Content Marketing Archives

Stuck in an Editing Rut? Three Ways Out

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best practices content edits

Studies show that some of the top content marketing challenges  are not enough time or bandwidth to produce content, producing enough content and producing truly engaging material prospects will care about.

In my work with clients, spinning our wheels in editing is a major cause of all three problems. Here’s how confusing, incomplete or inconclusive feedback slows things down and trashes quality, with suggestions for how to produce more and better content faster.

You Might Need This…or Not

What not to do: Send the writer an email with a link saying “I saw this story/white paper/Web site and thought you’d be interested.”  Without explaining what you want the writer to get out of the article, and how you want those ideas reflected in their writing, you’re practically guaranteeing confusion and unnecessary rework.

What to do:

  • “I saw this story in today’s Journal. It seems interesting, but I’m not sure if or how it fits in the piece we’re working on. Could you read it and let me know your thoughts on how or if it fits with our message?”
  • “I saw this this story in the Economist. It’s great proof of points A, B. and C we’re trying to make. I suggest you summarize the main points from this piece as we discuss them and footnote the source.”
  • “Saw this on CNN today — it’s typical of the wrong-headed hype we’re seeing in the mainstream press. Here’s how we should debunk it and what we want to say instead…”
  • “I saw this white paper on a competitor’s Web site and it strikes the exact tone and `voice’ I’d like us to replicate. See what you can do to match this style.”

I Wonder What I Think About This

What not to do: Include a comment saying “This is interesting. I see the same problem all the time with our customers.” Such open-ended musing raises a question without telling the writer what to say about it. All progress stops until the writer gets more details.

What to do: Whenever you include a comment, describe what specific changes you want the writer to make. For example:

  • “This is a common problem but nothing we address with our solution. Leave it out.”
  • “This is an important point but I’m not sure how to handle it. Frank and Jill, can you get with the product manager and decide what, if anything, we want to say about this by Tuesday so Bob can complete his first draft by Thursday?”
  • “This is an interesting problem many customers face, but we won’t address it until our next release. For now, just give it just a passing mention as a technical challenge we’re confident will be solved soon.”

Should We Ask Jill?

What not to do: Post a comment along the lines of “Is this something we should get the folks in our consulting process to comment on?” This raises a question the writer can’t possibly answer, or even respond to, because it requires coordination on your part – not the writer’s.

What to do:

  • “Our process industries group in Germany did something on this last spring. Have my admin contact Kirsten in Munich and ask if they want to provide any input on this point. If we don’t hear by next Wednesday, proceed without it.”
  • This is an area our consulting folks are starting a big push in. Check with Laurie in marketing support to see if they have any best practices or frameworks we can tout. Tell them Wednesday is their last chance to weigh in.”
  • “In our last sales meeting I thought I heard our consulting folks had some case studies showing our work in this area. Check out the PowerPoint from the retail session and see if there’s anything we can use. If we don’t find anything by end of the week let’s skip it.”

The common thread, as I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is not to provide any feedback that doesn’t tell the writer specifically what to say or how to say it. This is good general management practice, but is even more important when dealing with slippery things like ideas (rather than tasks) and free-lance or part-time writers who aren’t part of your everyday business discussions.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Content Cookbook #5: Cloud Security

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marketing campaign cloud security CIOs love the agility, flexibility and lower prices offered by the cloud. But year after year, security breach after security breach, fear keeps them from moving more sensitive data and applications to off-premise data centers.

If you’re selling cloud security, either as a cloud service  or in the form of consulting to help clients assure cloud security, what sort of content do you need to find, score, and nurture prospects?

Based on my recent reporting and a recent global survey of IT executives I helped execute for Oracle, here are some security-related questions you can use to build content for each nervous step along the cloud purchase funnel. Each of these topics can easily be expanded into a blog post, white paper, Webinar, ebook or “Top Ten Questions to Ask” cheat sheet.

