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Content Marketing World – the grandest of content marketing conferences – is next week. Leading up to the event, the team from Content Marketing Institute asked the experts speaking at the conference to answer 8 thoughtful questions on content marketing.

The answers have been shared in a series of blog posts published by CMI over the past two months. I’ll share links to all the posts at the end of this post, so you can read the responses from many content marketing experts, but first, here are the answers I offered (most are included in CMI’s series).

What brand(s) do you think excels at creating content that really pushes the envelope on what can be accomplished with content marketing? Why – and what can content marketers learn from this?

Dollar Shave Club leaps to mind because every touch point is fun. Do I look forward to grooming? Hell no. But I definitely look forward to Dollar Shave Club’s next video, post, social media update, email, and especially their packaging.

When you make the mundane insanely exciting, you make people smile. Joy may be hard to measure by way of marketing metrics, but it’s the universal spark of the spender.

At the risk of fixating on bathroom activities, I have to offer this post in which I examine seven great content marketers who know how to put a smile on your face even though the products they sell are all about the potty.

Sadly, though some B2B marketers push (or at least deliver) the envelope, it’s awfully rare they bring a sense of humor to bear. I’d sure like to see it though.

If you were to hire someone to join your content marketing team right now, what skills would be on the top of your must-have list, and why?

Writing skills reign supreme for content marketers. Your content either connects with readers or it doesn’t. It gets remembered or forgotten. The ability to understand the reader’s hot buttons and push them is your A-list skill, which comes through in the writing.

However, nailing content writing isn’t only about the words you choose. The great writer I want on my team is a research expert too. You can’t read people’s minds. You have to do a ton of reading—and relating—first.

What is your favorite content marketing revelation in the past year? How has it changed the way you are executing your content marketing strategy?

You gotta’ go deep. Shallow may sell soda, but it won’t sell software.

Your true prospective customers will devour top-shelf, long-form content that details how to do something meaningful more effectively—how to save time and money, how to eliminate steps and become more productive.

I don’t mean to argue against the tenets of “think mobile” and “think visual” inspired by the short attention span of 21st century media eaters. For the sake of bringing a sense of fun and personality to your brand, by all means, go crazy with selfies, cartoons, quotes, pins, tweets, whatever.

However, if yours is a B2B solution or a consumer product demanding a more carefully considered decision, don’t kid yourself into thinking brand affinity is an end-all strategy. You’ll get on your prospects’ shortlist by packing deep insights, tactics and strategies into useful eBooks, workbooks, infographics, how-to posts, webinars, videos, apps, and presentations.

We all know we need to focus on audience. Besides creating personas, what do you suggest marketers do to really (really) better understand what their audience wants and how they can help?

Listen. Tune into the things they say and questions they ask “in the wild.”

Social media is the greatest market research tool ever. See, though traditional research tactics such as focus groups and reader surveys, may uncover useful insights, they’re simply not natural. They’re forced. They’re often multiple choice.

Read: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Marketing

When you make the rounds online you can click your way into the minds of your audience, understand their hot buttons, and gather what pleasures and pains them. Every social media your audience is active on is a research goldmine, as are forums, Q&A sites, blog comment streams, LinkedIn groups, and Amazon reviews.

Building a subscriber base on your owned properties (e.g. your blog) is critical. What are your favorite tips to growing your subscriber base?

Guest blogging. My answer may sound ironic because it focuses first on other brands’ properties. Hang with me.

For 4+ years, I’ve networked with the leaders in online marketing and content marketers I most admire and offered to write for their blogs. (Yes, I wish I started sooner.) It’s been a key to the growth of my subscriber base and growth in every way. The days (and weeks that follow) one of my posts appears on a site like Content Marketing Institute or one of the many blogs I write for, traffic to my blog skyrockets as do email opt-ins.

I believe in this strategy so much I’ve written two very detailed posts about how to benefit from guest blogging and how my approach has catapulted my personal brand.

What’s your favorite content marketing hack and how does it help you? (i.e., productivity booster, tools, time-saver, budget saver, etc.)

Hacks are mythical. Content marketing is just plain hard work.

That said, one can maximize his or her mileage by understanding the fine art of repurposing. The ultimate productivity booster is digging into something truly relevant and helpful, doing the work it takes to create something epic, but subsequently, applying what you learned and are able to share, in a great variety of forms to appeal to more people across a wider variety of media.

What is your favorite Google Analytics tip that would help other content marketers do something with the data (not simply report on it)?

Uncover what works based on meaningful measures such as page views, time-on-page and conversion and create more of it. More may mean more content on that topic, more of the form or style, more from the actual content creator, and so on. Essentially, what I’m saying is double down on your winners.

What trends do you foresee influencing content creation?

First, I see marketers, particularly those that have been at it longer, increasing their appreciation for content creation sources outside of the marketing department.

Clearly, we’ve dialed-back the hard sell of yesteryear, but this doesn’t change the reality that customers trust their peers more than brands. Marketers will continue drawing content from more partial constituents: influencers, partners, employees outside of marketing, and above all, customers.

I also see the fun factor growing in a big way. The expected content faire such as how-to’s, customer stories and research findings will not, and should not disappear. However, the fun and interactive stuff will continue to rise…

Quizzes, games, contests get people excited. I think in certain niches the straight and narrow may work, but in the mainstream battle for attention, you need to amp up the fun if you want to create… I guess I have to say it: buzz.

Get the full range of expert answers to:

What brands excel at creating content that pushes the envelope on what can be accomplished with content marketing?

What skills should be on the must-have list for your content marketing team?

What is your favorite content marketing revelation in the past year?

How do you truly focus on your audience (besides creating personas)?

What are your favorite tips for growing your subscriber base?

What’s your favorite content marketing hack and how does it help you?

What is your best actionable Google Analytics tip?

What trends do you foresee influencing content creation?

Do you have any content marketing questions?

Leave a comment. Ask your question. We’ll get you some useful answers.