Content Marketing Tips From a Trade Press Editor Archives

finding ideas for marketing contentAre your pitches, blogs, videos, podcasts and white papers rehashes of vague buzzwords like transformation and digital?

To avoid pumping out “me-too” messaging, push yourself (and your in-house subject matter experts) to dig deeper and come up with specific, actionable advice for your potential customers.

One great example comes from a story about data analytics on the TechTarget publishing and marketing site. Don’t let the fact it is old (December 2013) stop you from reading it carefully. The subject (data as a corporate asset) is as fresh as ever. More importantly, this story shows how to take a common, even overhyped, topic and bring fresh, compelling insight to it.

The secret: Asking tough questions based on real-world experience with customers — the kind your sales, support and marketing staff get every day.

Five Meaty Questions

After describing the new (as of 2013) trend of older industries such as manufacturing using Big Data, the piece gets to the good stuff – a five question quiz one vendor asks CIOs to see if they’re serious about treating data as a corporate asset.  The questions include “Are you allocating funding to data, just as you would for other corporate assets?” “Do you measure the cost of poor, missing or inaccurate data?” and “Do you understand the “opportunity cost” of not delivering timely and relevant data to your business?”

While each question has a “marketing spin” (a “yes” answer makes them a better prospect) each is also valuable because they help a prospect understand the real-life challenges of implementing new technology.  Note that each question:

  • Drills beneath good intentions to coldly measure how committed a customer really is. (How much are you willing to spend on this new technology?”)
  • Talks about the non-technical issues that often derail IT projects. (Does this initiative have its own budget?)
  • And describes specific processes (such as measuring the cost of poor quality data and the “opportunity cost” of not delivering high quality data) that can improve how a customer implements the new technology.

Providing detailed insights like this helps establish you as a trustworthy, experienced technology provider and makes it more likely customers will listen when you come to them with a more product-specific pitch.

Finding the Nuggets

Now, how do you wring such insights from your sales, marketing or product support staffs? Whether the subject is Big Data, security, containers or any other buzzword of the week, ask them questions like:

  • How do you know a prospect is serious about our product or service rather than just going through the motions?
  • What are the non-technical factors (such as budget, corporate culture, office politics or management processes) that make implementation of our product succeed or fail?
  • What words, phrases or questions do you hear from a customer or prospect that tell you working with them will be a nightmare, or a pleasure?

The answers to these questions are your “raw material.”  Your next steps are to decide which of the answers are most valuable and relevant, flesh them out with real-world examples and follow up questions from your SMEs, and don’t publish until you can provide detailed, specific and actionable recommendations.

Do all that, and you’re not just another echo chamber in the IT hype factory. You’ll deliver usable, actionable content that will keep your prospects reading — and buying.

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.

Tips for writing product evaluation guides“List” stories are a staple in journalism and in marketing copy. Think “Five Things You Should Consider When Buying an SDD” (solid state drive,) “Five Things to Know about HIPAA-compliant Cloud Storage” and this five-step list from Dell Inc. on how to secure the Internet of Things.

Such “list” stories work well, if they’re done right, because they’re easy to read, deliver useful information and build your reputation as an industry expert. Done wrong, they’re clueless marketing fluff that hurts your brand.

What Not to Do

Try this list of five things to look for in a marketing writer:

  1. A decade or more in the IT trade press, which gives them in-depth knowledge of all types of technology.
  2. Extensive reporting experience, which helps them ask the right questions to understand your marketing message.
  3. Recent in-depth experience writing about the cloud, storage, security and global services.
  4. A short beard which shows maturity, yet coolness.
  5. A hard-to-spell last name, which taught them from an early age how to be accurate and double-check what they write.

So what might a “what to look for” list look like that is generic enough to be useful, but hits enough of the vendor’s strong points to ring the sales bell?

