summer / 2014

The magazine of branded content
Michael Brenner speaks truth to power and now looks to help America's biggest brands tell their stories.
Jul 8, 2014

Four years ago in the digital marketing space, Michael Brenner saw a lot of advice floating around, but he didn't see much practical knowledge from inside a marketing organization to help brands navigate the changes. As VP of global marketing and content strategy for SAP America, he was, in a phrase, well poised to lean in. So he started blogging.

Innumerable posts have yielded a bounty of social media followers, and he's parlayed this influence into a position as head of strategy for content marketing platform NewsCred. He gave us his unvarnished opinions about CMOs, the next wave of content, and why a strategy around geekiness can win.

Every brand and business wants to see their ROI. I think it’s a defense mechanism in many cases. What’s really the issue is there’s a lack of education or a lack of understanding, or just basic human fear of change and inertia.

Most marketing today is done like it’s two decades ago. Banner ads are ninety-nine percent ineffective; email is ninety-percent ineffective (if you look at average open rates); cold-calling, the bastion of B2B marketing, it’s unbelievable to think that it’s still affordable with the number of people that requires. So maybe marketers don’t feel the pain today but just look ahead two years, five years. Can these things be a continuing major part of the marketing mix? Probably not.

CMOs should be asking themselves this question: “How am I ensuring that my hiring plans are bringing in the best digital talent I can find, and that my retention plans are retaining the best digital talent that I have?” Because it’s in short supply and there’s a high demand for people who understand how to create content that attracts an audience versus buying it.

How do we show the ROI? Number one, there is a tremendous amount of content waste inside every single company. When I was at SAP, we did a content audit and found more than fifty-percent of our content never ended up seeing that customer or that website or that landing page or whatever it was intended to be placed on, and I know that SAP was doing a good job. So there are companies in a worse position, maybe there are a few companies in a better position, but no company is one-hundred-percent effective with their content today. So, it’s not going to cost a brand anything to simply stop doing the things that aren’t working, and to shift that investment—existing investment, not incremental—into something that works. That’s one built-in ROI right there.

I like what Seth Godin says, “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.”

For a brand, your first attempt at content marketing may not be fruitful but you’ll know it. Content marketing is one-hundred-percent quantifiable, so you’ll know what you need to do to change it and improve it. So it’s not necessarily direct ROI, but it’s at least trackable.

I’m probably not too unique in this prediction, but I think what Red Bull Media is doing, and to some extent GE, is the next wave of marketing. I think Maersk and what they’re doing on their Facebook page, what Boeing’s doing, sort of tapping into the engineering geekiness that’s around airplanes…these are brands that are creating entertainment, entertaining experiences for a very specific audience that’s completely relevant for them as a brand and the audience that they’re trying to address.

The world has changed dramatically, and the death of the newspaper advertising business is just the canary in the coal mine for the impact that digital, social, mobile, web will have on economies around the world.

I could see Amazon buying the Washington Post eventually.

NewsCred has hired me to come on board and do what I did for SAP—to assist our customers and prospects in content strategy. And it’s not just from a paid perspective. We want to work with the brands that see content marketing as important and strategic and we want to make them be successful and that’s going to involve revenue.

What I see in many large brands—and I don’t want to be too critical, but—is bureaucrats who are able to manage the bureaucracy being elevated into positions of authority, instead of cultural leaders that can define the next wave of marketing.

Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy, NewsCred, will be speaking at Content Reimagined: The Future of Content on Thursday, July 24th at Scandinavia House, New York. Register Now!