A Major Executive Move In Content Marketing — Q&A With Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner, SAP.Michael Brenner has long been a recognized leader in content marketing in his role as VP marketing at SAP.

Very recently, he joined content marketing technology vendor NewsCred to head strategy for that company. NewsCred is a rapidly growing content marketing technology platform that also offers licensed and original content. Clients include Bank of America, Time Inc. and P&G.

This is a rare moment when an executive from the brand side of content marketing has decamped to the vendor side of the industry.  In light of this, I decided to interview him to hear his motives for the move and to look back at his accomplishments at SAP.

What’s the new role?

Head of strategy. Basically, my main area of responsibility is to help each client build out a content marketing model, which obviously then get supported by the technology by the content marketing cloud platform.

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an executive has moved from the client to the vendor side in content marketing. What prompted the decision?

At SAP, I was building content marketing as a practice, and I had tremendous support from the CMO. We built a blog presence for thought leadership, not only creating an effective platform butdoing so on a very limited budget. It wasn’t a significant investment; if anything, it was a reduction in some other expenditures — for example, on the advertising landing page side.

So when I was looking at what to do next, the options were to continue to mature that model in the brand that I was working with, or to take a leadership/CMO type role within a small company.

I jokingly define content marketing as the gap between what businesses generally do when they market and what customers are actually looking for. So I made the decision to help other brands take the journey to close that gap.

Most marketing sucks — or at least most marketing is highly ineffective. This move will allow me to help other brands be more effective, to reach more customers and generate more sales.

I hear education will be part of the new job?

The first step when I talk to marketing leaders is to explain the value of content marketing — or, more specifically, to arm them with the knowledge to help them obtain buy-in from higher-ups.

CEOs (and even some of the older-school, traditional marketing professionals) still see marketing largely as promotional activity: the email blasts, the ads, the logos all over everything, etc. That’’s why most marketing is still in the stage that it’s in. But as consumers, the digital/social/mobile world has changed the way we expect to interact with brands.

We’re not going to put up with cold calls at dinnertime, or with emails we don’t want, or with banners that interrupt the content experience we’re looking for online. So if we, as marketers, are not going to be doing those things anymore, what do we need to do instead?

That’s the educational part. It took me some time, but I’ve slowly come to realize that ineffective marketing is not really the fault of the majority of marketers — they’re just doing what they’ve been asked to do. So we’re arming them with the information to educate those who are asking them to execute.

Most organizations don’t have infrastructure, roles, or even a documented content strategy. Where will you start?

After education, the next step is to identify the problem. When I worked at SAP, we helped the organization understand there was a definite content problem.

Part of that process included highlighting all of the customer conversations we weren’t a part of. For example, we looked at our analytics to estimate how much of our website traffic was coming from people who are in the early stages of the buying process — and we realized we weren’t getting any traffic from early-stage search terms.

None of the people who were in the early stages of the buying process for products related to SAP were being exposed to the brand through search. That’s a massive content problem.

We then did an inventory and found that we were already creating content and targeting the people talking to our sales guys. So we identified that budget and that content and asked, “How much of that content is actually being used?”

To this day, I’m shocked. We looked at all the content repositories we had — I think there were 62 — and noted the content that was either viewed or downloaded by the intended recipient. Something like 60 percent of the content uploaded to these repositories was never looked at or downloaded by a single person.

That’s why often I tell people, “You don’t need any more budget. Just look inside your organization at the places that are creating content and see if it’s used at all.”

That’s the most rudimentary type of content audit you can perform.

Exactly. So if we took 40 or 50 percent of this budget, we would have more than we would ever need to build an effective content marketing platform.

So the first step is education. The second step, as you said, is the most rudimentary type of content audit.

Then it’s building the new thing. That starts with understanding search, understanding content requirements by stage. Personas can be helpful here, but only when done correctly. When creating personas, a lot of companies stop short of understanding the types of content each persona is looking for, the channels through which they can be reached, and their stage in the buying process. Yet that’s where a persona actually becomes effective — you can implement an activity against a persona when you know what they’re looking for, where they’re looking, and when they need it.

Once you know that, that’s where the infrastructure, tools and the technology come in.