Awareness/General Education Stage

  1. What questions should I, as a customer, ask to determine if the cloud is likely to be more or less secure than my in-house environment?
  2. What general questions should I ask my cloud provider about security?
  3. What types of applications and data are my peers trusting to the cloud?
  4. How do assess my applications and data to determine which are most suitable for the cloud from a security perspective?
  5. How much can I trust security certifications such as PCI? What are the hidden “gotchas” that can make such certifications worth less than they seem?
  6. (For cloud-based security as a service:
    1. What is “security as a service?” How does it work?
    2. What forms of security are available as a service (Identity management? Remote monitoring?) What are the pros and cons of each?

Product/Service Consideration Stage

  1.  What specific questions should I ask a cloud provider based on my vertical market and its industry/governmental compliance requirements?
  2. What processes, and technologies, should the service provider use to alert me to security issues? How quickly will I be notified, and what are the escalation paths if the problem isn’t solved quickly
  3. What types of encryption should they provide for data in transit and at rest?
  4. What are the different methods of isolating customer environments in the cloud (such as network traffic isolation vs. database traffic isolation? How does a customer determine which is best for them?
  5. What security service level agreements (SLAs) should I expect from a cloud provider, or a security as a service provider?

Product/Service Evaluation/Purchase Stage

  1. What specific security-related controls and reports should I insist on from my service provider?
  2. How will the provider give my internal or external auditors the information they need to help prove my compliance with essential security requirements?
  3. Specifically how do they assure my data and applications are isolated from those of other customers?
  4. Do they offer any federated identity or access management capabilities that make it easier for me to integrate my on-site security mechanisms with the cloud?
  5. Specifically how does each provider assure only proper access to the administrative accounts that are the “keys to the kingdom” for their cloud? Who performs patching, and who on their staff is authorized to log onto each host and guest
  6. How quickly will they inform me about the existence of a security breach, their progress toward resolving it, and what if any of my data was compromised?

The specific points you address at each point in the sales cycle may differ. The point is, the closer your prospect is to the evaluation/purchase stage, the more specific the questions become. Let me know how this list looks to you, and what content has worked well in selling cloud security.

 If you’d like to see a content cookbook for any other product or service, email or call at (508) 725-7258. 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Winning the Content Production War

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case study thought leadershipI just finished reading Freedom’s Forge, which describes how American industry produced planes, guns, ships, and everything else in quantities our World War II enemies couldn’t match.

What struck me were how much money and time production experts achieved by eliminating bottlenecks. Some were as simple as rearranging work flows so pieces didn’t have to be moved so often, or making components so accurately that even unskilled workers could install them correctly. In one famous example, a shipyard built a no-frills Liberty ship in under a day from preassembled components.

Content marketers face the same do-or-die challenge: Cranking out huge amounts of quality content much more quickly and cheaply than ever before. Yet even working with word-class companies, I often see writing projects delayed for weeks or months by the same bottlenecks.

Here are the four worst offenders and my suggestions for eliminating them:

Poor raw materials: It’s a lot easier to reject a load of bad steel when it arrives at the shipyard then to pull it out of a ship that’s fully built. The same is true of the raw material you provide your content creators writers.

  • Review the background material you give writers to ensure it doesn’t include out-of-date messaging, survey results that are unusable because they came from a competitor or “case studies” that are actually hypothetical examples from client presentations. (Yes, I’ve seen all of these – recently.) Before sending a 120-page PowerPoint “in case it’s useful” pull out what is relevant and tell the writer why. This work up-front slashes production time while improving quality.

Unclear Objectives and Unanswered Questions: By the time a piece of content is in draft mode, you’ve probably invested thousands of dollars in staff time defining it, assigning it, brainstorming it, and providing background to the writer. But all that investment can’t “go to war” in the marketplace unless it was designed from the start to hit the proper target audience, and the author has the information they need to build it.

I’m often stalled while various experts argue over the target audience, the desired messaging or their understanding of a buzzword. (So are many others, according to this conversation on the LinkedIn Hubspot Partners Forum.)

