Exclusive Interview With Joe Pulizzi

Shweiki Media had the pleasure of sitting down with Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World. The discussion centers around the exciting speakers and agenda of Content Marketing World 2015 (September 8–11 in Cleveland, Ohio) and the state of content marketing in today’s digital world.

From keynote speaker John Cleese’s phenomenal presentation on unlocking an organization’s creativity to some of the world’s best speakers, Pulizzi’s excitement of this year’s event is evident and justified.

Pulizzi goes on to discuss how, with content marketing, one can dominate their industry whether it is a large or small company. The concept has democratized marketing and it is just getting started. Companies are seeing the value, but are still learning how to implement. Most organizations are still at the very beginning of this process, it’s such a long way to go.

David: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re here with Joe Pulizzi, who is the founder of Content Marketing Institute and widely known as the Godfather of Content Marketing. And today, we’re here to talk about Content Marketing World, which is their annual conference they host in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, each year. And Joe’s here today to tell us all about the event and as well as the landscape of content marketing moving forward. And, Joe, how are you doing today?

Joe: David, I’m doing fantastic. Always good talking with you, and it’s going to be fun talking a little bit about content marketing.

David: Yeah, absolutely, and I’m very surprised to have caught you not scaling the Great Wall or climbing the Himalayas or wherever you are these days.

Joe: Oh, man, it’s not. Yeah, there are many people that travel a lot more than me. But the good news is that right now, I’m home now. I’m right in the home office. I’m going to take a few months with the kids on summer break before we head into the Content Marketing World. And then my travel schedule started up heavy back in September, but right now, I’m looking forward to a little bit of downtime.

David: That’s awesome. And that kind of leads me to my first question, and I think it’s a question that I’ve heard asked, mumbled, at least, hundreds of times is, Why Cleveland? Why do you have this in Cleveland?

Joe: Well, first of all, I grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, and Sandusky is an hour west of Cleveland. It’s right on Lake Erie. And Sandusky is known for two things. First of all, it’s the home of Cedar Point Amusement Park, and Cedar Point is widely known as the number one or number two amusement park in the world, fantastic. They have 18 roller coasters. It’s great. It’s also known for, if you’ve ever seen the movie Tommy Boy . . .

David: Oh, yeah.

Joe: With Chris Farley. That one.

David: Three times.

Joe: I don’t think it was filmed in Sandusky, Ohio, but it was supposedly set there. So I’m real close to Cleveland. I moved to Cleveland in 1997 and started the business, started Content Marketing Institute here. So we’re headquartered here, although we have a lot of people that work outside of Cleveland that’s on our team. And when we first started Content Marketing, well, the idea behind doing an event, it was just 2010, 2011. We were like, “Well, can we get 100 people to Cleveland?” And we started promoting the idea of Content Marketing World, and lo and behold, 600 people showed up that year. And we were shocked that we would even be able to get that much. And I actually wanted to keep it in Cleveland the next year, and there was no place big enough to hold the event. So we had to move to Columbus, as you know, went down there, held it at the Columbus Convention Center. And then the last three years, we’ve been up here in Cleveland. It’s been great. I love the city. As people know, I’m totally passionate about what we have going on here in Cleveland, and I love to get people to at least taste a little bit about what we have to offer. And I guess my question back is, “Why not?”

David: I think Cleveland appreciates you. I know you’re about as modest as it gets, so you’re not going to mention this. But didn’t you win some Businessman of the Year Award or something in Cleveland, if I’m not mistaken?

Joe: Yeah, the city and the region here have been very nice to give us a lot of nice awards about how we’ve been supporting the city. Content Marketing World is the largest recurring business event in Cleveland, Ohio, so our little event, to which you’ll see 3,500-plus people here in Cleveland this year, if it was in Chicago or in New York, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s a big deal in Cleveland. We get the airport behind us. We get the Convention and Visitors Bureau behind us. The businesses are behind us. And it’s nice. We do events in Las Vegas, and we do events in New York and Silicon Valley. And we’ve done events in Sydney, Australia. Those are fantastic, but it’s different when you have it in a city that really, really cares about having your business and makes a difference to the local economy.

David: Absolutely, that’s awesome. And that is really neat that you’re doing that for where you came from and giving back, and obviously, Cleveland appreciates you for that. But why did you decide to do an in-person event? I remember way back when . . . gee, man, how long have we known each other now? Ten, 12 years, if not more?

Joe: Yeah, it’s a decade now, yeah.

David: Yeah, and I remember you just were talking about blogging before I knew what a blog was, and it took me a few times hearing you speak for it to even resonate. And now you’ve grown into this massive conference. And it’s multiple conferences, and we’ll get into that in a bit. But why did you even decide to do an in-person event from the get-go?