Looking back at your SAP achievements, what are you proudest of?

In my seven years at SAP, the first three and a half years were specifically online lead generation. An inbound marketing project turned into a content marketing role. My legacy is building the thought leadership blog. I’m proud of it because it was really up against the tide and flow of the organization. I really had to fight every step of the way to get it done.

There were detractors, and it was surprisingly easy to prove them somewhat wrong — and to do so with very little budget. I had to find the resources around the organization… but with 60,000 employees, you’re going to trip over a few smart people who understand the context of online marketing.

A lot of the interaction we had was with external thought leaders. We were looking at Klout scores, we were looking at bloggers we already knew in big data and cloud computing and analytics. We didn’t have the budget to create our own positions, despite the fact that that it was what my boss wanted, so we decided to “curate” the position from thought leaders. I was proud not just that we built it, but that ROI was so clear from Day One.

What are your new success metrics?

We’re going to figure that out as we go. The main objective is to make sure they’re not walking around with a hammer so that every problem looks like a nail. We truly want to help the entire discipline of marketing get better and improve. It’s not just technology that can do that. Our mission is to help marketers evolve to the changing world.

That involves three different things:

One, there’s going to be a services business helping customers build an effective content marketing platform.

Two, we’re going to work on pipeline acceleration — helping customers get onboard quickly and effectively and generate a return from their investment.

Three, we’re going to focus on retention. That means going back to the happy customers and making sure they’re stretching themselves to think about what the next thing is. It also means helping with the product pipeline and make sure the product is staying up to pace with the needs of the marketplace.

Where do you see the content marketing vendor landscape going?

In the last six months, this industry has changed so rapidly. Some early players are starting to relegate themselves to the position of niche players. Folks like Contently and Percolate and NewsCred almost came out of the blue. At SAP, we were talking to Percolate two years ago and thought they were an interesting sort of CMS — it’s unbelievable what they’ve built in such a short period of time. You’re starting to see these new horses in the race.

This conversation was edited for brevity.

Originally published in MarketingLand

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The New Anything/Anyone Goes Competitive Landscape For Content Marketing Firms

Recently, I was chatting with the CEO of one of the leading digital agencies. Talk turned to competitors, and I asked what firms his firm found itself bidding against most frequently.

Usual-suspect names cropped up (Digitas, Sapient Nitro). But so did PwC, a name that would have never cropped up in the same discussion five years ago.

Neither would Cap Gemini, or other old-school consulting firms. But they’re increasingly common today. Even IBM is an agency now!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Recently we, at the research-based advisory firm I work for, were in the consideration set for a project and asked to submit a proposal. Some of the other organizations the client was considering for the project included an independent content marketing agency, a holding-company owned PR firm, and one of the world’s largest advertising agencies.

Who ya gonna call? These days, clients honestly seem to have no idea. Strategy? Execution? Advertising? Social media? Content? Digital experiences?

This new up-for-grabs state of the competitive landscape is a byproduct of converged media. When advertising marries content marketing and becomes native advertising, or social media merges with media buys, or user-generated content and community become essential to an owned-media presence, then who’s driving? Who’s riding shotgun?

Media Convergence Drives Stack Evolution

Not long ago, I asked close to 70 very high-level marketers, most at Fortune 100 companies, where they outsourced content marketing responsibilities. Did they engage ad agencies, PR agencies, social media agencies, the new breed or storytelling agencies, the custom content divisions of media companies, or “other” to handle content creation?

Interestingly, their answers were spread entirely equally across the board (with one verynotable exception: every single one of them said they would not entrust content duties to a social media shop).

A Tough And Transitional Time

This is a tough and transitional time for clients and agencies alike. More and more, we’re seeing clients who are asking for execution before strategy. Who are uncertain of desired outcomes. Who often look to agency partners with one field of expertise to assist them in areas in which they have little or no experience. Who remain looped in an RFP process that lasts much longer than expected because they’re uncertain which type of candidates to vet.

Then, they find themselves making apples-to-oranges comparisons when they receive responses from a wide variety of candidates, ranging from agencies to consultancies to PR, search and social media firms.