  • Invest the time up-front in person-to-person phone conversations with all stakeholders to clarify objectives and definitions. Letting an experienced writer ask clarifying questions eliminates massive re-work later, as well as hours responding to emails. (I’ve found such calls especially useful when working across language or cultural boundaries.)

Delayed Reviews: Your smartest and most articulate people probably think meeting a project deadline or closing a deal is more important than answering a pesky question for a white paper. And they are right – unless their bosses make it clear that content creation is just as important as grinding out code or a client meeting.

  • Suggestion: Make content development part of the evaluation criteria for your account managers, developers and practice managers. How much of their evaluation is tied to content is an easy way for them to prioritize content versus other responsibilities. For faster results, measure their content contributions quarterly.

Sloppy Version Control: Juggling multiple sets of changes to the same document from different reviewers is a time sink that practically guarantees errors and reduces quality. When a writer reworks a paragraph to meet one reviewer’s request, and another reviewer later eliminates that paragraph, you’ve wasted two people’s time while delaying delivery.

  • Make one person responsible for reviewing, accepting and publishing content. That person, or someone with suitable knowledge and authority, should also be responsible for resolving editing disputes and consolidating all the changes in a single document for the writer to review.

Those are my tips from the content production front lines. What are yours?

Bob Scheier is a veteran IT journalist turned content marketer who fights the deadline wars from Swampscott, Mass. His specialties include technologies such as security, cloud, mobile, storage and Big Data, and the role of IT in industries ranging from health care to retail and manufacturing. He can be reached at bob@scheierassociates.com.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Got No Time For Content Marketing? Good!

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Running Out Of TimeIf you have no time, money or staff to do content marketing, you’re lucky. So argues Roger C. Parker in this excellent post, reprinted with permission from the Content Management Institute. Scarcity forces you to focus on your core audience and core message, and to work efficiently. Read on for his great tips on everything from limiting project scope to keeping too many cooks out of the soup.

More is always better, right? It would only make sense. More space permits you to share more information. More time permits you to write better. And more options permit you to share your message with greater impact.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, especially in today’s fast-moving content marketing world. Effective content marketing requires getting your message out in a timely and consistent manner. Success requires ongoing productivity – not just isolated moments of brilliance.

The key to boosting your content marketing productivity involves leveraging the Paradox of Limits. Although “more” is usually viewed as an advantage, there are times when “less” is better, achieved by reframing or rescheduling a project or reducing your options.

Just like the supermarket shoppers who, when faced with too many choices end up not buying anything, giving your content marketing team too much freedom can torpedo even the best content marketing ideas and intentions. This is why it’s essential to set limitations on your content creation, to keep you focused on your top priorities – and keep you from getting burned out.

Here, are seven ways to strategically place limitations that can boost your content creation efforts and overall content marketing productivity.

  1. Limit the scope of the project

Avoid trying to cover too many ideas or providing too much information about each idea:Trying to write when you haven’t identified the proper balance between the ideas you plan to share and the amount of detail you aim to provide will almost certainly result in indecision and procrastination – if not outright frustration – on the part of a content creator.

Once you identify the right number of ideas and amount of detail you need to get your points across, content creation will appear more manageable and easier to start.

Here are three ways to reduce the scope of a project:

  • Offer readers an overview: Instead of covering a lot of points in great detail, view your project as an introduction, or overview. The more ideas you include, the less your readers will expect you to write about each one. For example, a post like 10-Question Content Curation Scorecard Every Content Curator Needs to Measure Success is easy to start because it focuses on one component of curation: measuring its success. Once you identify the topics your questions should focus on, it becomes relatively easy to write a brief description explaining each one. A topic like How to Get Started in Content Marketing, however, presents more of a challenge because there’s less of a structure – virtually anything having to do with content marketing would be fair game in a post like this.
  • Write from a selective point of view: Another approach for reducing the scope of your content creation project is to focus on only a few carefully-selected points and describe them in greater detail – a technique used in the post, 3 Tips for Enhancing Your Content Productivity. Your criteria for selecting the topics could be best, cheapest, closest, easiest, or most important, etc.
  • Target a narrow niche: Another way to select a perspective is to target your project to different experience levels or focus on a specific goal or task. Take the post, 11 Ways to Use SlideShare for Content Marketing Success. By narrowing the focus to considerations that directly pertain to content marketers (vs. all marketers), it’s easier to identify what information needs to be included, and what can be left out.

