Tutoring in Scotland from content marketing experts at CMA conference in Edinburgh

The content marketing conference where no one forgot to be awesome…

Unlike my esteemed copywriting colleague John Espirian, who is ‘relentlessly helpful’, I veer more towards the strapline ‘relentlessly procrastinating’, so it is perhaps unsurprising that I am writing this review almost exactly a month after returning from the CMALive18 conference in Edinburgh.

Still, I shall seek solace (and an excuse!) in the knowledge that American writer and speaker Natalie Goldberg recommends that writing need time to “compost”. The words you are about to read are, I can assure you, very well composted indeed…

Social media advice in abundance

As on previous occasions, the Content Marketing Academy’s annual Scottish content marketing extravaganza was organised, and very personably hosted at The Hub in Edinburgh, by Chris Marr and his hard-working CMA team. For those not familiar with Chris, his characteristic email sign-off is #DFTBA (don’t forget to be awesome) – whence the title of this summary.

Advice on content marketing aplenty at CMALive18 in Edinburgh #DFTBA
CMALive18 host Chris Marr’s advice on how to nail content marketing!

Admittedly, the myriad of useful information and advice offered by the keynote speakers and other international social media gurus at this two-day event descended deluge-like on my beleaguered tutorly brain, which, until just a couple of weeks previously, had been stuffed with quotes from The Cone-Gatherers and A Streetcar Named Desire, not to mention miraculous ways of making vital French verbs and gruesome German grammar memorable.

Yet while the topic of content marketing might initially seem a world away from analysing the finer points of Scottish and English literature, distinct similarities were to emerge as the conference unfolded. Nowhere was this more evident than in Ann Handley’s presentation, which she based on the book Charlotte’s Web by American author E.B. White.



However, let’s start at the very beginning, as another American wordsmith, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, once very sensibly suggested. Here, in chronological order, are my key personal takeaway ‘nuggets’ from social media’s most madcap and illuminating annual event.

Brian Fanzo (@iSocialFanz)

It’s not easy being charged with opening a hotly anticipated conference, but baseball-cap-toting boy-next-door Brian had no problems setting the benchmark for the presentational excellence which was to follow during the rest of the conference. So what did Brian say?

  • Perfection is a fairy tale: just press the damn button!
  • Create content in real time, but at the right time.
  • Shrink the distance between your brand (you) and your customers.
  • Community is the future of business. Collaboration is the future of innovation, so find symbiotic relationships. Relatability is the future of marketing.
  • Know which generation you are marketing to: Boomers (1946 to 1964); Gen X (1965 to 1980); Millennials (1980 to 2000); Gen Z (2000 to Netflix/Snapchat, etc.).
  • You do not need permission to take action. When everyone else is zigging, zag!
Content Marketing Conference speaker Brian Fanzo on stage at The Hub in Edinburgh
“Press the damn button,” is Brian Fanzo’s mantra.

Karen Reyburn (@KarenLReyburn)

Confess that you’re an accountant by profession and prepare for your listener’s eyes to glaze over – unless, that is, you’re Karen Reyburn or one of her clients. Her mission is to breathe life and energy into marketing accountancy businesses, and her creative approach helps boost the profile of a profession oft slated for its dullness. So what did Karen say?

  • Know who you are, whom you serve and (most importantly) whom you don’t
  • It’s important to exclude some people so you can serve those people you really want to serve.
  • Don’t market to everyone who has a pulse and payment. Start marketing to someone.
  • Make your blogs relevant/useful to your target audience. [Some people even quote Karen’s blogs back to her.]
  • Have a niche. Once you have established your niche, your expertise both deepens and widens.
  • Specificity [Now say that slowly… spe-cif-i-city!] rules: be as specific as possible with your marketing so you reach the right people.

Allan Corfield  (@allan_corfield)

Not only has self-build housing guru Allan quite literally been the architect of many iconic buildings in places as far apart as Scotland and the deep south of England, he has also been the metaphorical architect of his Dunfermline-based company’s rapid social media success. So what did Allan say?

  • Being made redundant makes you feel you’re useless.
  • Build your website for your end users – not for you.
  • Everyone says they are too busy to do marketing.
  • Expect a social media strategy to take a long time. Giving it one to two months will not work – have an 18-month strategy.
  • They ask; you answer (e.g. by means of a blog post or killer eBook content).
  • To cut down on the workload of answering queries, list the questions you’re asked most often and make short video answers for your website.
  • Prequalify your leads by mentioning your prices on your website.
  • Become a thought leader.

