As Senior Director of Integrative Marketing and Content Strategy at SAP, Michael Brenner is his company’s first content marketing evangelist. He single-handedly launched a content marketing program that leverages a mix of original, repurposed and external content to get SAP’s message across.
But it isn’t all fun and games for Michael. The size of his company presents unique challenges — not the least of which is how to implement content across the entire enterprise.
I recently sat down with Michael to discuss what he’s doing to overcome these challenges, how he got started, and how he’s reaching his vision of a company-wide content machine.
CMI: What has worked particularly well for your content marketing program?
Michael: We’ve decided to do some of what we’re proposing to do at a larger level with this site we’ve created, called Business Innovation. In the true nature of trying to act and think like a publisher, we created a content hub that’s somewhat removed from our website. SAP.com talks about our products and solutions, and does so appropriately. But it doesn’t answer the larger questions asked by many more of our potential customers around our solution areas. This early-stage content is more likely to get shared.
We created this content hub that really talks about all of our solution areas, but from the context of business issues or challenges, the way that the customer might input the question into a search engine or retweet articles from Twitter. We’ve done that for all of our solution areas from a customer point of view, answering the question of how to innovate in the business. Sometimes the answer is technology; other times it’s just common-sense best practices.
We talk about what are effective strategies for marketing or HR people, or how companies are benefiting from cloud computing technology. I also use Joe Pulizzi’s slide about how storytelling is at the heart of getting found, getting shared and tracking progress. We’ve taken that approach and really applied it on that site and it’s worked really well for us.
How did you get buy in? Did you have a hard time justifying internally what you were doing?
Yes. (Laughing) The first challenge that we had was from our existing channel owners. Our web team and webmaster brand social account owners were asking, “Do we need another channel?” Like many companies, we have a large proliferation of social accounts. We have some “off the reservation” blogging activity. It’s a challenge for some of us in the organization to try to shepherd those activities and make sure that they’re brand compliant.
I had to first let everyone know that content would support our brand aspirations. I explained to them that we needed a destination to help answer the question, “How do we help companies run better?” for those people who aren’t ready for the quick sale; who aren’t ready for the product details.
I showed people the potential opportunities. I could show searches in the world of cloud computing — and we weren’t showing up very often. Our share of those kinds of social and search metrics was pretty low, especially in our newer product categories.
That was the beginning sell to help me break through and get agreement to move forward. Now, I think our web and social teams are thrilled because we’re driving traffic to our existing channels. Our social accounts are seeing higher engagement because our content is focused on customer needs and answering those key questions. There was some tremendous resistance to start, which is understandable based on some of the challenges that those folks have to endure. I think we’ve converted most of those early naysayers, if not all of them.
We launched the site in March, and the results were almost immediate. We had hundreds and then thousands of visitors every day come pretty quickly. Those results were almost immediate.
Can you tie the content to actual sales growth?
We can. Once the traffic goes onto the next step, we lose complete visibility. But we can track some actual conversions to that. For example, we’ve had almost 450 individuals click on and view our store. We have a store where, believe it or not, SAP sells products that are like $49. About two months into the launch, we were already at around 600 percent return. Just from what we were able to track, we covered our costs almost immediately after launch.
What content tactics do you use within the website?
We wanted to create a site modeled after a publisher website. We looked at American Express Open Forum, IBM, and Boston Consulting Group — brands with content hubs that really look more like BusinessWeek.com. We wanted people to feel like they were coming to get valuable information and not like they were being sold to. We make invitations to learn more about our products evident on the articles themselves, with callouts on the sides and the bottom of the site, the way a traditional publisher might. But the main point was to make it feel like a valuable information source.
The second element was your basic social sharing. We asked people to sign up for our daily newsletter. At the top of the page, we have social icons listed all over the place. As basic as that sounds for anyone who’s ever built a website or owns a blog, I had to actually sell that because we had a very traditional B2B website mindset coming in.
The third and probably most important thing was finding the content that answers these key customer questions. We use what I call an “author curation” model. I don’t have a large budget for content creation, so we find authors who are either already writing externally or who we knew would be interested in writing. It started internally, but now our main focus is on external voices. We try to make sure that the balance of original and curated content is there. But at the beginning, it was almost purely syndicated content from other places.
Even a small organization has existing resources or an ecosystem of folks who are already creating content in the space. With the curation model, you can essentially put your own wrapper around that and draw traffic to your site.
What processes have you set up for writers?
In the beginning, it was just me. It was like a part-time job, or a second full-time job. (Laughing) My wife will attest that I never worked so hard in my life, but I played the role of managing editor, editor, curator, publisher, analyst, and social manager all at the same time.
I was able to get approval for more team members based on the results. The team I’ve built out starts with an editor-in-chief. Her role is to take the inbound feed of posts, and to categorize and schedule them. We do about eight posts a day on average and have been since March or April. She probably goes through 30 to 50 posts per day. Much of what she reviews we don’t publish. We generally run the posts as is. She categorizes them, does some SEO optimization on the images — that kind of stuff. It’s really just a few minutes per post.
We have someone filling a social sharing and analytics role. She basically reports weekly on how well the site is doing, what’s driving the results, and what is effective from a social sharing perspective.
The third is content curator. Our curator’s role is to find both internal and external pieces of content that we can repurpose very easily. For instance, we take white papers that we have licensing rights to, summarize the key points, and create an article for it. Or we’ll take an external piece of content, attribute it, and summarize it the way a journalist might cover a speech or research report.
Where do you expect to go next?
We’re trying to apply these concepts to our entire business. That’s been a larger challenge. It’s one thing to create a content hub or blog site and create guidelines and a content strategy for it; it’s a whole other problem to take that and apply those concepts to a large, complex business. That’s the direction that we’re moving in — using this as a case study and then trying to work toward driving a large content strategy across all of our resources.
Marcus Sheridan’s Content Marketing World vision is what we’re trying to achieve, and people think I’m crazy. His vision is that companies are not really about their products but, rather, about how well they answer customer questions. Many folks within traditional brand companies view this vision as completely crazy.
I’ve been called crazy for suggesting that we turn our company into a content production machine. That’s the vision. The role that I’m trying to play is the content marketing evangelist, not as a marketing activity, but as a company-wide activity.
So I asked “How do big companies like ours solve the problem? We want to go from a company with a couple hundred employee evangelists to a couple thousand.”
One of the analogies that I always use is the 1-9-90 principle of content sharing and distribution. One percent of the people create the content, 9 percent modify or share it, and 90 percent consume it. Other people argue that it’s maybe 1-80-20. But whatever the number is, as an employee of a brand, you can’t be in the 90 percent — you can’t be just a consumer of information. You have to be in the process of either creating or sharing the content that we need to get out to our customers.
Looking for more help getting your content marketing program off the ground? Read “Managing Content Marketing,” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.