CMW 2019: Content Marketing Experts on Their Mistakes and Inspirations

  •   October 24, 2019

One of the biggest and most insightful events in content marketing in 2019 was Content Marketing World, which was held on September 3-6, in Cleveland. CMW is an annual event that is especially useful for marketing and PR professionals who develop content marketing strategies, to learn more advanced techniques, share their experiences, and network.

During CMW 2019, we took the chance to collaborate with Andy Crestodina to host interviews with successful content marketing practitioners — Joe Pulizzi, Val Geisler, John Hall, and other prominent marketers — and asked each interviewee the same questions:

Today we are happy to share the videos and key takeaways from these questions with you.

Content Marketers Interviewed

CMW 2019 SEMrush Interviews

Andy Crestodina is a speaker, content marketer, co-founder of Orbit Media, and author of Content Chemistry.

“My name is Ian Cleary from RazorSocial. A lot of the work we do is rolling out digital projects for companies.”

“I am Val Geisler, the founder of Fix My Churn. We help monthly recurring revenue focused companies fix their customer churn through better email marketing.”

“My name is Alon Schwartz. I am a growth consultant, which keeps me super broad. What I do is I help large companies figure out their SEO strategies in building and scaling SEO architecture.”

“I am Megan Golden, and I lead Content Strategy at LinkedIn for the marketing solutions business and the sales solutions business.”

“My name is Jay Acunzo. I run an organization called Marketing Showrunners, which advances the craft of marketers making shows — video shows, audio shows (otherwise known as podcasts).”

John Hall: “I am the co-founder of I’ve just exited Influence & Co. There is a lot going on, but it is all good stuff.”

“I am Lisa Sharapata, the Senior Director of Brand Experiences at Aprimo. Aprimo is a digital asset management and marketing resource management. We manage the entire content lifecycle.”

“I am Erica Heald, and I am a content marketing, content strategy consultant. I work primarily with enterprise SaaS startups. I help them figure out what kind of content will really speak to their audience.”

“I am Kiley Peters, the owner and CEO of Brainchild Studios. We are a digital content marketing and website creation agency, and we primarily work with brands targeting millennial moms as well as non-profits supporting women and girls.”

“My name is Joe Pulizzi. I am the founder of the Content Marketing Institute. I am also the co-founder of the Orange Effect Foundation. I evangelize content marketing all over the world — as many people that will listen to me!”

Which Content Marketer Inspires You?

Ian Cleary: 

Syed Balkhi is a guy I follow all the time. He’s built up a personal WB Beginner, a WordPress site. Then, on the back of that, he started building software companies. Just his whole content marketing tactics and the funnels he builds, and everything… he’s just brilliant.”

Val Geisler:

Jay Acunzo. Jay inspires me because of his creativity and his willingness to take risks that other people just won’t take. He likes testing things, which is really important in email, so I think that’s why it resonates with me. The data is what matters. We can guess all day long, and we can go off our hypothesis, but I love being wrong. I love when the data tells me that I’m wrong.”

Alon Schwartz:

“I’ve got to say, Joe Pulizzi. He has created something amazing, he continues to create amazing things, and I think he also goes beyond marketing, and it speaks to marketers on how marketers can become better people and grow their own careers. Even though I can’t say I’m a content marketer like him, I’m inspired to be a content marketer like him.”

Megan Golden:

“The first content marketer that ever really inspired me and sort of elevated my thinking is the classic Ann Handley. She is amazing in sort of being able to distill what we should be doing right now. Then she just has this really lovely personality. She’s super approachable, which I think is awesome.”

Jay Acunzo:

“I have always learned a ton from and will continue to learn from the great Andrew Davis. So, Andrew is one of my favorite speakers. He is someone who has helped me understand what I am not good at, which is systems thinking, like deconstructing and creating work, and understanding what makes it work.”

John Hall:

“I can’t put my finger on one [content marketer], because I think marketers have their strengths. For example, you [Andy Crestodina]. You’re really good at data and explaining things that are tactical, and I enjoy that. There are people like Michael Brenner, who has got this Mean People Suck thing that he is pushing towards. That is inspiring in how you treat people and how you engage people.

I look at each one, and I say, “What is their super strength?” I think it is almost like the Avengers. I try and put together these super strengths into one, and so I would encourage others to do the same.”

Lisa Sharapata:

Robert Rose has been my biggest inspiration, by far. I stumbled upon him about five years ago — just kind of changed up everything in my thinking of how to go about marketing. Not only do we align with his content strategy and thinking, we partner with him on some services. Also, I have taken his lead on implementing that within our own organization, so educating the entire organization on what content marketing is.”

