In B2B Marketing: Tomorrow’s Best Practices Today, we feature expert interviews about the state of B2B Marketing and what the future holds. In this post, I interview Cathy McPhillips, VP of Marketing at Content Marketing Institute.

Tell us about yourself?

Content Marketing Institute logo

From a business perspective, I head up and work with the marketing team at the Content Marketing Institute. I’ve been there since 2012, and it’s been amazing!

I started my career working for two advertising agencies in Cleveland. The first was Liggett-Stashower, and I worked in the design studio and then in account services.

The second was Wyse Advertising, where I was the media supervisor on Applebee’s International, and thus began my love of marketing to customers to try and make their experiences better.

After I left the agency, I consulted with six national restaurant brands over a decade, handling media, both paid and social. Then, I worked for an agency that ran social and digital for Share Our Strength, a nonprofit in DC working to eradicate childhood hunger in the U.S.

The team at Content Marketing Institute

The CMI team at Content Marketing World. Photo via Cathy’s Twitter profile.

Then it was on to CMI, through some Twitter exchanges and a LinkedIn connection with Joe Pulizzi.

Note: Read the Q&A that we did with Joe Pulizzi.

Personally, my husband and I are parents to two pretty cool young adults, 21 and 18. I’m part of a very large family, so much of our social life is being together with all of them. I love to be outside doing just about anything, but prefer my bike, paddleboard or vegetable garden, and I also love spinning and yoga and reading anything that isn’t scary.

Note: Follow Cathy on Twitter (@cmcphillips).

Tell us about your background in B2B marketing?

When I worked for Wyse Advertising, I touched just about every account in the agency at one point or another in my time there.

“It was a partnership built from trust and respect in my work. I learned a lot from him, that I still use today.”

I loved B2C and retail and loved seeing my media plan come to fruition and even seeing the spots I placed on TV! But after working with big retailers and big-name products, I not-so-secretly loved pivoting in my day and slowing down to handle the B2B accounts — one of the best parts of being at an agency with a wide range of clients.

I’m very math-oriented, so I enjoyed putting my head down and digging into audit statements of trade pubs and developing marketing and media plans that were built on so much quantitative data.

It certainly helped that one account, Sandusky International, had the best head of marketing. Every time I’d present a plan to him, he’d look at it and say, “You’re the expert, that’s why we hired you. Approved.”

To say that I was an expert in centrifugal cylinders made for paper mills was a *bit* of a stretch, but it was a partnership built from trust and respect in my work. I learned a lot from him, that I still use today.

Tell us a best practice of tomorrow that B2B marketers should be doing today?

Email is coming back, my friends! (did it ever really go away?)

If you’re not collecting email addresses, stop what you’re doing and add a subscribe button to your website. For those that have email addresses, do you know enough about your customers?

“If we can cut back email sends, we’re hoping open rates, clicks and engagement increase.”

Set up progressive profiling in your CRM so when you have a chance to ask a customer a question about themselves (during an ebook download or a webinar signup), you won’t be asking a question you already know the answer to.

It’s some work setting up the logic for that, but worth the time investment to do so. Work with a team – internal or find a partner – to help you learn as much as you can about your customers. I’m so lucky to have a team member who has been amazing in this regard.

This will help you with:

  • Editorial: you’ll know who your customers are and what they need
  • Marketing: you can profile your customers, and segments of your customers, and spend time and money reaching lookalike audiences
  • Sales: whether you’re selling directly to customers or to brands trying to reach customers, the more you know who you’re trying to reach, the more successful you’ll be
  • Pretty much every other department in your company

One of our next projects at CMI is identifying which categories of content each of our subscribers wants to receive. We don’t want people to say, “Oh, another email from CMI – delete” but rather, “They always send me content relevant to me.”

Through data we have on email opens and clicks, blog posts read, webinars attended, and even Content Marketing World sessions attended, we can find out a lot about subscribers. If we can cut back email sends, we’re hoping open rates, clicks and engagement increase.