Joe: What’s interesting is there’s a longer, longer, longer story to that. I’m going to give you the short version, but the shorter version of that story is, this is 2009, and the blog was doing very well, but our business model wasn’t. The business model, originally, for Content Marketing Institute was a matching service. So we were known as the eHarmony for content marketing is the easiest way to put it. So we were trying to match up brands looking for content marketing help with agencies that could help them with their content creation and distribution needs. Actually, it was going really well. Well, we were matching up a lot of large brands, but agencies weren’t really willing to pay for the service. And I was at a crossroads as an entrepreneur. I’m like, “I might have to go back and get a real job.” And it’s just funny, as you launch a business, I fell so much in love with the product I didn’t see the other opportunities. All along the first three years, people were calling me and saying, “Joe, we need your help consulting.” “Joe, we need training and education.” “Joe, we need to network with other people that are struggling with content creation and distribution.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s fine.” But I have this product to sell, which only like 1% of my target audience is actually interested in at that time because they had different needs. There was this huge need for training and education, and I was blind to it for the first couple of years. And finally, it just hit me when it just came at a point when my business model wasn’t working and said, “Hey, we need to pivot.”

Finally looked at those opportunities and said, “Look, there’s a huge need out there for training, education, networking, and sharing of these problems, and nobody’s doing that.” And so we said, “Hey, let’s create the leading event in the industry. Let’s create the leading magazine in the industry. Let’s create the leading online destination in the industry.” I came from the publishing media background. I knew that model really well, and I took all that that I knew. And I grew up at a company called Penton Media, B2B publishing company, so I knew that model. So late 2009, 2010, Content Marketing Institute formally was born in May and then 2011, January, Chief Content Officer magazine, and then September of 2011 was Content Marketing World. And those were all immediate successes after three years of pain and just having to sort of learn the hard way, David, about listening to customers. And I swore I’d never make that mistake again and fall in love with a product or service and just continue to keep my ears to the ground and try to look for where the pain point’s at. And that’s really why it came about. But to be honest with you, when we had it reserved in September, let’s say, October of 2010, when we said we were going to launch Content Marketing World, I honestly was hoping for 150 people. I thought that would be fantastic. And we had 660 that year, and I was shocked.

David: I remember that, too. I remember going in and saying, “Damn, there’s a lot of people here.” And then I go next year, and there’s double or more than double. And then now, you’re more than 3,500.

Joe: That is the same reaction I had. I was like, “Man, this is a lot of people here. I can’t believe it.”

David: I was stoked. Yeah, I remember, because I knew you, and I liked you. And I was like, “This is a great guy,” and all of a sudden, and I love seeing friends be successful. And I was shocked. I was like, “Oh my God, this is real. This is the real deal.”

Joe: You know why that was funny, David? That’s the first time . . . When I came out on stage for the first time and saw the 600-plus people sitting there, that’s the first time I actually said, “Maybe I won’t have to go back and work for someone.” Like, literally, maybe this thing is going to work because before that time, I had two small kids. I didn’t know if it was going to make it. We were struggling a little bit. And of course, we were blessed to have that happen. So it’s just funny how things happen. And we were at the right place at the right time, talking about the right things, and we’ve been very blessed and it’s just nice that we can now affect a lot of people from all over the world that are struggling with this issue called content marketing. And we can all come together in one place and share our misery and share the successes of our future, which I think are a lot when it comes to content marketing.

David: That’s awesome, man. That’s step one of content marketing, right, listening to your customers.

Joe: That’s exactly right.

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David: I’ve gotten some advice from you guys, and it always starts with, “What are your customers saying?” Right? So I think you just followed your own advice there, it looks like, and it paid off in spades. Well, cool, all right. Who are some of the attendees at Content Marketing World? If you have a certain position, if you’re doing a certain thing, how would somebody know this applies to them?

Joe: Sure, we really target marketing folks, so the majority of people that attend our marketing and most of those people . . . so basically, marketing, public relations, communications, titles, and roles, and then most of those people have something to do with content creation and distribution. So they’re working on blogs. They’re working on social media programs, distributing that. They’re doing webinars. They’re doing print magazines. They’re doing their own in-person events. So anywhere where a marketing person in a company is trying to communicate more effectively, not talking about their products and services, but talking about, “How do I solve the pain points so my customers, become the informational leader”, those types of roles.

