CMA Live 18 write-up

The relentlessly helpful® blog by John Espirian

8 June 2018


Here’s my write-up of CMA Live 18 (#cmalive18) in Edinburgh on 6–7 June 2018. It’s a summary of all the main sessions over two days at the UK’s best content marketing conference.

This was my second time at the event. See my CMA Live 17 write-up to find out what happened the previous year.


As always, the conference took place at The Hub in Edinburgh, a converted church and an all-round fantastic venue.

I have no answers about the snake-unicorn thing that was randomly on a nearby pavement. What is this?

The Hub, Edinburgh – the scene for CMA Live 18
The Hub, Edinburgh – the scene for CMA Live 18

Here’s the gallery of all speakers at CMA Live 18:

In addition to the main talks, there were some VIP roundtable sessions for much smaller groups. These were:

  • Brian Fanzo – Social video: how to create actionable video that works on different platforms.
  • Ann Handley‬ – Everybody writes: injecting personality, empathy and humility into your writing.
  • Chris Brogan‬ – Creating a better content strategy for email marketing.

I didn’t get a chance to dip in to these sessions but the feedback I heard from a few participants was excellent.

Day 1 intro by Chris Marr

Chris Marr

This event is Chris’s baby (figuratively) and he welcomed us all to the grand settings of The Hub for two days of non-stop learning.

Naturally, we had to start with the essentials …

Connect with Chris: @chrismarr101

Brian Fanzo

The very first talk was by someone I’ve followed for ages – the man who talks fast and tweets faster, Brian Fanzo. His podcast FOMOFanz is one of my favourites – it aims to cure your fear of missing out (FOMO).

Brian Fanzo

Hot takeaways

Marketing is becoming more about relatability and empathy.

Use video to get yourself nearer to your customers.

Don’t try to be everywhere. Pick a platform and focus on that.

You can’t win until you start. Press the damn button.

Brian’s talked was titled ‘Press the damn button: the digital mindset shift required to stand out and change the world!’.

Amazing to think that while we’ve got our heads down and focusing on our products and services, millennials (roughly speaking, those born in the 1980s) mostly prefer to chase experiences.

We’re now in times when people expect change. They’ve grown up with it.

I loved when Brian talked about ‘shrinking the distance’.

I really believe that video has a big part to play in this, and I’m planning to create much more video to support my content writing business this year.

This next bit was a hugely important message: don’t spread yourself too thinly by trying to be on every platform. Pick one or two platforms and focus.

Connect with Brian: @iSocialFanz

Karen Reyburn

Karen is head honcho at The Profitable Firm, a creative agency that works exclusively with accountants.

She used her excellent visual skills to produce beautiful sketchnotes of the day, which she shared on Twitter. I’ve embedded several of them throughout this write-up.

Karen Reyburn

Hot takeaways

If you try to serve everyone, you probably won’t serve anyone well – and you might not be able to say no.

Embrace the power of finding your niche.

Turning away the wrong customers is just as important as attracting the right ones. Find a way to filter people.

Karen’s talk was titled ‘Niche marketing: why it’s so powerful and how to choose one’.

This is a great point next: it’s weird when you ask someone what they do and they can’t give you a clear and direct answer.

If you’re umming and ahhing when people ask you what you do, think about how you can express yourself. Job titles alone aren’t enough: what do you actually do for people?

Connect with Karen: @karenlreyburn

Allan Corfield

Allan talked about his journey from being an architect during the financial recession of 2008–2009 to the point where his business is succeeding.

Allan Corfield

Hot takeaways

Focus on a niche. (Again!)

Produce a standout piece of content.

Stick with your marketing for the long term. A few months won’t cut it.

Allan’s talk was titled ‘From startup to stardom: how content marketing can grow your business and influence an industry’.

After meeting Chris in 2014 and being inspired by a Marcus Sheridan workshop, Allan’s first blog was published in March 2015.

Definitely agree with smashing the short-term thinking that leads to so much failure with content. We need to adopt the 30-month mindset.

Despite still being a relative newcomer to content, Allan’s results speak for themselves.

Connect with Allan: @allan_corfield

Mark Asquith

When I found out that Mark was from Barnsley, I knew he’d be bringing northern truth to the stage. Yup, he didn’t disappoint. Everything came across as genuine. This was someone really comfortable with his message.

Mark Asquith

Hot takeaways

Be memorable by being different.

Personalise your marketing and don’t be afraid to do the things that don’t scale.

Professionalism doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie.

