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Technology & InternetUnraveling Social Business: An Interview with Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is the author of B2B Marketing Insider, the co-founder of Business 2 Community and also serves as Sr. Director of Integrated Marketing and Content Strategy for SAP where he is the founding editor for the SAP Business Innovation blog.
1. You are a well-known influencer in the content marketing community. How did you get to where you are today?
MB: I think my path to integrated marketing and content strategy is somewhat unique. I started my career in sales at the Nielsen Company. I was selling analytics software and customer insight data to the leading consumer goods brands in the world, but I thought I could make a larger contribution to more of our customers in a marketing role. I did this by becoming a product manager for Nielsen’s first web-based software solution delivered in the cloud.
I then became head of marketing for two small companies where I like to say I learned how to do marketing with almost no budget. I re-designed websites and implemented what we would now call a content strategy and editorial calendar.
Finally, I joined SAP as head of Digital Marketing for our North American region. I used content marketing to deliver leads for the sales organization in one of the most successful marketing programs the company has ever seen.
2. How would you define your day-to-day job description?
MB: My official title speaks to integrated marketing and content strategy, which I believe to be the ultimate objectives of marketing itself: reach the customer in an integrated fashion with the right messages at the right time in the most cost-effective and productive way.
But this is an ideal and far from reality in most organizations. Essentially, I serve as an evangelist for social business. I am active in social. I create and curate content. I mentor others to build their own personal brands. I petition our marketing leaders to constantly think about whether their marketing efforts and resources are aimed at delivering the best customer experience possible.
On a day-to-day basis, I am driving the effort to build a world-class information hub for SAP. Our goal is to become a primary destination for business insights for executives who are looking to innovate their businesses – to achieve growth and competitive advantage through business innovation. I am also evangelizing the concept of content strategy (the management of our content resources) to most effectively deliver the right information to our customers at the right time, for the lowest cost with the aim of driving leads and revenue.
3. What are the most important elements of a strong social business strategy?
MB: I think the most important element of a strong social business strategy is culture. Time and again, as I look at those companies that are executing a solid social business strategy, and it is the culture that is the main reason it is working. By culture, I mean concrete examples at the executive level of walking the social business walk. And also a value system that rewards employee engagement and employee use of social tools to share their passions - whatever they may be.
After culture, I think there needs to be a solid training and enablement infrastructure. Too much time is spent in discussions on social business around tools. Tools are such a small part of the equation. I think there needs to be a system that provides guidance on social selling, storytelling and personal branding skills. Finally, I think there needs to be passion. Passion in the celebration of employee diversity and the variety of their experience.
4. How does investing in a social media strategy enhance brand awareness?
MB: The benefits of a successful social business ultimately come in the form of amplification of the simple fact that your business is a collection of people - people with experience and passion and expertise in a wide variety of disciplines. Being a “social business” means many more potential customers will get to know your business, to like your business and to trust your business as a potential supplier of solutions.
5. Why is the production and distribution of high quality content so important in social business?
MB: Content is the engine that drives the whole machine. Content is the catalyst, or even the glue that brings people together and binds us there. It is in the stories we tell that allow us to begin relationships that have the potential to deliver real value to both parties.
It may sound like I’m talking about dating, but that is another often-used analogy for social business. Too many companies are out shopping for a spouse and jumping right to the big question of “will you marry me?” and our potential customers are saying “slow down. I don’t even know you.”
6. What do companies miss out on if they do not engage in content marketing?
MB: Most companies are simply promoting themselves with content that says, “We are the best. Choose us. Here are all the reasons why we are great.” But we, as consumers, are tired of these self-serving product pitches and promotions. Marketing is about delivering customer value, not about pitching products.
7. What has made you believe in the power of social media marketing and enhancing social community outreach?
MB: The results. Even when I was in sales, I realized that starting with honest and concerned questions was the quickest way to a successful relationship that delivered repeat results. I saw peers who drove the hard sale then they walked away. This just creates short-term gains and long term losses as the unsatisfied customer tells all his friends that he was taken advantage of.
Social media marketing is essentially what good marketing has always been: marketing that puts the customer first and delivers them value. That value comes back to you in the form of sales and loyalty and - even more importantly - referrals.
8. What is your relationship to SEO? How would you advise companies to incorporate SEO into their social business strategies?
MB: SEO is the foundation of all social business strategy. Here’s why: most companies start planning by looking at what they have to sell and how best to sell it. SEO forces you to look at what your customers want, based on their priorities, and in the terms (the keywords) they use. SEO forces you to put the customer first. It forces you to look at how to answer their top questions with effective content and in the channels the customers are using.
9. In your recent article, The Social Business Imperative, you mentioned the current number of CEOs active on social media projects was low, but soon to be on the rise. What do you think accounts for early low participation?
MB: Part of it is probably a little ego. Part of it is probably lack of skills and training. But I think mostly it is fear of openness and transparency. I once saw a CEO write a blog post on website that received hundreds of comments, mostly all positive and the CEO never responded to a single one. This CEO probably wasn’t used to just anybody being able to comment or ask him a question. This can be incredibly horrifying for senior people who live behind a bubble of protection.
While there are PR issues about how to respond and what to say to negative comments, the upside is that our senior people can have direct access to customers on the front lines. They also show the entire world that they do not live on a pedestal. They are human, and humble and open.
10. What is the best way for a B2B business to initiate its social media strategy?
MB: I think it starts at the top. Effective social businesses will have their leadership first address the culture issues and to define social values as important. Then they will need to prove that they mean what they say by becoming active themselves. The next issue that cannot be underestimated is of employee engagement. If a business does not have passionate engaged employees, it will never reach the social business potential.
Finally, businesses need to employ strategies to encourage their employees to share their passions, knowledge and expertise in whatever way they want. This requires the training and enablement of storytelling, personal branding, social selling, social tools, social monitoring and even platforms to help employees get started.
Photo credit: MarketingProfs
Thanks Erin and Michael for this truly excellent article on B2B social marketing. You've made it simple for those grappling with "social media" to understand the essence of this new approach. In my mind it is, quite simply, about connecting. Connecting as people creates bonds. These bonds, enable each of us as potential customers to feel aligned and, therefore, loyal to those things that we're connected to. The CEOs that recognize that these connections can be scaled using social marketing and authenticity, will reap the rewards. It's this simplicity that levels the playing field between big brands and little brands. As an entrepreneur myself, this is an exciting time to be in business!Reply
Hi Sherry ,
Sorry for the delayed response! Thank you for your kind words. I think Michael did a great job communicating that it's not what you sell, but rather the tactics you use to leverage your brand that make the difference. It's about carefully choosing the way we tell our stories, how we respond to interaction around these narratives, and the techniques we use to leverage these conversations through SEO and employee engagement.
Thanks again for you input. I'm glad you enjoyed the article :)
Especially how most companies begin by marketing what they have to sell rather than what customers want, based on the the keywords they use. That's a 180 degree shift in thinking.