Now, we tend to shift. We’re a little bit on the bigger company side. So we have 36 of the Fortune 100 attend the event last year. So mostly, these are marketers at big, big companies like, I think, Dell Computers sent 17 people last year. Rockwell Automation, big B2B company, sent 23 people. So you’re sending your teams of people. Now, that said, I know that there may be some small businesses or entrepreneurs or start-ups listening to this. We actually have added a different track this year, just for small businesses and start-ups. So you can go through Content Marketing World, and then on the last day, on September 11, we have an event called Content Inc., which is just for start-ups and small businesses and entrepreneurs. Definitely, about complex content marketing challenges, if you’re trying to figure that out in a large enterprise, Content Marketing World is perfect for you, but we still have something for SMBs as well. We’ve got 11 concurrent tracks, so if you can’t find something, there’s something wrong. You’re not even in marketing at all if you can’t find something that you would like from looking at marketing automation technology, to buyer personas, to building an audience, to subscribers, to how to tell stories, to how to use social media. We’ve got everything covered from the leading experts in the world.

David: Well, just to give you an endorsement from our company, our company is a small to midsize company. And I’ve gone every year, and I’ve gotten immense amount of information because a lot of it is just theory. And it’s scalable. Obviously, you have the bigger guys, and that’s why they send so many people. But a lot of this stuff, you can put it in practice on a smaller level.

Joe: No, that’s good to hear, yeah. Yeah, so let’s say for you, you may not go to and look at, “Here’s how IBM scales its content marketing efforts,” because that’s not relevant to you, but there’s probably seven or eight during that same time period that are relevant to a small to midsize company.

David: Oh, absolutely, like in a big data stuff obviously doesn’t apply as much to . . . I don’t have enough big data to look over.

Joe: Yeah, us small companies, we got a lot of little data.

David: We got a little data, yeah, exactly.

Joe: We don’t have any big data, yeah.

David: But, yeah, I’ll just tell you. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t want to scare off anybody who’s smaller because I personally am a smaller company. And we’ve made our hay in content marketing arena, and I’ve learned, I don’t know, upwards of 90%, basically, from this conference and the people I’ve learned and followed from seeing them at your conference. So I absolutely . . .

Joe: Oh, that’s fantastic, David. That’s great, good.

David: Yeah.

Joe: So I didn’t have to say it. I’m glad you said it.

David: Yeah, I know. I didn’t want you to pigeonhole yourself there because it really isn’t accurate, just from a personal experience.

Joe: Yeah, I would agree with you. It’s about 50% on the client’s side are the larger companies, and the other 50% are the small to midsize. So you’re absolutely correct about that.

David: All right, in this year, what are you looking forward to most?

Joe: I’ve got to say, I love John Cleese from Monty Python.

David: Really? Why?

Joe: So I am really looking forward to seeing John Cleese talk about creativity because that’s . . .

David: Is that where the John Cleese selection came from? Because I’ve seen a lot of other people you’ve had in the past, and it’s like, “Why him? Oh, wow.” And you come to find out he’s big in social media. Why John Cleese? Why, outside of a Monty Python affection?

Joe: Well, from the comedian to the writing to the storytelling, he’s got the background for it, but actually, there’s a presentation that he does on creativity that is just phenomenal. And I saw that presentation, and I said, “I’ve got to have this guy at Content Marketing World.” So that’s what I’m looking forward to. So it’s really about how, as corporations, as brands, how can we sort of unlock the creativity in our organizations? So that’s what John Cleese is going to talk about. And Robert Rose, our chief strategy officer, is going to oversee a Q&A session with Mr. Cleese. So that’ll be a lot fun.

David: Oh, man, interesting.

Joe: Yeah, it’s hard to say. We’re blessed with . . . you’ve got some of the best speakers in the world. I want to see Andrew Davis. I want to see Jay Baer. I want to say Scott Stratten and Ann Handley and Kristina Halvorson. These people are all like keynote material that you would go to any other conference and see. And then you’ve got brands like General Electric and Hyland Software. And Marriott is going to talk about how they basically put the stake in the ground and said, “We are going to become a media company, and here’s how were doing it.” And I definitely want to hear that. And then we’ve got Rajiv Chandrasekaran who is overseeing Starbucks’ media program, and he’s a former journalist from the Washington Post. So I could go on and on. I’m just excited to be . . .

David: I’m just excited that you’re excited about a lot.

Joe: Well, I better be excited because I plan most of the . . . That’s what I do. We’ve got a great team, and they do all the other logistic stuff. And my job is to put together the program, so I know the program inside and out. And I only want people that I’m going to want to see. And then you know the rules. If you spoke at a past Content Marketing World and you didn’t get an excellent rating, you don’t get invited back. So we have a very strict grading schedule, so only the best of the best speakers get invited back to Content Marketing World. And we’ve got about 140 of them this year, so quite a few to choose from this year.

