Shelly Maxwell, Project Manager & Communication Strategist


When you come back from a conference, you spend a lot of time talking with your co-workers about the sessions you attended, the network you made, and how good the food was.

It’s really easy to get distracted by the cool new toy that was presented or implementing a brilliant idea from a presenter–which are both great outcomes from a conference. But what’s most important to share with your team are the big ideas. Taking a step back and looking at the overall theme of a conference can generate valuable lessons for you and your team back home.

This perspective forces you to examine the relationships among sessions and the continuity in the keynote speeches, and it hopefully leads you to the answer to the question bosses often ask: “Why did we send you to this event in the first place?” You better have a pretty good answer if you want to go to the next conference in Vegas or Miami 😉

So, I attempted to deliver that bird’s eye view of the Content Marketing Institute’s Intelligent Content Conference of 2016.

My one sentence summary: In order to be truly successful at content marketing, teams must embrace tools, strategies, and content creators that will ultimately transform your organization to a valuable content-centered hub.

Now, here are 5 key takeaways from ICC 2016.

1. Utilize Effective Marketing Technology — But Remember it doesn’t solve everything

I got to know Vishal Khanna, the 2015 Content Marker of the Year, and hearing his presentation, How To Deliver Quantifiable Content Marketing Success with a Small Team, it’s not hard to see why. He streamlined “traditional” digital marketing strategies into a successful marketing approach for his small team at Wake Forest Innovations. His team—consisting of just two full-time employees and a few contractors—created a successful sales pipeline that’s generating millions of dollars in sales qualified leads.

Vishal gave important insight into how his team did it. For example, here’s what his marketing stack looked like at the beginning of his time there:


It was generating a ton of data but the sheer volume of information was overwhelming for Vishal’s small team. It turned out, they were spending more time reviewing and managing data than acting on it.

To fix the problem, they changed their stack to this:


Vishal explained that less data management freed them up to do more actual marketing, an approach that was somewhat unique in a conference heavily focused on marketing technology.

We must remember that technology in itself solves nothing. Yes, it helps us deliver the right content to the right people a the right time and it makes our business processes more efficient. But any technology decision we make as content professionals must be based on sound strategy. “Technology is not an answer. It’s just a conduit,” Kate Kenyon said in her presentation. “A big content management system requires talent. How much tech do you need?”

Robert Rose said, “Content isn’t king, it’s coal. It’s become a commodity at the expense of tech.”

Takeaway: When you make content decisions, lead with strategy. Let technology follow.

2. Treat content as a business asset

Every decision you make should come straight from a business grand strategy or strategic initiative. To think like a content strategist is to think like a business strategist. For example, Robert Rose in his keynote stressed that we have learn the game of creating content as part of your business strategy and tactics — emphasis on “business.”

But what does that mean for marketers to make most of content as a business asset? Kate Kenyon put it this way, “To design content as an asset, design it for a particular business outcome and decide how to assess its performance.”

The concept itself is simple but assessing content performance that shows insights is tricky. Metrics—such as “likes”— are easy to come by but often tell us nothing of value. The only measurement worth pursuing are those that help answer questions of value to the business objective.

“Start with the end in mind.” Andrea Ames said. “What answers are you looking for? Look for numbers that can get you there.”

After you find those numbers, what do you do with them? Andrea said next, “If you’re going to measure content performance, use the information to improve something.” In other words, don’t have your content team collect mountains of data and then do nothing useful with it.

Takeaway: For each piece of content, have a business goal, a measurement plan – and a commitment to using the measurements – to help the business improve.

3. Develop personas that you’ll actually use

As a marketer, you know that your personas are vital to your messaging strategy. From Ardith Albee’s presentation, How to Develop Audience Personas That You’ll Actually Use, Ardith explained ways to streamline the process of persona building while simultaneously creating more useful final products.

My favorite tip was the incorporation of LinkedIn into the persona creation process.

Once you have your basic demographic information set, you can mine through LinkedIn profiles that match those characteristics. Typically, Ardith looks at 50—100 profiles when creating a single persona. This will make them more realistic.

Takeaway: Utilize many tools and platforms, including LinkedIn, to create a single persona.

4. Effective Content helps customers through their journeys

As Andrea put it in one of her session slides, “Effective content moves customers successfully through their journey.”

“Before you make content models, you have to understand your key personas and their journeys.” This observation from presenter Noz Urbina reflects another ICC subtheme: The importance of providing content that supports key points in customer journeys.

Let’s be clear, this is not a map of the buying process, which is not nearly as helpful for content production.

This may help us assemble content production across our organization, but as Noz said, “the customer doesn’t care about your org chart.”

They care about how you and your content can help solve their problem.

And, if you’ve put Ardath’s insights into practice, you should have a very clear idea of what those problems are so you can set about solving them.

Because we content professionals simply cannot provide content for every conceivable point, every moment, of every possible journey, we must identify “hot spots” or “moments of truth” within customer journeys. Which moments in the customer journey can your content add value?

If you are struggling to put your customers at the center of all you do, reframe your thinking to focus on experiences.

Takeaway: Your customers have an infinite number of journeys (things they want to do) involving your brand. Figure out which of those journeys – and which moments within those journeys – you could support with content in a way that significantly helps your business. Does that content already exist? If not, make it.

5. Restructuring your content may mean restructuring processes and departments, too

Your old production processes may not fully support your new, scalable content structure.

For example, silo team structures can work against cross-functional content goals. Not all supervisors take kindly to sharing “their” top content creators with other departments.

As Andrea Fryrear noted in conversation, some strategies require that content creators be organized by product team instead of by department or by channel.

Kate pointed out that content marketing teams are typically organized by channel, which can limit their ability to plan for cross-channel efficiencies. 

Agile marketing is one approach that addresses the need for flexible organizational structures – an approach that Andrea Fryrear and Jeff Julian discussed in depth. The goals of Agile Marketing are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function. 

Takeaway: To take your customer experience to the next level, look not just at the structure of your content but at the structures and processes of your organization.

Intelligent Content Can Help Any Business

If you and your team are struggling with bandwidth–size, scale and speed–when it comes to your content production, an intelligent content marketing strategy can shine a light on your priorities.

Maybe I’ll see you at ICC in 2017.

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