Q&A with Michael Brenner: How the Best Content Marketing Strategies Are Created


If you’ve been tasked with building out your company’s first content marketing strategy, you probably have an idea of what you want to achieve: create incredible stories, host it on a beautiful website or content hub and attract lots of highly engaged viewers to digest and share your content. Trust us when we say that achieving all that is a lot easier said than done. At the same time, you have to start somewhere, and sometimes developing the right strategy for your business starts with talking to the experts.

That’s why we asked Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael)—CEO of Marketing Insider Group, globally-recognized keynote speaker and author of The Content Formula—about how the best content marketing strategies are created. Let’s see what he had to say:

OneSpot (OS): In a nutshell, what does a winning content marketing strategy look like? What makes it successful?
Michael Brenner (MB): A winning content marketing strategy starts with a long-term commitment to providing value for the customer. This often takes the form of a documented mission statement. The formula I use is “To become a preferred destination for [who] on [what topic] to deliver them [a specific customer value].” For others, it just means committing to publishing customer-focused content consistently. But the trick and the magic really happens when this is written down, shared and agreed upon across the marketing organization.

OS: Which brands are doing content marketing particularly well right now and why?
MB: I always point to L’Oreal’s Makeup.com, Adobe’s CMO.com, Casper’s VanWinkles and Cleveland Clinic. My favorite stories involve SAP’s DigitalistMag and Capgemini’s Content-Loop. But the one thing that ties all these examples together is the intense focus on acting like a real publisher. Creating unique and engaging content. And almost all of these examples are showing a net profit from their investment.

OS: What are some of the most common challenges or roadblocks teams experience as they try to build out their strategies? What solutions can they implement to resolve them?
MB: The biggest challenge to content marketing is culture. There is an expectation from executives and sales and product people to “sell” in the content they create. We need the cultural courage to resist that natural tendency. One way to do that is the mission statement. Another is with results. Actual ROI can go a long way to convince executives that marketing is about much more than selling. But this takes the commitment of resources and time as well as real customer empathy—traits that are not in large supply in many corporate cultures.

OS: How are the best content marketing strategies today leveraging technology (beyond your traditional CMS or marketing automation tools)?
MB: The only way to succeed in content marketing is to use insights to understand what your customers actually want to read and share. Simple tools like web analytics can tell you top pages and sources of traffic and even conversions. But they don’t tell you which topics, types and channels your customers are using the most. So we need insights from technology solutions and analytics platforms to understand how to deliver the right piece of content to the right person, in the right place and at the right time.

OS: What’s next for content marketing? How should teams be thinking ahead?
MB: As so many companies have started content marketing programs, the leading brands are looking to specialize on a topic they can truly own. They are also humanizing their content more by bringing in influencers, employees and customers to tell their stories. They are also figuring out how to scale visual storytelling techniques. It’s not about creating viral videos. It’s about consistently testing new forms of visual content. Finally, personalization is going to be the key to success in content marketing beyond 2017.

This interview was lightly edited.

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