Last week, I attended my fourth Content Marketing World conference in nine years. Featuring the industry’s brightest experts and thought leaders, it’s chock-full of need-to-know insights for anyone looking to elevate their content marketing game.

As I reflect on the experience, one thing is super clear: Brands can’t settle. You have to keep up with the latest trends and best practices to stand out in the increasingly complex content marketing landscape. That’s why I’m eager to share my biggest takeaways with you.

Here are my thoughts on the most important lessons from the content marketing event of the year.

1. Put your audience above EVERYTHING else

Unfortunately, too many brands still aren’t getting this right. Almost every single speaker reinforced this top content marketing commandment: Answer to your audience.

Amanda Todorovich, senior director of health content at the Cleveland Clinic, delivered a compelling education session on how her team transformed the organization’s Health Essentials blog into a well-oiled, 7 million visits per month machine. What’s her recipe for success? “Make your audience your universe. Know them. Help them. Provide value. Listen to them.”

Your customers won’t trust you if your content feels like a sales pitch. Their needs, interests and pain points should drive your entire strategy. This goes for B2B buyers, too. Your messages must seamlessly slide into their lives, inboxes and newsfeeds. When they do, you win.

2. Limit your channel strategy

In his keynote, Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), quipped, “No one can do what Ryan Seacrest does…you cannot be everywhere. Our energy is finite.”

Many brands assume they need to post their content anywhere and everywhere to maximize results. The problem with this approach is that it diminishes your ability to focus on reaching the right people with the right message in the right place. Instead, place heavy bets on one or two channels that garner you the best results, whether it’s your blog, podcast or newsletter. Build a loyal audience of engaged followers before you diversify your distribution mix.

3. Make your emails irresistible.

Did you know that 294 billion emails are sent per day? It's safe to say e-newsletters hold a lot of power. Aside from your website, it’s one of the best channels to help you grow, cultivate and activate your audience. But here’s the problem: Most emails stink – just count the number that get dumped into your spam or trash every day.

Luckily, Liz Willits, senior content marketing specialist at AWeber, indulged a very crowded room with her latest tips to craft addictive e-newsletter content. One of her best pieces of advice: Offer a unique solution.

A unique solution is NOT a roundup of your latest blogs. Unless you reserve certain posts for email only, people expect more than a recap of what’s already on your website. How can you be different and more original? Research your competitors' e-newsletters and do the exact opposite.

Personally, I love my daily The Skimm email because it gives me the quick, scannable news bites I need to stay informed. Unlike other news outlets, it caters specifically to people who don’t want to dig into a lengthy article. They also include quick surveys, fun quotes and birthday shout outs to further engage me and the rest of their audience.

4. Embrace the robots.

We already know that the Amazons and Googles of the world have a HUGE impact on how brands get discovered in the digital universe. As they continue to roll out new AI-powered technology like smart speakers, their influence will skyrocket. According to Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert, more than 43 million Americans own a smart speaker. Three in four American households are expected to have a smart speaker in their home by 2025.

Yes, the robots are here - and here to stay.

So, what do they care about? Relevance to your audience. Pack your audio, text and visuals with information and keywords that not only align with your audience’s needs, but also their lingo. Do you refer to your products with words or phrases that only have meaning to you? Zap the industry jargon and communicate like a human being. The robots – and your audience – will reward you.

5. Get emotional with B2B buyers

There’s a new B2B customer in town. He/she is a far less loyal, highly emotional decision maker who hates the way you sell products.

April Henderson, a vice president at Forrester Research, reinforced this sentiment when she stated that 65 percent of business buyers think vendors give them “…too much content that’s not focused on what they need to do.”

We have to stop treating B2B audiences like they’re different than B2C. They don’t want your sell sheets – they want empathy. Show that you understand their feelings and concerns through emotion-driven stories, videos and case studies. Illustrate how you reduce customer pain points. Your problem-solving approach matters more than your product.

6. Don’t give up.

Content marketing isn’t new – we’ve talked about it for more than a decade. But it takes time. Many organizations dip their toes in the water and question if it’s worth the effort. Some give up after a year or two because they don’t see the immediate ROI.

Robert Rose, chief strategy officer at Content Marketing Institute, says we have to be stronger. Not only do we need to give it more time, but more thought. Less than half of marketers (41%) have a documented strategy. If you don't, it’s time to make content a strategic and consistent function of your business. Otherwise, you can watch your customers head straight into the warm embrace of a competitor.

You can do it. Let’s keep pushing forward, together.

7. Be amazing.

I was amazed by many of Content Marketing World's speakers, especially the headliner, Mindy Kaling (any fellow The Office lovers out there?). Not only is she a great actress and producer, but she’s authentically and consistently herself, even as she offered advice to 3,000+ marketers. When she hits a creative wall, she scans what her competition is up to for ideas – something any brand should do. When she hosts a dinner party, she doesn’t ask her guests to bring food. She wants them to bring great stories. That's awesome. How can you get your people – your employees and customers – to bring you great stories?

With so much content available right at our fingertips, there’s no room for mediocrity anymore. We have to be amazing. This doesn’t mean you have to be flashy or outrageous. But you do need to offer trustworthy, authentic and consistent content that provides value to your customers.

Keeping up with content

The world of content marketing changes fast, and it’s important to work alongside partners who can help you keep up. No matter where you’re at in your content journey, we’re here to help you assess your needs and establish a strategy that makes sense for you.

Are you ready to take take your content marketing program to the next level? Drop us a line to start the conversation.

About the Author

Alex is the Content Manager at Muse. In this role, she develops editorial strategies brand stories and press pitches that fuel Muse clients’ marketing activities. Prior to Muse, she worked as a content marketer and strategist for nonprofits and large corporations, including University Hospitals, Flash Seats® and the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE). She earned her Master’s and undergraduate degrees from University of Dayton.