Your team handles the marketing for Content Marketing World. What’s been working well?

Our email marketing!

In the past few years, it’s been very “here’s what you’ll get at our event, here’s who you’ll see, etc.” Pretty standard. We mixed it up this year thanks to a CMWorld attendee and partner, and the emails are more conversational in tone.

They are fun, funny, and engaging, and they stand out. Conversions are up. Conversations are up. Emails directly to me from our community are up.

Note from Dennis: The emails are indeed engaging! Here’s an email I received from Cathy about Content Marketing World:

Email from Cathy McPhillips about Content Marketing World

People are tweeting me and saying, “Loved the email today!” I tell this to folks all the time, and perhaps I should heed my own advice: show your personality, show what makes you different.

In many instances, it’s the people that make a brand different. And those people can provide an experience that no one else can.

Let that be your edge and advantage. <– writing this down in big letters and sticking on my desk.

What should a B2B company ask before launching their own event or conference?

Why are you doing it?

What will you offer to your industry or customers that someone else isn’t already doing? (If you can’t answer those questions, don’t do it!) Trust me…with over 400 marketing events, we MUST differentiate, and we must constantly add new value each year.

Events are hard work. I love it so much, but it’s a lot of work. But I’m crazy about our community so it makes it all worthwhile.

Note from Dennis: This year, Content Marketing World moves from its usual September slot to October. I’ll be there!

How will the practice of content marketing be different in 2025 compared to today?

The brands and agencies excelling in content marketing in 2025 will have analytics teams and departments, not someone who does analytics along with everything else they’re doing. (Ahem.)

The numbers will drive the content, and that will separate the brands just pushing out content from the ones doing it for the right reasons (because it’s benefiting your customers).

Media and channels will continue to evolve, merge, and go away. How many platforms do we really need to communicate on? How many of our must-use channels today will even exist in five years?

So, we’ll need to continue to keep up with those trends so marketers and social media managers can keep brands relevant – and findable.

I’m hoping (this will sound like such a mom thing to say) that marketing shifts back a little to some basics: print, email, even direct mail, books! I hope the bubble bursts on phone usage, and that marketers need to find other ways to reach customers. Though I do love a good podcast, too!

Note from Dennis: The CMI Weekly Wrap, hosted by Robert Rose, is one of my favorite podcasts.

You’re a Board Member of several non-profit organizations. Tell us what interested you in taking these positions?

I’ll credit my parents for that.

We spent a lot of our time growing up giving back to others — something that was instilled in us at an early age (even though we griped about it under our breath sometimes, I mean we were kids after all).

Also, I have a really hard time saying no, but am getting better! But these three I would have said yes to anyways:

Currently, I’m on the Social Council for Share Our Strength, the nonprofit I used to work with.

I’m also a board member for The Orange Effect Foundation, that Joe and Pam Pulizzi started five years ago. I bring my marketing experience to the Board, and Pam knew how hard it was for me to leave my job at Share Our Strength because I missed the nonprofit component. I was thrilled when she asked me to join the Board.

And Community of Hope! My close friend and neighbor, Amber Donovan, has been working with the City of Cleveland for a number of years connecting young adults that have aged out of foster care with Cleveland community members in an effort to reduce homelessness, unemployment and incarceration with this population.

Favorite restaurants in the Cleveland area?

Where to start! I’m a pescatarian, so I’m the one that everyone tries to cater to when we go out to eat.

My defaults are Ninja City, Johnny Mango, El Carnicero and Café Melissa, but I’m always up for trying new places.

Family nights out with the four of us usually take us to Nuevo Acapulco (their website is eh, but they make up for it with their food).

I’m a little partial to Asian and Mexican, if you can’t tell! Or we head over to my brother’s house who is undoubtedly the best chef I know. He currently is running operations at some of Michael Symon’s restaurants, including B Spot and Bar Symon, so we stop in there whenever we can.

Note from Dennis: ContentTECH is coming up in April. See Cathy’s tweet for more information.