content marketing conference

Why the CMA Content Marketing Conference in Edinburgh Rocked

What was so awesome about #CMALive17?

The minute I spotted the jar of sweets on the table, I knew this was my kind of conference…

Working as a solo entrepreneur undoubtedly has its advantages – such as no office politics, no psycho boss (whom you will never please however hard you try), no fights over who gets to use the microwave first during lunchbreak, and no embarrassing photos popping up on Facebook in the aftermath of the infamous office Christmas party…

However, there are also a few disadvantages of working on your own, and perhaps the most significant of these (apart from sitting alone at your laptop on Christmas Eve, munching a solitary mince pie…) is the lack of opportunity to ‘hang out’ with like-minded professionals.

That’s where events such as last week’s Content Marketing Academy conference, held at The Hub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, come into their own for the freelancer or sole trader.

The stunning interior of the Edinburgh Festival Hub provided a suitably creative setting

Of course, conferences can be dull, and it was with a sense of blind optimism that one whole year ago, in June 2016, I dispatched a payment to the CMA via the virtual ether, in the fond hope that I’d be able to justify the experience in my mind as a form of ‘personal development’ – a factor that can be woefully neglected when you’re working for yourself.

June 2017 eventually came round and my hopes, as it transpired, had not been misplaced. Indeed, it rapidly became apparent during the first presentation of the conference – and the equally enlightening ones that followed it – that this event was going to be anything but dull (and I don’t just mean the ‘choice’ language being bandied about in a couple of the presentations!).

The use of expletives in modern content marketing was covered by several speakers

Advice and anecdotes concerning the latest technology and techniques used in content marketing flew thick and fast from the stage, fired by keynote speakers and lightning speakers alike. My long-neglected interpreting shorthand symbols, acquired during a four-year interpreting degree back in the 1980s, proved very useful for noting down as many of the myriad pearls of wisdom as possible.

Now back in the tranquil environment of my home office in the Kinross-shire countryside, I’ve tried to work out why the CMA conference – organised by the inimitable Chris Marr and his team – had such an impact on me and on many of the other delegates whom I had the pleasure of meeting there. How did it engage the 170 (or so) audience members so completely from 9am till 5pm each day?

Chris Marr, organiser of the CMA Content Marketing Conference, addresses the audience

On reflection, I believe the conference ‘worked’ so well because there was a tangible meeting of minds in the room – and this despite the facts that the attendees came from a wide range of business environments and that many had never met previously.

When I say ‘wide range’, that’s precisely what I mean. Naturally, there were the obvious candidates whom you’d expect to find at a conference which focuses on content marketing – copywriting/editing professionals, IT gurus, photographers and website designers.

However, there were also attendees representing many other businesses – including recruitment companies, hairdressers, manufacturers and financial advisors. And we all had one thing in common: we wanted to know how to make our content ‘sing’ from the screen to potential customers, encouraging them to engage with our businesses and (eventually) buy our product or service.

I use the word ‘eventually’ intentionally here, because one of the key messages that emerged across the two days was that you can’t simply flog products and services to potential/existing customers in the way that used to be done in the good old pre-internet days.

Today’s customers are more capricious; they have to be ‘courted’ and ‘flirted with a little’, so they begin to like (better still, love) what you do. And that process inevitably takes time.

As speaker Mark Schaefer emphasised in his presentation, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul and “adopt a 30-month mindset”, as two and a half years is the average period likely to elapse before you can expect to reap the fruits of your content marketing labours.

You may even fail first-time round if your product or your marketing messaging isn’t quite right, and that might mean starting all over again. However, one thing is certain: if you don’t ever start that all-important conversation with your potential customers, your chances of success are virtually zero.

The conversation can take place at many levels and – in this 21st-century digital age – on many platforms. However, it’s wise not to dive headlong on to too many platforms, as a scattergun approach can dilute the strength and effectiveness of your brand.

There was much to ponder by the end of the conference. Each delegate no doubt took home something different, as certain presentations were naturally more relevant to our own specific business situations than others. For anyone who’s interested, I’ve compiled a selection of the points which seemed most relevant to my own two small businesses.