Mark Asquith (@MrAsquith)

The highly affable Mr Asquith hails from Barnsley and has built a loyal online following who appreciate his particular passion for podcasts. As forthright as he is funny, Mark tells it like it is, and it isn’t hard to understand why so many people tune in each week to benefit from his Free Coaching Friday sessions. So what did Mark say?

  • Your personality is your company’s secret weapon.
  • Your job is not to pitch for work. Your job is to ‘tip the scales’ (in your favour). Do that and you’ll never have to pitch again.
  • We buy from people we know, like and trust.
  • We cannot always be better at the game, so we have to change the game and become the only viable option.
  • Comparisons aren’t fair. Be the orange in the box of apples – stand out.
  • Have an opinion. No one remembers the middle-of-the-road/grey/‘blending-in’ type of guy. Be the leader.
  • Take people behind the scenes and get uncomfortable. If you feel you’ve gone too far, you’ve probably not gone far enough…
  • Create a daily routine for one platform initially. Don’t try to be everywhere all the time.
  • “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” (Plato)
  • Marketing should support your customers’ outcomes – NOT yours. What do your prospects want to achieve in their life?

Salma Jafri (@salmajafri)

Despite not being physically present at the conference, owing to unforeseen travel issues, video content strategist Salma still made her irrepressible presence felt in the room all the way from Pakistan – rather appropriately via live video! – as she shared tips on how to make a brand’s video content sing. So what did Salma say?

  • Go where attention spans and algorithms reward you. All algorithms reward live/native video.
  • 80% of online content will be video by 2021.
  • Tubebuddy lets you see how your site ranks for certain key words/phrases.
  • There are three main types of content (H3 model): help (‘how to’ posts, etc.); hub (episodic ‘push’ posts, finding people’s passion point); hero (‘go big’ posts or ‘tentpole’ content).
  • For hero content, remember the 4 C’s: constraint (limit your choices); consistency (remember that audiences have been ‘trained’ by TV to expect something new/exciting every week); content plan (based on themes, keywords and calls to action – ‘plan your work then work your plan’); community (collaboration is key).
  • Be aware that ‘traffic’ is not synonymous with ‘audience’, and understand the difference.

Ann Handley (@AnnHandley)

A professional storyteller herself, Ann chose to focus the main message of her presentation on the expertise of one of her literary idols, E.B. White (of The Elements of Style fame), and particularly on the superpower – i.e. words – of his character Charlotte the spider.

The opening of Charlotte’s Web is, Ann believes, one of the best first lines in literature. When Fern asks her mum “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” it catches readers’ attention immediately and takes them straight to what matters in the story – the survival of Wilbur. So what did Ann say?

  • Ann believes that Charlotte is the world’s best content marketer. She weaves words into her webs in a determined effort to persuade the farmer not to kill Wilbur. And we can learn lessons from her careful – and powerful – choice of words. For example, she starts her campaign to save Wilbur with just two simple words, “Some pig”, rather than the frantic “Don’t kill the pig” approach that you might expect.
  • Charlotte understands that the emotional response of the reader (or audience) is what matters in marketing. By praising Wilbur, she is massaging his owner’s ego, and the farmer responds to that praise – it makes him feel good.
  • In your marketing, be sure to take yourself out of the story. It’s all about the customer and not the seller. Remember to focus on your target audience and their emotional response to your messages.
  • ‘Do less and obsess.’ Ensure the marketing material you produce is outstanding and valuable. If you aren’t sure what your audience considers to be valuable, check the content of your inbox. The queries people send you can provide inspiration for blog posts: keep a note of all the questions people ask.
  • Use the three C’s principle: communicate your ideas with clarity; have the confidence to express your ideas in public; connect with others.
  • Observe as closely as Fern does. Remember that all five senses matter when writing copy intended to touch people’s emotions. Pick two senses in each piece of writing you undertake, and your copy is more likely to trigger an emotional response.
  • Make time to write every day. Find your tone of voice (bit.ly/voicegenerator is a useful tool for this).
  • Ask yourself: “Would my content be missed?” [Now that’s a sobering question…]
View of CMALive Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh - social media tutorials
Standing ovation for the CMA content marketing conference

Amy Harrison (@HarrisonAmy)

Amy began by telling us that people don’t follow instructions; so, evidently Chris Marr must have ‘persuaded’ (rather than instructed) her to speak at CMALive18, and I for one am very glad he did, as her presentation The Copywriting Snapshot was extremely informative. So what did Amy say?

