As an accomplished writer, speaker and marketer, Michael Brenner (pictured above) knows firsthand the effects great storytelling can have on audiences, from heightened engagement to closer connections to increased sales. He even goes so far as to suggest that storytelling is at the core of our happiness and survival. “The best stories speak to our hearts in a truly authentic and emotional way,” says Brenner, author of The Content Formula and CEO of the Marketing Insider Group.
On the other hand, Brenner says stories that are force-fed to people (think online pop-up ads) or are too self-servicing are doomed to fail. He has seen many B-to-B brands make this mistake over the years, not because of marketing dysfunction, but because they didn’t put the customer at the center of their content marketing efforts.
“You need to care,” he says. “You need to have empathy for your audience. You need to want to help your customers. That’s how I’ve always approached writing, speaking and marketing. And I’m grateful for any connections I’ve made along the way.”
In this interview with Ken Beaulieu of the ANA, Brenner, who will speak at ANA/BMA16: Masters of B-to-B Marketing, June 1-3 in Chicago, IL, shares his thoughts on the wasteful nature of content, how to measure content marketing success and the strides B-to-B marketers are making to elevate the value of the discipline.
Ken Beaulieu: In your book, you state that unused and wasted content costs B-to-B marketers alone $50 billion a year. What do you perceive as the main problem areas?
Michael Brenner: The core problem is that when we take the role of tactical order taker, we create stuff that no one wants, needs or that ever gets used. In many companies, B-to-B marketing grew out of the need for sales support. We created brochures. We stood at the booth at industry trade shows. And we did these things because sales told us to. Later, executives started to see the value of brand awareness. So we started hanging our logos on stadiums because they asked us to. When marketing defines the strategic value it brings to the business, and then delivers on that value in the form of leads, sales and higher retention, then we can start to have those often difficult conversations within the business. This takes courage, and sometime it means reversing decades-old tactical marketing thinking inside many B-to-B organizations.
Ken: In light of these issues, how can marketers build a strong business case for content marketing within the C-suite?
Michael: The business case for content marketing is pretty straight forward. Advertising and other promotional tactics are exactly the things that buyers are increasingly avoiding. Content marketing seeks to attract new customers instead of buying or interrupting them. Content marketing allows your company to reach, engage and convert buyers that your company would never have reached. And content marketing programs are assets with real value that grow over time, unlike campaigns which often have a short shelf life.
Ken: How are best-in-class marketers measuring the ROI of their content marketing?
Michael: The best content marketers are using subscribers to measure the ROI of content marketing. Vanity metrics like page views and visitors are tough to value. And tracking content marketing to revenue can be difficult to measure due to the multi-touch and multichannel nature of today’s buyer. In addition to this, sales cycles for many B-to-B firms can be six months or longer. But subscribers sit between vanity metrics and sales revenue. Subscribers have value. Just look at the revenue any company can achieve with its email list. But subscribers can also help you determine how to optimize content topics, types and paid promotion channels to maximize the return on the investment you’re making in content marketing.
Ken: In what discernable ways are B-to-B marketers making progress in elevating the value of marketing as a business growth driver?
Michael: B-to-B marketers are increasingly focusing on the value they provide to the C-Suite and the business overall. Digital has allowed marketers to move away from the myth that marketing value can’t be measured. It’s also providing us with insights into buyer behavior that the entire business can use.
Ken: What additional actions must marketers take to maintain the positive momentum?
Michael: B-to-B marketers need to continue to focus on measurable results that executives and sales can understand. It’s these same executives who often ask us to put logos on stadiums and create brochures no one wants or needs. We need to define our mission as a strategic asset to the business and refocus the conversation on helping our buyers in their journey to becoming our customers. We also need to continue to focus on building the digital marketing skill sets that are absolutely necessary in today's environment.
Image at top courtesy of the ANA. The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.