Mark’s talk was titled ‘Why your personality is your company’s secret weapon’.

We learned about a bad experience where Mark didn’t have money to pay for a hot dog for a girl he was trying to impress. That led to him thinking that money was what to chase.

Mark’s since found that money isn’t everything.

Mark suggested that we share video updates via Bonjoro, to help make more of a personal connection. I’ve tried the app and it looks good. Well worth a look, especially as the entry-level service is free.

There was an interesting call to share more behind-the-scenes stuff. I don’t think the world is ready to see me in the bath, to be honest, but I totally get that we can’t just be about business. The whole ‘people buy from people’ mantra comes out again here.

Later in the day, I would receive totally undeserved thanks from Jon Burkhart for writing this tweet. I was just sharing Mark’s idea to ‘be the orange’. Hey, I’ve learned never to say no to a compliment. You’re welcome, Jon, you’re welcome.

Connect with Mark: @MrAsquith

Salma Jafri

Salma was the one speaker we didn’t get to meet, because of a last-minute international travel issue. But despite this, her session still went ahead. What? Yup, all the way from Pakistan, via video link

Salma Jafri

Hot takeaways

Create video first and make the rest of your content strategy hang off that.

Use tools to help you understand what content is needed.

Go where the algorithms reward you.

Salma’s talk was titled ‘How to craft a video first content strategy (live broadcast)’.

Connect with Salma: @salmajafri

The CMA awards

Next was an opportunity for the CMA to recognise members of the community who’d been outstanding in a handful of categories. And the winners were:

Ann Handley

Ann is one of my favourite writers and has written what’s probably my favourite book on copywriting: Everybody Writes.

Ann Handley

Hot takeaways

Practise the art of writing. Sharpen your skills.

Give yourself space for creative thought.

Write to an audience of one.

Ann’s talk was titled ‘Creating better content in less time: 5 real-world writing secrets for modern marketers (that’s you!)’.

The title of Ann’s talk didn’t set me up for the way she opened, which was by sharing some of the story of Charlotte’s Web. Turns out that Charlotte is the world’s best content marketer. (No surprise, I hope, that I didn’t appreciate this when I read the book 30+ years ago.)

This was a great idea for finding ideas for your content. I always have lots of drafts on the go, but if I ever get short of inspiration then I’ll be sure to look in my email sent folder.

And I loved this bit about the way we use language. Bring the fire closer to your words until they’re a bit toastier

Who’s heard of ‘dongsniff’ before? No one. It’s not a real word, but Ann makes an interesting point about being specific to define your tone of voice.

Here’s a resource she recommended for just this purpose:

Also, here are Ann’s top 3 tools to help with your writing:

Connect with Ann: @annhandley

Chilling out

A fab first day ended with a social event at Ghillie-Dhu. Here’s the pre-event view of the nearby surroundings.

Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens, 6 June 2018
Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens – a beautiful place to end day 1 of CMA Live 18

Day 2 intro by Chris Marr

Connect with Chris: @chrismarr101

Amy Harrison

Amy is a sales copywriting expert from the mean streets of Hull (I like to think of them as mean. They’re probably perfectly genteel.)

Amy Harrison

Hot takeaways

Don’t waste time with unnecessary details in a customer avatar.

Don’t rely on logic alone to define your writing.

Think about why someone wouldn’t buy from you.

Amy’s talk was titled ‘The copywriting snapshot: making prospects see, believe and buy’.

That’s a really good question to ask ourselves on a regular basis. In the case of my technical copywriting business, some answers to why people wouldn’t buy from me might be:

  • We think it’s too expensive to hire a copywriter.
  • We can get our writing done in-house.
  • We can all write anyway so why hire someone?
  • We don’t know what results copywriting could give us.

My challenge now is to create content that answers those objections.

Amy shared the link to her 6-part copywriting snapshot template: (case sensitive).

Connect with Amy: @HarrisonAmy

Gavin Bell

Gavin is the Facebook ads guy who’s making a name for himself through his vlogging on YouTube.

Gavin Bell

Hot takeaways

Don’t let fear stop you getting on video. No one is that great at the start.

Incredible results come from incredible content.

Focus on boosting the content that already does well.

Gavin’s talk was titled ‘Go viral and generate more sales using Facebook ads’.

Connect with Gavin: @MrGavinBell

Jen Munro

Jen Munro

Hot takeaways

Write down your values.

Be clear on your identity, which will help you attract the right clients.

Let people in. Share behind-the-scenes content.

