Storytelling Innovator Series

Meet the Innovator: Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group


In the ever-changing world of content marketing, marketers are wondering what they can do differently to have an impact on their bottom lines. Do brands need more robust tech stacks or should they invest in better creative help? Should they launch a digital publication or focus on lead-gen guides? There’s a lot of options, and a number of avenues to explore, that it’s sometimes best to take a step back, reflect, and ask your peers.

Michael Brenner is a content veteran, having led content strategy at SAP and other technology companies before heading out on his own and founding Marketing Insider Group. We spoke with Brenner about the state of content marketing leading up to his session at Skyword’s Forward 2016 conference, taking place in Boston, June 22-23. You can register and join other enterprise marketers from across the world looking to learn how to embed storytelling into the culture of their organizations.

How has content strategy changed over the past five years?

Content marketing has definitely gone mainstream. “Back in the day”—five or six years ago—content marketers were mavericks, rebels, and change-agents. Many of us on the brand side left for brighter pastures. But now content is built into the marketing fabric at many brands.

There is a still a battle taking place about just how many wasted marketing promotional dollars will be shifted to content that attracts an audience. But this battle requires hard science and math that proves the business value and ROI of content marketing. It also requires content strategy leaders who understand how to hire talented creators and who can manage against the natural tendency of the business to want to promote itself.

A lot of marketers have latched onto “storytelling” as the key to content success. It’s certainly a huge part of Skyword’s Forward 2016 conference, at which you’re speaking. How do you define a good brand story?

The best brand stories emerge from the founding story of a company. Founders created a solution to a customer problem or need. And the greatest brand stories tap into that need, as opposed to their solution. GE is focused on telling stories of innovation. Red Bull tells stories of extreme adventure. Casper’s mattress company helps people sleep better—with their content.

These companies realize that content is part of the total customer experience. These experiences are part of their product mix. They are managed as strategic assets with people and budget. And these content assets have value that can be measured.

Register for a special webinar with Michael Brenner leading up to Forward 2016.

MB for Forward

What are some best practices to building an owned audience?

Here’s a secret, just between us OK? I believe that content marketing is not that hard and not that expensive. It simply requires an understanding of your brand’s real mission: to help your customers in some unique way.

The best content simply takes the expertise that already exists inside their company and exposes that to a wider audience. The goal is to help customers and to answer their biggest questions, to solve their biggest challenges, and then to earn the right to show them what you actually sell.

So start with your brand’s mission: to become a premier destination of insights for a certain audience, on a specific topic, to help them in some defined way.

What do marketing leaders have to do first before they can invest in technologies, implement measurement processes, and deliver regular reports to stakeholders? What big decisions and questions must they consider?

The first step is to define the overall ROI of marketing. And then to take a serious look at the ROI of different channels. What’s the ROI of putting your company logo on a stadium? What’s the ROI of a Super Bowl ad?

Just a fraction of the marketing budget, invested in content strategy, can generate millions of engaged brand content consumers. Some percentage of those content consumers will convert to subscribers. And some percentage of those will convert to leads and customers.

The ROI of content has been proven in every company that has committed to looking for it. At Kraft, Julie Fleischer showed it was 4x traditional media. American Express has shared that OPEN Forum is their largest source of inbound leads. The ROI is there for those who have looked.

But it requires courage to push back on the executive egos that think that logos on stadiums and Superbowl ads are the pinnacle of marketing. This courage and customer empathy are often lacking in the companies that struggle with the relatively small investment in content technology, content, distribution, and measurement.

What does the future of content look like? Do you have any predictions for the next five years?

Oh yeah, I do have some predictions. Content will become ubiquitous as more brands realize that ads struggle to attract eyeballs and in some cases actually have a negative effect by frustrating us.

But compelling content can attract audiences who convert. This ubiquity and battle for attention will cause a shift toward a tighter focus on the topics each brand covers. It will also force brands to figure out how to personalize the content experience for each content consumer.

Additionally, we’ll see brands follow the trend of content consumption into visual content, like video, but also micro-content, such as images on Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram, where the next generations are hanging out.

We’ll also start to see brands become more human, maybe even funny (OMG can you imagine) as they realize that educational content isn’t enough. They need to be entertaining because, well, people like to laugh more than just about anything else.

How’s that for a bright marketing future?

Michael Brenner will be speaking at Skyword’s Forward 2016 conference in Boston, June 22-23. He’s joined by Wait But Why founder Tim Urban and Radiolab Producer and Founder Jad Abumrad. Get your tickets now—they’re going fast.

Ted Karczewski is the Content Marketing Manager at Skyword and the Managing Editor of the Content Standard (TCS). He oversees the editorial direction of TCS, and focuses on engaging readers through compelling stories. Ted has a background in print journalism and B2B content marketing, working both for agency clients and brands. He's also a contributing writer to Fast Company and The Next Web. Follow him on Twitter

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