What To Do

  1. Be honest about real-world pros and cons. For example, the SSD piece pointed out that, for maximum performance, you need to keep 20-30 percent of the SSD empty. Built trust by telling the reader inconvenient truths like this before they learn them elsewhere.
  2. Show you understand your audience by focusing your advice on them. If it’s SMBs, your list might include ease of use and low cost. If it is enterprises, it might include ease of integration and scalability.
  3. Talk about human and cultural, not just technical, features. Dell’s IoT security advice, for example, includes the need to educate users on security. I doubt Dell even sells security training, but it shows their real-world experience. An added benefit: If you don’t sell training or consulting, cultural issues are the customer’s problem, not yours.
  4. Don’t make your “advice” so feature-specific it’s clear you’re describing yourself as the answer to everyone’s needs. (See my list, above.)
  5. And avoid “superlative” adjectives such as “strongest,” “fastest,” “broadest,” “most scalable,” in describing what to look for. That’s how vendors talk, not customers, who realize different products have different strengths in different areas.

Now, a question for you.  Should you include your own, or your client’s, products as examples of what to look for in such “list” stories or do they destroy credibility? Give me your best advice and it may make it into a future blog post.

(Check out these other tips for fine-tuning list stories inspired by a survey of customers done by the folks at marketing/IT support site Spiceworks.)

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.

Need Content? Think Before You Write

Focusing your content on your prospect's specific needs is worth the time and effort.

Focusing your content on your prospects’  specific needs is worth the time and effort.

Before spending time, effort and money just to get some content in front of customers, stop and think about what they need to know and how your content will keep you top of mind for their next purchase.

Sound obvious? I thought so, too, but according to Forrester Research Vice President Laura Amos, a lot of B2B marketers still don’t get it.

It’s All About Me

As reported in AdAge, in a May, 2014 survey conducted by Forrester with the Business Marketing Association and the Online Marketing Institute only 14 percent of respondents described their content marketing “very effective” at delivering business value, with just over half ranking it “somewhat effective.”

And yet, according to another survey, 75% of respondents planned to increase their content-marketing budgets this year. Where is our content marketing falling short?

In the crush to produce content, “many marketers revert to talking about what they know and feel comfortable discussing: themselves,” Ramos told AdAge. Her survey of 30 b-to-b websites found that 80% focused on their products and features rather than “issues their customers might be facing…” Finally, she said, in their rush to get some content out, many companies are “not really thinking about how to make the content better or more compelling or more interesting. They’re just producing.”

What Customers Want

The good news is that B2B buyers do want to hear from you. But how can you be sure the content you’re producing is focused on what customers want to know, and that you’re not just talking past them?

You probably know the most pressing issues facing your industry. If it’s health care, they are improving outcomes and adapting to new regulations — while reducing costs. If it’s internal IT, your customers need to improve service levels, roll out new apps more quickly – and reduce costs. If they’re in retail, they may be tracking brand perception and customer purchase patterns on social media – and reducing costs.

But how do you know you’re writing about these issues in a way that will keep your prospects reading? Consider yet another survey in which B2B customers said they want marketing content with:

  • Depth
  • Accessible and understandable information
  • Originality
  • Timeliness

As a sales and marketing professional, you’re skilled in many things. Developing and executing story ideas with a journalist’s eye for these four requirements is probably not one of them.

Free Content Checklist 

That’s why I’m offering this free, no-registration required print-and-post Content Marketing Checklist. It includes 14 detailed questions to ask before hitting “send’ on your next white paper, spec sheet, Webinar or email newsletter.

To check for “depth,” for example, ask whether your content specifically describes how your offering works and why it’s better than the competition. To check for “originality” ask yourself if you’ve just repeated “evergreen” challenges in your industry, or explained how to meet those challenges in a new and better way?

I invite you to print this out, post it on your wall and use it as a quick quality check on your next piece of marketing content. I’d appreciate your letting me know how it works and how I can revise it to make it more useful.

Happy Content Creation!

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.

finding ideas for marketing content“What do I write next?”

