Labcast: Developing a Content Strategy that Drives Real Results

Michael Brenner, author of B2B Marketing Insider, shares his take on content marketing with the OpenView Labs team.

Listen to this podcast in which he identifies the keys to developing an effective content strategy.


Kevin: Hello, and welcome to this edition of Labcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today we’ll be talking about content strategy with Michael Brenner. Michael is the author of “B2B Marketing Insider”, a blog dedicated to sharing ideas, topics and marketing strategies that drive real results, like sales, leads and higher customer loyalty. He’s also the co-founder of the social news site Business 2 Community and serves as Senior Director of Global Integrated Marketing for SAP, the worldwide leader in enterprise software and softwaree-related services. Thanks for joining us today, Michael.

Michael: Yeah. Thanks. It’s my pleasure.

Kevin: So, as I mentioned before, Mike, we’re looking to talk about content strategy today, and really, content marketing more at large. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that we’re seeing a lot of bigger firms getting involved with content marketing. A recent example that comes to mind for me is Coca-Cola. I know that they’ve just launched a content marketing strategy that’s been a real shift of priority, for them. I believe it’s on a lot of people’s radars, but I wanted to get your opinion. Is content marketing and having a content strategy something that every company and corporation needs, or is it something more specific and targeted?

Michael: Yes. It’s a good question. A similar and related, question people often ask is, “Isn’t content marketing just another name for marketing?” The answer is actually “yes” and “no”. So, to directly answer your question, I do think every company needs a content marketing strategy. The reason for that is that marketing, as it exists today … and if you ask a non-marketer, like a business owner or a salesperson or even somebody off the street, when you say marketing, they think promotion, and promotion quickly leads into thoughts about spam and negative connotations around junk mail and all kinds of things like that. So, that’s really the problem that content strategy tries to address is that, number one, there’s just way too many messages in the marketplace. For anyone to be effective, you really have to flood the marketplace with lots of messaging, and large organizations spend a lot of money to do that.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that those kinds of approaches are just simply not effective. So, what a content strategy does is it seeks to turn the tables and say, “OK. Instead of focusing on the promotional messages we want to push, let’s focus on the kinds of content that our audience is looking for in all of the places they’re looking and all of the different types of our buyers or consumers or whatever type of company you might have, and really try to make sure that we’re delivering the content that meets their needs.” So, that’s the difference between content strategy or content marketing strategy and marketing.

The way I answered the marketing-to-content-marketing question is that, it is a different thing right now because, unfortunately, most marketing is really quite ineffective, but content strategy will hopefully bridge the gap so that marketing in the future will be much more targeted, much more directed at the audience, and then the business outcomes flow much more effectively from that.

Kevin: Sure. So, kind of taking off from that point, it sounds like content marketing and content strategy is pretty important for everyone. What kind of general advice can you offer companies of all sizes to kind of, get going if they’re not already in a position where they’ve got a content strategy in place?

Michael: The biggest obstacle that every company or every individual marketer that I talk to, faces, it’s in the way that they think. Some people call it “campaign brain”. Some people call it the “spam cannon of marketing”, but ultimately, it’s about changing the mindset of the corporation and of the marketing strategy, to be customer focused. The biggest advice I would give is just start thinking about the audience that you’re trying to meet or to capture or to deliver content to and think about what their needs are over the needs of your own organization and the products that you’re trying to promote or sell.

It’s not that you forget about it completely, because ultimately, when you gain the trust, through the delivery of valuable content, that audience comes back to you, and then you have an opportunity, you’ve earned the right to then ask them if your solutions are appropriate for them. So, that would be the number one piece of advice I would give, think audience first in everything you do, from a strategic down to a tactical standpoint.

Kevin: Now, you’ve hit on an interesting topic there when you said that you need to shift people’s mindsets, and so I’m curious to get your thoughts there. In my experience, marketing is sometimes viewed as something that is kind of secondary, even today. So, what suggestions do you have for people who are trying, who are content marketers out there, who are trying to shift the perceptions of their corporations or their companies to get on board?

Michael: Well, there’s a number of different ways that you can do it. Some of the things that we found is that, number one, it’s not hard to show how ineffective marketing can be. This is a tricky one for marketers to present, how ineffective they are, especially to a board-level person but, the fact is, 99.something % of banner ads never get clicked on and 99.5% of emails never get opened or never get clicked on. It’s pretty easy to show how ineffective the promotional outbound efforts of some of our marketing is.

Obviously, there are some things that are effective, but to show how the reason they’re ineffective is because of the large amount of spam and promotion that’s out there and that by taking this different approach and continuing the investment in marketing, so protect that, obviously, but to change the perspective and change the approach, to be customer focused. So, that’s number one.

Number two, is then to show how it does come back around. The audience that you’re reaching, you’re gaining their value, you’re gaining their trust, their respect and they will come back you in a more effective way, in a much more cost-effective way as customers, and so the cost per acquisition, to get to the math, analytical brains of executives. I think there’s a business case to be shown there.

Then, the third thing that I’ve seen that has really worked here at SAP, is an analysis of the audience that we are not reaching with our promotional content. It’s this early-stage, nascent audience that’s looking to simply be educated. You know, they have a problem. They just don’t know what it’s called yet, or they don’t know what the name of the solutions are that might solve their problem. There’s a real opportunity for marketers, for companies and organizations to deliver content that meets those needs and to establish a relationship early on in the buying process that, obviously, will translate into business benefit, later on in the cycle.

