be better?

How will our page be better? What can we do differently than those competitors to make our page and our content better?

Who’s your target customer and how will they benefit?

How will the customer benefit from the content you’re creating and the lessons you’re applying?

This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed content optimization session: “How to Optimize for Searcher Intent” with Daniel Russell.

5. Becoming an authority on a topic involves a mix of keyword research, search intent, artificial intelligence, and blogging, blogging, blogging.    

“Serve search engines what they want to see. It’s still your expertise. It’s still relevant. It’s all about your perspective, your authority on the topic.” —Neal Schaffer

If you want search engines to peg you as an authority on a topic, you need to actually have content around that topic. Building a library of content packed with dozens of blogs is one way to do it. 

Influencer marketing whiz Neal Schaffer shared a four-point content marketing strategy to make it happen: 

  1. Keyword research: Find 52 keywords you want to rank for. (It can be any number, but 52 works out to one keyword per week for blogging.) Use a paid keyword tool so you know it’s regularly updated.
  2. Search intent: Check user intent by plugging each keyword into Google search to see what comes up.
    1. Eliminate and combine keywords as needed.
    2. Add more keywords if necessary to get back up to 52. 
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI): AI tools:
    1. Analyze content that already ranks for the keyword you’re targeting.
    2. Compare the ranking content against your own.
    3. Provide a list of keyword variants, related topics, and other relevant info you can use to improve your new content.
    4. Include Clearscope, SurferSEO, and Frase.io, among others.
  4. Blogging: Create and publish a steady stream of new content using the above method for each piece of content you create.
This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed content distribution session: “How to Strategically Build Out Your Library of Content in One Year” with Neal Schaffer.

6. Small teams can achieve big goals with the right framework in place.       

“I think authenticity is just so important. So many people are talking about it more and more these days because we can spot a fake. Your audience can smell a rat, I promise.” —Tess Needham  

With tight budgets and big expectations, many small businesses are forced to do more with less. Like run the entire marketing department with a tiny team. Small teams have several advantages, such as hyper customer-centricity, radical prioritization, and agility.

They can also get a ton done with a few tips for the two phases of content marketing:

  • Strategy Phase: Laying the groundwork for creating effective content.
  • Execution Phase: Actually getting it done.

The phases don’t necessarily happen in order. And you may jump back and forth between the two.

Strategy Phase

While it can be tempting to jump right in and create, it’s worthwhile to take the time to prepare.

  • Values: Know your values, which will serve as the North Star for everything you do.
  • Goals: Be clear on your goals, or what you want to achieve with content marketing. 
  • Success: What does success look like? How are you going to measure it?

Execution Phase

The execution phase is where you do the work to meet your goals, ensuring you remain authentic and true to your values along the way.

  • Measure: Before you even create anything, make sure the proper tools are in place to measure your success. What data will feed to what place? Determine the tools you need, such as Google Analytics.
  • Plan: Create a plan so you can prioritize. Determine how many resources and how much time something is going to take.
  • Inspiration: Get inspired. Seek creative input in unexpected places. Keep a file where you store all that inspiration. When it’s time to sit down to create, you’ll have a stockpile of inspiration at the ready.
  • Create: Sit down and do it. Don’t let analysis paralysis take over. And don’t let perfect get in the way of good.
This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed content performance session: “Content Marketing for Small Teams” with Tess Needham.

7. Make wordplay work for you with these five tips.

“Wordplay shows you have brand awareness. If you’re able to make a joke about your brand, it means that you really know it. Humor illustrates competence, confidence, and control.” —Tess Tregellas

When you’re laughing, you’re listening. And when your customer is listening, they’re more likely to be loyal. People laugh for many reasons, and two are particularly pertinent when using humor for your brand and social media marketing:

  1. People laugh out of surprise.
  2. People laugh when they solve a puzzle, when they can figure out how two things that wouldn’t usually fit together come together.

Wordplay gives you a prime opportunity to capitalize on both, as evidenced by these top takeaways:

  1. Puns are the least offensive form of comedy—as long as you stop after two. Never use three or more puns. Then they just get annoying.
  2. Reforming involves twisting or adding a surprise ending to a cliché or common word, phrase, or expression. Like Rosanne Barr’s “The way to a man’s heart is through his chest.”
  3. Solving a puzzle will make us laugh, even if the puzzle is kind of silly. Case in point: If a clock gets hungry, it goes back for seconds. Yes, silly. But yes, it still made you smile when you figured it out.
  4. Double entendres may be a little more risqué, but they can be a fun way to brainstorm. A famous example: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.
  5. Google has no sense of humor. So be wary of using puns or jokes in a slogan or company name. It could mess up your SEO.
This content marketing strategy is from the top-viewed comedy session: “Wordplay: Fewer Characters for More Character” with Tess Tregellas.

The Bottom Line on Content Marketing Trends

Based on the most popular topics in each category, this year’s content marketing trends involve:

  • Intelligent content—and lots of it. Content marketers are interested in optimizing content in ways that go far beyond traditional SEO. 
  • Social media and email remain a constant priority, especially when it comes to writing new content and intriguing subject lines that cut through noise, boost metrics, and get readers engaged.
  • Building trust, authority, and a memorable brand.

Keep in mind our statistics were gathered and analyzed on May 5, the week after the conference was launched. The numbers have continued to change since our original assessment, but they appear to remain consistent for the most popular categories and topics.

Content marketers continued to proceed through the various courses, so far keeping content planning and keynotes at the very top. And it doesn’t matter if they’re a startup, small business, or large enterprise, they’re continuing to put the Porsche second in favor of the practical minivan. 

Get access to the video sessions we mentioned, along with all other CMC 2021 sessions and 200+ additional sessions from previous years at WriterAccess Academy. Tap into it now, with a free trial to WriterAccess. Sign up.

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