Content Marketing Archives

I try to steer my clients from vague buzzwords such as “transformation” in content marketing because they confuse customers rather than engage them. Now, no less an authority than industry guru Gartner is warning that using the word “transformation” in contract negotiations can also  foul outsourcing deals by raising false expectations among customers.

The warning came in Gartner’s June 2011 Magic Quadrant ranking of finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing providers as it advised to “Ban the words `innovation’ and `transformation’ because they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”

Specifically, the Gartner report said, it can lead the customer to believe “`…my service provider is all-knowing and can fix everything.’” Imagine, for example, a customer who’s been unable to reduce costs or understand a new market due to internal cultural and organizational problems. An outsourcer comes in promising to “transform” their organization and runs afoul of those same problems. The outsourcer loses money trying to solve problems it never signed up to tackle in the first place, and the customer has wasted time and effort without achieving their goals.

Another scenario Gartner mentioned involves the customer choosing the lowest-price provider and  “left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.” Innovation and “transformation” require understanding where a business is now and where it needs to be. That’s why, Gartner advises baselining the current state of affairs and not hoping the outsourcer “will solve all the internal process issues, which may never have been addressed internally.”

Using “Transformation” in Content Marketing

This confusion is mirrored in the results of my ongoing online survey which shows 40 percent of respondents agree with my “gut” definition that transformation means a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believe marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers just use transformation in their copywriting as a synonym for “improve.” Hence the confusion when an outsourcer is using “transform” to mean just a lower price, while the customer is expecting a radical makeover

One simple way to avoid trouble in content marketing – and to set yourself apart from the hordes throwing around the “transform” buzzword – is to insert the word “by” after the word “transform” and explain specifically what you will do, how you will do it, and the specific business benefits you’ll deliver.

Examples:

  • We will transform your accounts payable by performing all transactions on our cloud-based platform, analyzing all payments with our proprietary algorithms to detect waste and fraud, and shifting any manual processing such as troubleshooting to our offshore staff. We commit to permanently reducing processing costs by at least 36% and waste and fraud losses by at least 23%. Reducing payment times by one week will also allow you to recover 10% early payment discounts from your vendors.
  • We will transform your IT infrastructure by shifting peak loads and Web-facing systems to our lower-cost cloud, managing remaining internal systems with our offshore remote management staff and remotely testing applications. This will permanently reduce your  capital budget by 60%, your operating budget by 60% and time to market for new applications by one month. Future work shifting will, within five years, allow you to devote 50% of your IT spending to new initiatives versus only 20% now.
  • We will transform your customer service by surveying current and past customers to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and comparing your costs, service levels and customer satisfaction levels to other clients with whom we have worked. We will design, implement and monitor the organizational and cultural changes required to meet your strategic goal of permanently becoming the top-ranked vendor in your industry for customer service.

In each case, everything after the word “by” explains what you mean by “transformation” and how you will achieve it. While Gartner focused on outsourcing, describing “transformation” in any content marketing clearly leaves  much less room for confusion, and much more compelling content to attract and keep customers. Let me know how you’re hearing “transformation” used and misused in content marketing.

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.

If You Can’t Profile Right, Don’t Bother

There’s an old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That’s sure true when it comes to profiling customers, or scoring leads, based on their digital profiles. Just ask travel site Orbitz, which is getting a lot of grief for reportedly steering Mac users to higher-priced fares than it does PC users.

Maybe Orbitz assumes Mac users have higher incomes than PC users, or are more likely to spend more for a perceived “quality” experience. Unless Orbitz has some nifty purchase pattern data about Mac users the rest of us haven’t seen, this not only is lousy PR for Orbitz but a lousy way to determine how much a given user has to spend, and how likely they are to spend it.

I Use a PC and I Have Money…Honest…

Any one digital clue (such as choice of operating system) is too small a sample to be meaningful when scoring leads. How about, for example, all those modestly-paid teachers whose school districts use Macs? Or all those starving artists and graphic designers who insist on using only Macs? Or poor college students who got an educational discount on one? And all those high-priced consultants and middle to upper management types who use PCs because of the enterprise applications available for them. They probably book more last-minute, high-priced fares than your average teacher or free-lance designer.

What’s worst, this single-metric profiling (if it did actually happen) is not how profiling should be done if you aim is to get the most maximum lifetime value out of a customer, rather than wringing every last dollar from every transaction. The real aim of profiling should be to give every prospect the information they need when they need it to make an informed choice. Give the customer more, and better information they can trust, and they’re more likely to trust and buy from you.

Profile Me. Please

This is especially true in more complex sales where you’re comparing more than departure, arrival and layover times. I, for example, am considering a solid state drive for my aging ThinkPad. I would love it if an online retailer could (with my permission, of course) analyze my system and honestly tell me which would provide the most bang for the buck based on my combination of processor, RAM, current disk, etc. Based on that, would I pay another 20 to 30 percent for the best performing drive? Absolutely.

