We recently sat down with Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, for a Q&A around COVID-19 and its impact on the marketing industry. Brenner discussed where teams should be allocating resources, how content programs should be shifting and ways the pandemic has impacted event strategies for brands.
As the industry landscape changes daily, what is the #1 area that you feel marketers should be agile in?
One of the things that we’re seeing is there have been some pretty rapid changes in consumer behavior over the course of the pandemic. Search trends went down by about 35% in B2B industries during the height of the pandemic. But they never went below the level they go during the holidays. People were still searching.
In certain categories like remote work and video conferencing, we saw significant increases, as you would expect. But what we saw is, about two to three weeks in late March, where search patterns come back to normal and then in April actually go up. People are searching online more now than they did before. So, we’re seeing clients come to us because they’re shifting out of digital ad spend and physical events. Everybody’s trying to figure out: How do we rank for search now that more people are searching online for educational content?
The phrase “Content is King” has been around for ages. Do you believe that this is still true in today’s circumstances?
I’m a big fan of enduring marketing quotes, and I believe content will always be king, because content is something that allows a company and its customers to connect. Because what’s the alternative? I love to point to the Super Bowl ad where Aquaman took his muscles off and no one can remember the brand behind it. But content has to follow a few rules:
- It has to be helpful.
- It has to make the customer the hero of the story, not the brand.
- It has to be long enough to answer the question but short enough that you can read it and consume it.
- It needs to be found.
Content is going to continue to be king, even in today’s circumstances. Distribution is queen and wears the pants, as some people love to say, but it really has to just focus on answering customer questions.
Do you feel like there’s too much content out there right now during this crisis?
I love this question. The myth of the ‘information overload’ has been around since the time of cavemen when they’d first spoken a word or painted on the cave walls.
While we create a lot more content, we also consume a lot more content. We live in an information-driven world. Here’s my challenge to anyone who thinks they can’t break through the noise: You can either give up and just cede market share and share of voice to your competition, or you can become part of the conversation.
You don’t go to a party and decide that you’re not going to talk to anybody. Either you’re in business and you need to be part of the conversation, or you need to get out of business. So, I understand the fear, and I understand the concern that creating content may not be as effective as maybe it used to be. But the alternative is doing nothing and dying. My challenge to clients is figuring out a way to be a part of the conversation: Listen first, learn how we can engage, and then create and share the stories, voices and points of view that we want to share.
What are the top three marketing topics you believe will resonate best with marketers as we enter the recovery phase of this crisis?
- Number one: People need leads, especially warmer leads. Demand generation practices, marketing automation, email nurturing and personalization are all things that generate leads and fill the pipeline. Nurture leads to qualification.
- Number two: Content creation is still important. The brands that stopped creating content during the pandemic are hurting. Before you have a lead, you need to engage with somebody who hasn’t engaged with you before. The brands that continued have seen large increases in market share. It’s the consistency that wins. And when you stop the train, you need momentum to get back up the hill, if you will.
- Number three: Activating employees. It’s all about getting engaged experts inside your company or in your customer base to start telling their story. Again, not about you and why they chose you or why you’re great, but about them: what they know, what problems they’ve solved.
As a keynote speaker, what do you feel are the disadvantages of virtual events? How can leaders adapt to account for these changes?
There’s two sides to this shifting events model.
From a brand perspective, virtual events are less effective at closing deals but more effective at generating leads. This comes back to demand generation.
From an attendance perspective, it’s a challenge to keep people engaged. I’ve been using animated GIFs, video where I can, asking challenging questions, or busting myths. I’m not giving the same keynote I used to. I’ve seen some really creative things from speakers, as well, like using whiteboards and glass panels to draw on. It’s a challenge no matter what perspective you take.
Regarding virtual events, you mentioned your keynote speaker perspective – but is there anything from the brand side that you’d recommend for tackling these challenges?
I would first recommend using video. But, when on camera, simple things like presentable attire and being clean-shaven do matter a lot.
Interactivity and visuals are also really important. Using chat and Q&A makes the audience feel as if they’re a part of the presentation. Challenges and quizzes from the speaker are naturally very engaging and makes the audience use their brain.
My biggest and final tip for any brand speaker is to keep the thing going. Fifty minutes of a talking head is really not that interesting for anyone. I tend to use 60 slides in a 30-minute spot – I’m moving. There aren’t a lot of words on the slide, because I’m using animated videos and GIFs plus single quotes and stats.
Do you feel that virtual events are a trend that’s here to stay beyond COVID, or do you think we’ll see larger conferences move to this model permanently?
As a very inbound-focused content marketer, I’ve always believed that events are just an extension of a good content marketing strategy. And they’re – number one, from a brand perspective – a great way to tell stories. Events allow us to meet people in person and bring the humanity in front of new customers.
I don’t believe that we’re going to see physical events go away forever. As soon as people feel comfortable to get back out there, we’re going to see the large technology companies get back to their customer events, even if they’re smaller next year with a virtual component. Every company is now going to be thinking virtual components to even physical events. They’re going to look to expand their reach, something we should’ve always been doing.
It’s one of my favorite points through all this – the things that are happening now, that people feel are new, have actually always been there. Virtual events, work from home, telehealth – they’ve always been good ideas, now they’re just accelerating. So, I do think that events will come back, but we will see much more focus on the virtual side.
Was there anything else you’d like marketers to think about?
The one thing I’m asking every marketer to focus on is, are you creating the kinds of content that answers the questions the customers are asking every single day? I’m always amazed that just because I can rank on page 1 of Google for ‘what is content marketing,’ I have an audience of people that wanted to hear my answer. My advice is, define the questions your customers are asking, answer them on a regular schedule. And the companies that are doing that are winning.
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