Ideal Project Scope Fig. 1View each content creation project as a balancing act, where you let your marketing goals determine how you will ultimately choose between content that briefly discusses a lot of important points, or content that homes in on a few key points but addresses them in greater detail.

  1. Limit the length or size of the project

The bigger the project, the easier it is to put off starting it: This usually results in the exquisite stress of procrastination, which gets worse and worse as deadlines approach. Using less space (i.e., reducing the word count or the length of an audio or video) reduces the intimidation factor caused by worrying about the number of words you have to write to meet expectations.

For example, about 10 years ago, I frequently created one-page print newsletters for my clients, limiting each month’s newsletter to the front and back of a single sheet of paper, (approximately 650 formatted words).

Limiting the word counts in this manner can also pay another important dividend: It helps content creators improve their writing because limited space encourages you to be as concise in communicating ideas as possible.

One of the reasons that blogging a book works so well is that instead of thinking of your project as a 25,000-word document, you view it as a year’s worth of 500-word blog posts or podcasts.

  1. Limit the decision-making process

Reducing the number of decisions needing to be made when starting a new project can play an important role in boosting your content marketing productivity. There are two ways you can do this:

  1. Create an editorial calendar and stick to it: This involves making decisions in advance, so you don’t need to remake them each and every time you create content.
  2. Use a content template as a writing guide: This helps you maintain a single standard of quality and gives your content a reliable format – and no one has to “reinvent the wheel” each time you need to create new content.

A lot has been written about monthly and weekly editorial calendars, but I only recently discovered the importance of sticking to previously-created calendars.

Limit the Decision Making Process #2For example, I write a short (250- to 300-word) weekly content marketing article for a client’s newsletter. Because it’s a short project, I enjoy the challenge, and often use it as a “warm-up” writing exercise.

About 6 months ago, however, I made a simple change that resulted in a huge productivity improvement: Previously, I would select the topic for each week’s article by choosing from a short list of randomly assembled topic ideas for the coming month. Choosing the best of the three or four titles would typically spark an inner debate on which topic would be easiest to complete. Now, I just immediately start writing about the topic at the top of the list. Eliminating the need to make a new decision and avoiding the temptation to second-guess myself removed a time-wasting obstacle and made it easier to start writing.

A content template can boost your productivity by guiding you through the writing process. It doesn’t have to be complex – and it doesn’t even have to be digital: In fact, I’ve created a simple three-step content template that can be filled in by hand. You can download it here and print it if you want to give it a try.

The key is to fill in the template as quickly as possible, in the spaces provided. Start by entering the title of your project in the center, and the current date. Then:

  1. Set the stage by describing the problem you’re addressing, the solution you’re recommending, and how readers will benefit.
  2. Support your recommendation by identifying three main ideas, examples, or steps, as well as a few pertinent details for each idea.
  3. Conclude by re-emphasizing the benefits of your approach and including a call to action where readers can learn more.

Like me, you may find that occasionally writing ideas out by hand offers a refreshing change of pace that makes it easy to generate new ideas and make new connections.

  1. Limit the time you make available for working on each project

Buck Howe, a friend of mine from the University of New Hampshire’s Business School, gives the best explanation of this limitation: “Humans are always deadline-driven!” He continued:

  • It’s inevitable that the more time you have available to do something, the more likely you’ll put it off until the last minute.
  • Limiting the amount of time you have available, however, encourages you to make the most of your time.

