CMI’s Content Marketing World 2018 brought together the best of the best from the content world: marketers, strategists, data scientists, writers, Hollywood stars, you name it. The diversity of roles amongst attendees and speakers is a sign of how mature the industry has become. It’s been years since content marketing meant writing an e-book.

Today’s top content marketers are developing extensive, data-driven strategies that are informed by AI, cross all kinds of mediums and are rooted in captivating stories. Here are the five trends in content marketing that resonated the most:

Content marketing trend #1:

Marketing is conversational

One of the most prominent themes from this year’s conference was that marketing is all about conversations. Conversational marketing is less about the tech that enables it, and more about a faster and easier way for audiences to get the information they want.

Marketers are tasked with creating new messages. Yet literally no consumer is asking for marketing messages. What consumers want are positive experiences and answers to their questions or challenges.

Whether you’re creating content for prospects to find via their Google searches or implementing an app or a chatbot that directs site visitors to the resources they need most, think about how a prospect would engage in a conversation with a person, and emulate that.

Content marketing trend #2:

People like humans more than brands

This should come as shock to no one, but people don’t like doing business with stodgy brands that feel like brick walls instead of human faces. People are following brands that align with their beliefs. They’re following brands that put humans at the front lines – and empower these people to respond personally, not in robot corporate nonsense.

Ann Handley spoke of Warren Buffett’s widely read letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Non-shareholders read and enjoyed these letters because his messages were understandable and relatable. His secret? He wrote the letters to his older sister, Doris. What would Doris want to know? That went into the letter.

Who is your brand’s Doris? Are you speaking as you would to her?

On the other hand, Jay Baer shared a major #fail from Amtrak:



Doesn’t sound like there’s a caring person on the other end of that Twitter handle.

Content marketing trend #3:


I heard Oprah mentioned three separate times during Content Marketing World. She is a master at creating a memorable brand (who can forget “You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!”?). She’s also a master storyteller, knowing exactly how to present a story so that it tugs at viewers’ heartstrings and gets them to tune in for a full hour – and she’s since taken that to the next level at her own TV network.

Content marketers would do well to use the question, “What would Oprah do?” as a guidepost.

Content marketing trend #4:

Personalization (beyond first name) wins

Scott Monty of Brain+Trust shared a quote from ancient orator Cicero that still stands today:

“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.”

Marketing must speak to the customer and meet the customer’s need in order to be successful. Starting your email with “Hi John” doesn’t cut it. Technology has opened so many doors, allowing marketers to share the right content, with the right message, at the right moment for every single person. (Technology has also made it more difficult to recognize the same person across the many channels and devices they use, so make sure your data and tech stack is in order.)

Jessica Best of Barkley spoke about how to personalize email campaigns to the content prospects were interested in (i.e. you’re not promoting one new blog post to your whole audience. You’re instead creating five different campaigns with unique content for different interest areas). Personalization also means interacting with your audiences according to their timeline, not your timeline. Engage when you can best help the prospect or customer.

Content marketing trend #5:

Successful content marketing needs real stories

Storytelling will forever be the cornerstone of content marketing. All of the marketing in the world cannot fix bad, boring, unhelpful content. Companies tend to invest in content marketing, but then don’t invest in story development and quality production. They jump to creating as much as possible without thinking about what audiences actually want.

Jay Baer encouraged brands to focus on the actions rather than words and give customers a memorable experience that encourages them to tell your story, something he calls a talk trigger. After all, the marketing that comes from others – good or bad – is so much stronger than anything you put out.

Contently’s head of content strategy, Joe Lazauskas, was all about the science, saying “neurons that fire together wire together.” Which is to say, great stories make our brains active, which makes us pay attention and establish an emotional connection. Those stories have us hooked, and this “hooking” is very strongly tied to purchase consideration. Immersion Neuroscience is working to measure the brain’s activity through a wearable device that measures oxytocin, the empathy drug associated with human connection. This yields fascinating data on which stories truly resonate and engage (and I mean that in the least jargon-y sense) audiences.

There’s always something to improve upon. How are you going to change your content marketing for the better?