At each stage of a drip marketing campaign, you need something different, interesting, and compelling to keep the reader engaged as they move from awareness to consideration to comparison to purchase.

Showing readers why they should care about an ongoing story is a challenge newspaper, broadcast and trade press editors have wrestled with years. They meet it by putting themselves in the reader’s shoes and asking “What do I want to know next?”

Let’s say that, as part of a drip camaign, you want to follow up on one of these stories: That endpoint antivirus is obsolete. That Google+  is dead or dying. That cloud security fears are overblown.

1)   Is “X” True?

First, the reader wants to know whether the story rings true, and more importantly whether it rings true for them.

A great follow-up piece (and a great chance to build a rep as a trusted partner) is to do a more detailed explanation of whether, when and why, a given “insight” is true for a specific reader. Some possible follow-ups for these three stories might be:

  •  Endpoint antivirus isn’t really useless, but is becoming a commodity with limited room for innovation.
  • Google+ isn’t dead, but so far businesses to consumer marketers are having more luck with it than business-to-business types.
  • Cloud security can be good enough, especially if your internal security isn’t that great and you don’t have extreme regulatory requirements.

 2) How does “X” affect me?

 Once they know whether and when “X” is true, the reader wants to know whether “X” is good, bad, or indifferent for them. The two hooks are, of course, greed (reading this I might get me a raise) and fear (if I don’t read this I might get fired.)

Possible follows on our three stories:

  •  I can save some money and be a hero by being the first to suggest we let our antivirus subscription expire. Or I look like a chump if we drop antivirus and the next week we’re hit by a vicious attack. Which risk is greater for my specific situation?
  •  Jill in marketing has been wondering about our Google+ strategy and something in this content suggests a new tack we could take. Maybe I should suggest lunch to explain it. Or dinner. (I forgot lust along with fear and greed as news hooks.)
  •  This story tells me he committee the CFO put together to check out possible cloud providers for us really doesn’t know what it’s doing, and I’ll be blamed for a data breach even if the new service provider is to blame.

 3) What should I be doing about “X”?

Once the reader knows the answer to the “good/bad/neutral” issue, the next question is “What do I do about it?” Be careful with advice  because 1) you could be wrong, and b) you’ll lose credibility if the answer to every question is “Call us.”

The way to thread this needle is, as for question 1, to make your answer specific to different types of prospects, and 2) keep it honest. (After all it does you no good to encourage a lot of unqualified prospects to call you.

Possible content angles for our three stories:

  • Since desktop antivirus is becoming a commodity, buy a low-end, but mainstream package and put your main effort into dealing with breaches after the fact.
  • As a B2B marketer, keep an eye on Google+ but don’t spend huge time on it right now.
  • That clueless cloud committee is getting close to choosing a service provider. Better  cover my rear end by sending the CFO some “tough security questions to ask” in case things blow up after we sign a contract.

 4) What is everyone else doing about “X”?

 This is where surveys, case studies or even “war stories” from your sales force or service staff come into play. Everyone wants to know what their peers are doing and if they’re ahead of, behind or with the crowd.

Sample follow-up content for these three stories might include:

  •  Despite trash talk about AV from security vendors, our survey shows most companies are indeed being cautious and maintaining some desktop antivirus capabilities, while beefing up their security response efforts.
  •  Over lunch a B2B marketer told me a horror story about wasting time on Google+. Or, she told me about a little-known Google+  feature that’s a killer for business users.
  • We summarize a Wall Street Journal story about a Mom and Pop firm that thought cloud security was sure to be better than their own but found that wasn’t true and suffered a breach. We describe the questions they should have asked the provider but didn’t.

There are more angles where these came from. But whatever route you take, keep yourself in the mind of the reader and be informative, not salesly.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my newsletter for upcoming tips on “next questions to ask” to build drip campaigns in specific technology areas.

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.

