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5 Lessons From the Content Marketing Awards Project of the Year Finalists



5 Lessons From the Content Marketing Awards Project of the Year Finalists

What makes the most successful content marketers stand apart from their peers?

They don’t want to simply sustain their success. Rather, they evolve their capabilities, iterate on their creative achievements, and expand the value they deliver to their audience.

As proof, look at the work produced by content marketers at the five brands competing for Project of the Year at the 2022 Content Marketing Awards. Each already has been honored with best in category awards.

Lesson 1: Invest in becoming a go-to source of trusted information

Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials blog has long been recognized as a content marketing success story. Its executive director of content marketing, Amanda Todorovich, has the 2016 Content Marketer of the Year trophy to prove it. But, in the last few years, her team has expanded a different part of the brand’s website: its Health Library. (A screenshot of its home page below shows a user-friendly search bar and previews some of the questions and answers by category.)

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The Health Library is an online encyclopedia of trustworthy, accurate health information – something today’s online consumers could certainly use more of. In fact, more than 80% of traffic to Cleveland Clinic’s main website in 2021 came from organic Google searches for health information.

To grow site traffic, the writing staff on the content marketing team tripled, and the SEO team expanded to 16. Using those resources, Cleveland Clinic evolved its Health Library into a more comprehensive and competitive resource, producing more than 2,000 new articles in 2021.

Health Library traffic grew 134% year over year (2020 to 2021). It accounts for more than three-fourths of the 10 million to 13 million monthly visitors to

Amanda says staying true to the content team’s original, simple strategy was the key.

Staying true to your #content team’s original, simple strategy is key to success, says @amandatodo of @ClevelandClinic via @AnnGynn @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

You can hear Amanda share more details on that strategy in this video included with the Cleveland Clinic’s Content Marketing Awards (starting at 1:25):

This Cleveland Clinic project earned first place in health care content marketing programs, multi-year content marketing programs, and content strategy categories in the Content Marketing Awards.

Lesson 2: Find a niche within a niche

If you think health care has a crowded content landscape, try standing out as a pet care brand.

Pet-related content practically makes the internet go round. To get answers to their questions, pet owners can wade through millions of content pieces offering advice, product information, and a never-ending supply of cuteness.

Foundry 360, the internal content agency of industry trade publisher Dotdash Meredith, identified an underserved audience niche in the crowded pet community – people who own cats AND dogs. In May 2021, with the high-profile national brand Mars Petcare as the sponsor, they launched a twice-yearly print magazine, Paw Print, to fill that content gap – and grow their share of the estimated $123 billion U.S. consumers spent on their pets in 2021.

#Foundry360 found an underserved niche in the crowded pet community – people who own cats AND dogs, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

This cover Paw Print illustrates its mission with a cute photo of a dog and kitten. Among the cover lines: Home Alone – Help your Furry Friends Cope When You Return To Work, How To Decode Your Pets’ Body Language, and Expert Advice on Caring for Senior Animals.

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While Paw Print’s content appeals to cat AND dog lovers alike, it caters to households with furry family members of both species. An extension of Dotdash Meredith’s pet news portal, the editorial covers important pet topics, such as health, behavior, nutrition, and gear. All ads in the inaugural issue highlight relevant Mars Petcare products.

For distribution, Mars Petcare tapped Dotdash Meredith’s database to identify subscribers whose records noted they owned both cats and dogs – a critical component of Mars’ marketing strategy. Those individuals were sent copies of Paw Print for free.

The hyper-niche strategy helped both brands claw their way to the top of the content dogpile. Circulation for Paw Print’s inaugural issue reached 1 million copies – the biggest for any print magazine in the pet category.

Even better, 99% of readers said they were likely to act on something they read, 93% planned to share or discuss the magazine with friends or family, and 80% said they were likely to purchase a product featured in the issue.

Paw Print magazine earned first place in content marketing launch and new print publication categories in the Content Marketing Awards.

Lesson 3: Use your brand’s voice to spark vital conversations

In June 2021, AT&T committed $750,000 to further its support of The Trevor Project, an organization aimed at suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQ youth. To highlight that commitment, AT&T and agency Hearts & Science partnered with the socially conscious media company ATTN: to share real-life stories from members of the trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming community.

The Love Connection is a raw documentary-style series that brings much-needed awareness to the unjust hardships people in this community frequently endure. Each video tells a person’s story with a subtly emphasis on a key AT&T brand message – the importance of staying connected.