  • People need a good reason to do something, but they don’t always follow instructions. We need to persuade them. [See above!]
  • A copywriter is a salesperson in print, but a copywriter can’t just ‘wait for the muse’.
  • Creating a customer persona can be problematic – no matter how accurate we believe the profile we’ve created for them might look, in the end it is just fiction.
  • To find out what worries your customers, ask them! [Amy asked her contact list and received 2000 responses listing all their concerns and problems. This, she explained, was far more useful and realistic than imagining what their pet dog might be called.]
  • Ask yourself “Why won’t my perfect customer buy my product?” Why might they not trust you or your product?
  • Think about what your potential customer can do with your product and how using it will make them feel. How would they describe your product to someone else?
  • Tap into and acknowledge their frustrations with your industry, and show how you are different.

Gavin Bell (@MrGavinBell)

That murky image of Facebook guru Gav hiding in a forest to film his first-ever vlog post will long remain in my mind – mainly because it was very funny [Sorry, Gav!] but also because it was inspiring for those of us in the room (or perhaps that was just me?) who feel a tad intimidated about launching ourselves into live video. Many thanks for the nudge, Gav, though I’m not sure I’m quite ready just yet… [*pores over OS map looking for closest forest to Kinross*] So what did Gavin say?

  • Identify what is holding you back from creating video – remember it is your biggest business opportunity.
  • Embrace the messy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Recording your first vlog/video is a crucial step on a journey that will a) increase your confidence, and b) make your customers feel as though they already know you. That last part is important, since people are reluctant to buy from strangers.
  • Accept criticism and use it to improve your future attempts until your content is truly great. Build up a bank of content and consistently provide people with value long before you try to sell to them.
  • Focus on your best-performing posts and boost those. Six seconds is the average length of time people spend watching a video (three seconds counts as a view). If people watch one of your videos for, say, eight seconds, then that ad is probably worth boosting on Facebook.
  • Having lots of views is all well and good, but remember: views are not revenue. You need to follow up the people who show interest in your content, e.g. track them and do a follow-up ad.
  • Human relationships and communication are what matter more than content marketing or social media per se.

Jen Munro (@JenMunro1980)

Jen works with teenagers in the ever-challenging yet extremely rewarding realm of education, as I do, so I was particularly interested to hear her presentation about the importance of being a values-led business. She based her talk about brand values on the example of her thriving company ISSOS, which runs international educational summer camps in St Andrews, Cambridge and at Yale. So what did Jen say?

  • Know your company’s values and make sure they run through everything you do. People buy from companies whose values resonate with their own.
  • ‘Hug’ people with your marketing.
  • Marketing is all about telling a story.
  • Play on people’s fear of missing out (FOMO), e.g. Don’t miss this opportunity…
  • Follow up contacts!
  • Jesus was the ultimate marketer, because his 12 disciples ‘referral marketed’ him so effectively. Get your customers to be your disciples, i.e. use people who have already experienced your products to sell them to others.
  • People often forget what you did or what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.

Chris Marr (@ChrisMarr101)

Given that the Content Marketing Academy was Chris’s brainchild, it’s unsurprising that he should have chosen to talk about how powerful online communities can be in helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Indeed, the success of CMALive18 and previous CMALive conferences provides ample proof that his is no empty claim. He chose to speak about Being part of something larger than yourself: the incredible power of online learning communities. So what did Chris say?

  • One of the main factors behind the growth of online communities is the concept of the ‘zone of proximal development’ (the difference between what you can do with help and what you can do without it).
  • Allow yourself to be challenged.
  • One of the key benefits of being in a community of peers is that advice from people in a similar position to you can often be more relatable than advice proffered by a guru or expert.
  • People are capable of far more than they think they are.
  • Online communities boost members’ self-confidence. Self-belief is the greatest gift you can give someone. [Chris referred here to one of his favourite reviews of the conference – the moment when an attendee said, “I now believe I can.”]
  • Go a little bit out of your depth and you’re in the right place to do something exciting.
  • ‘We’ are greater than ‘me’, but first be a great ‘me’.

