Executive Insights: Thought Leadership and Content Marketing Guidance from Michael Brenner

I have been quite lucky in my nearly 30+ year marketing career to work with some truly extraordinary people. It has been very exciting working with pioneers in early-stage efforts where we are defining new things literally in real-time.  I had the great pleasure to work with Michael Brenner while in SAP North America Field Marketing and later in SAP Global Marketing.

His work in both Thought Leadership and Content Marketing constituted early-stage pioneering work in what we now know as “modern marketing.” In fact, several years ago when I decided to expand my own marketing repertoire to include Thought Leadership, speaking at external events and forums and creating a hybrid professional/personal brand, I modeled my efforts on those of Michael.

Michael Brenner was truly a pioneer of Digital Marketing while at SAP, working with online and social media marketing and expanding his efforts later as the Vice President of Marketing and Content Strategy. I worked with his team on an early-stage Thought Leadership program focused upon SAP Innovations that included BLOGs and a great outside-in business-oriented conversation.

All of this was driving marketing transformation (before anyone had yet coined the term), and Michael openly shared his best practices and enabled collaboration with hundreds of SAP marketers, myself included.

He later led the SAP “Future of Work” integrated marketing program and strategy, an innovative audience marketing program spanning customer Lines of Business (LOBs) and departments and SAP itself (sales, marketing and services and support).

It has truly stood the test of time and is a topic even more relevant in recent challenging times. After SAP, Michael became the Head of Strategy for NewsCred and built their Content Marketing consulting practice into a million-dollar business inside of a year.

For the past five years he has been the CEO, CMO and Content Marketing Leader for the Marketing Insider Group, and his team focuses upon building great content to facilitate outcomes-based conversations and more.

It was my pleasure to recently re-connect with Michael Brenner and hear and “see” him present in an on-line virtual forum in an era of COVID19 and social distancing. Afterwards we had a chance to chat and had a great discussion about his career, Content Marketing, the future of work and more.

Q: Michael you are clearly among an elite group that are the pioneers of Content Marketing. What is the best way to get started with a great Content Marketing strategy and program?

A: Fred, the way I get started with all my clients is to answer the “why” question. What is the main business reason to do marketing at all? Generally, we want to acquire new customers. But we also need to talk about how well we have achieved that before with marketing campaigns. The ROI of most marketing is “I don’t know” according to most of the marketers I ask.

So, it’s about tracking down how well content has performed, campaigns have delivered leads, etc. Once the business case is developed, I recommend it get presented and accepted by anyone who has a stake in the game.

Q: You wrote the best-selling book “Mean People Suck” that details how empathy always defeats mean in any situation and can lead to bigger profits and a better experience for all involved. Although my own experience has been that most of my colleagues were great, I had a handful of experiences working for upward-managing “brilliant jerks” (to quote a great longtime colleague Steve Lucas) who treated those they “managed” poorly, sometimes with disdain and contempt.

What is your recommendation for people who love their company and their work but must deal with such dysfunctional leaders and a toxic work environment?

A: It is the most common question I get and in the book. I try to advise any reader who is facing this dire situation to think first about why their toxic manager acts that way. Having empathy for them is a great place to start. I once dealt with someone like that and asked them bluntly what they wanted. They explained a business outcome and I told them that if they would let me do the job that I was hired for I could deliver the outcome.

But I needed this person to allow me to do it. I called this the “you can have a cake, but you can’t tell me how to bake it” approach. However, I want to caution everyone that if you try everything to deliver on what toxic people want and you still see no change, you need to leave. No one deserves to work every day in a toxic environment.

Q: As someone who was with Howard Dresner (the “father of BI”) over thirty years ago when he coined the term “Business Intelligence” (BI), I’ve been a long-time proponent of analytics and insights-driven marketing, all critical to “modern marketing”. Michael, how can marketing analytics and BI be applied to successful Content Marketing and what are the major benefits?

A: So, you asked first about the first step and analytics is absolutely the last step. But the funny thing is you cannot measure against a goal unless the goal has been defined. So, analytics is a path to measuring how well your program has achieved the goal and it is super important. My whole book, “The Content Formula,” is about the 10 ways you can measure business outcomes with content marketing whether they are awareness, engagement, revenue or retention goals, there is a math calculation that can be measured.

Q: You have clearly achieved a great brand for “Michael Brenner” which is a fusion of both your personal and professional band. What are your recommendations for people trying to do the same?

A: Personal branding is hot again as we face a catastrophic economy. Everyone wants to be setup for success whether they are in a job or looking. The problem (as you know) is it takes a small amount of effort over a long period of time. So personal branding starts with defining who you are and what you want to be known for. But then it means daily connecting and sharing other people’s thought leadership. It means commenting on thought-provoking material. And it means creating some content yourself. Much like we are doing here collaboratively.

Q: You were an early leader of SAP’s successful and rather visionary “Future of Work” integrated marketing program. In an era of COVID19, working at home, virtual formats replacing in-person events and more – what are your recommendations and insights on both the short-term and what comes next?

A: Yes I posted recently on LinkedIn that everything that is happening now was happening before the pandemic. It is just accelerating. The future of work was always about purpose-driven brands putting customers and employees first: remote work, video conferencing, flex time, employee engagement, etc. Those things were resisted at too many companies before and now they are being forced to digitally and culturally transform.

Michael, thank you for your great insights. Your journey is truly inspirational – when I see you, I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote “love what you do, and you never work a day in your life”. We look forward to hearing more of your continued success at the Marketing Insider Group and the continued evolution of great Content Marketing.

Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell is a B2B marketing veteran with expertise in Thought Leadership, Marketing Analytics, and Marketing Strategy Execution and. He was formerly Associate Director, Portfolio Marketing and Thought Leadership for Wolters Kluwer. Fred was formerly a Research Director for Dresner Advisory Services. He was with SAP Global Marketing as Senior Marketing Director & BMO Lead, SAP Services Field Engagement and led Thought Leadership Marketing. He led SAP North America Services Field Marketing and Channels Marketing for SAP Small and Midsize Enterprises (SME) Solutions. Before SAP, Fred held a variety of senior solutions and services marketing roles with Compaq and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He is a graduate of Yale University with honors and has an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business where he was a Fuqua Scholar and received the Fuqua Alumni Exemplary Leadership Award.