You can rethink your approach to content creation by looking for ways to break projects down into small tasks you can complete in short writing sessions, and by trying to get as much done during each session.

Let’s say you have to write a blog post by the end of next week, which typically takes you two hours to do. Instead of trying to schedule a single two-hour writing session, try scheduling three half-hour writing sessions, like this:

  • Day 1: When the time comes, start writing as soon as possible and write as quickly as you can. See how much you can write in 30 minutes. Aim to get the bulk of your idea written by the end of the first session.
  • Day 2: Review your draft, filling in any holes and checking the sequence of your ideas to make sure they have a logical flow. Look for ideas and words you can delete, or long words you can replace with short words. Then, review the title and look for ways you can better target your intended reader and concisely communicate the value of what you’ve written.
  • Day 3: Review the text and title one more time, focusing on clarity, conciseness, and SEO relevance. Each time you return to your project from a fresh perspective, you’ll likely notice new and easily implemented edits.

What you’ve done is replace a big task with three simpler and less-demanding tasks, each with its own action-stimulating “mini-deadline.” More important, at the end of each session, you’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment that encourages you to continue creating content. Your times may vary but, over time, the benefits of short deadlines, writing to “beat the clock,” and feelings of accomplishment, will soon add up.

  1. Limit options and resources

Limited options and resources can be a powerful productivity builder. It encourages you to start working with what you have available, rather than wasting time trying to figure out which tool or option makes the best sense.

I was not aware of the power of limited resources until I encountered the following paragraph in Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life:

I used to bask in the notion that all my obstacles to creative efficiency would vanish if I only had exactly the right resources: my own studio, my own dancers, my own theater; and enough money to pay the dancers all year long and to hire the best collaborators. But I’ve learned that the opposite is true: Limits are a secret blessing, and bounty can be a curse.

Her quote resonated with me because I never could understand why the majority of my best photographs were taken with my camera’s normal (i.e., 50mm) lens even though I was carrying a bagful of wide-angle and telephoto lenses. I realized that limiting my choice of lens immediately engaged me with the scene, encouraging me to make the most of what I had available, rather than interrupting my concentration and switching lenses.

Like Twyla Tharp, I got more done, with less stress, by focusing on what I could do, rather than getting distracted by stressful “what if” decisions.

So, look for other ways to limit your options. Focus on what you can do right now – maximizing the effectiveness of every idea and every word – rather than wishing you had Malcolm Gladwell’s team of researchers or an unlimited web design and programming budget.

More important, save something for later! Resist the urge to add unnecessary complexity, which delays the appearance of your project. On-time delivery of your message may require less research, fewer examples, fewer graphics, and fewer quotations. Focusing on what you do have available can pave the way for spending more time developing your ideas and making the most out of every word.

  1. Limit distractions and interruptions

Today, multitasking is an accepted (and often expected) work habit. However, experts like Daniel Goleman, a leading neuroscientist and bestselling author, refer to multitasking as “the bane of efficiency.” In his latest book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Goleman describes how multitasking involves switching the working part of your brain from your primary task to the interruption. His research into how the brain works reminds us that, after an interruption, “It can take 10 to 15 minutes to regain full focus.”

There are several ways you can reduce distractions and interruptions:

  • Establish boundaries: This involves informing your co-workers (or even your family, if you work at home) that you will be unavailable during certain periods of time (except for emergencies, of course). Enlist support by sharing the importance of your project to all involved, and – perhaps – promise to put work aside when they need your full attention.
  • Find a time and a place to write: Identify the times when you’re least likely to be interrupted. If necessary, step into a conference room or break away to a coffee shop for an interruption-free writing session.
  • Clear your desk and working area: You will concentrate better in the absence of competing stimuli. In addition, straightening up your working area can become a habit, or ritual, that helps you prepare for fully engaging with your project.