The further up the cost and complexity scale you go (think IaaS providers, databases, service providers) the more carefully you should choose the digital “clues” you should follow. Unsure how to score prospects based on your current “one-size-fits-all” content? Carefully craft content designed to attract specific customer types so they score themselves based on what they read. (Watch a two-minute video example.)

When done well, customer profiling is not only acceptable but a benefit. Think of when Amazon gets it right and tells you about a cool book or musician you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Doing it right takes a lot more time and effort, but (if focused on your most attractive customers) pays off big-time.

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 any product road maps you'd care to share?

Way back in November 2010, I asked “How Much Rope Should You Give a Corporate Reporter?”  The question just hit uncomfortably close to home, with a blog post (now on hold) that would have required me to get comment from one of my client’s competitors.

The topic is the effects of mergers and acquisitions on well-known product in my client’s market space. The post would have raised the question of what will happen to a well-known group of products, widely used by customers, as a result of their being bought by larger companies. Will the acquiring companies keep selling and supporting them? Will they continue to OEM them, as their former owners did, to multiple other vendors, or kill them off in favor of the acquiring company’s own offerings?

Trust Me, I’m the Competition

These are all great questions, which have formed the basis for countless stories and columns in the trade press down through the ages. As a reporter for a trade pub, I would call the acquiring companies, their customers, their competitors, resellers and industry analysts to ask if there have been or will be any layoffs in the development groups for those products? Will the acquired products be merged into existing product lines, and, if so, how? How long will the acquiring company support any “orphaned” products?

But as a paid representative of a competitor, would any of these folks – should they – take my call as a representative of a competitor? Is a competitor’s Web site an appropriate place to lay out your post-acquisition product strategy, or to defend it? Can you trust a paid representative of a competitor to quote you accurately, and not spin your comments into an ad for their products?

The easy way out is to just pose the questions in an “open letter to the industry,” calling righteously on your competitor, or customers, or someone else in a “legitimate” position to get to the truth. But that is misleading the reader by raising urgent and important questions, but not doing all you can to answer them. That, in my opinion, is lying to the reader, pretending to report the news while only sowing fear, confusion and doubt to boost your employer’s sales.

Morality? What’s That?

There are obviously moral implications here, and the practical need to not compromise my “reporter” reputation by putting my name to blatant marketing material. But there’s also a more practical content marketing question: How far should we go using traditional journalistic tools (like getting the other side of the story) to meet the business need of attracting and keeping readers on our client’s sites?

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 to Repeat a Competitor’s Lies

I hear their beta is buggy as heck...

We all have competitors dishing the dirt on us. One way to fight back: Boldly repeat their lies, only to demolish them point by point.

Maybe they’re saying your growth is unsustainable because you’re giving away product to score reference customers. Maybe they’re claiming customers are ripping out your software a year after installation because it doesn’t scale. Or that you’re in the process of ruining that great technology you acquired from a start-up last year.

Many of my clients tip-toe around the accusations, carefully crafting white papers or mission statements aimed at disproving these claims without ever describing them. By hinting that something might be, or could be wrong, and that you’re fixing it (without saying what it is and what you’re doing) you only make customers more confused and skeptical.

A bolder, clearer and more effective approach is to repeat and even amplify what you consider to be underhanded claptrap, loudly and clearly, and then refute it point by point. It’s a technique you’ve probably heard radio talk shows hosts use. I ran across it while browsing aviation Web sites (yeah, I’m an airplane nut) and seeing a promo for Emirates airlines rebutting charges it gets unfair government subsidies.

Note how Emirates, rather than tiptoeing around the subject with euphemisms like “the proper role of government in supporting the aviation industry” headlined the charges against them, repeating them (and naming those making them) in case the reader hadn’t heard them before.

Identifying the lying so and sos...

 

Then they refuted them, point by point and with pages and pages of statistics and even quotes from oil companies assuring they charge Emirates fair market rates for jet fuel even though the airline is in the middle of the world center of oil production.

 

...refuting them with unnamed sources. Oh, well.

They even defend their record on touchy subjects like the conditions of the many immigrant workers in the Gulf. Taking on risky issues like this that aren’t even central to their business fairly screams that they have nothing to hide. Its part of the sheer mass of facts, figures, numbers and angles they throw at the reader – everything from airport landing fees to whether Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws in the U.S. are, in effect, a form of government subsidy. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but it sure changes the terms of the argument.

And isn’t that what you want to fight unfounded rumors?

This in-your-face approach helps cut though today’s Web-based information overload, telling the audience “We’re so sure these claims are bogus we’ll blast them loud and clear so you can see how ridiculous they are.” This is chutzpa and it works, though I’m not sure I’d use that term resonates in the UAE.