CMALive17: My Points to Ponder


“By 2020, 90% of all online content will be video, and a good chunk of that will be live video.”

“You need to become someone’s favourite.”

“Create content that solves problems, e.g. ‘How to…’ guides.”

“Consistently provide value.”

“Only include one call-to-action per video.”

“Schedule every minute of the day.”


“Keep your marketing strategy simple: set your goal; define your offer; plan content marketing activity to support your strategy.”

“Talk your customers’ lingo; don’t use jargon or mumbo-jumbo management speak; avoid the curse of knowledge.”

“It’s important to find a simple one-liner that sums up your business, e.g. ‘Your cat sits on our mat’ for a cat mat manufacturer.”

“Avoid the passive voice.” (In other words, don’t say ‘The passive voice should be avoided’!)

“Think big. Act small. Act humble.”

The slide above shows what can happen to a simple strapline as a company grows…


“When networking, follow up with emails and do not sell hard.”

“Just keep in touch with prospective customers – no pressure.”

“You will win more friends in a two-month period being ‘interested in’ your customers than in two years of trying to ‘sell to’ them.”


“Swearing makes up 3.4% of normal everyday speech.”

“First person plural pronouns (such as we/our/us) only make up 1% of everyday language.”

“English speakers in the States use 80 to 90 swear words per day on average.”

“The use of expletives in marketing can do all the following: surprise; indicate confidence; resonate with like-minded customers; make you sound authentic; make what you’re saying humorous; add mojo to your voice.”


“Stop hunting elephants.” (In other words, stop going after big ‘trophies’ instead of focusing on what you actually do well.)

“Be vulnerable, and that means not always being right. Be compassionate and be human.”

“Reframe what you think about fear and how you use it.”

“When you meet someone new, don’t just ask the usual ‘So what do you do?’”

“Ask prospective customers a ‘big universal question’ to open up the conversation, e.g. ‘Have you ever been stuck?’ or (if your service happens to be making videos) ‘Have you ever wished that all the time, energy and money invested in your video content could make you look like the rock star you are?’ This will then allow you to outline how your product or service can solve your potential customer’s problem.”

Mark Schaefer spoke about the difference between being ‘famous’ and being ‘known’


“Technology is changing consumer behaviour – it’s no longer enough to develop customer loyalty.”

“The ‘ping, ping, ping’ approach (i.e. drip-feeding info) no longer works. Nowadays you need to be ‘known’.”

“Being ‘known’ is not the same as being ‘famous’. It means being recognised by your (existing and potential) customers for what you do – or your company does – well. No one is born ‘known’ – this status has to be earned over time through developing your authority, presence and reputation.”

“You need your customer to feel ‘hugged’ by your brand. You need to be somebody’s favourite and fight every day to stay that way.”

“There is no shortcut. You must put in the work and create good content.”

“If you follow a dream without a plan, you have a hobby and not a business.”

“Pick one thing and master it. Don’t be a magpie and get distracted. Remember there is a human cost to everything you do, so be selective with your content marketing.”

“If you’re blogging, make sure you have a unique angle (e.g. there are numerous food bloggers, but one has differentiated herself by featuring famous recipes from TV or films).”

“The internet is just beginning. There’s been no better time in history to start than right now!”


“Avoid the content crickets” (i.e. don’t just keep firing content out that is not relevant to people or all you’ll hear in response is the chirping of crickets and no human engagement).

“Define in three words or phrases the brand values that make you unique. And don’t use words such as ‘friendly and professional’, as these are baseline values for every company.”

“Create a ‘content stamp’ – your unique mark that makes you stand out from your competitors.”

“When writing a mission statement for your company, use the following format: ‘I’m going to ________________ for ________________ so they can ______________________, because ________________.”

“Develop an avatar for your audience, and not just their demographic but also the problems they encounter.”

“Identify your arch enemy then be different.”