These days, no one has enough time. However, with a little effort, you should be able to carve out the distraction-free time necessary to boost your content marketing productivity.

  1. Limit your expectations

The more you inflate the importance of a single article, blog post, or white paper, the harder it often becomes to start and complete the content creation process. Performance anxiety based on unreasonably high expectations can torpedo productivity before a project even starts.

The cure for unreasonably high expectations is to view each content marketing project as a step in the right direction, rather than a “silver bullet” to annihilate the competition and lead to a brighter future.

You don’t have to be perfect the first time – there will always be opportunities to expand on your first development of an idea, to readdress and restate your ideas, and to repurpose or reformat them for different audiences and types of learners. For example, Al Ries and Jack Trout didn’t start by writing The Positioning Era. They started with an article, adapted it into a speech, and built their business from there.

View every project as part of a process, rather than an all-or-nothing event. This eliminates the potential to become paralyzed in pursuit of perfection, freeing you to move forward and explore the possibilities.

How do you leverage the power of limits?

Do any of these ideas sound familiar, or resonate with you? How could you use these ideas to enhance your content marketing productivity? Share your experiences, questions, and suggestions below, as comments!

Author: Roger C. Parker has been an “explainer” all of his life, valued by clients for his judgment, ability and clear, concise writing style. He helps clients organize their ideas and become more productive. His 40 books have helped readers in 37 countries. His clients include Apple, Microsoft, Mindjet, and Yamaha. Follow Roger on Twitter @RogerCParker or email him at RCPcontent@gmail.com.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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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I’ve recently been working with a client on a series of “thought leadership” white papers. They have a lot of great, innovative ideas, but when I ask for case studies and proof points to prove their ideas work, they often come up short.

how to produce thought leadership

I think, therefore I think I’m interesting.

My research uncovered an excellent post from Candyce Edelen, the CEO and founder of content marketing firm Propel Growth, who said she’s run into the same issue in the financial services market.

She argues content marketing and thought leadership are two different things. Content marketing, she says, helps prospects understand their existing needs, build awareness of the benefits of what you sell, and driving sales of what exists today. (Emphasis added.)

Thought leadership, on the other hand, is about “being a longer-term change agent, building awareness of unrecognized needs and generating demand for what’s coming in 12-18 months.” She cited the example of a financial services firm that coined the term “naked access” in 2007 to describe the practice of allowing high-speed computerized stock trades without the proper filtering or checks.

The firm “launched an extensive content and PR campaign…They wrote about the topic, educated the press, and spoke at industry events. They even encouraged competitors to jump on the campaign to push for regulatory reform.” But it wasn’t until late 2010 that the SEC recognized the issue and took action.

I deal all the time with technology and services vendors who say they want “thought leadership” but lack the details to back it up. Especially in large organizations, a call for experts to develop “thought leadership” can produce intriguing, academic-sounding approaches they think might work but have never proven.

The Three Musts

The three things it really takes to produce “thought leadership” are:

  • Prove Your Theory: Nobody cares if it doesn’t get results and has been proven to work. Getting it wrong with your high-blown forecasts or “paradigm-changing” insights can be worse than staying quiet.
  • Keep At It: It ain’t thought leadership if you only talk about it when it springs to mind. Be consistent. Note how long the financial services firm had to fight to get its message out, amid initial skepticism from regulatory authorities and others. It takes time, money and effort to keep shouting into the wind. Make sure it’s worthwhile and you have the commitment of those who hold the purse strings and have the loudest voices.
  • Focus: This means two things. First, make the tough choice to put most of your limited time and money into your true insights rather than the “just interesting” musings on industry trends. Second, determine what are the “next steps” you want your audience to take after reading your content. Is it downloading a gated white paper? Subscribing to an email newsletter? Or sitting through a demo?

Random efforts produce random results. You can pay me or another copywriter to whip some so-so naval-gazing into something readable now and then. Or, you can get more bang for your buck by proving what you’re claiming, committing to pushing it for the long haul, and focusing on the revenue-producing next steps you want your readers to take.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

You’re Being Hated on Facebook. Now What?