Jen’s talk was titled ‘How a values based business impacts bottom line, creates company culture and gives your company its voice’.

If you want to have a quick go at writing down your own brand values, check out this post:

5-minute branding

Connect with Jen: @JenMunro1980

Chris Marr

As well as hosting the event, Chris took up a speaking spot to tell us about learning communities, based on his experience of running CMA.

Chris Marr

Hot takeaways

We perform better when we’re part of a learning community of peers.

Gurus and experts don’t always have relatable answers.

Surround yourself with the right people.

Chris’s talk was titled ‘Being part of something larger than yourself: the incredible power of online learning communities’.

Connect with Chris: @chrismarr101

Jon Burkhart

Jon labelled this as his ‘serious’ session, telling us to wait for the fun and hilarity in his closing beer-note. But Jon’s ‘serious’ is way funnier than most people’s ‘hilarious’.

Jon Burkhart

Hot takeaways

Don’t ask boring questions. Look for the creative, curious angle.

Social data can’t tell brands everything they need to know.

Don’t be afraid of expressing ideas.

Jon’s talk was titled ‘Constant curiosity: fortune favours the firecracker questioner’.

Connect with Jon: @jonburkhart

Mike Morrison

Mike is one half of The Membership Guys, a membership organisation that shows people how to run membership organisations (how meta!). He took to the stage having won the CMA’s best podcast award on day 1.

Mike Morrison

Hot takeaways

Running a membership community could help you break past the constraints of a normal business.

Use content to attract people and community to keep them.

Nominal fees are better than completely free trials.

Mike’s talk was titled ‘One to many: a step-by-step guide to membership success’.

Connect with Mike: @MikeMIMO

Anyone for ice cream?

Chris Marr caught us all off guard by telling us to evacuate The Hub not long before day 2 was due to wrap up.

Why? Because he was buying us all an ice cream. Sure enough, we all had a nice moment together in the sunshine.

(The tourists around must have thought this was the best ice cream shop in the world!)

Chris Brogan

Chris was one of the star attractions for this conference, so it’s no surprise that he was placed in the final speaking slot. (He did tell us he liked to go on earlier, but hey, he wore a Metallica shirt and I suspect he’s just fine with being the big closer.)

Chris Brogan

Hot takeaways

Not everyone has to write a book or even create any content to sell.

Think about the parameters and experiences you can control that will help you serve your customers better.

Make less content but better content.

Chris’s talk was titled ‘Give your brand a voice: the magazine approach to marketing and customer experience’.

The thrust of the talk was about finding a shared moment and thinking about how businesses can do more to listen to our real wants. Surprisingly, content is not always the answer.

A sobering thought for us head-down marketers. We think everyone should be making content, producing more. Maybe more isn’t the answer. Maybe nothing is the answer (for some).

Connect with Chris: @chrisbrogan

Jon Burkhart – the ‘beer-note’

Jon returned to the stage to close the sessions with what was called the ‘beer-note and game show’. True enough, there was free beer (which other conference does that?) and some games.

Jon Burkhart

Hot takeaways

Have fun. Laugh at stupid marketing.

Do backflips.

Watch the Periscope video!

Having ribbed the nice visitors from Yoast – who had come all the way from the Netherlands, by the way – Jon had the perfect platform to apologise. He didn’t take it. There was just more sass-mouth (and everyone laughed – I’m not calling him out here).

His first experience of CMA Live had gone down well.

But this is the one to watch: my livestream of some of Jon’s presentation. I don’t know what it is about him, but tweeting stills isn’t enough.

Connect with Jon: @jonburkhart

Let’s wrap up

Chris Marr closed proceedings to end a great couple of days. There was an announcement of the first confirmed speaker at #cmalive19: Jason Miller of LinkedIn.

I met Jason at the You Are The Media conference in May 2018 (check out my write-up of his session). A great guy who has an interesting way of bringing his passion for rock music into his presentations. This will be one to watch.

I managed to win the competition for most engagement on Twitter over the two days.

Twitter stats from Everwall
Twitter stats from Everwall

It was no small prize for winning either: I nabbed myself a free ticket to #cmalive19 – woo!

The event confirmed what I already knew: this is a great community and surely the most welcoming conference out there.

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John Espirian

I’m the relentlessly helpful®️ LinkedIn nerd and author of Content DNA

I teach business owners how to be noticed, remembered and preferred.

Espresso+ is a safe space to learn how to ethically promote your business online and get better results on LinkedIn.

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