David: Absolutely, so what is this about a Hollywood Squares set I hear is being built?

Joe: Yeah, we’re already marketing that. Yes, so the whole theme is around Hollywood. So we haven’t told anybody yet, but I can tell you. There’s going to be a whole Hollywood set on the main stage, and we’re doing Hollywood Squares in the exhibit hall. And so they’re going to have a couple of games, I hear. I think I need to be in the center square or something like that. And we’re going to have some of your favorites from the content marketing world and industry up on stage, and we’re just going to have a ball with it and just have a lot of fun. So it’s going to be in the exhibit hall, and there’s just going to be a ton of commotion going on around there. And somebody came up with that crazy idea. And we’re actually building. There’s somebody to build that thing.

David: You’re building the set?

Joe: Yeah, they’re building set and putting it together. I’ve seen the specs at it, and I’m like, “This is getting crazy.” I remember [inaudible 00:16:28] we were just talking about wishing for 100 people at the event, and now we’re building a Hollywood Squares set. It’s really kind of ridiculous when you think about it, but it’ll be fun.

David: You’ve got to have fun, right?

Joe: Oh, as you know, we have a ton of fun at the event, so I’m super excited about it.

David: Absolutely, well, what can attendees do to prepare for this event as far as networking and anything to get a base of knowledge on or anything you can suggest in general for this event or any other event?

Joe: Well, there’s a couple of things that I would do. I’ve been to a few events. I know you have as well. You may be going solo, or you don’t know a lot of people. It’s a lot easier when you’re going with five or six people from your company, and you sort of split up. But there’s a lot of people that just go, and they’re the only one there. And if you can sort of network ahead of time, it’s helpful. There’s a Twitter hashtag that we use. CMWorld is the hashtag. And there’s constant communication on there. The speakers use it. We have a Twitter chat every Tuesday at noon, Eastern Time, where people are communicating with each other. We have a guest star every week, talking about that. So that’s helpful to get up to speed on it. I would probably say that what we’re doing different this year, so you’ll see it when you come. Last year, there were some people who got shut out of sessions. So this year, you actually are picking your sessions ahead of time, which I really like because you won’t get shut out of the session.

And the other thing is this is not a thing like you and I have been to events where you get in there and you’re like, “What’s up next, and where should I go to?” This is not that kind of event. You actually have to plan ahead of time because when you see 11 speakers go against each other and 11 different topics and they’re all good, it’s very hard to make a decision. So I would go to the Content Marketing World site. I would look at the agenda, get a really good feel for it because the other thing we do on the September 11, date is we’ve got an industry track set up in 15 different industries. So we’ve got one covered for just about every industry, so you can really look at that and make sure that might be an additional day that you’re going to want to add on since you’re already there, if you’re in travel and tourism or hospitals or pharmaceuticals or banking or financial services or manufacturing or whatever the case is. And that way, that’s a great day that you can then network with all the people that are in your industry already and sort of go back with, “Hey, you’ve got a support group.” That’s what I love about the event is you go there, you’re going to meet some friends, you’re going to network with some people, and you’re going to actually have a support group that, ongoing, you can commiserate with, if you will, or help you with your strategy as you go.

David: Sure.

Joe: Content marketing is not to the point where you’re going to come back into your organization, and you’re going to get carte blanche approval. It doesn’t happen that way. So you still have to figure out, how do we borrow and steal a little bit from here and there to make sure that we have a program we can continue to get support for and continue to have the patience in the organization for us to build a long-term asset? Because it doesn’t happen overnight, but you can build an amazing asset if you’re patient with it.

David: Absolutely, and to kind of recap there, when can people start signing up for tracks once they’re signed up?

Joe: So I know it depends when you’re listening to this, but I think it’s the middle of June, second or third week of June, you’ll be able to sign up. And then if you sign up after the third week of June, it’s already natural. You can ahead and select the boxes on where you want to go and all that good stuff. So you won’t be closed off from a session.

David: That’s interesting. That’s good straight that you do that, absolutely, because it gets much dragging when you’re running around.

Joe: I’ve got to tell you, David, I was a little bit tentative on doing that because, as me as an attendee, I don’t like to do that, but we had so many people say, “Look, I can’t afford . . . I’m paying to go there. I’m investing my time. I can’t get shut out of this particular session because this is the money session for me.” Whatever it is, they’ve got to make sure that there’s room in it. Now, it’s not always the case. There’s usually always seats available on some. But we had some, as you know last year, that we had waiting lines, and there were hundreds of people that couldn’t get in even though most of the rooms are 300 to 400 people in size. Some go on up to 900 to 1,000, even for breakouts. But sometimes, you get locked out. And we just want to make sure, if you want a session, we want to make sure we can get in.

