6 Big Takeaways from ANA’s First Content Marketing Conference

By David Brown

"Content is everything; everything is content," said Franklin Parrish, Senior Director, Brand, Marketing, and Creative Services at Kaiser Permanente.

For today's modern marketers, Parrish's words ring especially true. Content marketing plays an increasingly important part of organizational growth strategies, and we saw some of the best thinking in content marketing — including brand building, content strategy and operations, measurement and analytics, and creativity — reflected at the ANA's newest event.

Did you miss out on the action? Here are six big trends that the Knotch team came away with.

Takeaway 1: Unique themes are needed — badly

Advertising giants State Farm and Procter & Gamble discussed the importance of distinctness in advertising to cut through the "sea of sameness." This perspective is equally important when developing distinct themes and a unique voice in content.

Alyson Griffin, VP of Marketing at State Farm, admitted that content marketing was less of a priority as advertising and brand awareness plays, but that when they did produce content, it was very contextually relevant.

Kimberly Doebereiner, Group Vice President, Future of Advertising and Head of P&G Studios at Procter & Gamble, reminded us that we need to create content that the audience actually looks forward to and is part of a broader content experience because of the marketing saturation that consumers face. Content, she said, should be a service to its consumers. One of the more memorable creative assignments shared was Tide's sponsorship of The Tent Mender and its permanent Loads of Hope laundry room in downtown Los Angeles.

Robin Bennefield, Editorial Director at Marriott, introduced Marriott Bonvoy's inspiring content perspective around regenerative travel (the desire to return to travel to improve ourselves, our relationships and our world).

Takeaway 2: It's time to do more with less content

Budgets for content teams are increasing dramatically — up 40 percent in the last two years, with an additional 40 percent expected in the next two years.

Despite this seemingly good news, content wastage remains extremely high. Marketing analytics firm Beckon first raised this in 2016, reporting that 5 percent of content typically generates 90 percent of engagement.

At Knotch, we've seen this statistic firsthand across our content intelligence clients in every industry. If 95 percent of your content isn't contributing toward growing the business, it's a good time to reflect on the 5 percent that is.

Takeaway 3: Measurement is the Achilles heel of the whole industry

In 2020, the ANA reported that 59 percent of content marketing teams weren't getting any actionable insights from their current approach to measurement. The absence of content measurement and combined with increasing budgets in Trend 2 indicate that the wastage will only increase. Not good.

What's more: Insider Intelligence reported that a whopping 80 percent of content marketers want to create more content than they currently do, and 32 percent hope to double the amount of content.

Knotch's advice? Before you increase the amount of content, strive to understand the 5 percent of content that's driving engagement — and do more of that. Additionally, broaden your KPIs to cover soft and hard KPIs at both the beginning and later stages of the audience journey.

Takeaway 4: Customer journeys are the common thread

Each of the speakers spoke about taking an audience-first approach to content.

"I listen to my audience and pivot to respond to their needs," said David Tamarkin, Editorial Director at King Arthur Baking Company. (Tamarkin presented with Knotch on-stage at the conference.)

According to Insider Intelligence, only one-third of content marketers are mapping content strategy to their customer journeys, leaving many organizations stuck in a tactical phase of content marketing maturity.

To move from a tactical to a strategic approach, however, it's imperative to connect content to customer journeys. It's why even large enterprise organizations like State Farm and Proctor & Gamble, though wonderfully creative, remain tactical in their content efforts and focused on the acquisition part of the customer journey.

Alan Bethke, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Subaru, shared their version of the audience journey through a singular focus on the idea of love. Bethke showed how "love" traveled across multiple touchpoints and was interpreted differently for each channel.

As brands think more about the customer journey, the more it will reflect in ambitious business outcomes. Instead of brand awareness, building credibility/trust, and educating the audience, content's modern role is to keep those goals in mind but prioritize journey acceleration, conversion, and retention above all.

Takeaway 5: Organizational silos are the enemy

Cuisinart, BIC, and Capital One shared their content strategy operation and workflow, giving us insight into how they manage complex workstreams across multiple markets and channels.

In many cases, marketing departments are incredibly siloed, so content teams have to create workarounds to find success. To conquer this, many organizations are moving toward centralized internal content operations.

However, there's a growing concern from lines of business that this will cause internal competition for content assets. So, centralized content teams will need to approach the lines of business as internal customers and stay sensitive to their experience. (Independently, Knotch is starting to see spoke-and-hub organizational models rise to help rebalance over-centralization.)

Additionally: The most strategic content teams play on the same field as the brand and channel leaders — they aren't subservient. For example, Capital One's content team reports to the head of performance marketing and analytics, so they have no issue getting the analytics and attribution support that other teams may be fighting for.

Most expressed a preference to use in-house resources but recognized that outsourcing offered specialty expertise or the ability to scale more quickly.

Takeaway 6: Personalize, or else

Because the audience demand for relevant content isn't going away, personalization has become a mandate for every content marketer.

The key to success, however, requires leveraging machine learning, data, and insights to drive personalization and moving away from manual methods, such as creating business rules for specific segments. (To bring this to reality at your organization, we recommend befriending your audience insights and MarTech teams.)

Teams that deliver on personalization will see engagement and action rates multiply.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA. 

This article was originally published at Knotch.

David Brown is the head of strategy at Knotch.