3 Content Marketing and Digital Strategy Lessons from the Call to Action Conference
In the age of e-learning, webinars, and podcasts, there still are occasions when an in-person experience is irreplaceable. I had one such experience recently in Vancouver at the Call To Action Conference (CTA Conf), which focuses on conversion rate optimization (CRO).
CTA Conf had been on my wish list, so I was jazzed when a lucky game of bowling at the afterparty of The Conversion Road Trip (a bite-sized version of the conference in Vancouver) last June earned me a complimentary registration. I knew this group of presenters included the foremost experts in the industry, and the event would be an energetic and thought-provoking learning experience about the ever-changing, fast-paced world of content marketing.
During my few days on Vancouver’s breathtaking Granville Island, I met designers, copywriters, CEOs, and endless other professionals working in content marketing and digital strategy. As an editor, I can honestly say I’ve never used so many business cards in my life—networking is not an editor’s activity of choice. Nevertheless, Unbounce puts on a top-notch conference experience and I had the time of my life while trying to soak up all the great morsels of expertise. Here a few of the lessons that I’m still chewing on today.
1. Strategy Can Still Be Delightful
An important part of the job for a CRO professional is to identify the friction that stands between a customer and the purchase (or the action you want them to take) and to remove that friction. Unbounce took a delightful approach to attendee engagement with a simple piece of cardboard.
In our name badges were two tokens that could be exchanged at the Swag Booth for branded freebies, including water bottles, hoodies, and t-shirts. To earn more tokens, I simply had to talk to event staff or complete some non-threatening tasks designed to get me to engage with fellow attendees (eg, take a selfie with a stranger). By removing a barrier for me in talking to strangers and appealing to my desire to get cool stuff for free, Unbounce got me to do what they wanted me to do and I ENJOYED myself while doing it. It didn’t feel “icky” or forced. They showed they understood their audience and aimed to delight us. They achieved engagement and encouraged us to connect with each other. As an added bonus, now my entire family is a walking billboard for the company! How many wins is that?
Unbounce could have easily stuffed shirts in bags to be provided at registration or left water bottles on a table for attendees to grab on their own, but they used it as an opportunity to enhance the attendee experience. As we look at our day-to-day work, what are some simple wins that can be turned into cascading wins? Oftentimes, it feels like associations don’t have the room in their budgets for big giveaways, but how can we make every detail mutually beneficial, even if it doesn’t involve sponsorship dollars? CTA Conf presenters often spoke about delighting the customer. As association professionals, we spend a lot of time spinning our wheels trying to figure out how to engage our members, in particular, at our annual meetings. How can we take something mundane (like registration, perhaps) or even painful (like dues renewal, maybe) and make it delightful?
2. Test, Test, Test
It’s beneficial to all levels of an organization to encourage a culture of testing—testing everything. We should be testing constantly our assumptions, tactics, and tools. In AMC's Creative Media Services department, we’re very familiar with testing websites. We have processes in place and checklists upon checklists of what and when to test, but having tests does not (always) equal a culture of testing.
Because associations set budgets so far ahead of time, it can often feel like they’re stuck in a never-ending pattern of doing the same things the same way—brochure after brochure, booth after booth, e-mail after e-mail, year after year. Our desires to be inquisitive and creative feel restricted, but it’s every business’s goal to grow, and the same is true for associations. To grow, we need to push ourselves and our associations to challenge the “same old.” When we allow ourselves to have this mentality and encourage our boards and committees to do the same, we inspire growth. Whether our sphere of influence is one person, an entire team, or a fleet of companies, we each should be championing a culture of testing.
When we limit our conversations to budgets and timelines, each participant can lose sight of the ultimate goal. By pulling back from our spreadsheets and schedules once in a while, we can remind ourselves and others why we’re doing this thing in the first place. Then, even if the boundaries look the same, we can claim the freedom to play in the same old sandbox differently. For example, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media often uses the phrase “data-driven empathy” when discussing the use of data on user behavior to understand them and drive decisions. We can use the massive amounts of data at our fingertips to educate us so we can understand our customers and can better provide and market the products they want.
3. Content Strategy Feels Like a Luxury But It’s a Basic Need
We can focus so much on checking items off our list, answering that loud (and often singular) complaint, and triple-checking the bottom line, that we forget about strategy. We become used to a responsive, triage mentality where the ability to pause and reorient ourselves feels like a luxury. Unfortunately, if we’re not checking ourselves against that blueprint often, we may find one day that we’ve built ourselves a very nice gazebo when what we really wanted and needed was a house.
We make a great effort to clearly understand and communicate our associations’ missions, but the objectives of a specific committee, event, or product can become vague, especially for those that can take a long period of time to produce. Have we verbalized and been very specific about the goal of that website, guideline, or campaign—other than getting it done? In what ways do we expect this project to manifest the organization’s mission?
CRO, by nature, sounds like a used-car-salesman approach, as if we’re actually in the business of selling ice to Eskimos, but especially for people working in nonprofits, this isn’t true, right? We believe in our associations’ missions and in the products and services they offer. Focusing so much on conversion can feel like we’re only in it for the money, but if our objective is to get these products into the hands of customers who would genuinely benefit from them, then numbers do ultimately matter. Even if something is being given away for free as a member benefit, are we capturing leads with that free PDF download so that we can continue engaging those customers and offer them more products as they become available? The return on investment for a free giveaway and the measurement of successful “engagement” can be nebulous, but defining and tracking conversion helps draw clearer connections between customer behavior and dollars earned.
Bringing It Back Home
It was easy to feel overwhelmed at times during CTA Conf, especially where there were corporations represented that pour serious dollars into content marketing and conversion-focused strategies and tools. Fortunately, one of the greatest things about working at AMC is the ability to crowdsource, a benefit of our organizational structure. I was proud that there were many concepts and methods I found familiar. AMC is a leader in so many ways, and topics that may be completely new and foreign to one person are often being talked about already somewhere else in the building.
Recently, our internal Joomla! User Group transitioned to the Content Managers User Group (CMUG), and we expanded our scope to include functional tips for additional content management systems and content marketing strategy topics. I’m excited to see where our conversations take us and to find new ways to delight our members, whether digitally or in person.
Even if we have moments where we feel it’s hard to keep up with the changing times, we must consistently adjust our lens, while maintaining our focus, to stay competitive and effective in an increasingly digital world. We may think that we’re not yet participating—We don’t have a website yet. We’re not doing anything in social media. We’re not tracking analytics.—but if we’re even a character in someone else’s dialogue online, then we’re already in the conversation, whether we like it or not. Coming back from CTA Conf, my hope is that I can help our clients (and equip others to help their clients) lead the messaging by optimizing and strategizing their content.
June Pinyo is a managing editor in AMC’s Creative Media Services department and co-lead for the AMC Content Managers User Group. For more tips and conversation on content marketing, follow June on Twitter.