A report from the epicenter of content marketing conferences

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content marketing conferences

Over the past two weeks I had the pleasure and honor of speaking at two premier content marketing conferences: Content Marketing World in Cleveland and Hubspot’s Inbound conference in Boston. I would imagine there are only a handful of people who attended both events so I thought it might be helpful if I provided some observations from two solid weeks of content marketing best practices.

The quality of both of these content marketing conferences was extraordinary. I would say the character of the CMW event was more intimate and friendlier (which I preferred) compared to the gargantuan HubSpot event, which attracted 10,000 people to the cavernous Boston convention center. But both organizations should be very proud of what they accomplished and the impressive attention to detail. If you have a chance to attend either one of these in 2015, jump at the chance.

Here are a couple of themes I thought you might be interested in:

Star power

Both events brought in the star power to attract fans but there were important content lessons beyond the glitz.

CMW featured actor Kevin Spacey who provided one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking talks I have seen. I was inspired by his view that storytelling is finally becoming the centerpiece of entertainment and commerce. In a competitive world, businesses (and Hollywood) are realizing that the writers, not the producers, the executives, or the advertisers, should be calling the shots.

Inbound featured Martha Stewart. I did not attend this talk but the overwhelming buzz coming out of the session was that she was terrible because she was self-promotional and out of touch with the audience. Compare this to Spacey who joked about the cookies on the trade show floor and prepared enough to poke fun at the previous year’s speaker William Shatner.

  • Know your audience.
  • Prepare
  • Connect with them where they live.

Inbound also had a host of other luminaries including Malcolm Gladwell. I believe Gladwell was previewing his new book idea when he described the common characteristics of business disruptors.

One of these characteristics was “disagreeable.” By that he meant that the greatest innovators didn’t really care what other people thought about them and would rather make money than be popular. This made me think of comparisons to our own community of marketing bloggers who rarely disagree with each other for fear of being left out of something. Probably worth another blog post, no?

Content, content, everywhere

Both events featured wonderful speakers and educational sessions. Of course I was limited in what I could attend but naturally the general focus was on the creation, distribution, and measurement of content. The scope of the offerings was impressive and somehow most of the sessions were fairly full, indicating skilful programming.

I can understand why both these organizations would want to promote content as the heart of marketing solutions today but wouldn’t it make sense to start to look at content and marketing more broadly? Shouldn’t we start going beyond the daily battle for blog traffic?

For example, shouldn’t we be discussing:

  • Integration with other media (severely lacking today)
  • Implications of wearable technology and content
  • The merging of augmented reality and content
  • Peering into the omni channel and the implications for content
  • What to do in a saturated content niche
  • Big Data-driven content

During Inbound, there was a concurrent content stream called FutureM which at least touched on some of these topics so of the two conferences, Inbound/FutureM gets the nod for more progressive thinking.

Inbound also offered small discussion groups with some of the speakers called “Ask Me Anything” and offbeat talks by well-known speakers called “Bold Talks.” Nice diversity to the regular panel discussions.

The software explosion

I spent a significant amount of time on the trade show floor talking to the many vendors trying to capture a piece of this content marketing space. The biggest problem I found is that most companies could not articulate what they do. They all wanted to show me a 30-minute demo.

This is a problem. I really didn’t have time for a half-hour demo times 25 vendors!  If you can’t describe the problems you solve and why you are uniquely qualified to solve it, you need to revisit your marketing plan.

There are so many new players in this space but many of them just seemed to be a prettier way to organize Google Analytics or compile several data sources into dashboard. My impression was that much of the functionality I saw could be accomplished by two interns and an Excel spreadsheet. I predict a big shake-out in this space!

The future of content marketing conferences

I think the themes I covered here provide a template for future marketing conferences:

  • Every detail was lovingly attended to at these conferences. The wi-fi screamed. The food was good. The networking was a blast. Those are the things people will tweet about and remember about your event. Look for even more services and amenities at future events.
  • Star speakers bring in business, create buzz before and during the event, and make us feel special for being there. I think we can expect to see even more star power in the future. Who will be the first to get Oprah?
  • Both of these conferences have grown explosively in a short period of time. They can’t have the same content topics and speakers year after year. It will be interesting to see how they evolve. Both CMW and Inbound preach that quality content is the heart of success. How will these events up their games to get beyond Twitter tactics and lead generation?
  • Sponsors are an important economic engine to both of these events. I did not observe much foot traffic in this area for either conference. How can the vendors create more value and less confusion for participants? How can we use technology to progress beyond the same boring trade show model that has been used for 100 years? An opportunity!

Any way, I hope you enjoyed these observations and will add your own in the comment section.

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