Why Do Your Industry Trend Pitches Fall Flat?

pitching industry trend stories

The trend here is that I’m not listening.

If you’re like most PR reps, you struggle with getting trade pubs to understand what’s so intriguing about your clients and give them the proper coverage.

Many of you try to sell client’s success as an “industry trend” story. But how’s that working for ya? My guess: Not very well. Here’s why, from an editor’s perspective, and what you can do about it.

Take This Pitch. Please.

At least once a week, I get an email like this:

I’m reaching out because I thought you would be interested in a piece exploring the evolution of the cloud industry and how ACME CLOUD has become a major player in the space. The company already has over 350,000 customers and offers an industry-leading low-cost monthly price.

Their competitor, Big Cloud Juggernaut, has become known for its terrible customer service and this is where ACME SOLUTIONS has carved out a competitive niche. In addition, ACME SOLUTIONS serves all size customers, while Big Cloud Juggernaut and Universal Solutions focus on larger, enterprise-level companies. This has left hundreds of thousands of small and medium size customers for ACME CLOUD to serve.

Customer service isn’t the only differentiator for ACME SOLUTIONS. Check out this price comparison for ACME SOLUTIONS vs. the major players in the industry. It shows ACME SOLUTIONS can provide the same computing capabilities for as little as one-tenth the cost of major competitors.

I would love to get you on the phone with ACME SOLUTIONS CEO to discuss the state of the industry and how they are able to provide such a cost efficient option…

 One Vendor Does Not a Trend Make  

 The only “story” here is that Acme Cloud claims to have lower prices and better customer service than its competitors. and targets an underserved market If I were on-staff covering the cloud industry and had a responsibility to my readers to report on every new entrant to the industry, profiling this company might make sense.

But that’s what this story is, a single company profile, not an industry trend piece. Trying to sell it as a trend actually hurts your case because the body of the email doesn’t back up the opening premise. As an editor or reporter, that tells me you’re trying to put lipstick on a pig and makes me stop reading.

You only have an industry trend story to pitch if:

  • It involves a new business model, competitive edge or technology. One company claiming lower prices or better customer service than another is as old as the hills.
  • It involves multiple companies, of which your client is a lead example. One company claiming a lead over all others is, by definition, a story about your client, not a trend.
  • If you explain how this trend helps the reader.  You could argue that, if Acme Cloud is so great, learning about it helps readers. But that’s only true to the extent their claims are true, and until someone else catches up to them. Next month, Acme could stumble and a competitor take the lead in pricing or service. A better trend pitch would give customers tips on how to choose a cloud vendor that will have lasting advantage over others.

Deliver What You Promise

If there’s more industry insight and thought leadership here, the PR pro needs to identify it in the pitch, and their spokesperson has to deliver on it in the interview. And he has to be able to point to other players, besides themselves, who can vouch for this new trend.

Yes, that’s a tough challenge. But there’s precious little space in credible publications these days, and you have to earn your way into them.

What client pitches are, and aren’t working with influential trade pubs these days? How do you identify, develop and sell industry trend pitches that work? Send me your best examples and I’ll highlight them in a guest post.= 

Need help developing and executing thought leadership content? Drop me a line and we can brainstorm some ideas.

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.

How to Be Your Own Trade Pub

Insert your insights here...

Insert your insights here…

The brutal mugging of the trade press at the hands of the Internet has meant fewer opportunities to place news story or opinion pieces. A recent post by Katherine Griwert at the Content Marketing Institute shows how to attract prospects to your site by publishing industry news on your own.

She cites security-as-a-service provider ProofPoint Inc., which faced challenges I often see with my clients. ProofPoint needed more content to boost their search ranking, their customers “weren’t always responsive when we ask what they want to learn and there’s only so much one can add to a site’s core products section,” said Director of Market Development Keith Crosley.

