Joe Pulizzi ICC 2017

Last month I had the honor of moderating the advanced planning track at ICC – the Intelligent Content Conference. While Content Marketing World is the biggest event of the content marketing industry, ICC in Las Vegas is the smaller, yet more boutique like sister. We had 500 people from 20 different countries, all interested in how content can be put to a better, more intelligent use across the organization.

It was truly amazing to meet some of the best brains in content marketing, to learn how some of the best teams out there were able to create scalable content strategies and how content can be optimized and used across the customer lifecycle to create meaningful relationships at scale.

Here are my key takeaways from ICC 2017:

1. Governance is sexy

The opening presentation at the advanced planning track started with a poll concerning cooking habits. It was quite surprising, but then Scott Rosenberg creatively associated the creative cooking process with the creative process of content creation.

The biggest challenge organizations face today when it comes to marketing, said Rosenberg, is aligning marketing activities, technology and campaigns across the organization for a unified voice. The bigger the organization, the bigger the challenge.

Here is where governance comes into the picture.

According to Scott Rosenberg, Director of Digital Governance and Operations at Intel, “Governance is about enabling content marketers to create and share compelling, impactful content and experiences.”

Rosenberg indicates that Implementing a governance framework can help organizations establish clear roles and responsibilities, provide a vehicle for establishing and scaling best practices, and connect strategy to execution.

"Governance is about enabling content marketers to create & share compelling, impactful content & experiences", says @kscottr
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The benefits, are huge: By taking the guess work out of some of the day to day operations, marketers can expect reduced time to market for content creation, higher performance, and ultimately, more time to focus on where it matters most – your customer.

Biggest marketing challenge according to @kscottr - aligning #marketing activities technology & campaigns for a unified voice#intelcontentpic.twitter.com/rPcu4g6ZSf

— Yael Kochman (@Yaelkochman) March 30, 2017

2. AI not here to replace us, but to make more time for creative tasks

A lot was discussed at the event around the rise of artificial intelligence. At an event dedicated to finding intelligent solutions to scale content, I guess this was inevitable.

While technology can and should help us automate many tasks, including the creation and distribution of content, at the end of the day some things cannot be replaced by bots.

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The overall discourse at the event was decisive: while bots are going to take over many of the repetitive tasks marketers do today on a daily basis, such as research, reporting, content distribution etc., this will not make marketers go away, but rather make more time for us to work on creative tasks that bots are simply not capable of doing.

In addition, with all the technology available to be deployed, a new role in the content department emerges:

When I asked Carlos Abler, Leader of Content Marketing Strategy at 3M, what are his must-have tech tools a content marketer needs today to become intelligent content marketers, he replied: “The #1 must have technology is biological. Namely, human.”

Abler believes that we are witnessing now the advent of the ‘content engineer’. Just as we need content marketers and strategists who have a deep knowledge of technologies for successful programs and solutions potential, we also need deep technologists who can understand the communicational, functional, business process and humanity dimensions of content. This is in order to identify and build technology architectures and code that can manage content workflows and data to serve and optimize content programs.

#bots are not replacing humans, but freeing more time for humans to take on creative assignments
Great session by @mrcruce at #intelcontentpic.twitter.com/aWeXt6aizB

— Yael Kochman (@Yaelkochman) March 30, 2017

3. Data analysts should be marketers new best friends

Katrina Neal, LinkedIn’s Content Marketing Evangelist, gave one of the most engaging and refreshing keynotes. In her words, marketers should replace the words “I think…” with “I know…”. And to do that, they need to have data scientists on their side.

Marketers should replace the words “I think…” with “I know…”, says @katrina_neal of @Linkedinmktg
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As a preparation for her talk, Katrina actually had us, the audience, answer a short survey. To the following question: As a marketer, how respected do you feel in your business? 66% replied that they feel very or somewhat respected. Yet, 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketers at all. In fact, 65% of CEOs think marketers live in la-la-land.

Where is this gap coming from?

Perhaps the fact that only 20% of us feel that we can confidently measure our value has something to do with it. If we can’t measure our results – how can we prove what our work is worth?

And this is why it is time that marketers reach out to data scientists. It is all there, in the numbers, it is only a matter of tracking and constantly measuring our performance. This would not only help us prove our worth, but will make us better marketers, too.

4. SEO is as relevant as ever, yet the practice has changed

Content and SEO have always been somewhat competing practices. In fact, content marketing in its modern, digital form, has gotten a strong boost from the desire to get ahead in search engines. Many SEO agencies stated writing content in order to promote websites on specific keywords.

Today, the opposite takes effect, and SEO is here to help promote quality content. It’s content first, optimization after.

On the first day of ICC, instead of having a traditional sit down lunch, we had lunch boxes waiting for pick up, and we were encouraged to take our lunch box to one of 5 “Lunch and Learn” sessions which were offered by the event’s sponsors. I chose to participate at BrightEdge workshop, which was both practical and engaging.

The key topic of the workshop was micro-moments, and how to promote your content in the new structure of Google SERP.

Google SERP has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. From a heavily textual page to a highly contextual one. Images, maps and quick answers often appear on the entire “above the fold” section, and regular link results often get pushed to the “below the fold” area. Conclusion – you want your content to appear in the images or quick answers parts in order to be seen.

Google SERP changes 

Understanding your customers’ micro-moments is key. From I-want-to-know moments to I-want-to-do or buy moments, each of these moments require a whole different type of answer. Your content should be planned to answer each type of micro-moments, and you need to use tactics such as schema.org in order to let Google know which piece of content answers which type of micro-moment. This will help your content be featured on those contextual, above the fold, sections of the SERP.

5. First step to building a content strategy – break the silos

Content is a relatively new discipline within the marketing department, and it is often viewed as a separate effort which is not directly related to other activities such as events, PR or PPC campaigns. Yet, content is the engine that should be pushing all the other marketing activities forward. It is the content team that needs to research and find the topics that the company should be recognized with, and they should be the ones working with the other departments to make sure the same messaging is used throughout each and every marketing activities, from a banner at an event to an interview with the company’s CEO in the media.

The 1st step to building a content strategy – break the silos, says @Aames
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Marketing teams need to stop working in silos. Content should be reused and repurposed across the customer journey and throughout the different marketing channels.

First step for building a #contentstrategy - break the silos, says @arockley#intelcontentpic.twitter.com/XOjjBibqcX

— Yael Kochman (@Yaelkochman) March 30, 2017

6. Unifying your content strategy across the customer journey is key

Well, this is not new. It was great to see among the attendees of the event many marketers who carry a transverse function, which is focused on aligning marketing activities across the customer journey.

Content sells better than sales people, says Andrea Ames, Content Strategist at IBM. In fact, using content encompasses more than 55% of sales cycle time – vs. only 21% spent talking to sales people. Yet if the content is not telling a unified story across the customer journey, it will fail.

According to Ames, In order to create a unified content strategy, you need to:

  • Put someone in charge of it.
  • Give them the authority.
  • Communicate it.
  • Write it down, and keep it updated.
  • Communicate it.
  • Validate and measure it constantly, fix it incrementally. 
  • Communicate it - incessantly.

Using #content encompasses more than X2 of time spent talking to sales people@aames#intelcontentpic.twitter.com/sIhltshgdW

— Yael Kochman (@Yaelkochman) March 30, 2017

Final Thoughts

I learned so much from ICC and can’t wait to go again next year. It really felt like all the pieces of content were brought together: strategy, tech, creation and data.

However, speaking about it at a conference and doing it in practice are two completely different things. Can you honestly say that you are practicing intelligent content at your company?

I would love to hear either way. Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.