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We’ve all read them: The “Five Questions to Ask When Buying XYZ” stories. For trade press editors, they’re a guaranteed draw for readers. They’re easy to digest, practical and, done right, geared to the problems or questions readers are facing right now.

This trade press staple is also a great standby for your content marketing efforts. But getting the maximum lead generation from them requires watching out for a few potholes I discovered as an editor.

  • Boring the reader with the same advice they can get everywhere else on the Web. To avoid this, scan existing stories in trade pubs and your competitor’s Web sites. Then go a step further than they did with a new angle, more detail or more precise advice. For example, in a piece for Computerworld on tough security questions to ask a cloud provider, I didn’t just advise readers to “Ensure proper authentication and access control.” I described the differences between the ideal but expensive “federated” identity management and the less secure, but less expensive, “synchronized” identity management. I mentioned several vendors and their approaches to authentication and access control, along with some best practices for implementing it.
  • Ignoring the real world: Don’t settle for offering high-minded but obvious advice like “Consult all stakeholders about their cloud security needs.” What should a prospect do faced with the messy reality of a hugely public data breach that has every business unit running scared and insisting on more security than anyone, in or out of the cloud, can provide? This is where your real-world experience can turn a good story great. If you’re a cloud provider you could, for example, tell the story of a real-world engagement where you proved to a customer (anonymous, of course) exactly where your cloud-based security is actually better than what the customer was doing in-house.
  • Confusing “evaluators” with those “ready to buy.” An “evaluation” story about, say, digital cameras would talk about megapixels, image stabilization, facial recognition, and image quality. A “ready to buy” story would instead focus on whether to take the “buyer protection” plan the cashier always pushes, what to look for in return policies and which Web sites to check for last-minute discounts. For the IT products and services you sell, your sales and marketing staff should know which questions to answer for both types of stories. This fine-tuning can give you two compelling pieces of content instead of one. Furthermore, tracking who reads the “evaluator” story vs. the “ready to buy” story helps you score their readiness to buy.

“Top questions before you buy” stories are almost always a good bet. But they work best if you go beyond the obvious advice, address the tough issues customers face in the real world, and tailor your advice to the reader’s specific place in the buying cycle.

For more tips, subscribe to “Editor’s Notes,” by regular newsletter of content marketing and PR tips for IT marketing pros.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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