How to Create Content More Strategically with Michael Brenner
July 23, 2016
Strategy is the essential element that turns mere content into content marketing. Few marketers have a better grasp of that fact than Michael Brenner, CEO of the Marketing Insider Group. Michael’s book, The Content Formula, is a step-by-step guide to content marketing from a business perspective, focusing on helping marketers strategically deploy content to generate measurable, provable ROI.
Michael is a strong advocate for quality content, strategically deployed to serve a business purpose. That’s what content marketing is all about. So when we were putting together The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we knew Michael’s expertise would be an indispensable part of the book.
We asked Michael about the realities of creating and implementing a content marketing program from the ground up. Read on for his take on the importance of an editorial calendar, the current state of content marketing maturity, and more.
LinkedIn: If you were starting a content marketing program from scratch, where would you begin?
Michael: I've started a few content marketing programs from scratch. And started at the same place every time: keyword research. Start by thinking like the target audience, quantifying the questions they ask Google, checking out the sources that show up in the top position in Google, understanding the categories and structure of the content that gets ranked and shared. Anyone can do this research. Then you have to build a content marketing destination that is best structured to answer those questions.
LinkedIn: In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between content marketing five years ago and content marketing today?
Michael: Content marketing five years ago was the realm of rebels. We stood and saw the waste going into advertising and promotion and said "enough." There was a small and passionate group of early evangelists like Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley, Jay Baer, Lee Odden, and Andrew Davis. And there was a small group of early adopters like Marcus Sheridan, Todd Wheatland, Joe Chernov, Amanda Maksymiw, Julie Fleischer, Tim Washer, and others who led the way.
Now, you have titled positions inside large corporate brands. People with “Chief Content Officer” and “VP of Content Marketing” behind their name are driving real maturity in the content marketing landscape.
LinkedIn: If you were tasked with hiring a content marketer, what would be the #1 attribute you would look for?
Michael: The one thing I look for is anyone with a track record of creating content at scale that gets people to read and share without breaking the bank. It starts with great content (publisher mindset) but you also have to understand budgets and political constraints (management and operational expertise) and how to measure what works (analytics).
Ok, that was more than one attribute so I'll try to combine it into one trait required for effective content marketing: Know how to create great content at scale that doesn't break the bank and performs well in a measurable way.
LinkedIn: Why does so much content miss the mark?
Michael: My most retweeted tweet is "Behind every piece of bad content is an executive who asked for it." And we all know this is true. Most people want to do meaningful work. But for some people, "meaningful" means "what my boss asked me to do.”
Businesses struggle with being ego-centric by nature. Add the mass of good people blindly following bad leaders and you get the mass of crap we see today. We are all responsible for solving this problem. Behind every piece of great content is a marketer, publisher, author who passionately and empathetically sought to help his or her audience. But how do you teach empathy to an executive who has none? The answer is fear. You have to show them that if you don't create the best answer to your customers' questions, someone else will.
LinkedIn: How important is it for marketers to use an editorial calendar, especially as it relates to syncing across functions?
Michael: Editorial strategy requires a commitment to publishing content that an audience actually wants, within a small group of topics, and then committing to publishing on a regular and consistent cadence. The best content marketing brands publish every day or more on each topic they commit to covering. I think the strategy, the commitment and the cadence are more important than the calendar.
My one rule of content marketing is to make sure there is an appropriate balance of helpful vs. promotional content.
One final point: Managers shouldn't make editorial decisions. Editors should. Brand content editors should advocate for quality and customer focus. And manage the calendar and those contributing to it.
To learn more about the art and science of content marketing from Michael and nine other thought leaders, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.