Erica Heald:

“You [Andy Crestodina] inspire me, and Ann Handley. The two of you are very different marketers, but when I have to say the people that inspire me to break out of my comfort zone, you do this to me every year. So thank you.”

Kiley Peters:

“I’ve always taken you [Andy Crestodina] as quite an inspiration and mentor. You definitely lead that pack and Ann Handley. I may or may not have referred to her as my girl crush; I’m a fangirl. I want to be Ann when I grow up, kind of thing. 

I would also say I’d toss an add out to Drew McLellan at Agency Management Institute. As an agency owner, I take a lot of leads from AMI, and Drew is brilliant. So, I think he’s doing a lot of really good things, just from a really strategic perspective.”

Joe Pulizzi:

“I’ve always read all of Seth Godin‘s books. What I like about him, and I don’t read as much anymore, but when I was in my formative years as a marketer, he made it simple. That’s what was really important. When you read any of Seth’s books, it gets down to what’s really simple. Focus on what you do best; I think marketers bring too much complexity in, and they don’t need to.”

What’s the Biggest Difference Between Good and Great Content Marketing?

Ian Cleary​​​​​​​: 

“From the good marketing point of view, you’re producing good content; it looks good, it’s professionally designed. The great marketers have the marketing skills, but also have the technical side [analytics, measuring the impact]. I think that’s the big difference.”

Val Geisler:

“Great marketing is marketing that’s willing to take risks. That you’re willing to fail, and not necessarily see it as a failure, but see it as a learning opportunity.”

“Good marketing gets the job done, and it meets the metrics. Great marketing is okay with failing at a metric, not quite meeting it because you know that you’re going to exceed in another one.”

Alon Schwartz:

“The worst thing I see people do is they do keyword research, and they create content for that research, and it’s total garbage; it’s just content created to match a keyword. The great marketing is the marketing that you talk about, the marketing you remember.”

Megan Golden:

“Sometimes we focus too much on the operations of content marketing, and we’re losing that inspiration of why we became content marketers in the first place. Inevitably, you have a story to tell, and that’s what you should focus on.”

Jay Acunzo:

“One thing we really devalue in content marketing, because we have metrics for everything, is the qualitative response that people are giving it. Let’s pursue that even though the best practice says go this way, we’re going to go that way because we got these passionate responses.”

John Hall:

“I try and tell marketers to have that Warren Buffett thinking, and especially marketing leaders, support your team in a way that you’re setting them up for the long term and not just short-term thinking.” 

Lisa Sharapata:

“Having a point of view, aligning to a strategy, being consistently down a path, not just spraying things all over the place, makes a big difference.”

Erica Heald:

“Great content is that kind of content where they [the audience] actually know who created it, and they come to thank you. It doesn’t happen a lot, but that’s great content to me.”

Kiley Peters:

“The great content right now is truly solving business challenges, not just to create content to create content, but are you creating content to solve a problem?”

“And then, I would take that one step further: content that’s backed by research. It’s hard to argue with numbers, and, worst-case scenario, it gives you a directional guide.”

Joe Pulizzi:

“Great ones started by doing one thing really, really well. Pick something you’re good at, and then, once you build what we call a minimum buy-able audience, you can build on that, and then you can go and diversify to your heart’s content.”

“95% of companies spread their content energy over all different things that do nothing for them, for their business, for their audience, and it’s frankly a big waste of time.”

What’s the Biggest Mistake Made in Content Marketing?

Ian Cleary:

“There is a disconnect between writing a piece of content and then going bringing people on through the funnel for that piece of content — where people are just writing content because they’re told, ‘We need content’, but it’s not very focused.”

“Now, using a tool like SEMrush can help a lot with keyword research and identify the right type of content to create, but I don’t think people are doing enough of that research upfront. Because if you do all of that research upfront, you’re not wasting as much time.”

Val Geisler:

“Doing the same thing everyone else is doing, and doing it exactly the same way they’re doing it. So, taking one model that works for one business and transferring it to your business, it’s not going to work. Even if it’s the exact same style of business, you’ve got to test things against your own audience.”

Alon Schwartz:

“I think there are tons of mistakes in marketing. I make mistakes all the time, and I’m glad I make mistakes because I learn from those mistakes. Until you try it yourself, and say, “That doesn’t work for me,” you don’t know. I believe in failure as a great teacher.”

Megan Golden:

“There was a point where we went the off-side of the spectrum of maybe being too creative, but we were forgetting about SEO. If you don’t have SEO, then nobody’s going to see your content, so being creative is moot. We were able to really think through, how does SEO permeate every piece of content we deliver, and that’s really pulled us back, and centered us.”