Marketing professionals, too, are challenged to respond to RFPs from prospects unsure of what they want or need, much less who might be qualified to supply it. Arguably, there’s been an education gap in needs vs. wants for as long as there’s been digital marketing, but never more so than now.

In the meantime, RFP processes are too often leading nowhere — or alternately, all over the map, as clients so often learn how much they don’t know from the process. (Often, they learn that they’re asking the wrong service of the wrong provider!)

This will shake out. Agencies are aligning and partnering (you do the strategy, we’ll do the execution). Clients will gradually gain a deeper understanding of what types of organizations have expertise in which types of work.

But at present, it’s a competitive free-for-all out there, a world in which it’s hard to understand who — or what — you’re up against.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Davids and Goliaths of Content Marketing

The content marketing vendor landscape is big, complex, growing, and sharply bifurcated. It’s a David vs. Goliath game in which enterprise giants are pitted against much smaller (sometimes downright tiny) startups.

Research we recently published on the content marketing software landscape (available for download at no cost here) reveals some interesting findings around where this developing market is, as well as where it’s headed in the near future.

content marketing competitors

Bigger doesn’t mean better (and vice versa)

Zoomforth is a two-year-old San Francisco startup you’ve probably never heard of, and one that definitely falls in the “downright tiny” category. Yet with a mere three employees, it already serves enterprise clients such as Deloitte, AT&T, and adidas.

The Goliaths on the scene are, of course, Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. In addition to enterprise clients, they all service small and medium-size businesses alike. They are striving to buy, partner, and integrate their way into the sector, but these intentions and long-term visions are far from realized.

Who will dominate by being first-to-market with a content marketing stack? At this point in time, it’s clearly Adobe’s battle to lose, given its robust and well-established Creative Cloud. However, that family of products is geared far more towards publishing than marketing. Many essential content marketing use cases reside in the company’s Marketing Cloud products. While Adobe recently announced its intention to integrate the two clouds, that’s easier — and much more quickly — said than done.

The Goliaths are also partnering with smaller companies to cover capabilities they lack. For example, Adobe has also aligned with startups such as Thismoment that offer needed capabilities around legal, compliance, and UGC. Salesforce.com recently partnered with Kontera for better audience targeting capabilities.

The above reasons account for the fact that when vendors are questioned about their competitors, Adobe’s name trails after more marketing-oriented solutions. The other giants, Oracle and Salesforce.com, are aggressively acquiring capabilities, while IBM is a laggard.

Of the Davids in the space, our research reveals that Percolate, NewsCred, and Contently are viewed by their peers as their primary competitors. Each has recently attracted additional rounds of investment and boosted capabilities around image-based content. It’s also worth noting the trio is focused on content creation and thus poised to reap the benefits of marketers planned investment in the short term. Others simply have unique capabilities not available anywhere else, such as Mass Relevance’s access to Twitter’s firehose.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

 

 

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Why Net Neutrality is Integral to Content Marketing

It really didn’t seem possible, but net neutrality, the promise of a free and open internet, is as threatened today as it was when I started writing about the issue over eight years ago.

Back then, a junior senator from Illinois was promising that, if elected president, a net neutrality guarantee would be a year one priority in the White House.

Yet after all this time, and not very successful efforts to stir up national conversation around this critical issue, the FCC is saying that a pay-to-play fast lane doesn’t compromise net neutrality. This despite the fact that as far back as 2007, Barack Obama went on record rejecting any possibility that “gatekeepers” would someday “charge different rates to different websites.” Such a system, he averred, “destroys one of the best things about the internet, which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

What’s all this got to do with content marketing? Plenty.

If the current FCC plan goes ahead, gatekeepers will indeed charge different rates to different websites. The result won’t be that those websites are “faster,” but rather all other properties will be “too slow” (and this in a country that already ranks No. 29 in global broadband speed, trailing even Estonia and the Czech Republic).

And because content marketing is defined as owned media (i.e., content a brand creates and distributes on channels it owns or largely controls), this makes net neutrality a big deal indeed.

The initial impact on content marketing will be two-pronged.