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.

Yoda Says: Be Patient, Marketing Wanna-Be

There is no such thing as "try." You're either generating leads or you're not.

For those of you who’ve been following my “Lone Ranger Content Marketing” blogs you’ll note it’s been quiet for the last few months. Too quiet, as they say in the movies.

The “problem” has been a glut of paying work customers have wanted delivered quickly. This has kept me from doing the hard, patient work required to use marketing automation software to distribute content and identify prospects by tracking what they read. That background work includes building customer personas, creating content to reach each customer type, measuring the readership of that content and then following up with the highest quality leads.

A recent post on the “Marketing Automation Software Guide” site does a great job describing what it really takes to get ROI from marketing automation software. In it, Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist of marketing services firm Leaded, tells customer that “If you have all of your content in place and a solid plan, you will start seeing different (better) leads around the six-month mark as nurturing starts to precipitate leads out of the funnel and into sales.

His four pieces of advice, while aimed at larger companies than mine, also speak to a one-person (or similarly understaffed) MA operation:

  1. Get executive buy-in for the purchase you’re about to make…MA can get complicated and take a while to show results. You need the executive suite to fully understand this or they will get impatient, fast. For the one-person shop the “buy-in” means making regular time in your schedule, no matter what, for the MA grunt work regardless of what short-term fires you need to fight
  2. Assemble and assess your content, re-using existing content and building it into your lead scoring by shaping it around the buyer personas you’ve created. For you lone rangers out there, this is part of the background work you need to be doing every day.
  3. Determine milestones. What results do you want, and by when? This is a trial and error process so the plan will probably change quite a bit in the beginning. For sole practitioners (even if they’re working within larger organizations) such external milestones can help restore your focus when several days of urgent work for clients have taken our eye off the MA ball. 
  4. Don’t hand off every single lead to sales, but wait until “they are so hot they’re ready to sign.”  The temptation to “pounce” on a seemingly interested lead is even greater for a sole practitioner grinding away in isolation for months. Again, patience is best so when you do contact a lead, they sign and give you the reinforcement and ROI you really need – new business. 

Justin’s bottom line is that good marketing is hard, and that marketing automation (like other forms of automation) is only as good as the processes it speeds along. For a marketer working for a very small organization, or in isolation within a larger group, it seems the key is to work as slowly and methodically as you need to – but not to stop.

May the force be with you, and may it direct you the post itself here.

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 to Outsource Your Writing

What's our product positioning again this week?

One of the toughest decisions for budget-conscious marketers is when to hire an outsider to create marketing content, and when they can do the heavy lifting themselves. What they often overlook is whether they themselves understand what they want to say before bringing in outside help.

Marketers ask themselves if they have anyone on staff with both the subject matter expertise and writing ability? Does that person have time to write on top of their other work? And is writing a better use of their time than, say, selling or billing hours with clients? But a recent chat with Christophe Cremault, who heads up marketing for Radix, an innovative branding and marketing agency, gave me some new thinking on this question.

He pointed out there are two kinds of content sellers need.

The first is white papers, Webinars, podcasts, ebooks, etc. where you’ve already thought through the subject, knows what you want to say, and can explain it well enough that an outside wordsmith just needs to polish it up. Unless you already have a superb writer on staff, this is a slam dunk to outsource, and with the right writer you’ll get excellent, fast results.

The second case is where your content needs more work before you outsource it.  Maybe you haven’t thought through the tough questions, such as “What is our real differentiation?” or “What is the real pain point we’re addressing?” Other times, especially in large global organizations (you know who you are) scattered sales and operational units haven’t yet agreed on messaging, or functional groups are too busy meeting client needs to provide background.

Based on recent experience, you’re not ready to hire a free-lance writer, editor, or Webinar host until you can answer these questions in ten words or less. (More than that and you haven’t clarified your own thinking enough.)  

  1. The three messages we want to get across are __________, ________________, and ___________.
  2. The three things we do better than our competitors are _____________, ____________, and ___________.
  3.  The target audience(s) for this piece is (are)   ___________.
  4.  The action we want readers to take after reading this is to  ___________.
  5.  The one person who will serve as single point of contact for the free-lancer, who has the authority to decide when the piece meets our needs, is _____________.

 

The better you can answer these questions before hiring an outside writer, the less time you’ll spend in messy clarification sessions, revising useless copy, and juggling production schedules due to delays. You’ll also be the type of good client that writers want to work with, which is important in a market where increasing demand is letting writers be pickier about assignments.

But most importantly, you’ll be spending your precious marketing dollars most efficiently, and getting great content out to your customers before your competitors.

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.

Where’s the Beef In Marketing Automation?

Sales says the leads STILL aren't any good?

