Keynotes, Content and Kaling: How I Spent My First Content Marketing World

A few months ago, my fellow creative director Nick Pfahler and our director of client service April Wonsick went to KBIS/IBS. He was the show rookie, having been to that event before. She was the veteran on her 15th(!) visit. They came back with a lot of good insight from their veteran/rookie points of view.

So fast-forward about eight months to the recently completed Content Marketing World in Cleveland. April is the CMW veteran (Apparently April spends a lot of time at trade shows and events. One more punch on her Trade Show Card, and the next one is free). But this time, I was the rookie (Apparently I was finally ready for the big leagues, i.e., the Show).

To read April’s wonderful report on her 2019 CMW experience, check this out . To read mine, keep doing what you’re doing!

As a rookie, I was overly prepared to a fault. I got there right when the doors opened on Wednesday. 7am on the dot. Not messing around. I got my badge and lanyard, and waited for April to show up. 45 minutes later, she did––seconds before the day’s first keynote. You can set your watch to her. She’s the James Bond of trade show attendees, coolly doing everything in the nick of time. No wasted seconds. And like James Bond, she has a license to kill,* which really helps get her out of speeding tickets.

“Can I see your license and registration?”

“No, but I have this license to kill.”

“Move along.”

So, first impressions on my rookie CMW experience:

A lot of presenters used the goldfish attention span illustration/metaphor. Yep, people have short attention spans. And there are plenty of stock images of goldfish to go around.

I love a good keynote. One from strategist and idea whisperer Tamsen Webster hit on something vital in the psyches of your audience and getting them to embrace your content, plan, whatever: Try to validate their better angels with your ideas rather than sell them on something that makes them better.  They’ll react better to the first and may be turned off by the second.  

I was surprised featured speaker Mindy Kaling had never been to Cleveland before. Besides being a creative marvel (“The Mindy Project” is television gold), she’s a gifted presenter, delivering applicable advice without overselling what we as content strategists do. “I’m just trying to be funny,” she says.

The expo floor felt like startup heaven. Definitely interact with as many as you can and see where their similarities lie. It gives you a sense of what’s coming in content development, protection and efficiency.  

Artificial Intelligence is a buzzworthy topic. And everyone has a take on it. One session said it will change the world and could do your job. The next session said machines can’t do marketing, so your job is safe. The various schools of thought tell me that people are getting AI even if they haven’t “got it” yet.

Don’t look to make big creative changes in your content, said session presenter and creative marketer Jay Acunzo. Instead, add in wrinkles to avoid complacency and keep it fresh for an audience that knows what to expect from you. Going for a Hail Mary idea reeks of panic, and forcing a bigger idea after a merely big idea is an unsustainable cycle anyway.

All told, there were about 10 keynotes and 150 sessions at CMW. To have seen them all would take about the same amount of time as binge-watching every episode of “24.” So while I couldn’t “binge CMW” completely, I did see most of the keynotes and 10 sessions. There is a lot to share, but here is what stood out for me.

What’s new and now
Visual storytelling. To give this a proper definition, it’s easier to show rather than tell. Which is what visual storytelling is, in a nutshell. This example from the New York Times featuring Simone Biles is a perfect example of what visual storytelling is and what it should do. More than a mix of words, images and graphics, visual storytelling is the way all those elements come together, connected with an invisible thread where each detail and vignette seamlessly pay off what came before them while setting up what’s ahead. You’re not inundated with explanation or too much exposition. It’s assumed the audience is savvy enough to get your point. Done right, visual storytelling gets people engaging for minutes at a time, even if their attention span is that of the aforementioned goldfish.

What’s next
Customer privacy. This is another topic that “you need to know all about, but we’re not sure what exactly you need to know because we’re still gaming this out.” Consensus is understandably lacking even as we discover more. One thing we know: Customers are getting added power, an upper hand if you will. More laws like GDPR, California Privacy Act, Illinois Personal Protection Act and laws coming soon in New York, Nevada, Maine, Texas and Georgia are all enabling customers such avenues as the right to be forgotten and to allow them to see the info companies have on them. But there are benefits for companies who feel they will lose contacts and leads. For example, cleaning up your databases and customer info to avoid redundancies. Or being a hero by allowing your customers (transparency!) to see what you have on them, like Apple is doing. Thanks, Tim Cook, for being voluntarily transparent now rather than doing so later when you are required to do so.

What’s not
One keynoter made the point that we should prepare for the end of social. Privacy issues, fake news and the ability to get your message through on the various social platforms will cause a “withering away” of the channels that are so ubiquitous to our lives. I’ll believe it when I see it. The Facebook Death Watch has been going on for years. And while Facebook itself will lose ground (Is anyone on Facebook under the age of 22?), the idea that social will end by 2030 doesn’t jibe with me. I’d prepare clients for the changes in social. But the end? I’m not taking that bet.
CMW had a good mix of new info, but a lot of what I experienced I already knew. However, there were nice, well-articulated reminders… reinvent instead of invent, tighten your brainstorms with firm objectives, don’t get ahead of your customers, be empathetic, have a plan(!).
CMW is a high-energy experience, and the day honestly flies by… it’s a glut of content in and of itself. I’ll see what I can binge on next time.

*April does not have a license to kill.