In response, ProofPoint added industry news to an existing white paper and weekly blog strategy, and assigned internal writers to generate ideas for articles based on news about around issues such as “data loss prevention” and “email security.” Results included a page rank that matches that of companies with several times its revenue, with organic search traffic rising 18 percent quarter over quarter, and news-related posts generating thousands of unique page views among organic search visitors.

Not Just News, Commentary

As Griwert points out, just re-posting industry news won’t draw as many readers (or impress your prospects) as much as explaining to them why it is important or telling them what they should do in response to it.  (For more on when and how to add value to content, read my ebook.)

For proof, look to cloud-based phone provider ShoreTel Sky, which found a 42 percent higher conversion rate among site visitors who read news content than those who read product promotional content. One of their tactics was to report on a story about what doesn’t belong in the cloud, and then explain why phone systems like theirs do belong in the cloud. This is a favorite tactic of mine: Gain instant credibility by admitting the weaknesses of your approach and explaining, by contrast, where it works best.

Other good ways to turn raw headlines from the Web into good content:

Explain why the reader should care: What trend does it illustrate, what opportunity does it uncover, and which dangers does it warn about? For example: “This wave of ‘software-defined storage’ announcements shows how much confusion there is around the term. This is an early-stage industry that promises great benefits, but needs to shake out before it is real.”

 Explain what the reader should do: “When reading about `software-defined storage’ be sure to look past the buzzword and ask how each offering meets your specific needs, such as scalability, availability and avoiding a single point of failure.”

 Explain what the original story missed and how that affects the reader: “Each of these announcements talk about software-defined storage without integrating it to the broader  software-defined data center. What good is software-defined storage if it’s a silo I need to manage apart from my servers and storage?”

 Expand on the story/explain the trend with an anecdote:  “I was talking with a client the other day who said `software defined storage’ is B.S. He says it’s nothing but a fancy term for storage virtualization, which has never proved its worth. This got me thinking about where we fell short with storage virtualization and where the industry needs to go from here…”

 And how do you tie the stories you write to the products or services you sell? The answer: Only when it’s justified. If in doubt, deliver smarts and insight to your readers, not a drumbeat about your most recent product release. When your product or service is a natural fit for a post, story, mention its advantages briefly with a link to an offer page, but don’t overdo it.

For example, here’s how I would do it for this post: If you’d like an editor’s help developing news content or an editorial calendar for your site, feel free to be in touch.

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 Make Me Feel So…Optimized

We're just not leveraging our synergies, honey.

I just don’t feel we’re leveraging our synergies, honey.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, do these words set you afire?

I’m guessing not. That’s because “optimize” is a vague buzzword that could mean anything and, thus, means nothing.

I see this term every day in the raw material clients give me as prep for white papers, blog posts, bylined articles and other content marketing. I sometimes wind up using it, if making a stink with a client would just bog down the process without changing their mind.

But here’s why “optimize” is not only worthless jargon, but is actually harmful because it can lull buyer and seller into thinking they’re talking about the same goals when they’re not. Just as the buzzword “transform” can create landmines that can sink deals, confusion over “optimization” makes it harder for prospects to understand why to choose you over someone else.

Here’s why.

We’re Optimum! We’re Good!

Most folks would agree that to “optimize” something means to make it as good as it can possibly be. But “good” has very different meanings for different buyers and sellers.

One Web site I saw recently said their technology “optimizes” the Web. Does that mean reducing the cost of the Web, making it easier to use, or (as I suspect from their tagline) speeding access to it Saying “We speed your Web access” would have grabbed the attention of prospects who need that specific benefit – speed – but who might pass over a vague “optimization” promise.

Even worse is using “optimize” to convey opposing ideas. Outsourcing providers or consultants will promise, in one sentence, to “optimize costs” for customers and in the next sentence to “optimize their cash flow.” Last time I checked, you want to reduce your costs but increase your cash flow. Using the same word to mean two different things in adjacent sentences doesn’t say much for a service provider’s ability to keep you posted on progress and problems.

Optimize for What?

