What on Earth is "Content Marketing"? And Other Takeaways From the 2017 Digital Summit

Content Marketing
Personas and Journeys

Digital marketing is chock full of fast fashion trends and flavor-of-the-week webinars. Trying to sort through all of that clutter and distill things down into something that’s substantive and applicable in your own business setting is a frustrating and sometimes hopeless feeling.


That’s what I like about the Digital Summit Conference and marketing forums in general. It’s a “best in class” rundown of all of the core concepts that have been in the spotlight this year, presented by some of the brightest minds in the field. Speaking of which, this is a perfect moment for me to mention our Annual Ecomm Forum at Aria on October 5th. It’s a great opportunity for you and your team to get some awesome exposure to some of the brightest minds in the ecommerce field. Okay, plug over.


Top three themes from Minneapolis Digital Summit 2017:


Searches for “Content Marketing” are at an all time high, but still no one really knows what it means.


Is it blogging? Kind of. Is it whitepapers? Kind of. So…what is it? This question was batted all around the conference and, in a way, you can think of it as SEO 2.0. (To all my SEO colleagues… stop looking at me like that.) Since search crawlers are so sophisticated these days, it’s pretty difficult to “optimize” an existing blog on your site to rank for the term “best blue widgets.” To do that, takes some pretty intentional planning and sophisticated execution.


Instead, we’ve seen a shift in thinking -- from “optimizing” content, i.e. the “O” in “SEO”; (hello 2007!) “planning” content, i.e. “content strategy.” The latter is at the heart of Content Marketing. Ask five different people and you’ll get five different answers on how this should be executed, but the concept is relatively straightforward: know who you’re creating content for, what problem it solves, and where they’re going to look to find it.


Personas and their Journeys are central to the Content Marketing process.


Now, I promised my mom I wasn’t going to do this, but what can I say? There’s a reason why you’ll hear us Titans preach B102 incessantly (that’s “Business First, Online Second” for you first timers) -- because it’s never been more important to scrap all of that online digital marketing tactical garbage and Start with Why. By sitting down and taking a hard look at yourself and asking “why do I exist?”, you’ll very quickly arrive at “who cares?” That might sound a bit melancholy, but it’s not a rhetorical question. Quite literally -- who cares that you exist? That question starts to give us a glimpse into who our marketing personas are.


Marketing Personas are defined by our certified partners at Hubspot (who know a thing or two about this content marketing thing) as “...fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. Personas help us all -- in marketing, sales, product, and services -- internalize the ideal customer we're trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans.”


Ok, so what about journeys? Well, since there’s nothing easier than plagiarizing, we’ll go with Hubspot’s definition again. “The buyer’s journey is the process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate, and purchase a new product or service.” So, there you go, ask yourself with each piece of content, “when would this info be useful to my customer?” Is it in the very beginning, before they’re even aware of you? (i.e., A debt collector creates a best practices blog to answer a search for “customers not paying my invoices.”) Is it further down from that, when a buyer is researching their options? (i.e. That same company creates a free tool for calculating the cost of retrieving the debt, in-house vs using a collector.) Or is it at the very end, when the customer is comparing you against your competitors?


Training is Marketing, Education is Marketing


If you think about it it makes sense. If we understand Google to be a tool that matches questions to expert answers, then what could you possibly be more of an expert in, other than the very thing you get paid to produce? Through the lens of some known Google ranking factors, it becomes easy to see why we should be investing in “training our customers” as marketing.


  1. Content - who can create better content (blogs, video, infographics, news articles, whitepapers) than someone in the business? No one.

  2. Backlinks - people link to helpful content that they endorse. Links from people in the same industry are even more powerful. You’re most likely to get links from people that understand what you do. Just look at the link I gave Search Engine Land just above!

  3. RankBrain - semantic search algorithm that checks for the most relevant content on the web, by looking for in-depth articles full of related terms and clearly explained concepts. Our puny brains will never understand it (and if we did, Google would have to send the black van), but it relates to #1. Again, who on earth could educate better about the problems you solve than you can? If you said “our competitor”, then you’re not being creative enough!


So, remember folks -- start with why, know thy customer, and train them all throughout the buyer journey. You’ll quickly find that this content will perform across the board, from email to social to search.


See you at the forum! I’ve mentioned the forum, right? Irish Titan’s 2017 Ecomm Forum? The one from 3-7pm on Thursday October 5th at Aria in downtown Minneapolis? That forum? Cool, see you there.




A quick aside: Finally, I got to see Seth Godin speak. To a sold out conference, he took the stage and regaled us with rhetoric that was both succinct, profound, and inspiring. In an awesome display of stage presence, I got to watch him not only deliver an awesome keynote, but to follow it with 45-minutes of purely organic and fearless Q&A to a room of 1100 marketers from all across the country. It seemed as though he had a bottomless bag of experiences and real-world-examples to draw from. But enough about my star-struckness, here’s what he had to say about product (or in the case of digital, content): “Who’s it for? What’s it for? If you can’t answer these questions, don’t waste your time!”


Read about the 2017 Ecomm Forum!