Bigger, Bolder, Braver: Ann Handley Q&A – The Key to Great Marketing in 2016

Content: Travis Nipper

Ann Handley, CCO of will be in Cincinnati on April 27 to present Bigger, Bolder, Braver: The Key to Great Marketing in 2016.  Our own Travis Nipper reached out to Ann for a light-hearted but insightful interview about the vast opportunity that content marketing represents and how too many of us aren’t using it to its potential. He also got insight into that tough question of just how you define “quality” content anyway? Ann also provided a couple of her favorite “rules for writing.” If you register for the upcoming Signature Speaker Series, you’ll hear much more on this topic. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights.

@TravisNipper: First things first. Oxford comma?

@AnnHandley: Yes, yes, and yes. Otherwise, things can get awkward. Case in point: “I’d like to thank my parents, Maya Angelou and Ben Franklin.”

@TravisNipper: I’m guessing Maya and Ben’s little girl may have been a pretty good writer!

The last time you were here in Cincinnati, you may have had local business writers quaking in their boots. You talked about the concepts in your previous book Content Rules with C.C. Chapman that we as marketers and business owners need to develop content that people like.

In two short years since that last visit, what’s changed? How has content marketing matured (or refused to leave mom’s basement)?

@AnnHandley: I love that characterization! Because content marketing really has, for the past few years, been living a bit like a college student: A bit impulsive, immature, short-sighted, and (sometimes) lazy. Content spent its parents’ money on crazy, experimental things that may or may not have been good choices. It prized quantity over quality. It boasted too much about itself, instead of considering what its audience needed.

I think in 2016 it is finally growing up. It is recognizing its full potential and getting a little more serious. Still creative, of course. But serious nonetheless.

@TravisNipper: For our marketers in the audience that for one reason or another don’t spend much of their time with content marketing or don’t have upstream support, how do they convince themselves or their team of the need for content marketing?

@AnnHandley: “Content” isn’t “instead of”…it’s an integral “part of” [overall marketing]. Content can enhance what marketers are probably already doing elsewhere. It can help you increase your domain authority and expertise [SEO]. It’s the basis for your social media or email campaigns. It can position you as a thought leader in your field. It can help you build relationships with investors, stakeholders, or influencers and advocates. It’s literally the bedrock of your website. Content is already a component of what so many of us are already doing. But I challenge all of us to use it more strategically and creatively.

@TravisNipper: Your most recent book, Wall Street Journal bestseller Everybody Writes, ignited a conversation in the industry about quality content. What could you tell your audience about evaluating the difference between good and bad quality content?

@AnnHandley: Good content is something people actually want. Bad content is stuff your CEO or boss wants, but your customers don’t. The simple way to measure content effectiveness is to simply ask: “Would our audience thank us for this?”

@TravisNipper: You’ll be returning to Cincinnati in April to talk to your fans about how to be bigger, bolder, and braver. What can we expect?

@AnnHandley: To learn more about why great content is “table stakes”. Why we need to think of a bigger story, create bolder content assets with a braver and specific perspective. Also, it won’t be boring. And there will be lunch! So, win-win-win.

@TravisNipper: I’ll bring my poker face, for sure!

Indulge me in a personal aside: I have the privilege of teaching business writing to college students. The two rules I like to build a foundation on in my class are 1.) Check your ego at the door…none of us ever write as well as we think we do, and 2.) Know your audience. If I were looking to expand this by a couple rules, what would you suggest I add?

@AnnHandley: My favorite two are: 1.) Writing is more habit than art, and 2.) Write with the door closed. Edit with the door open. (I stole that one from Stephen King.)

@TravisNipper: Okay…now it’s your turn to tell a story! I’ll stop short of saying I salivate at the thought, but you get to travel across the country speaking about a favorite topic of mine. Do you have any recent or favorite audience interactions that were particularly insightful. Any common themes or questions?

@AnnHandley: I was heckled in Seattle by someone who had to be removed from the audience. That’s not exactly insightful…but it was unusual!

A question I get a lot is: How do I convince my boss to let me try some of this? The answer is to try a pilot project. Find a specific problem your business has (you want to build your database, for example), and create a content plan to address that issue. Then give it time to show results. Be the hero.

@TravisNipper: Heckled? Campaign season is going to people’s heads! What does an accomplished writer like you read? Fiction or nonfiction? Any favorite writers?

@AnnHandley: I read a lot of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs – because I’m interested in how the choices people make influence their lives. I also love essays. A good, well-written essay can sustain me for days.

My favorite writer is usually the one I’m reading now. So right now that’s Sally Mann. (I’m in the midst of her memoir Hold Still.)

@TravisNipper: My expert staff has unearthed some footage of you jamming on an accordion. If we can book “Weird Al” Yankovic or Flaco Jiménez (Okay…I had to look him up) for your visit, are you willing to throw down?

@AnnHandley: Ha!!! Because that’s how I roll…Flaco Jimenez is LIFE. (I’m kidding. I had to look him up, too.)

@TravisNipper: Thanks for your time and expertise. You have big fans in Cincinnati!

Curious about learning more from Ann? Register to hear her speak in Cincinnati on April 27.