So, if you tell a CEO, “Hey, there’s a million people a week or a month, or whatever the time frame may be, searching on whatever categories of keywords that might be relevant for your business, and we don’t have content that meets their needs. So, let’s invest. Let’s focus on that so that we are gaining those relationships and establishing that trust.” It’s hard to argue for those three arguments. Those are the things that have worked for me, but I think each business is a little bit different, but those are the three that we’ve used.

Kevin: Now, let’s go back to your earlier point where you said that the main objective or the main piece of advice you would give would be to focus on understanding what your audience is. Now, for OpenView, most of our listeners are small, expansion-stage technology companies. Are there any specific tips that you could give to a younger company, that’s really just getting off the ground and may not have much in place by way of content or even marketing at this point?

Michael: Yes. I would say it’s not as hard as you think. I’ve been in the position. I’ve been the head of marketing for a 30-person firm and a 10-person firm, so I know what it’s like to have no content to start with, but what I will say, is… Well, there are two things. One point is that social media, the Web and content marketing have leveled the playing field for small companies, so there’s no longer an excuse for a small company to say that they can’t compete with large companies because of the channels that are relatively free and because the cost of content has really, essentially, come down to zero, and I’ll talk about that in my second point. Small companies can compete very effectively with large companies as well as their larger competition. So, that’s point number one.

Point number two is about how to get it. When I was in that position, I took content from the perspective of, “OK, let’s talk to our current customers.” I interviewed them in much the way that you are with me. I asked them some key questions, “Tell us who you are. Tell us what challenges you faced. Tell us how you traveled the journey to solve the problems that you had,” and then I created a white paper around that. I created a webcast from that. I created a blog post around that. So, I took one simple half hour conversation with a key customer, who is a rabid fan of our product, obviously, and turned that into multiple pieces of content.

What I didn’t do was I didn’t interview them and ask them why they chose us. Now, I did ask them that question, and we did use that quote on our website, in the “testimonials” section, but I didn’t feature that content in the kind of content that we were putting out in various places because that’s not the kind of content that gets shared. It’s not the kind of content… That’s the promotional side, and it’s good to have those testimonials. It’s good to have that evidence in the sales process, but that’s not the content I used. So, I talked about profiling the customer, showing that we understood their pains and then asked them to explain how they navigated the journey. In the end, that’s all just very helpful for the prospects we were trying to meet.

Kevin: That’s great. So, my last question, Michael, just to go in a little bit of a different direction, some of the big news I saw this week and I’m sure you did, too, was Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. Instagram and other social media companies like Pinterest, weren’t really on many people’s radars, at least, not mine maybe, six months ago. Now, they’re huge and they’re everywhere. So, I’m curious to get your thoughts as to, number one, how does content marketing need to evolve going forward specifically, and how does it need to evolve to adapt to these types of new social tools?

Michael: It’s a really good question, and I’m actually really passionate about Pinterest. The reason is that I sort of blog and I live in this B2B marketing space, which is interesting because part of the platform that I sort of, communicate from is that the difference between B2B and B2C, business marketing and consumer marketing has largely been removed. There’s still some elements, the buying process and B2Bs is still a little longer and more complex and involves a little more people, but the methods and the techniques we use, are very similar now, if not exactly the same as what consumer marketing techniques are.

So, when a B2B marketer says, “Oh, Pinterest, I don’t see the value,” or, “Instagram, I don’t see the value,” or if you look at Tumblr blogs, I disagree with them 100%. The reason for it is that if you look at the growth of Pinterest, if you look at the interest that Facebook took in Instagram, there is an obvious need for people to interact with visual content. So, the growth of Pinterest, the transaction that Facebook undertook with buying Instagram is evidence of that, of that desire, at a basic human level, to interact with visual content.

My challenge to marketers, especially in the B2B space, is to think about content in much smaller formats and chunks and to think about how you can use a picture to tell 1,000 words and tell the story. That’s what I think Pinterest offers an opportunity for and Instagram as well.

Another side note on Pinterest, that ‘s kind of funny… When I first got into Pinterest, my wife got me into it because she was looking at earrings and fashion and other different things, was that I realized that if I posted a picture on Pinterest from one of my blogs, I was creating an inbound link back to our website or back to my blog site. So, these sites are huge opportunities to create lots of inbound links which helps from an SEO perspective. It helps drive traffic and forces you to really think from a visual perspective.

Kevin: That’s great. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. Before I let you go, just one last question that’s just, “How can our listeners connect with you if they want to?”

Michael: That’s great. I invite the audience to please reach out to me. One of the things I found is that I’ve made tremendous connections and met really interesting people through social connections. So, you can find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @BrennerMichael. Again, that’s @BrennerMichael. So, it’s my last name and first name. I’m also at Facebook and really active on LinkedIn. I’m on Pinterest. So, I invite each of you to connect with me there.

I’m involved in three different blogs. B2B Marketing Insider is my marketing blog. I’m a co-founder at Business2Community.com, which is recently Technorati ranked as the 39th largest business blog in the world, the third largest small business blog in the world. So, we are pretty proud of that fact and that site for delivering social news. Then, I’m the Chief Editor for SAP’s Business Innovation Blog and would invite anyone in the audience to look at those different sites. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact me or feel free to comment on the content.

Kevin: Great, Michael. Thanks so much again for joining us.

Michael: Thanks. My pleasure.

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