Let's face it: There is a lot of questionable branded content out there. Because audiences have grown almost as savvy to content marketing (good and bad) as they have to traditional advertising, it's more important than ever for marketers to get better at what they do--versus looking for the next shiny object to dazzle clients or executives.

As a branded content creator and content marketer, there is no better place to invest time sharpening my skills, networking with fellow marketers, and learning from thought leaders than at Content Marketing World. Now in its 8th year, the 2018 event is about to take place from September 4 - 7 in Cleveland. This year, Tina Fey will be headlining, with more than 200 other speakers expounding on every facet of the industry, from machine learning to social media to demand generation.

While I usually wait 'til I'm on the ground to soak up the knowledge from the content marketing experts I follow, this year, I sent them a few of my most essential questions in advance. Here's what they had to share in return: 

Q. What do you feel is the most underutilized content marketing channel? What do brands ignore that could be really powerful for them?

We're seeing print materials--especially high-end magazines--make a very interesting comeback. Facebook launched their new Grow Magazine. HelloGiggles has a new self-titled magazine. Casper, the mattress company, even shut down a digital experience in order to pivot to a new print magazine. And, it's not just in B2C either. ARC Magazine from Lincoln Electric is an extraordinary success for the classic welding tool and equipment company. I think there's a unique, and under-served, opportunity to create rich customer experiences in both print and in physical spaces (e.g., events).

--Robert Rose, chief strategy author of Advising Content, author of Killing Marketing (@robert_rose)

Q. If a brand wants to lean into its content--but its budget is comparably small, where do you think its should really focus its content marketing efforts?

A. Whether a company is consumer or B2B, getting the most out of a small budget depends on one thing--consistency. Picking a platform to which you can consistently publish helpful content is key, and then commit to doing exactly that. Even with paid promotion behind content, it takes time to build traction with an audience. Content marketing is a strategic approach for a business, and any strategy needs time to work.

--Carla Johnson, co-author of Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing (@CarlaJohnson)

Q. I've been hearing that some brand executives are starting to question whether their content efforts are really paying off. How should a content marketer approach a conversation with executives who are demanding to see a direct link to revenue?

A. What's the ROI of [the brand's] marketing overall? You'd be surprised how many executives can't answer that question. I have shown executives that content marketing can deliver 4-5x the return of the average marketing ROI where it is known. And best of all, content marketing is 100% measurable. Unlike many other marketing activities.

--Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group (@michaelbrenner)

Q. What's one digital tool do you feel is really essential for content marketers?

A. A/B testing of content and headlines has never been easier or cheaper with free tools like Google Optimize, and yet I meet people in content marketing all the time who have never run a single split test in their careers. If you're not running split tests, I am 100% confident you're leaving traffic and conversions on the table.

--Courtney Cox, Digital Marketer, Children Health (@courtewakefield)

Q. What do you feel is the biggest mistake marketers (and brands overall) are making with their content?

A. Inconsistency of content is the biggest issue. No theme or schedule. Random acts of content are rarely successful in the long term.

-- Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert @jaybaer

A. Most companies look at content marketing as a replacement for advertising, collateral, or catalogs. So, they create equivalents of "interesting content," but treat them, and measure them, in the same way.  And, they are frustrated because a great, valuable piece of content is so much more expensive than creating an ad, or a catalog, or a piece of collateral. The difference for content marketing is that you have to realize that you aren't creating those things--and thus the purpose (our goal) must be different.

--Robert Rose, chief strategy author of Advising Content, author of Killing Marketing (@ robert_rose)