David: Sure, and do you have a mobile app?

Joe: We absolutely do have a mobile app. So you can go to the Content Marketing World site. You can get on the mobile app. And that’s really cool because you can sort of select your courses in there, where you’re going to. All the networking is in there, the updates, the offers, and the contests, and all of the stuff that we’ll have going on. And most of the people, I think last year, we had about 70% of all the attendees downloaded and used the app, so it’s pretty powerful.

David: And it’s contentmarketingworld.com is where people will go, correct?

Joe: You got it, contentmarketingworld.com. Everything’s on there. Also, for people that are new to Cleveland, you can go in there and find out cool stuff to do while you’re in town. There’s a great food scene in Cleveland, one of the best around. A lot of emerging chefs are coming in this area. Obviously, you’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s where the opening reception is at. And then from entertainment the next night, we’ve got Barenaked Ladies as our concert, so I’m super excited about that.

David: Yeah, you took one of my questions where at the same time, you got me very excited. I love Barenaked Ladies.

Joe: I’m sorry. Yeah, I forgot. Yeah, you were telling me what I was excited about. I just talked about the content. I forgot to mention that we like to party, and we’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Barenaked Ladies on the next night.

David: So it’s not true that Johnny Manziel is going to be the entertainment?

Joe: As much as I still want that to happen in some way or another, no, we figured that we better actually have a concert. So we’re bringing the Barenaked Ladies down from Canada, and it’ll be super fun.

David: That is awesome. I think I heard about the rumblings of that last year, and it looks like it is happening. That’s so cool.

Joe: Well, it’s nice as you grow here. We used to just do the one big keynote, and now, we’re going to the one big keynote and maybe another one, we’re working on some other things, and then the big concert as well, which I think will sort of be the norm for us going forward.

David: Yeah, you’ve been killing it. I was going to ask, “Is Rick Springfield your favorite performance as of yet?” because he definitely brought the house down when he was there.

Joe: Oh, man, I loved Rick. The one thing I loved about Rick Springfield, and I totally would recommend if anybody was ever doing a show to hire Rick to have coming in because he was so personable with everybody.

David: He was.

Joe: He got into the crowd. He was doing “Jessie’s Girl” with a whole group around him. We were all dancing to it. It was fantastic. I’ve loved all of them, but Rick was pretty darn close. For that, that would have to be up there in our entertainment.

David: That was really something special at that time. That was neat. The way he got in there and hung out afterward, yeah, that was pretty cool. To kind of circle back around to the conference or the educational side of it, I guess, is what . . . I guess people might have already deciphered this from talking to you. And you can see all the amazing speakers that you have. And then you have the lighter side, and you have the fun side. But in general, is there anything else that you feel makes Content Marketing World different than any other content marketing conferences or any other marketing conferences in general?

Joe: Well, we have a different take on the aspect of marketing. And I go to a lot of conferences and a lot of marketing conferences, and still, it’s pretty traditional. And I don’t want to put any other conferences down. There’s a lot of really good conferences out there, but I still see a lot of old-world thinking, a lot of, “Hey, if you have a big budget, you can do X, Y, and Z.” And that’s not now what content marketing is about. If we think about where we’re at right now, the consumer, your buyer, is in complete control of the process. They have a 24/7 device with them at all times, smartphone. They can get any and all information. They can totally bypass our sales process, our sales reps. And if you’re not involved with them, if you can’t build a loyal relationship with your consumers earlier in the process, you might even get shut out of the whole buying process that you won’t be in. That’s where we’re at today.

I’ve been in this industry for over 15 years now. So in the beginning, so I’ll go back to the year 2000, 2001, content marketing was a nice-to-have. It was your custom magazine. It was a newsletter with a loyalty-driven thing. It’s like, “Hey, can we keep our customers a little bit happier, maybe use it as customer service?” Now, our message and our story is critical to everything that we do in marketing. We’re trying to create a valuable experience for our customers with every touch point, so that means if you’re trying to communicate with them in social media, you have to have something valuable, relevant, and compelling and differentiated to talk about, to tell stories around. Same with your e-newsletters, they won’t open them unless it’s truly valuable because there’s so much other commotion going on. With your videos, they have to be consistent. They have to be themed. They have to be truly entertaining, and they have to be truly hit to the emotional core to make people want to change their behavior or maintain their behavior in some way.

