It’s Time for Intelligent Content: Takeaways from ICC 2016

When you come back from a conference you spend a lot of time talking about the sessions you were in, the people you met, and whether or not the food was any good.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying out the super cool new tool that you learned about, or implementing a brilliant idea that a speaker shared (and these are both great outcomes from attending a conference).

But taking a step back and looking at the overall theme of a conference can also generate valuable lessons.

This perspective forces you to examine the relationships among sessions and the continuity in the keynote speeches, and it hopefully leads you to the answer to the question bosses often ask: “Why did you go to this event in the first place?”

Here I’m going to be attempting to get that bird’s eye view on the Intelligent Content Conference 2016, a 3-day long event in Las Vegas that ended just a couple of days ago.

My one sentence summary:
In order to be truly successful with content marketing, teams will need to embrace tools — both strategic and technological — that will ultimately produce content-centered organizations.

Intelligent Content Assumptions

With more than 85 percent adoption in B2B organizations and an $118 billion spend in 2014, content is almost ubiquitous in marketing departments these days.

There are certainly still organizations just starting out on their content journey, but the Intelligent Content Conference (ICC) doesn’t really cater to those folks. Instead, its agenda makes three assumptions about the attendees:

  1. They are already using content marketing in some form.
  2. They’ve bought into the value and/or potential of content as an approach to marketing.
  3. Having done #1 and #2, they’re now encountering some kind of problem.

This year (only the second in which the Content Marketing Institute ran the conference), speaker after speaker argued the need for a firm foundation to enable content success.

For me, it was also delightful to focus on intermediate to advanced content marketing topics (content modelling, anyone?).   

What’s at Stake for Content Marketing

There were a lot of thorny issues being unpacked in the conference rooms of the M Resort and Spa, but Robert Rose’s keynote that kicked off the whole week made it clear why this struggle will ultimately be worth it:

future of content

We, as content creators, have an opportunity right now to start changing the way our organizations approach our customers, content, and marketing in general.

The stakes are pretty high, so we should do our best to get this stuff right.

That means we should take the time to craft high quality, relevant, well-researched personas. We should use them to consider our customer’s needs and document our content strategy for the short, medium, and long term.

And we should definitely work hard to find the technology that helps us manage all the amazing content that we make.

getting good at content game

Because the right tools can makes us more effective, but tools that over-automate content marketing can put us out of a job (and make for less-than-ideal customer experiences).

Content marketers need to get out of fire drill mode. We need to get strategic and start looking at the big picture, because we’re making the road that we’ll be walking on in ten years right now.

pave your road

Problems Intelligent Content Tries to Solve

Most of the people at ICC are hitting stumbling blocks around creating enough content (scale), managing the mountains of content they are creating (size), or managing expectations about how often they can produce content (speed).

The difficulty comes in determining whether these problems arise from a strategic or a technological failure.

Content Strategy Problems

If your upper management were early adopters of content marketing, early strategy might have been something along the lines of, “Write all the things! Yay content!”

While the wild, wild west of content can be fun for a while, and even fairly effective if you’re in an uncrowded niche, it eventually gets out of hand.

You need a documented, considered, and flexible content strategy to succeed in the long term. You also need an agile team approach that allows for an adaptable implementation of that strategy.

For those teams who have been creating content outside of a documented strategy, the difficulties involve retro-fitting existing pieces into a new, more strategic approach.

For those who don’t yet have a documented content strategy, the difficulties are more likely to be focused on creating a truly useful strategy that can drive the production of meaningful content while still getting upper management approval.

Content Technology Problems

ICC’s origins are quite techy: it was started in 2008 by Ann Rockley and co-produced by Scott Abel to speak to the concerns of large enterprise companies who were trying manage all different kinds of content (not just content marketing) on a massive scale.

Oftentimes technology was the solution for these groups, and that’s still the case even after the focus has shifted more to exclusively the content produced by marketing.

If your organization is producing multiple pieces of content every week, these assets can overwhelm basic content management solutions very, very quickly.

Without a strategy (see a theme emerging?) for storing, publishing, distributing, and sharing your content, its value can begin to depreciate because you just can’t use it effectively.

My Top Three Sessions

I’ll be diving into each of these fascinating talks in more detail in the next few days, but I think it’s important to recognize the folks who masterfully manage the hour-long speaking slots at conferences.

All three of these sessions conveyed helpful insights to me as both a content creator and a content strategist, and they were also very enjoyable to sit through.

How to Deliver Quantifiable Content Marketing Success with a Small Team, Vishal Khanna

Vishal is the 2015 Content Marketer of the Year, and after hearing his presentation it’s not hard to see why. He took “traditional” digital marketing strategies and turned them into a super successful approach for the marketing team at Wake Forest Innovations.

Their team, which was really just two full time employees and several contractors, created a massively successful sales pipeline that’s generating literally millions of dollars in sales qualified leads.

One of the many great things about Vishal’s talk was that he gave really detailed insight into how he and his team got things done. For example, this is what his marketing stack looked like at the beginning of his time there:

too much marketing data

It was generating tons of data, but as a tiny team they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information they were collecting. They were spending more time reviewing and managing the data than they were acting on it.

To fix this problem, they changed their stack to look like this:

new marketing stack

Less data management freed them up to do more actual marketing, an approach that was somewhat unique in a conference heavily focused on marketing technology.

How to Develop Audience Personas That You’ll Actually Use, Ardath Albee

If you ever get a chance to hear Ardath speak on personas, don’t miss out. She has many, many years of tactical expertise to share and a no-nonsense speaking style that gets right to the point.

Even as a persona-using marketer myself, I learned many new ways to streamline the process while simultaneously creating more useful final products.

One of my favorite tips was the incorporation of LinkedIn into the persona creation process.

Once you have your basic demographic information in place you can mine LinkedIn for profiles that match those characteristics. Ardath says she typically looks at 50-100 profiles when creating a single persona.

I’m very excited to start LinkedIn stalking my own personas to see how I can make them more realistic.

Journey-Mapping for Personalization Across Multiple Channels, Noz Urbina

And finally, there’s Noz’s excellent presentation on creating a user journey map.

I’m not sure why — maybe it’s because we spend most of our professional time thinking about the products or services we market — but marketers have a VERY hard time with creating user journey maps.

Our first instinct is to turn them into a map of the buying process, which is not nearly as helpful for content production.

We tried creating journey maps in the workshop that I led on Monday, and it was a struggle for many of the participants. We want to talk about things like when people become aware of our product, when they download a piece of content, and when they make a purchase.

This may help us organization content production across our organization, but as Noz said, “the customer doesn’t care about your org chart.”

They care about how you and your content can help solve their problem.

And, if you’ve put Ardath’s insights into practice, you should have a very clear idea of what those problems are so you can set about solving them.

Can Intelligent Content Save You?

Are you struggling with the size, scale, or speed of your content production? Do you desperately need a content strategy to light your way?

The Intelligent Content Conference could hold the answer. Maybe I’ll see you there in 2017.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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