John Hall:

“In marketing, I would say losing trust. As marketers, we have to be very, very focused, and if we lose trust, I think you have a very, very hard time crawling out of that hole.”

Lisa Sharapata:

“It’s just spreading everything out so that everything is mediocre. So nothing stands out. Instead of putting ten in two categories, and exceeding. And I think we fall victim to it, too.”

Erica Heald:

“A huge problem is folks get really excited about something new, like with LinkedIn Live. Right now, everybody wants to do LinkedIn Live, and they’re like, “Let’s just go, and do this thing.” And I’m like, “Hold it. Can we have a creative brief? Can we talk about your goals?” Then they’re like, “Our goals are lead generation.” I’m like, “But you can’t sell on it, and you’re not allowed to be promotional.” And they’re like, “Brand awareness.” A big mistake would be this lack of strategic alignment.”

Kiley Peters:

“Something that I think people are still doing wrong is trying to push their own agenda. Understand your target audience and then speak to them about the value that you’re providing for them versus trying to push your own agenda all the time.”

Joe Pulizzi:

“If you are creating content, whatever type it is, most likely, it’s not any different from anybody else’s out there. So, what is the place that you can dominate on the web per se, that you can be the leading expert in the world? And you have the opportunity to be a leading expert in the world.”

“Figure out what it is, figure out that mission, and dominate that instead of being all things to all people. And if you do that mediocre — not even good, bad — don’t do it. And you can actually use tools to find out where the content gaps lie.”

Want to Confess to Any Failures? 

Ian Cleary: 

“I remember at one stage reading about anchor tags within your content. If it’s a duplicate match, if you’re always specifying the same keywords in the content, you can be in trouble. I jumped the gun too early, and it wasn’t a thousand links all with the same keyword, it was that some of them were exact matches and some of them weren’t.”

Val Geisler:

“The biggest mistake I made was taking other people’s models and trying to apply them to what I was doing. My mistake was assuming that applying that methodology was the end. It was actually the middle. It was the testing ground, and the end was coming down the line. It’s a different audience to test against. It’s a different brand. It’s a different message. It’s a different relationship.”

Alon Schwartz:

“I write content that I think is going to rank, and it doesn’t rank. I put a lot of time into it, I think it’s going to do well, and everyone’s going to read it, I have great images, but no one reads it. But I have learned from that. I have learned that maybe there was a reason it didn’t resonate; I had to try.”

“If I think I’ve actually been onto something, I will repurpose it. I find one of the best ways to promote content is to really promote content.”

Megan Golden:

“We will fail sometimes. We will talk about that failure. In fact, we have an AB test. We say that nothing goes out the door on Campaign Manager on LinkedIn without some sort of AB testing. We say, if you’re not testing, you’re losing money.”

Jay Acunzo:

“My biggest mistake was trying to brute-force my agenda through the executive team, a group of peers, stakeholders. And that’s just not the way to persuade and win minds and hearts. We need to hear it as a team over and over again, and then we get on the same page.”

“We’re supposed to be good at understanding people as marketers. And the people we so often either don’t understand or don’t pay attention to, are the ones who work with us, the stakeholders, internally.”

John Hall:

“Sometimes where I’ve screwed up is where I’ve learned the most from. For example, with a lot of companies, and even us at the beginning of I&Co, we were doing things, but we weren’t setting up right to be able to align across all of our not just marketing but recruiting, training. I think that if you can strategically align things a lot better, you’re going to get a lot more ROI.”

Kiley Peters:

“Last year, I produced a giant piece of content, and I didn’t even do my own market research ahead of time. Then I took a couple of steps back and readjusted. The truth is, it’s continuously a work in progress — that was a lesson that I learned. Definitely talk to your audience before you just assume that you know what they’re looking for.”

Joe Pulizzi:

“When I left my executive job in publishing and went to start a business, I focused on the product. I fell in such love with the product that I even stopped listening to the audience that was telling me, “No, Joe, we don’t need this product, what we need is, is there a content marketing community out there, is there an event where people can get together?

I had to finally kill the baby, and finally went and said, “Oh my God, if I’d just listened to my audience, they are telling me the products that I should launch.” 

What Content Are You Personally Most Proud of?

Ian Cleary:

“I was most proud that within six months of launching the blog, it won one of the top blogs awards through Social Media Examiner. And they were the top social media guys in the industry. I was so surprised having achieved that within six months, and that after that it then helped me build a brand and build traffic and build customers.”