First, the channels that brands own will drag. When a few well-feathered, deep-pocketed properties can afford to pay for the fast lane, it’s not so much going to seem like they’re going fast as much as everyone else is going too slowly. Just as we know impatient users don’t sit around waiting for ads, images, and videos to load but (as stats bear out) bail on sites that are slow to load, so too will this effect chill the reach and efficacy of owned media.

Saving the internet means equal access to the means of distribution, not just to the ability to own property there.

The second chilling effect a non-neutral internet will have on content marketing is on those other channels — the ones brands don’t own but rather control (i.e., social media). There is, of course, no social media marketing without content, and already there’s a hue and cry from some quarters around the fact that Facebook, for one, is beginning to charge for content distribution. (You guys expected…what, exactly?)

Those pay-to-play fees for Promoted Posts and such, not to mention ad rates, certainly won’t be going down when web properties are burdened with the additional fixed overhead of getting into the fast lane.

This, of course, applies only to the deep-pocketed properties that will pay. Some won’t pay and may not survive as a result. Other up-and-comers will never have a chance. The next Facebook, or Google, or who-knows-what may never make it unless it is able to pony up, early and often.

The prospect of an internet that isn’t free and equally open to all comers has kept me up at night since 2007. The issue may be a new one to you. If you’re in content marketing, or any type of digital marketing at all, the time to take action has never been more important or more urgent.

Sign petitions. Write to congressmen. Lobby the FCC. Or risk major discontentment.

This post originally published on iMedia

 

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Say Hello to the Content Marketing Stack

You know about ad stacks, right?

Get ready to say hello to the next big thing in content marketing technology: the content marketing stack.

Content stacks aren’t here yet, but they’re coming. In the next couple of years, I expect we’ll see offerings from the big enterprise players: Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce.com. (IBM has a lot of catching up to do if it’s to become a player in this space.)

There are many factors driving this latest phase in content marketing evolution, not the least of which is a tangled and complex content marketing vendor landscape. There are well in excess of 110 content marketing tools on the market today, with more appearing all the time. Most are point solutions.

Acquisitions Everywhere

M&A activity is rapid and accelerating. Content marketing vendors (as well as adjacent companies, such as email marketing, social media marketing software and marketing automation software providers) are being acquired by the three large enterprise players that all hope to integrate them with their larger marketing clouds. Already, they’re beginning to use terms such as “content alignment” and “converged media” in sales collateral and value propositions.

Converged media, the blending of paid, owned and earned media, is also contributing to this trend. With content at the core of advertising, social media and PR, as well as a brand’s owned media channels, content must be unified with the ad stack, as well as with social media software.

Content stacks are necessary to consolidate the eight content marketing use cases identified in research we’ve just published on the content software landscape. No use case is an island. As organizations mature and become more strategic in their content marketing initiatives, it becomes imperative to seamlessly link execution to analytics, or optimization, or targeting, for example.

Media Convergence Drives Stack Evolution

Because content feeds paid and earned media, so, too, do use cases bleed into converged media. This is why content stacks will link with ad stacks and form the core of what we’re today beginning to call marketing clouds.

Content Tool Stack Hierarchy

Who will win the race to build the first content stack? Currently, it’s Adobe’s battle to lose. With their Creative Cloud, they’re far ahead of the game, and they have announced long-anticipated plans to integrate the Creative Cloud with the Marketing Cloud.

The Integration Challenge

But integration is easier (and faster) said than done. It must be noted that the Creative Cloud today is comprised of tools for publishers, decidedly not for marketers. Competitors Oracle and Salesforce.com are aggressively acquiring marketing-oriented software. Meanwhile, smaller, more vertical players such as Percolate, Content.ly, Kontera and ThisMoment (to name but a very few) are attracting partnerships and investment.

It’s going to be a very interesting couple of years to sit back and watch how the content marketing software vendors stack up.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions

Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, published today to help marketers navigate the tangled and complex content marketing software landscape.

It used to be so easy. You wrote content and posted it to your web site or blog.   Perhaps you did a little keyword research, or looked at web analytics for inspiration or refinement.

The content marketing vendor landscape may not be quite as vast as your programing choices, but it’s pretty darn big with well over 100 vendors offering a variety of solutions, and it’s growing exponentially as investment and M&A activity reach a crescendo in the sector. This leaves content marketers at a loss.

