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The 7 Most Important Takeaways From the Contently Summit

Today’s marketers are expected to be Swiss Army knives. They’re supposed to write, edit, shoot video, run campaigns, analyze data, prove ROI, work with sales, help accounts, know HTML, and then maybe sleep if there’s any time left in the day. That’s an impossible model for success.

At the 2019 Contently Summit, we wanted to focus on a different model. One that empowers marketers to collaborate with other people in their companies, instead of setting them up for failure or burnout. Our theme this year was Masters of Content. We wanted to riff on content mastery and a “master’s degree” of sorts, which played into our educational event.

Over 200 people showed up to the PlayStation Theater in Times Square to hear from some of the best brands in content marketing. Here’s a list of the most important things we learned.

1. Sales enablement needs to improve

Alignment was on everyone’s mind from the beginning of the day. Christine Polewarczyk, senior director of content strategy and operations for SiriusDecisions, took the stage in the morning to talk about content transformation, and a big part of her keynote looked at process. When we talk about content maturity, are all involved teams working in sync? Do they have a centralized place to share knowledge and give feedback?

The answer, in many cases, is no. SiriusDecisions found that, on average, salespeople have to look in six different places to find the content they need. This is usually not an indictment on sales or marketing teams. Both could do a better job communicating. To stick with the education theme, it’s like a group project, only the group split in two and the sides aren’t talking to each other.

Polewarczyk laid the foundation for the rest of the program. With enablement, alignment, and visibility as core concerns, many speakers who followed explained how they managed to bring their teams together and drive meaningful results.

2. Content marketers and data analysts should become friends

We like to say content marketing is an art and a science. Few companies embody that combination more than RBC. The Canadian financial institution has scaled its content program to dozens of teams, offering marketers a model for growth and success.

People throw around the term “data-driven” a lot, but RBC gave more context to how that actually works in practice. Jason Lewin, director of digital marketing and optimization, explained that RBC uses content data to tell a story internally. Lewin checks RBC’s custom dashboards every day, as does Ashleigh Patterson, senior director of global content marketing and social media. They sync regularly to check on factors like leads, campaign performance, and traffic channel data.

This reporting fuels a lot of the new campaigns and programs RBC puts out into the world. As Lewin put it: “Storytelling is data with a soul.”

3. The divide between journalism and marketing is exaggerated

Content marketing is not journalism. There’s a firm line drawn in the sand. But that doesn’t mean the skills required to do one are much different than the other. It’s no secret that veteran reporters have crossed over the River Styx for better job security and pay while still getting to flex creatively.

The similarities run much deeper than that, though. Robin Bennefield, editorial director of Marriott creative and content marketing, mentioned that journalists still care about ROI. (Bennefield spent more than a decade working full-time and freelancing for traditional media companies.) Her point often gets lost in the debate of journalism vs. marketing, but it was a healthy reminder that everyone is competing for attention, regardless of whether you’re writing for The New York Times or running a legacy brand publication.

4. The food at Contently events has gotten much better

I found out one of the first Contently Summits was mostly catered with… pretzels? Thankfully, that was before my time. As someone who regularly eats two lunches and dislikes the term “snackable content,” I’m glad we graduated from salty knots to three kinds of mac and cheese.

5. Don’t get tied up in exact dollar amounts (at first)

Marketers can point to dozens of metrics to show that their content “works.” Some of those metrics are better than others, which has made some skeptical of the benefits of content marketing. Usually, those people have blinders on for hard revenue numbers.

Showing how content impacts your bottomline matters, but it can’t be the only thing that matters if you’re just getting started. Shawna Dennis, VP of marketing and communications for MD Financial, cautioned that brands should focus on building relationships with the right audience before they think about cashing in on them. Find out where the audience hangs out, what they like to learn, and what they already know.

“No one questions a brand’s need for a website,” Dennis said. “Content should be non-negotiable too.”

6. There are multiple ways to scale

The longer I work in marketing, the more I realize there are very few absolutes. Sure, there are helpful models for success, but that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to get there.

In the Ask a Content Strategist Q&A session, Giuseppe Caltabiano, who oversees Contently’s EMEA strategy program, went over a few of the different ways brands can think about international growth. The overall takeaway can be summed up by two words: It depends.

That may not satisfy someone looking for an easy fix, but that’s okay. For example, how you localize depends on the maturity of your content program and the size of your company. If you’re a small or mid-sized business, you’ll be fine translating existing content into another language. If you’re a large company with plenty of resources, teaming up with on-the-ground writers and videographers can give you a more personal approach. Both ways will work well and help you expand internationally.

7. The future of content marketing is complete visibility

Tools and technology have to make it easier for content marketers to work across their companies. Without that, we’ll all be stuck in content chaos, struggling to be more efficient and effective.

On stage, Sanjay Ginde, Contently VP of engineering; Sunil Chaudhary, product director; and Katie Dreier, senior product manager, revealed that the need for visibility and alignment drives a lot of what our product team builds for customers. The future of marketing seems to be headed in the direction of automated insights, tech integrations, and simpler distribution.

That won’t change the fact that marketers need to keep creating compelling content that speaks to the right audience. But it will change how difficult it is for them to make smarter decisions and share intel with their colleagues. The best technology will free up these people to focus their energy on a few core tasks instead of trying to do everything.

In other words, they won’t have to be Swiss Army knives anymore. Instead, they can just focus on being as sharp as possible.

Image by Longshot Productions
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