Alon Schwartz:

“I’m proud of coming up with interesting angles doing research and then writing about it. The writing could be terrible, my images could be terrible, but I think my research is great.”

Megan Golden:

“My first moment on stage, I totally hammed, and I didn’t really believe in myself that I knew that I was the expert in this content. So, I spent a year developing a story that meant something to me, that felt like it was authentic to me, and then took classes that make you kind of uncomfy to be able to kind of, like, act on the fly. And after a year I’m loving being on the stage.”

Jay Acunzo:

“I’m really excited about what’s happening with the Marketing Showrunners blog. Having created podcasts and video series and newsletters and all sorts of things, talking about qualitative feedback, I’ve never seen a passionate response to any of my projects like I am with this one.”

John Hall:

“ went from 90,000 views six or seven months ago to now we’re on — just page views — we’re probably going to be hitting 500,000 soon. We had a hundred sign-ups in January around that time; now, this last month, we did 4,000, and so I think that for us, it is scaling, but it is also scaling the right way.”

Lisa Sharapata:

“One is starting a content marketing philosophy in our organization when no one even knew what it was. Number two is getting this content written around the content lifecycle.”

Erica Heald:

“I’ve just celebrated three years of being my own consultancy. I’m proud that I’ve stuck it out this time, ‘cause this was not my first time doing it.”

Kiley Peters:

“I will say Brainchild Studios; my company turns three this week. So that’s exciting. I have a toddler, as a business — not as a human.”

If You Could Only Choose One to Use for the Rest of Your Career — Blog Post or Video?

Ian Cleary:

“I just enjoy blogging, and video is hard to produce — there is all this set-up involved and all the editing involved to produce that video. With a blog, I can just get writing and produce a piece of content, and I’m in total control of it.”

Val Geisler:

“I want to say blog posts, because I love to write, and I am an email marketer and so writing is all about it. But I also love video because it’s a way to connect in a really unique way, and there are really cool ways to use video in email. I am going to stick with blog posts.”

Alon Schwartz:

“Blog post. Video is obviously the future because it entertains people. But my problem with video is that you can’t skim video. You can’t learn from video. I could find all those shows on Netflix that are really amazing, and I could figure out how to condense it into five minutes of entertainment. I don’t want to sit there for an hour. So I’d love to continue writing. Video is great, but it should be accompanied by great written content.”

Megan Golden:

“Right now, the focus for LinkedIn is all video. What we’re thinking about is, how do we take stories that we would have defaulted to an ebook or a blog series, and how do we tell that in a video format? And also to try it out in ways that don’t need high production.

How can we just have the right accessories for our iPhone to be able to create high-quality content that way, so that we don’t tell our marketers that you have to have this explosion of a blockbuster budget to be able to take on video. So, video is really where it is at for us.”

Jay Acunzo:

“We live in this era when we take it for granted, which is, anybody, for zero dollars, no matter if you’re an intern, an executive, you’re famous, you’re unknown, no matter what role you have, it does not matter, any human being with an internet connection can open their laptop in the morning and write. And nothing is more powerful than that. Writing. Hands down.”

John Hall:

“A blog post for sure. Video is very valuable — I never want to put it down because I think it has got its place, but I do think blog posts are number one. A lot of times it is easier to create, there are a lot of different things you can hit. You can hit several birds with one stone, a little better than video. I would say a blog post, even though I don’t want to discount the video.”

Lisa Sharapata:

“I’m going to guess more people say blog; I’m going video. Primarily because I think that the generation coming up, that audience, is so immersed in video. It is the future.”

Erica Heald:

“I’m a writer person, but I know that video is where things are going. So I’m going to have to go with the video because, realistically, a lot of people I know never read anything. I think video is what I have to focus on.”

Kiley Peters:

“I feel like the answer should be video, and I would say that because then I can transcribe it and make it into a blog post. In my heart of hearts, I really love writing, so I would prefer to do a blog, and I also don’t want to see myself on camera all the time.”

Joe Pulizzi:

“I’m partial to the written word, so I would absolutely go with the blog or article or whatever. I am not a big fan of video series. They’re very hard to do, first of all. If I want to launch a new content product, I’m probably looking at textual content and audio content. There has to be also an e-newsletter component as part of it. So those are the three areas that I’m looking at. 

If you want to really focus on business, I’m focusing on written text or audio. You know what’s going on in search. Even when you were looking at voice search. What are you going to do in video to take advantage of voice search?”

Which of the above questions interested you the most? And which answer was most relatable for you? Share your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for more content marketing insights from experts.

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