Marketers of a certain age will remember an ad from the Wendy’s hamburger chain castigating its rivals for its skimpy burgers. It showed, memorably, a little old lady yelling “Where’s the beef?” at employees of rival chains. (Walter Mondale also recycled the line in attacking his opponent Gary Hart’s economic policies.) )

I wanted to do some tweaking of my own when I read a recent blog post, How do you convince your boss to buy marketing automation, by Kim Roman, Director of Demand Generation at G5 Search Marketing. Among her excellent advice to prove the value of MA software (that automatically distributes and monitors the readership of marketing material) was to “approach the conversation with facts and numbers, not emotion,” to “present a solid business case” and to “touch on how goals and KPIs (key performance indicators” will be affected.

All well and good, but what “facts and numbers,” and “goals and KPIs” do we really have to prove the ROI of marketing automation used in email and other campaigns? Her blog post failed to mention any specific metrics to trot out, such as:

  • Increased sales.
  • Conversion rates (defined as a purchase, not downloading a white paper or signing up for an email newsletter.)
  • Improved lead quality (as measured by sales, close rates or profitability per customer.)
  • Reduced cost of sales.
  • Increased profitability per customer.
  • Increased upsell/cross sell per customer, or
  • Increase in lifetime sales.

This lack of specificity seems to afflict marketing automation vendors in their case studies. All too often, what passes for results is “increased Web traffic” or “200% increase in white paper downloads,” which are steps in the right direction, but are only show increased market awareness. There’s no proof you’re getting more attention from the right people, or that those people are buying as a result of your marketing automation program.

“Increased marketing efficiency” or “reduction in marketing expenses” is another metric I often see which seems like all bun, no beef. If you’re doing an ineffective job marketing, and MA lets you spend less doing it, you’ve only cut your losses. Not a compelling ROI case.

Lauren Carlson, a CRM Analyst at Software Advice  on whose blog Kim’s post ran, argues that MA is evolving into what MA vendors Marketo and Eloqua are calling Revenue Performance Management, “layering on more analytics that will give you the exact numbers…making it easier to prove ROI.” There’s a great comment stream on her blog arguing whether this is just hollow rebranding or something more real.

From my own experience, I have sympathy for those still waiting to deposit a check with the words “Marketing Automation did this” in the bank. I know my own efforts over the last few months are working, in that I’m talking to and forming partnerships with more people  who “get” marketing automation and seen the vision. But developing a marketing automation strategy, not to mention the required content, is plain hard work, and is keeping a lot of us waiting for our burger and fries.

If anyone has a workable methodology that delivers quick, provable wins from marketing automation, this would be a great time to speak up.

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.

Chapter Four: They always say don’t change horses in the middle of the stream. But if the water is rising around you and a stronger-looking horse (or a better-looking email editor) comes around…well you get the idea.

After burning more than a week and about 10 hours of my Web developer’s time trying to create emails in LoopFuse, I was about ready to launch my first email when the photos stubbornly refused to display correctly. Just then, an alert person at their rival Genoo (having read my blog whining about this issue) suggested I check them out. Turns out Genoo is unveiling e kind of easy to use, template-rich email designer LoopFuse lacked so I’m in the process of making the shift.

Stuck in a steady flow of tech issues.

(Before jumping ship, yet another shout-out to the superb sales and support folks at LoopFuse, who did all they could to help, as well as to Josh at their services partner Clever Zebo, who also jumped into the fray. For those of you with strong HTML skills in house, I’d still recommend LoopFuse as a good low-end platform and, besides the email, I like their interface. But I need to get the email portion of my marketing done ASAP, and messing around with email design was just getting in the way.

So far, the Genoo email interface looks useful, but as with anything there’s a learning curve. I managed, for example, to trash my image library by deleting the default “micro site” Genoo creates for each new user. Leave it to me to find a way to break something straightforward. (Genoo is currently tweaking their code, I understand, so anyone else who deletes all their micro-sites won’t run into the same issue.)

Suffice it to say, once more, whichever tool you use leave some time for learning and troubleshooting.

Now, for some good news. Even before launching formal content marketing, I’m getting results from the more frequent, consistent and focused blogging, Tweeting and LinkedIn commenting I’ve been doing. I was invited to do a guest post on the value of personas at the Savvy B2B blog, am in partnership talks with a Los Angeles-based demand creation agency, and got a query from a potential client about help with a lead generation program. While I can’t write “content marketing” on a check yet, after only six weeks I’m moving in different circles and getting interest from new and different potential clients.

Meanwhile, the tide of regular, paying work is picking up after the holiday lull, putting more time pressure on. The challenge new becomes to stay disciplined and to keep building out my Web site, content plan, and email blasts to not let my momentum slide. If anyone finds more hours in the day, send them my way!

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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