There may be no hotter debate in marketing today than the role of content in a business's marketing strategy. Terms like brand journalism have popped up as the want, need or perhaps necessity to move beyond "Business Blogger" has become paramount to make content marketing more significant than just articles on a website.
More than just a means of brand awareness, content is starting to play a larger role in the way organizations communicate with their audience and it has become the cornerstone of some businesses go to market strategy, almost as if it has become the new sales call.
However, some challenges remain. With marketing becoming more measurable and the push for marketing ROI more prominent, many companies are still struggling with how to do content in a way that will help their business and yield results that keep stakeholders happy.
When it comes to content marketing, there are few more accomplished than Michael Brenner, who spent the past several years driving SAP's content strategy only to make a recent change that I will let him tell you about. Michael is an annual presenter at the highly regarded Content Marketing World, where this year he will share the stage with great storytellers including Kevin Spacey. Michael has also received recognition across the Internet for his knowledge and role in shaping content marketing as we know it today, so when I had a chance to sit down and talk to Michael about where he sees content marketing, brand journalism and the evolution of content in the c-suite heading, I took it. He had some really interesting perspectives that I wanted to share with you.
Dan Newman: Give me a little background on your past experience and what you are doing today?
Michael Brenner: I started in sales with the Nielsen Company providing marketing information to some of the top consumer and retail brands. I feel like I learned marketing from the best marketers in the world and it all started with data and analytics. I moved into marketing and never looked back because I wanted to help businesses solve problems at scale. I believe that's what marketing does. It should seek to help people. It isn't another word for sales, or disguised sales. It is about getting people to know, like and trust you.
After running marketing for 2 startups, I spent 7 years at SAP doing digital and content marketing. I established the company's thought leadership blog and set it up like a newsroom with full editorial control. And we were able to show real business results in less than a year in the form of real leads and sales.
So recently, I decided to join NewsCred. SAP had become a customer after looking at the content marketing landscape. I was familiar with the company and really impressed with the technology and the team. So I decided to take their offer to help other brands do what we did at SAP: turn brands into real publishers, creating content people actually want!
DN: How do you as a content marketer define Brand Journalism?
MB: Brand journalism is when a brand is the platform or the sponsor of content that is created for the user as opposed to for the brand. So it is not promotional or insidiously disguised advertising. It is real content created for consumers by people who care about creating quality content.
There is a lot of debate around whether the term "brand journalism" is an oxymoron. The bottom line is that journalism is defined by the skills, the experience and desire to create quality content that meets the needs of the content consumer. It is not defined by who pays the journalist.
DN: What are the biggest changes in the way brands are using content marketing as opposed to even just a few years ago?
MB: Brands are starting to take content marketing seriously. And so this concept of "content hubs" and brand-sponsored media properties is becoming more ubiquitous. Brands are now moving beyond fundamental text and how-to's and creating content that is entertaining, emotional and even funny. I see a lot more investment by brands in serious, journalistic content platforms as we close out 2014 and into 2015.
DN: Do you think the lines between brands and media are blurring? If so, how? If not, Why?
MB: I think the reason you are seeing terms like "brand newsroom," "brand publisher" and the hotly debated "brand journalist" are exactly because the lines have blurred. It used to be publishers on one side creating content and brands supporting journalism with ads on the other side. Now, brands can go directly to consumers. And we are all increasingly tuning out ads so this just seems like an obvious evolution of the media landscape.
Now don't get me wrong. I still believe in the need for objective journalistic coverage. And I believe that many publishers will survive and even thrive. Brands will continue to invest in reaching publisher audiences. But at the same time, brands are hiring journalists, giving them the authority to be objective. And letting us all as content consumers decide on what the best sources of information and entertainment are.
I believe we will continue to see the lines blur as brands mature as publishers and as the effectiveness of interruptive ads continues to decline.
DN: What is your best piece of advice for brands looking to maximize their content marketing efforts?
MB: My best advice for brands looking to maximize their content marketing programs is to create content people want. It has to be an obsession in focusing on the customer. It requires brands to take themselves out of the story and make the customer the hero. The brands that focus on this will turn content from a cost to an asset within their business that produces a return on investment.
DN: What is the next big shift in content marketing that isn't yet being talked about?
MB: Well I'm not gifted enough to see around the next corner. But as I said, looking ahead I see more brands producing content that is more entertaining. In the early stages of content marketing, brands are just trying to understand what their consumers need when it comes to content. So we see lots of lists and how to's and "what is..." articles.
In the next phases, they will begin acting more like production studios and creative shops that publish content people seek out to laugh, or cry, or touches them in some deep, personal way. Visual content will be key. You'll see more humor and much more humanity coming from the content brands produce.
Brands will move beyond hiring journalists and begin to hire comedians, script writers, movie producers, and storytellers of all kinds.
In Summation: The role of content marketing for business is still much more in its infancy than some may think. While adoption is growing and more companies are starting to understand the role of content in the new buyer's journey, there is still a substantial shift to take place from where we are today.
The content that most deeply connects us to a brand is rarely the content with the greatest utility. While we must certainly consider what consumers need to know about our products and services, it will be the way we create an emotional response that drives the human purchasing experience.
Thank you to Michael Brenner for taking the time to discuss the content r(evolution) with me here on Forbes. If you are interested in hearing more from Michael you can find his blog here. This article first appeared on Forbes and can be found here.