And to be honest with you, Dave, most companies do a really bad job of all of this. Most of it, they talk about themselves. It’s still product and service driven. When you talk about content creation, they’re just talking about, “Here’s our features, and here’s our benefits.” They’re not focusing on audience pain points, and we just have a long, long way to go. So that’s where I think we’re at with content marketing. We’re trying to promote it at Content Marketing Institute as a real practice area, where you have to get a certain core group of knowledge points so that you can do this and actually execute this in your organization. And a lot of people aren’t there. So that’s why we created the event around that. I think Content Marketing World is different not only because of the fact that you get that kind of education, but you get people that are just like you, struggling with the same issues. And we’re sort of all together as a community trying to figure this thing out.

David: I hear you. You’ve always been a step ahead of the game, man. And you said it earlier, your speakers are keynotes in other conferences, multiple speakers that you have. So, yeah, you definitely have the top of the line, and you’ve always been a step ahead. So that is definitely one differentiating factor.

Joe: Well, hey, thanks to people like you. We’re all in this together. We really are. That’s why I truly believe this. And maybe that’s sort of because our mission is different. Our total mission as Content Marketing Institute is to advance the practice of content marketing. It’s our first and foremost thing that we do. So we have to do things like this. It’s sort of core to everything we believe in as a cultural group. And that means that we’re all, whether it’s the Twitter chats to the webinars or the magazine or anything else we do, almost everything we do is contributed. If you go to every blog post on our site, 95% of that content is created by the community. It’s not like we’re saying, “Look, this is the way it is.” We’re saying, “This is how this person is dealing with this challenge, and this is what you can learn from it.” And I just love that way of teaching, rather than black and white, because I don’t believe in black and white. I think there’s always different ways to go about it, but right now, we really feel that if you’re going to communicate with your customers, giving them something valuable is a lot better than pitching product to them.

David: Absolutely, absolutely, now, what would you tell somebody that’s gone to your conference a couple of years or one year, and they’re like, “Oh, I already went”? Should people consider coming again and again even if they’ve attended before, even multiple times?

Joe: Well, that’s a great question. I would say we change the program substantially every year. So look at just two years ago, the topics we were talking about are completely different than what we’re doing now. Well, first of all, there’s beginning, intermediate, and advanced sessions. So we have all different kinds of people coming. Some of them are intermediate. They need advanced. Some of the people have never done this before, and you need beginning tracks. So we have that done. We’ve really stepped it up. You talked about big data. We’ve got things on big data. We’ve got things on e-commerce that we’ve never talked about. We’re not talking about, “Oh, how do I get my Twitter page up and running.” We’re really talking about things, about leveraging specific parts of social media as part of the storytelling process. We have tons on building an audience, which is such a shame that most organizations right now aren’t more focused on building an audience, which is so, so critical. So we’ve got tons on that this year. We have tons on building a documented strategy because so many organizations don’t have a documented content marketing strategy. So we’re the beneficiary of getting feedback all throughout the year as to what our audience is challenged with, and then we take those challenges. And we plug those right into, “Hey, here’s a fresh set of a 100 plus sessions that we’re working on that you said you were struggling with.” And then we go out and get the best speakers to teach those courses.

David: There’s that listening to your customers again, right?

Joe: Hey, I’m never making that mistake again, man. Ever, ever.

David: It seems like where it begins, middle, ends, and begins again.

Joe: One of my mentors, Jim McDermott, I worked with him at Penton Media. He always said the critical thing you can do as an organization is set up listening posts, and the idea of a listening post is, “How do I get as close to the customer as possible, talk to the customer as much as possible, get that data in, create a process around that data, so I can leverage that data to create better stories and to build that audience and to keep that audience more loyal over time?” I don’t know of a different way to do it, so I always think about, “How many listening posts can we get out there at one time?”

David: It makes sense. Content marketing, to me, is the most intricate, confusing, and logical thing.

Joe: That’s a good way to put it. It seems so easy at some point, then it can be so complex if you really look at it because publishing is not easy. If publishing was so easy, there’d be more publishing successes than failures, and right now, there’s more publishing failures. And those are the types of things we’re covering to make sure that organizations out there don’t fail, and they’re at least headed the right direction.

David: That sounds great. That sounds great. So where else besides Cleveland do you . . . I know you have a couple other locations around the world that you’re doing these conferences at. You might want to speak about those for a little?

