What do Rick Springfield, Jungle Jack Hanna and orange Jell-O have in common? Answer: they all made appearances at Content Marketing World 2012.

Joe Pulizzi’s orange-branded event attracted more than 1,000 content marketing enthusiasts earlier this month, plus speakers ranging from Google’s Sam Sebastian to author Mitch Joel. I drove to Columbus, Ohio to attend the conference, and came home with some great takeaways.

The Not-so-secret Secret About Content Marketing

The most common refrain of the event? Content marketing is not about you or your organization. It’s about your customers. Listen to them, learn from them and share their stories. Only then will your content marketing grow your business.

Instead of talking about product features and benefits, for example, show that product in the lives of your customers. When collecting customer feedback, don’t just ask them why they like a certain product or service. Ask them to describe how they came to choose that product or service.

This not only increases authenticity, but also helps to package information in story form. Neuroimaging technology shows that when presented with story elements, such as a main character and an unfulfilled desire, brains work harder to process the details. This leads to increased memorability and even trust.

The following slide from Lee Odden’s Content Marketing World session, “Optimize and Socialize for Better Content Marketing,” shows where this research falls in the content marketing process.

Organizing Content and Tracking ROI

Once you’ve identified your company’s stories, you can use them to create effective content. You can then use a tool such as Divvy HQ, Basecamp or Google Drive (formerly Google Documents) to organize content into an editorial calendar and repurpose it as necessary.

But that’s only the beginning. You must also have a way to track and measure your content marketing’s ROI. As speaker Marcus Sheridan said during his opening keynote, “You have to be able to prove how much your stuff is earning you. Not being able to measure ROI is a myth.” Sheridan knows from experience. He’s used blogging and ebooks to grow his swimming pool company into a multimillion dollar business.

While Tweets and Facebook Likes are good metrics to track, they alone won’t reveal your content’s return on investment. In his session “The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing Metrics,” author Jay Baer listed several ways to track ROI. They ranged from soft leads, such as blog commenters and email subscribers, to actual sales. To make content more trackable, Baer recommends using tracking URLs or requiring users to fill out a form.

“And don’t forget the role content marketing plays on customer retention,” he said. “Your most important audience is your current customers.”

Once you have tracking mechanisms in place, you can identify the types of content marketing that produce the highest ROI. Then you can focus your efforts on the strategies that work best.

For more great takeaways from Content Marketing World 2012, check out “29 Secrets About Content Marketing & The Undercover Agents Who Shared Them.” The free ebook, compiled by Lee Odden, includes secrets from other speakers and experts.

What types of content marketing have helped grow your business? Let us know in the comments section!