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Sprint ad and complaintsSprint is definitely thinking out of the book with its cheeky, even snarky marketing of wireless services. They’re shaking up other providers with lower rates and new calling plans, even offering to pay early termination fees for customers defecting from their competitors.

But when it comes to the many ugly customer complaints on their Facebook page, Sprint is curiously low-key.

They do a good job of using Facebook to promote their “Framily” pricing plans, which give customers volume discounts if they get friends and not just family members to join Sprint. But Facebook, or any other social media, is about conversations, not one-way talking at customers. And this is where Sprint falls short.

Hamsters, Not Answers

I looked up Sprint’s Facebook page while writing for a client about mobile providers’ use of social media. Sprint uses a lot of offbeat graphics, including a hipster named “Gordon” and a hamster labeled “Dad” (???) to promote its offerings. But most of the customer comments I saw on the page complained, often profanely, about poor network coverage, dropped calls, misleading sales tactics and poor customer service. Some examples:

  • “If you love someone you would tell them to never sign up for Sprint.”
  • “Have not been able to make a single call all day, service is terrible and drops my calls every time.”
  • ”You have the worst service ever offered by any phone company! Switching to another carrier!”

Clicking on “replies” link showed what you would expect: Beleaguered Sprint customer service reps doing their best to apologize and promising to look into the issues. But without delving into the replies, all a prospect sees is an embarrassing and almost clueless contrast between Sprint’s cute marketing and the all-too-believable rants of frustrated customers.

What’s going on here, and what does it mean for you and your use of social media for content marketing? As with your customer complaints, fixing the underlying problems could take months or years. In the meantime, Sprint (and you) could fight back by showing it recognizes the problems and, as I’ve advised elsewhere, be very up-front about addressing the root causes.

Talk to, Not At, the Customer

First, stop mixing upbeat, cute marketing with outraged customer comments while hiding your response. It makes you look clueless.

Sprint’s big promo spots are all about what you want to tell the customer, not what the customer wants to tell you. Replace, say, the hamster with an outraged customer looking at their phone with a headline “Slow Web downloads? Click here for quick suggested fixes or to chat with a rep…” Do the same for billing issues, problems with new phones, or other frequent complaints.

Having been in the position of wanting to strangle my cable provider, I might even respond to a large graphic that says “Ready to get rid of us? Click here to let us try one, last time to keep you.”

Or how about a link to a blog by the head of customer service with regular updates on what Sprint is doing to overhaul its billing systems? Or a Zip code by Zip code update on when new towers are going into problem areas, which might convince customers to hang in with Sprint rather than defecting to the competition?

Yes, each of these options serves to highlight Sprint’s fallings. But their customers already know, and prospects are smart enough to look past your ads to the real market feedback. Sprint could get a lot of free publicity for its improvement effort by highlighting how its addressing customer complaints, rather than hunkering down in a series of “We’re sorry you’re experiencing problems” replies.

Check out Sprint’s Facebook page and let me know how you would change it, and how you’ve dealt with being “hated” rather than “liked” online.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

When Should You Fire a Client Gone Bad?

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when to fire inbound marketing client I recently heard from two colleagues (one a HubSpot partner, the other a user of a leading marketing automation platform) about customer engagements that seem doomed to failure.

My question is: When do you decide to cut bait with such clients?

Partnership Pain

One case involves a start-up with promising technology, but limited budget and marketing expertise. They have only a general idea of their target customer groups, much less specific personas or guidelines for scoring individual prospects. What’s worse, they’ve been very slow delivering feedback on content, as well as other promised material such as existing email lists or log-in information for their social media accounts such as Twitter.

The other case involves a large, established client looking to integrate an existing Web site with their in-house marketing automation platform. The consultant has asked the customer, without success, how many leads the customers wants from the marketing program, what they would consider a quality lead, and what parts of the inbound marketing process the customer will perform in-house and which the consultant will handle.

