How to Be a Better Content Writer: Lessons from CMWorld

Blog Post
September 14, 2018


The Curiosity Factor, as explored by Andrew Davis in his keynote at CMWorld, teaches how to add tension to content to keep readers invested.

“Producing content is expensive, but producing the wrong content is lethal.” 

That’s a great quote from Deana Goldasich, CEO of Well Planned Web, LLC, whom I’ll talk about a little later in this piece. It relates to how content marketing is big business and there’s no sign of it slowing down. But for all of its buzz it’s also creating a lot of noise. You know, the kind that ultimately just blends together to create a steady droning hum.

One of my goals in attending the recent CMWorld in Cleveland was to (re)learn how to write and approach content marketing with a refreshed perspective that will help it cut through the noise. My other goal—speaking of noise—was to play Ringo Starr’s drum kit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, I don't even think it's there, so that didn’t happen. But I did manage to pick up on beats from several of the CMWorld presenters that I’m hoping will build upon the instruments of storytelling already in my arsenal.

Don’t Be a Tool

In her session “Slow Down to Speed Up: How to Get Content Right, Not Rushed” Deana Goldasich stated that it feels like, as writers, we’re rushed to show the results of our work or to justify our jobs as we stress to meet someone else’s unrealistic publishing goals. Because we (read: marketers) have instant access to numbers now, there’s been created a kind of marketing myopia: we’re always looking for the quick win. This doesn’t allow for creativity or more importantly solid, helpful insight that customers need and want.

Deana pointed out that content is still too often treated like a tool. It needs to be valued for its long-term value to both your organization and its customers. She went on to offer five essential practices that can help writers achieve this:

  • Focused Fortitude – Establish goals. Concentrate on outcome, not output.
  • Ruthless Relevance – Match what you want to say with what you want to hear. 
  • Persistent Audience Advocacy – Invest in your audience profile.
  • Intentional Agility – Recognize your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Forward Looking Failure – Learn from your mistakes.

Put Story First

One of my favorite sessions at the event, “You’ll Want to Write this Down: Stop Writing Like a Marketer and Start Storytelling Like a Journalist,” was presented by Michelle Park Lazette, staff writer with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Michelle was previously a reporter for the daily newspaper The Reading Eagle and shared not only professional advice, but personal examples which drive home a very thoughtful look at defending the craft of writing.

She explained that it’s important for both content marketers and subject matter experts (SMEs) to understand that the very best storytelling teaches lessons, inspires emotions and prompts action. It can even impact lives. For example, she relayed an experience she had as a reporter in which a young couple expecting their first child experienced a true tragedy when the husband suffered a fatal heart attack as his wife went into labor. The story compelled the community to rally around the young mother and child. In addition to generous financial support and gifts, their humble home received improvements from local craftsmen. As the story continued to gain traction, it eventually led to expanded coverage (and home improvement) thanks to HGTV.

In Defense of Content

You may be thinking, “Well, smart guy, content marketing isn’t like covering human interest stories.” No. It’s not. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t defend it and don’t aspire to the same goals. How do we do this? 

1. Veto the Non-Stories

Don’t just trend-hop. This will only add to the noise. Find the original stories.

2. Leverage the Access You Have

Use the expertise of your SMEs, earn their trust, ask them the right questions and challenge both your SMEs and yourself to rise above jargon and canned information.

3. Use Essential Storytelling Techniques

Among these: Let powerful words do the talking and let personalities shine. Build on moments of suspense and use granular details where necessary to immerse your readers in the feature. 

And as author and noted marketing keynote speaker Andrew Davis explained in his session, build tension in your content by introducing "curiosity gaps"—defining something your audience wants to know and saving the reveal until the end of the content. For example, Buzzfeed was able to keep thousands of viewers watching for nearly 45 minutes by slooooowly exploding a watermelon.

As content marketers, we are now in position to provide that steady backbeat to drive our organizations forward. It’s important to note that promotion shouldn’t be an afterthought. You’ve spent time crafting your content, now give the same attention to letting the world know it’s out there. A major benefit from this is feedback. It’s that input from others that ultimately drives your own improvement as you continually strive to become a better writer producing better, more meaningful content. 

After all, even Ringo didn’t get to where he was without lots of practice and a little help from his friends.