Joe: Yes, we have upcoming, later in the year, we do events all over New York and Silicon Valley. We’ll often be in your neck of the woods. So we’re doing day-long sessions. So we have those later in the year. We have content marketing Sydney and Singapore that we held in March of this year. We have a virtual event, which is actually a U.K. event that we purchased. It’s called The Content Marketing Show, and that’ll be in October, I believe, October 14 to 16. That’s all on measurement. That’s a virtual event, so you can find it anywhere. But it’ll be on U.K. and European time. And we’ve got Intelligent Content Conference that we do in the West Coast in March, and that’s all really highly technical. But we also have some technical, some of those types of sessions at Content Marketing World, as well. So we’re just trying to cover the gamut. We want to stay focused on the practice of content marketing, but we know that Content Marketing World isn’t a fit for everyone. So we try to cover a little bit of everything even though we’ll have more than 50 countries represented this year at Content Marketing World, but some of those people can’t always make it to Cleveland. So we do the best we can to be as international as we can.

David: And all that information, again, you can go to contentmarketingworld.com. All the different locations, events, everything is there.

Joe: Yeah, contentmarketingworld.com for the big show, and then for any of the other events and stuff that we have, just go to contentmarketinginstitute.com. And then we’ve got, if you clicked on our events tab, you will get every event that we do all throughout the year, including we do two free webinars every month on some aspects of content marketing.

David: Okay, very cool. Now, just a couple of general questions on the scope of content marketing in general, where do you see content marketing evolving in the next three to five years?

Joe: I don’t know. I don’t know about three to five years. I hate to put timetables on it, but I really do feel that the majority of media that consumers engage with in the future will be coming from brands, will not be coming from media companies. It might already be the case. I believe that right now, if we are saying 25% of marketing budget be dedicated to content creation and distribution, I could easily see that going to 50%. I’m not an advertising hater. I’m not a traditional public relations hater. I think there’s a time and place for those, but I think that we are seeing a correction period, and a very needed correction period, in what’s going on in marketing right now because there’s so much, still, today on the traditional side that needs to move over from how we can evolve from just a marketing and sales organization to a publishing operation. How do we really understand how to tell better stories? How do we really understand how to build a long-term audience that loves what we’re talking about and that we’re building great experiences around, instead of just saying, “Hey, this is a lead. This is a contact. This is a lead. How do we convert?” Which are all important things, and we need to do that. We need to show return for our content, but we need to do it in a different way than we’re doing right now.

Most organizations are still at the very beginning of this process, so it’s such a long way to go. Somebody asked me the other day and said, “Hey, content marketing is sort of coming to a peak, right?” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s like, when we go into these big companies, it’s such a challenge because they have, let’s say, seven divisions. And you have seven different product managers, and you have seven people creating content. And those people don’t even talk to each other. And the content creation person doesn’t talk to the social person. And the content creation person can’t create an email program because they’re not allowed to because that’s owned by sales or whatever. It’s just the crazy politics that go on that make it so difficult. And that’s just going to take . . . over time, we’re going to have to change the way that we’re set up, but we can’t do that tomorrow. It’s going to take time to do that. So we’ve got to take baby steps to get there. But I just see that as this is a long evolving process of it’s just learning how to communicate more effectively with our customers as they have now taken over control over what information they want to engage in, versus what it was like 20 years ago when, if you had a big budget and you had limited pipes for people to get information, you could pretty much dominate your industry. Now, if you’ve got an amazing idea and you communicate consistently with helpful information, you can dominate your industry, and you could be the smallest company on the planet. So I love that it sort of democratizes marketing, and I just love that aspect of content marketing.

David: That’s awesome. And what’s the number one thing or best advice you can give someone just getting into content marketing?

Joe: Start with a plan. You have to get out there at some point and do it. You have to at least start something, but when most people start with it, they say they go straight to channels. “Oh, I want to start a blog.” Or, “We need to be on YouTube.” Or, “We need to do an e-newsletter.” “I want to do a digital magazine.” And they start with the channel, and that’s the worst place to start. What we want to do is we want to first say, “Okay, who are we trying to target? Who is our audience? What’s the area that they had a really horrible problem or a challenge, and where do we have an authority to communicate a story around that? So we have to really find a content area that differentiates us from all the other stuff out there.”

There’s this big movement right now, which I would call commodity content. Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, talks about this all the time, about the idea of commodity content. All content pretty much is the same. It’s content I can get everywhere else. You have to make sure that you create content that’s different than everyone else’s. So you have to start with that plan. So focus on the content niche, find a platform, consistently deliver to that platform, whatever it is. It could be audio on iTunes. It could be video on YouTube. It could be a blog on your website or your blog. But consistently deliver that content over time and build an audience, build a subscriber base. If you want to know what the main metric you should be focusing on, it’s probably “How do I attract a subscriber that wants to stay a subscriber and engage in my content?”