In other cases, “optimize” can mean too many things in content marketing. Does “optimizing” a data center mean speeding its performance or reducing its cost? If cost reduction is key, are capital (equipment) costs or operational (staffing, power, space) costs the main target?  Different data center owners will have different needs. Why not show how you can meet those specific needs rather than hiding it under overall “optimization?”

Finally, consider a consultant trying to sell a cellular carrier on its ability to “optimize” the carrier’s service and pricing plans. Does this mean “optimizing” the plans to deliver the most revenue and profit per customer (as a mature, entrenched player might want) or to sacrificing some profits to earn market share, as a hungry start-up might want?

I can hear someone out there saying “Optimizing” can mean any of these things, so we use it rather than list all the individual things we can do.”

I’m all for keeping things brief, but not at the expense of precision. If “optimize” really means “increase,” “reduce” or “speed” replacing it with those words is a draw. Adding the words “optimizing for cost (or speed, or market share, or whatever)” adds so much precision it’s worth the extra length.

Sweet nothings are fine for passionate moments, but marketing to time-starved B2B professionals requires clarity. I intend to scrub “optimize” from my marketing lingo wherever possible and replacing it with clear explanations of what my clients offer. Your thoughts?

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.
One of the few who really have no competitors.

One of the few who really have no competitors.

During my years hearing vendor pitches as an editor, I’d always ask “Who are your competitors?” to help position the pitch in my mind.

It was a standing joke among reporters that the marketing folks would always respond “Well, we HAVE no competitors…” The reason: their product or service was so full-featured, easy to use, affordable, scalable, flexible, or whatever that no one could hope to compete.

Is claiming you have no competitors clever marketing that highlights how unique you are? Or is it a self-defeating lie that insults the intelligence of your prospects and shows you’re only interested in selling to them, not listening to their needs?

As you can tell by how I phrased the question, I come down on the “self-defeating lie” side. But to be fair, here are the pros and cons of using this line. Let me know what you think after reading them.

Arguments in Favor:

  1. Heck, we really are unique. No one else offers the same mix of features, quality, customer support and price, not to mention our corporate culture of serving the customer and our leadership role in the industry. We have a more complete and far-reaching understanding of where the market is going than anyone else. Why shouldn’t we tout that?
  2. Naming other companies as competitors only gives these incompetent sleazebags credibility. We know they can’t match our capabilities, and we also know about their funding, channel, management and customer churn problems because we hear about them from prospects. Elevating them to our level in the marketplace is not only unfair to us, but misleading to our customers.
  3. Hey, we’re only kidding! People know we don’t mean this literally. Of course there are other companies claiming to do what we do, but this is our way of blowing them out of the water. Prospects are savvy enough to understand this.

Arguments Opposed

  1. Everyone has competitors, even a company near the top of its revenue, profits and market share game like Apple. Yes, you may offer more functions, higher quality, better pricing or better customer service than others. But you probably can’t do all of that at the same time for every customer. And even if you can now, someone will beat you in one or more areas in six months. This is what is known as the free enterprise system.
  2. Your prospects know you’re lying about having no competitors, because they have competitors. (See point above re: free enterprise system.) They also know you have competitors because they’re hearing from them, and can judge whether their offerings are better or worse than yours. Is lying to someone who knows you’re lying a good way to show them you’re trying to help them and not just meet your sales quota?
  3. Claiming you have no competitors hides your real value proposition – that you have created an offering that matches your specific customers’ needs for a unique mix of features, functions, quality, service and price. No one offering, from smart phones to SUVs to storage hypervisors can meet every customer’s needs, not should it. Claiming “We have no competitors” signals you care less about meeting the needs of your market niche than forcing a sale down their throat.

And the Verdict Is…?

How was that for an unbiased setup? Now, for your vote. State-run broadcasting companies from North Korea, or others whose competitors would be shot, need not respond.

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.
 Page 1 of 2  1  2 »