In the inaugural video, Alok – a gender nonconforming person – describes the harassment and antagonistic remarks their flamboyant appearance incites. Despite experiencing the negativity, they encourage others to “live life on their own terms.” The video highlights the community’s sense of unity reinforced by the ability to reach out to others for support via calling or texting.

While the topic garnered hateful comments, The Love Connection sparked meaningful conversations among the LGBTQ+ community, their allies, and even their detractors. It also generated overwhelmingly positive results for the brand, its media partner, and The Trevor Project.

@ATT, @Hearts_Science and @TrevorProject partnered for The Love Connection docu-style video series and saw big positive results, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

ATTN: reports the Alok video received 5,339 comments and had a 9.5% engagement rate – more than double its agency benchmark rate of 4.6%. AT&T saw a 19-percentage point difference with the group who witnessed the campaign compared to those who didn’t when (32% to 13%) in those who agreed AT&T supports the LGBTQ+ community through digital access and active allyship.

The Love Connection took first place in the topic-specific video as part of a content marketing program category in the Content Marketing Awards.


Lesson 4: Take a warm, personal approach to build audience trust

Like the people in The Love Connection video series, people who live with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) often feel isolated and misunderstood.

Symptoms of these chronic inflammatory bowel diseases are unpredictable, disrupting daily activities without warning. In Belgium, only an estimated 30,000 people suffer from Crohn’s or UC. Because relatively few people experience or understand the debilitating conditions, patients can struggle to explain their reluctance to make plans or why they often cancel at the last minute.

To support and inspire these patients to manage their symptoms more effectively, content marketing agency The Fat Lady created two blogs for its pharmaceutical company client, Takeda: Wijhebbencrohn and Wijhebbencolitis (both can be accessed through

This screenshot shows some of the blog’s articles – a first-person story of how their doctor confirmed their diagnosis, a recipe for a red fruit smoothie, the search for a personal diet – and a video about one person finally managing to control their disease.

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Takeda filled both blogs with personal testimonies contributed by real-life patients. It creates an open, supportive space where patients can connect with others who understand what they’re going through, and their friends and loved ones can learn about what they experience.

Blog visitors also find helpful information about Crohn’s and UC, along with recipes and tips that can help them reduce the stress that leads to inflammation and lessen the number of flare-ups they experience.

@TakedaPharma’s blogs around Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis reaches over 200,000 visitors per year, with 70% finding it organically, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

In four years, Takeda has grown to more than 50 regular contributors. The site reaches more than 213,000 visitors per year, with 70% arriving organically. Taking such a warm, personal approach helped Takeda quickly earn the trust of this audience – and grow both visits to the site and participation in the program.

Takeda won first place in the topic-specific blog category in the Content Marketing Awards.


Lesson 5: Innovate by building on a strong foundation

How does a powerful and influential B2B brand achieve ambitious growth goals, despite a lingering global pandemic that hindered attendance at live events?

If you’re Salesforce, the answer is to reimagine your most valuable offerings and assets and build them into something that’s never existed.

In August 2021, the company launched Salesforce+, an innovative, business-focused streaming content service. It bundles 12 broadcast-quality live events and 14 original series into a centralized, owned media product that Salesforce built from scratch.

@Salesforce created an innovative, business-focused streaming #content service – Salesforce+. It includes 14 original series, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

This image promotes Trailblazer, a docu-series on the service. It features five Black leaders using Salesforce technology to change their lives and lift up those around them.

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The inspiration for this platform came through an observation: Salesforce’s B2B audience increasingly prefers engaging with video over other formats. Yet, the company’s biggest audience acquisition tool – its flagship Dreamforce event – remains at the center of its strategy.

The brand shifted many of its live experiences to digital as it began video-centric programming. It tapped the internal Salesforce Studios team to write, direct, and produce a slate of original video shows that would resonate with the Dreamforce audience.

Salesforce says initial results greatly exceeded their traffic and user engagement expectations. The brand is also preparing to enhance the platform’s features and functionality before the second Dreamforce event hosted on Salesforce+ in September 2022.

Salesforce+ earned top honors in content marketing program and use of video in content marketing categories in the Content Marketing Awards.


Which campaign reigns supreme?

Among these five wonderfully originated and executed projects, only one can be selected as Project of the Year. The winner will be announced Sept. 14 at Content Marketing World. In the meantime, which of these is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.


Join us at Content Marketing World 2022 for new ideas to drive your business, fuel your inspiration, and speed up your career. Register today and use promo code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists



Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.


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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots



A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)



Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.



To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.

Disruptive Design Raising the Bar of Content Marketing with Graphic

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