And then if that goes really well over time, you can then say, “Okay, what’s the difference between my subscribers and my customers?” And that’s where you see the difference. They stay longer or they buy more or they talk more about your company or they close faster, whatever it might be. But going back to you gotta start with the basic plan. I don’t care if it’s on a cocktail napkin, Dave. It just has to be something that’s written down that you can start from somewhere because I see so many go wrong because they verbalize their plan or it’s in their head and they start at the wrong place. It’s just so easy to write this stuff down, and we don’t do it. I think we’ve got to get back to basics.

David: Yeah, and you make an interesting point. You’ve got your basics. You’ve got your Facebooks. You’ve got your Twitter. You’ve got your LinkedIn, YouTube. But don’t pigeonhole yourself, and don’t think you can’t pivot to find your audience and how they like to consume their content. I often come across that all the time. And there’s not an answer. The answer is only is specific to your company, your audience, how they like to do it. And of course, you want to be on a lot of different platforms so that people, you can catch a lot of it. But you’ve got to zero in on what your audience and how they like it.

Joe: Yeah, it’s totally right. And the story, that’s . . . you have to figure out why . . . It’s funny because I’ll talk to somebody about, let’s just say, videos. They’ll say, “Oh, I’ve got a great video strategy. We’ve got a lot of videos on our YouTube page.” And I go look of it, and I’ll say, “Okay, here’s a product video they put out yesterday. Two weeks ago, they put this other video out. Okay, customer testimonial, that’s fine. And then three weeks before and then a day before, and it’s all over the place. They’re all different formats. They’re all different fields.” And I said, “Who’s going to care about any of this? Nobody’s going to care.” But if you look at what the greatest media companies of all time, how they became the greatest media companies, they focus on a niche, a very small niche. They become the greatest in that area, most helpful in that area. And they communicate consistently around certain themes, while other brands are all over the place on all different platforms. And to your point, yeah, we want to be on a lot of different platforms, but we want to make sure that we’re consistent in how we’re telling that story to that particular audience. A lot of people just don’t do it.

David: Yeah, I hear you. All right, well, to kind of maybe finish on a lighter note, do you have any fun stories from any of your past entertainers or keynote speakers? I still remember. I still hear him, “Flip it, Tippen [SP],” from Marcus Sheridan from the sales line, legendary presentation from your first year. By the way, who is Tippen? Were you at that presentation?

Joe: I don’t even know. Hey, you know what, it’s hard for me to even keep up with Marcus Sheridan. He moves way faster than any other human being. He’s great. By the way, we just released the content marketing. We’re doing a documentary this year that’s launching at Content Marketing World, and Marcus is in it big time. So I’m really forward to that.

David: It would be hard to keep him out.

Joe: Probably the most fun thing for me was Kevin last year, Kevin Spacey on stage, and I was basically getting roasted by Kevin Spacey at the beginning of his presentation. And I thought that was the greatest thing ever.

David: What did he roast you on?

Joe: Oh, he was just always basically . . . he was doing an accent of me. He was making fun of my name. He was making fun of my love of orange. It was just the most fantastic thing ever.

David: In the Kevin Spacey way.

Joe: And by the way, I was speechless. Yeah, but anyone who wants it, if you just type in “Kevin Spacey Content Marketing World,” there is a fantastic five-minute speech that anybody in marketing should see. And it’s worth seeing. And you’ll see the beginning of that, we kept a little bit in the clip about how I was getting roasted on stage.

David: I’m going to check that out, for sure.

Joe: There you go.

David: All right, Joe, hey, I appreciate your time. And just to kind of recap to the listeners, you can go to contentmarketingworld.com to sign up for the conference coming up this year. I believe it’s September 8 to 11 in Cleveland, Ohio. And you’ve got Content Marketing Institute if you can’t make it to Cleveland. You’ve got some virtual events, as well as some events around the country that you can attend. And again, just my personal endorsement, I am a distinguished alumni in the sense that I’ve never missed one of these. And I can say that I’ve learned pretty much everything of value that I put into practice, either from this conference or from learning from somebody that I’ve met at this conference. So I will give a full ringing endorsement to anybody who’s looking to attend. But, Joe, I appreciate your time, buddy. I’m looking forward to seeing you in a few months. And do you have any parting shots or shout-outs or anybody you want to mention?

Joe: No, no, hey, just wanted to thank you. Thank you for all your support. I’m looking forward to seeing you. And just, boy, it’s less than 100 days away now, and looking forward to seeing this 3,500 of our friends in content marketing get together for a little party and just have a good time and celebrate a little bit of the fact that we’ve come this far in this industry but have a little bit further to go.

David: Absolutely, all right, Joe, thanks for your time, buddy, and we’ll see you soon.

Joe: Thanks, David


Originally published at www.shweiki.com

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