The lack of answers makes the consultant, naturally, very nervous about committing to a scope of work that could explode and sap their margins, and about being called on the carpet for failing to produce results that were never defined for them.

My questions are 1) what would you do with clients like these? and 2) What red flags have worked for you in deciding to ditch – or never start working with – an inbound marketing client?

Storm Warnings

My danger list, gained from much painful experience, when clients can’t or won’t:

  •  Pay a fair rate or commit to several months of effort.
  •   Quantify the number of leads they expect.
  • Describe what constitutes a “great, good or poor” lead.
  • Provide feedback from sales on the quality of leads a
  •  content marketing campaign is providing.
  • Provide promised sales material or access to subject matter experts to guide content development.
  •  Repeatedly miss scheduled meetings or deadlines of marketing content.

Those are my “gut feeling” indicators of when to pull the plug with a client. What are yours?  No names, please, to protect the guilty. And any “tough love” tactics that have helped get a wayward client back on track also very welcome.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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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bigstock-Chair-3842724A recent McKinsey & Company analysis shows many business to business companies are “talking past” their prospects by stressing themes they don’t care about.

Specifically, it said B2B vendors talk a lot more about social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach than their customers care about. At the same time, two themes that are far more important to customers – the vendor’s effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge—“were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers.”

Maybe worst of all, “honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all” by the 90 companies studied. Maybe if the companies studied actually talked to their customers they’d understand what was important to them.

Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle-Dee

I was particularly struck, however, by the report’s finding of “a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.

This is something I see all the time in the briefings I get from vendors. At a recent user conference, one IT pro shook his head at all the sales calls he gets from different vendors, “all saying the same thing.” McKinsey recommends that marketers talk to their salespeople (what a concept!) to understand “the degree to which customers see your products as differentiated or worth a premium… If you hear about consistent pushback on pricing or an inability to articulate a compelling argument for the value of your products, you’ve got a problem.”

It also said “Leading companies make extensive use of frontline interaction and market research to stay in tune with customer needs and perceptions. For example, Hilti, a maker of professional construction tools, has its salespeople do double duty as distributors and hands-on market researchers at customer construction sites.”

Three Potholes to Avoid

I can’t tell you how to get your marketing and sales people to share more insights about customers. But here are three mistakes I see technology vendors make in their me-too market messaging, and how not to repeat them.

  • The endless “solution” statement: Going on and on about the problems you solve rather than how you solve them. The customer knows they’re facing a flood of unstructured data, new security regulations or user-chosen mobile devices. Rather than repeat the problems they face, explain how you fix them more quickly, easily, cheaply or completely than your competitors. If you can’t quickly choose one of those adjectives, your messaging isn’t ready.
  • Hiding your secret sauce. Another good way to break out of the clutter is to describe specifically how you do what you do. For example: “Our patent-pending VPN technology moves mobile user sessions to the cloud. This lets you protect your data without tracking and managing every mobile device every user brings in.” Or: “Unlike other backup systems, we automatically test each backup as it is done, eliminating a chore you know you should be doing but never have time for.”
  • Relying on lazy buzzwords.  Is your “solution” “seamless,” “robust,” “end-to-end,” or “enterprise-class?” Are you “aligned with your customers’ needs?” “committed” to “customer service,” to “generating adding value” or to “understanding your customer’s needs?” So is everyone else these days. If you must use  these clichés, back them up with a feature and a benefit. Examples: “Our integration with all leading cloud providers lets you choose your deployment option.” “Our 24-hour help desk guarantees a response within 30 minutes to keep your business running” or an anecdote “Read how our storage appliances delivered 200% ROI for a leading online gaming site.”)

Even if you’re not boring your customers with feel-good tales corporate responsibility, you might unwittingly sound like every other “solution” out there. Check your messaging for these three flaws to lift yourself out of the clutter.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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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