Jon Burkhart (@jonburkhart)

Being a person who prides herself on having a certain facility with words, I should probably be ashamed to confess that Jon’s energetic, explosive and at times irreverent presentation style left me nearly speechless. But it genuinely did – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. In fact, I suspect that the words necessary to describe Jon in all his go-getter, gung-ho glory (especially during his iconic ‘beer notes’ session at the end of the conference) have not yet been added to the English language… So what did Jon say?

  • Curiosity rules. Ask ‘firecracker’ questions – not just the run-of-the-mill, rational, boring ones. Be imaginative.
  • Take advantage of online resources such as Buzzsumo ( http://buzzsumo.com/ ) and Answer the Public ( https://answerthepublic.com/ ).
  • Remember the POPS acronym for marketing: provocation (do something edgy); originality (come up with a big idea); playfulness (encourage fun and games around your brand – human beings love to play); surprise them!
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Remember, someone once said in a meeting, “Let’s make a film about a tornado full of sharks…” And it happened!

[More on Jon anon…]

Mike Morrison (@mikeMIMO)

We’d already heard earlier from Chris Marr about the power of online communities, and one online business model that was mentioned on several occasions during the conference was membership sites. Mike Morrison (whose soubriquet is fittingly ‘the membership guy’) certainly has plenty of in-depth experience in this area, which he shared generously in his presentation One to many: A step-by-step guide to membership success.

I suspect that his description of Linda, his hypothetical professional ‘pain in the derrière’ customer, will have resonated with more than a few people in the room… So what did Mike say?

  • Get off the hamster wheel and out of the time-for-money trap.
  • Harness your skills in a way which attracts a community around your expertise – then use that community to generate recurring revenue by nurturing the members and providing value.
  • Market like a farmer, not a hunter.
  • Recruit, retain, repeat. But remember that selling memberships is very different from selling, say, a book. With a book, the sale is generally the end goal. With memberships, the sale is just the beginning: you have to keep your members locked in.
  • Building a community is a lot of hard work, and you need to be in for the ‘long haul’. Social proof is an important part of membership.
  • Offer trial periods for a nominal fee to overcome potential members’ aversion to risk.
  • You are the total of the five people you spend most time with, so if you aim to be successful, surround yourself with like-minded, positive people, i.e. be part of a good community.

Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan)

Despite already having been treated to two stimulating days of presentations jam-packed with information, the CMALive18 audience was still avidly absorbing facts and advice, and the last keynote speaker provided both of these in plentiful supply. At times self-deprecating, Chris’s dry humour was always on point and his advice apposite. So what did Chris say?

  • The key to a successful social media presence is not ‘more’ content; it’s the ‘RIGHT’ content.
  • When you create content, do so to connect and to serve (i.e. serving as opposed to selling).
  • Equip the buyer’s story, making them the hero of the tale. You exist to make them successful.
  • Be where they (your customers) are; go where they’re going.
  • Your social media content needs to be four things: brief, simple, connective, and indicative of your true self.
  • No one wakes up in the morning wanting to read your content – they have plenty of other things they need to do. They don’t need your content until they do (and that word ‘until’ is very important).
  • Know where you customers are right now – and what they want.
  • Remember that people do not hate marketing per se – they hate BAD marketing. Your content needs to be specific to where your customers are on their journey now. They need to be ready to buy.
  • Blog for Google, but create for people.
Speakers on stage at CMALive Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh.
Chris Marr, Jon Burkhart and Ess Green strutting their stuff during the beer note

As mentioned briefly above, the inimitable Jon Burkhart delivered his so-called ‘beer note’ (the name being particularly apt, thanks to the arrival of a consignment of free beer for delegates courtesy of Bellfield Brewery) in his usual hyperbolic fashion, whipping up what can best be described as a ‘content marketing frenzy’. In this endeavour, he was aided and abetted by nifty mover and host Chris Marr, plus impressively acrobatic delegate Ess Green – whose exit from the stage via a backwards somersault epitomised the edgy, anything-could-happen ambience that prevailed over the whole two days.

Learning about content marketing while eating ice cream in Edinburgh

CMALive18 was a veritable social media feast, during which a winning menu of information infused with fun was served up to delegates – with ice cream for afters… I jest not: at Chris’s invitation, the entire conference descended en masse to ‘chill’ for ten minutes at the Wee Ice Cream Shop on the other side of The Royal Mile. Sweet CMA memories are made of this!


[PS: With profuse apologies to Chris Brogan – I really did mean to follow his advice and go for ‘brevity’, but there was just too much good stuff that I simply had to include, so I failed… miserably.]