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Digital Edge focuses on content marketing, social media

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Keynote speakers at BtoB's Digital Edge virtual conference last week addressed the growing importance of content marketing and social media in b-to-b. "Brands need to reach out and connect with buyers on an emotional level," said Michael Brenner, VP-marketing and content strategy at SAP, in a closing keynote presentation. "At SAP, content marketing is an extremely successful way to connect with our customers and create marketing that doesn't feel like marketing." Brenner said SAP has begun to "think and act like a publisher," hiring people to fill roles such as editorial director, content curator and site manager (for distributing and syndicating content) as well as analytics experts.

"These are the kinds of roles to consider when building out your content marketing practice. It could be one person, but all the functions are important," he said. One of SAP's successful content publishing efforts has been the Business Innovation blog, which features contributions from industry thought leaders, with the goal of "earning our audience's attention rather than buying it," Brenner said.

Business Innovation features content that is relevant to its audience of tech buyers, including posts from top influencers on Twitter on topics such as Big Data and cloud computing; links to top technology blogs; and "99 Facts on the Future of Business," a document created by SAP to address pressing issues that businesses face. "We are reaching a whole new audience of people with this new approach to delivering content," Brenner said.

Social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk discussed the difficulty of gaining attention in the social sphere during his opening keynote presentation. "We're living in the noisiest world ever," Vaynerchuk said. "Our goal is to get the attention of the customer somewhere along the decision-making path—to tell them our story and value proposition—but 99% of people on social are pushing their business. Now, for the first time in history, we can have a two-way conversation with the end customer," he said. The best way to take advantage of this, he said, is to listen carefully to the social conversation and provide useful information before doing any selling.

Vaynerchuk used a boxing analogy, derived from the title of his latest book, "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World" (HarperBusiness, 2013). Asking for business first on social channels is like throwing wild, ineffective right hooks in the boxing ring. The more careful "follow-up punch" is a stronger tactic, he said. "When people know a right hook is coming, they duck—which is what customers are doing," Vaynerchuk said. "Marketers are not doing enough jabbing and counterpunching, bringing value to their social interactions. So counterpunch, and respect the context of where you're trying to tell your story."

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