“Develop your readily identifiable ‘lingo’, e.g. have a few catchphrases such as blogger Joe Wicks’s “lean in 15” or “prep like a boss.”

“Don’t choose to deliver content to your customer using the way you want – deliver it in the way your customers want.”

“Make your content shareable for one of these five reasons: brand advocacy; emotions (content that makes the reader feel smart, scared, amused or inspired); appearance (how will sharing it make them look); causes and beliefs (your customers’ causes and beliefs, that is); high value.”


“When attempting to get PR for your small business, start with ‘low-hanging fruit’, e.g. a press release about a new product or service.”

“Another way of attracting media attention is to tweet using the hashtag #journorequest – this allows people with stories to connect with journalists who are interested in covering similar stories.”

“’Newsjack’ a story that is in the press. For example, if Jeremy Vine is featuring an item on a scenario that is familiar to you, call the BBC to alert them to your expertise in or personal experience of this matter. It might lead to your story gaining welcome PR for your brand.”

“Teach your reader something (e.g. write a ‘How to…’ article).”

“Develop your own stories to pitch to the media about a variety of areas (relationships/family/money/work/life and death/hobbies and interests), but always relate the story back to your business.”

“Tell stories that people want to hear and not the stories you want to tell.”

“When pitching to journalists, use a powerful but succinct 10-word (max.) top line to hook the editor’s interest, e.g. ‘I photographed every doorway I slept in’ or ‘I sacked my dad.’”


“My maths teacher told me I’d never amount to anything and six months later I dropped out of school. Now I work with Marcus Sheridan.” (Ed: For anyone not at CMALive17, Marcus was one of the keynote speakers at the conference and is very highly regarded in the field of content marketing.)

“You don’t need to be a nerd or a brainiac – you do need to focus on growth mindset and not be afraid to use the tools.”

“There are numerous technical tools and software products out there, some of which are free. Examples worth exploring include Slimstats, Monster Insights, YoastSEO, Mautic and Social Warfare.”

“Make your ‘complex’ as simple as possible.”

Marcus Sheridan talked about the importance of playing to your strengths


“Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.”

“Beware of becoming a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’.”

“If necessary, let go of some of your goals. Don’t marry your goals: marry progress. Goals are a compass, but be ready to pivot.”

“Define your KPIs (be that the number of enquiries, number of conversions, gross revenue, margin…) carefully. Stick to the metrics that matter in your business.”

“Don’t assume that engagement means business. You could have 10,574 comments on a post but get no conversions from that post.”

“When blogging, be sure to include images, not make it too long and structure the text in an attractive, easy-to-read way. Remember to include a call to action at the end!”

“Let go of any negative feedback (10%) and focus on the positive feedback (90%). Ignore the doubters and the haters.”

“One of the greatest tools in the world is asking the right questions at the right time.”

“Do what your competitors don’t do. If your clients ask … answer their questions. This includes talking about the negatives of your own products or services, and being prepared to talk about your competitors.”

“Own your story – it’s what has made you!”

That’s a lot of content marketing wisdom to absorb

As you can see from the above lengthy list of helpful tips, there was a lot of content marketing knowhow to take on board – and I would stress that these snippets only scratch the surface of everything that was mentioned over the two days. I’ve not even touched on the fantastic lightning presentations by Col Gray and Ross Coverdale, Yva Yorston, Sharon Menzies, Cara Mackay, Pamela Laird, Karen Reyburn and Danielle Sheridan, all of which were as inspiring as they were insightful.

On Friday night, after a quick detour via Murrayfield to watch Robbie Williams in concert, I returned to my rural ivory tower, resolved to implement at least some of the new knowledge gleaned at #CMALive17 in my own two small businesses. Fortunately, I’ve never had any remote desire to be famous. However, I do want to succeed in business, so I will undoubtedly draw on what I learned at the conference when planning future content marketing activities for Euroword and The Learning Cauldron, and perhaps one day (at least 30 months from now!) I might even become ‘known’…

Never managed to get to speak to these guys at the conference – perhaps next year…