My guest on Marketing Smarts this week is Michael Brenner, senior director of global marketing and content strategy at SAP. (Michael will be presenting a session on the "How" of content marketing at our B2B Forum in October. Use the code "SMARTB2B" when you register, and get $200 off!)

Listen to it later:

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We covered a lot of ground in the podcast. Here are some highlights.

Pay-per-Performance Advertising Models

Many publishers resist pay-per-performance models because, frankly, if the ads don't perform the publishers don't get paid. This resistance is also fairly understandable, because the publisher doesn't have any control over the ad content or offer. Who wants to be held accountable for the performance of a process over which they have no control?

To address that issue, Michael did something novel. "We took our entire bag of content," he explains, "and handed it over the wall to the publishers and said, 'Hey, you know what works for your audience, so you determine what whitepapers and what content you want to deliver to your audience, and then we'll optimize on the back-end the leads that you're sending us.'"

Not all the publishers he approached agreed to that model; those that did shared the risk with SAP but also had more direct influence over the actual rewards.

Content Strategy

The "S" word can be intimidating, but failure to articulate a clear strategy (and goals!) for your content marketing efforts will affect their effectiveness. Since Michael has "content strategy" built right into his title, I asked him how he defined the term.

"A content strategy," he said, "will look to define the content needs of all the people involved in a buying process or buying cycle and how it can be delivered to all of them at all those stages in all the places where they're looking." 

Having mapped that out, he added, "you have to turn around and look inside your company and say, 'OK. What do we have? What resources can I deploy against these needs that we've just talked about? And what gaps do I need to fill?' That's where it gets really challenging and really difficult."

Content Marketing Challenges

I asked Michael about the main challenges he's faced at SAP. He explained: "The main challenge we have is making sure we have enough content in the early stages where, by the way, there are more people."

"In the early stage content," he went on to say, "you need to be truly helpful and almost completely unselfish. You have to be almost order to gain trust and gain awareness and earn the right to then, ultimately later down the funnel, say, 'Hey. We've got something to sell you and it might help you.'"

As challenging as it may be to create the early-stage content, it is absolutely critical, because, as Michael also said, "Content marketing is allowing marketing engage with buyers sooner. That's the whole point!"

If you'd like to hear my entire conversation with Michael, you may listen above or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

In the meantime, here are some "how to" takeaways from our conversation that you can begin to immediately implement in your content marketing.

What Makes Content Effective

For content to be effective, it must meet the needs of your customers, your potential customers, and those who influence them. (Joe Chernov of Eloqua once told me, "I want to create content for those adjacent to our buyer.") Because content has to speak to such a universe of needs, content can't just be about you and your products.

Unfortunately, according to Michael, when it comes to developing content, many marketers start by thinking, "OK, I've got this thing, and I need to let the world know about it because I think it's great.

"Their passion," Michael said, "leads them sometimes down this road that's just a little too selfish."

As a result, he added, "the content library is just filled with lots of books and lots of tomes about how great you are and why people should buy your stuff."

Unselfish-ize Your Content

If you want your content to succeed (meaning, in this case, "get found, get read, get shared, lead to engagement with your company, and, eventually, turn into money") you need make it unselfish. How do you do that?

1. Understand the need

Content needs to meet needs. It must answer real questions that real people have about real situations. Your content must provide information that real people are looking for to solve the real problems they have.

If you don't know what questions your buyers have ("How can I get my payroll system to talk to my HR system?") or what information they need ("What are the tax implications of employing workers in other countries when I'm based in the US?"), then you have a customer insight problem, not a content marketing problem.

2. Produce content that meets the need

When I was a grad student and having trouble finishing my dissertation, a friend of mine said, "Just keep telling yourself, 'The world must know!'" (Of course, sadly, he was making fun of me.) However, you need to ask yourself, "Does the world need my content?" (And how do you know that?) If you can honestly say, "I'm the best person to let people know how to solve very-common-and-challenging-problem X," then put your stuff out there. If not, find the person who is the best and share their stuff with your audience!

3. When someone asks about your stuff, tell them

It's all well and good to say that content should be "unselfish," but (let's face it) we are producing content because we want to sell stuff. We do have an ulterior motive, and that's all right. Eventually, your content does need to be about you, especially when potential customers want to know what you specifically can do for them.

The key (trick?) is making it unselfish. Keep the customer at the center of your content. Create tools that help them fairly compare your solutions to those of your competitors. Describe what your products have done for people like them in similar situations. Tell them what they need to know about the product—not what you want to tell them about it.

And, finally, invite feedback to ensure that you've answered their questions, provided all the necessary information, and—above all—met their needs.

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