Content marketing has grown exponentially in complexity, and that’s before the fact that it’s beginning to also converge with paid and earned media. We’re far beyond the sign up for a WordPress account and hire a blogger phase of content marketing. In fact, Altimeter Group has identified three overarching scenarios and eight broad content marketing use cases.

To add to this complexity, each individual use case comes with a host of more granular sub-categories that must each be addressed with technology.

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Yet selecting content marketing tools doesn’t end with content marketing needs.  Integration and interoperability are major factors that cannot be omitted from any technology consideration.

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Marketers’ questions are manifold:

  •  What content marketing tools and technologies are right for my enterprise?
  • What vendors should we consider?
  • Will our choice scale with future needs?
  • Are integration concerns being addressed?
  • What tools can help us achieve strategic goals, such as measurement and targeting?
  • How can technology help integrated owned media with paid and earned initiatives?

These are the concerns our research hopes to address.  Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, isn’t a scorecard  of vendor capabilities. Rather, it provides a framework, as well as a pragmatic checklist, to help marketers determine their actual needs, then to pinpoint those vendors offering the solutions that match their requirements. It won’t tell you which vendor to pick (obviously, that would be presumptuous without a much deeper, more personalized dive). But it will help narrow and define a highly mutable and complex marketplace.

As with all Altimeter Group research, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions is available at no charge under our Open Research model. Please use it, share it, and let us know what you think of it.

Crossed-posted with the Altimeter Group blog.

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Want vs. Need: The Content Marketing Software Disconnect

want-vs-need2

Here’s a scenario: It’s lunchtime. Today it’s your job to make lunch for the family. You decide to make sandwiches. In the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, you realize you’re fresh out of bread, so you make a run to the store.

Once there, what do you buy? Bread? Or bananas?

If you responded “bananas,” you may well be a content marketer.

Recently I have been busily crunching data for a new research report on the content marketing software landscape (the full report will be available in early May from Altimeter Group at no cost). We’re sifting through piles of survey data about marketers’ content marketing pain points, their budgets, how they make buying decisions, and how these wants and needs correspond to the existing offerings from a highly varied, complex, and rapidly changing vendor landscape.

Surveys often reveal surprises, and this time is no exception. We broke content marketing solutions into a total of nine categories and asked content marketers two key questions:

  • What types of content marketing software solutions do you most urgently need?
  • What software solutions do you plan to invest in over the next 12 months?

Overwhelmingly, their answers fall into the realm of complete disconnect (i.e., buying bananas when you know you need bread).

I’m not going to give away all our research findings (besides, we’re still working on the report), but when the data started coming back, we learned that overwhelmingly, content marketers intend to spend money this year on tools that help them to create more content. “Feeding the beast” is no longer a term reserved for journalists and newsrooms; it’s a very real problem facing organizations that are working hard to create content for a proliferating number of channels, primarily in owned and earned (social media) channels.

But ask these same marketers what they actually need in terms of content marketing software solutions, and you’ll get a very different answer. They are saying that they need tools to help them find and target the right audience for all the content they’re so frantically trying to create.

There are clearly many reasons for this disconnect, but the most glaringly obvious one is a focus on tactics over strategy (i.e., on cart-before-the-horse content marketing coming before content strategy). The overwhelming majority of the content marketers we surveyed say their organization lacks a formal, documented content strategy — a statistic borne out by similar studies. For example, according to the Content Marketing Institute half of B2B marketers don’t have a formal strategy).

If there’s a clarion call for a documented content strategy, it’s spending money on bananas when what you really need is bread (or, in this case, content creation instead of finding the appropriate audience for what’s created).

It’s hard to think of a more apt metaphor for why organizations require content strategy than this disconnect between need and pain on the one hand, and budget allocation on the other.

Bear in mind it’s not an either/or proposition. Strategy is also planning against goals and determining what tools and workflows are required for an efficient and effective content marketing program. I’m by no means debunking the need for creation tools. Anyone creating content for digital channels needs them.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

Image Credit: Little Things That Amuse Me

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