Content Marketing Tips From a Trade Press Editor Archives

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.

Using Follow-Up Questions To Drive Great Content

In journalism school they teach that the best reporters ask the dumbest questions.  That’s because the dumbest-sounding, most obvious questions are often the ones everyone else is dying to ask but are afraid to because they think they’ll look dumb themselves.

This is just as true when you, as the marketing or product manager, are asking a subject matter expert to explain the value of a new product or service. When you get a curt or obvious answer to your first question, asking the right follow-up can uncover the “news” you need to drive a compelling content marketing program using blog post, Webinars, white papers and more.

Here are some recent follow-up questions I’ve asked subject matter experts, with explanations of how they uncovered the hidden content marketing “news” potential in their original answers:

 I asked: “When you talk about the ‘risk’ if companies don’t use your software, I assume you mean business risks like      system downtime as well as legal and compliance issues?

SME clarified: “Yes, but even more important to our clients these days is the risk of spending money on security where they don’t have to when budgets are so tight.” The news: Customers are thinking more about the risks of misinvesting these days along with traditional risks like business continuity and compliance.”

I asked: “When you talk about storage virtualization, I assume you mean creating virtual storage pools, just as in server virtualization. Right?”

SME clarified: “Yes, we create virtual pools of storage. But we also virtualize associated storage applications such as backup and replication, eliminating those areas as potential bottlenecks.” The news:  There’s a new concept out there called storage application virtualization, it’s different than server virtualization and solves different problems.”

I asked: You say that as an outside agile development consultant, you serve as the “gate keeper” who ensures quality execution throughout a project from start to finish. What exactly does that mean?”

SME clarified: “With our years of experience, we know which common mistakes to look for, like not holding everyone properly accountable at each stage in an agile development process.” The news: Many customers may think they’re doing agile development right when they’re not, and the weak point is holding all the players accountable.”

I asked: “You’re announcing your first channel program for `IT consultants.’ What do you mean by an `IT consultant’ and how is it different from a traditional reseller?”

SME clarified: “An IT consultant doesn’t resell hardware or software, and only provides services. This is the first time we’ve offered a program specifically for these technology influencers. The news:  Even if they don’t resell products, folks who sell customers technical services can, for the first time, earn revenue by recommending this vendor’s hardware.

In each of these cases, asking even obvious-sounding follow-ups (“What do you mean by an `IT consultant?’” revealed an actionable, specific piece of information the target audience would find useful and that will keep them interacting with your brand. In each case, it’s easy to see how you could build out blog posts, case studies, Webinars, podcasts or videos building off the answer to even one question.

Bottom Line: If you’re not getting the actionable, interesting information you need for content marketing from your subject matter experts, ask!

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.

The best reporters and editors are those who can step outside what they think is important and focus on what their readers care about most.

It’s a basic lesson but one that’s frightfully hard to keep in mind, whether you’re doing content marketing or covering Hurricane Sandy, the supposed “Frankenstorm” hitting the East Coast today (October 29, 2012.) As of 11:12 AM, an hour after my local paper said the “most damaging winds” were supposed to hit, I’m seeing only light rain and mild breezes out my window.

What happened to the storm, besides a healthy dose of hype? A look at a weather map (above, which I had to drill into the New York Times site to find) shows the storm took a sharp left turn and, it seems, will pass to the west of Boston.

Whoever was updating the Globe Web site could have looked out the window at the calm scene, realized, “Gee, it doesn’t look so bad,” and written a lead something like:

“With Hurricane Sandy taking a sharp left turn inland, Greater Boston should miss the heaviest winds and rains, with the storm hitting 12 hours later than originally thought, forecasters said Monday. The area is expected to still get winds gusts as high as 75 M.P.H., but not until late Monday or early Tuesday, forecasters said.”

Your customers and prospects are caught in a hurricane of their own: Wind-driven hype and torrents of blog posts, white papers, Tweets and news stories about the technology they need to do their jobs. Just like a homeowner wondering if they should bring in the lawn furniture, all they care about is the latest news and how it affects them.

That means your content marketing efforts should tell them:

  • What just happened: New regulations hit small businesses; the iPad gets traction among business users; a critical flaw is found in software that controls many industrial systems. Each of these stories passes the “Gee, I didn’t know that!” and tells the reader what steps they should take as a result.
  • What it all means: Explain what a news event means to your customers or prospects and the resulting action they should take. A great example was a pitch from way back in 2007 explained the implications of Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista for its Network Access Control. Here, the pitch told me as an editor something I didn’t know and what it meant, at least according to one vendor.
  • And not just what you care about! “Jambo Software today announced an OEM agreement with MegaSystems under which Jambo’s IP-Sec enablement module will be integrated with MegaSystems Wasteful ERP solution. `We are pleased and honored to be included in MegaSystems’ industry-leading scalable, robust platform.” Explain instead what a Mega Systems customer can do as a result of this integration and you have a story.

Before posting that content on your blog, promoting it on Twitter or teasing it an email, look up from your screen and out the window at the world your customers are seeing. Make sure everything you do in text, video, podcast or Webinar is not only new, but most relevant to their immediate needs.

And, no, as of 11:51 AM the winds still haven’t picked 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.

Editorial CalendarLet’s say you followed my recent advice on how to create, and execute, an editorial calendar for marketing content. Here’s how to use that content for lead generation.

If all went well, your subject matter experts have created (or are creating) posts describing:

  • Common problems your customers or prospects should know about;
  • Industry trends that could affect their sales or profits, and
  • Innovative things done by really smart customers their peers should copy.

Now, how do you use this content to generate leads? By mapping the topics they came up with to the needs of your most desirable prospects. Those are the pieces of content that, when read, signal to you which readers are a better, rather than a worse, fit for what you’re selling.

So how do you track who read what?

If you’re promoting this current to current customers or prospects, through an email newsletter, use an email distribution tool or marketing automation platform to track who read what and score them accordingly for lead generation purposes. You can then offer them follow-up content to further gauge their interest and how close they are to buying, forwarding their names to sales staff when you judge they’re ready for a call.

To capture contact information from anonymous readers (who find you through a Web search or social media) offer them something of value to capture at least their email address, such as an ebook, a “how to buy” guide or a subscription to your email newsletter.

Here are some examples of how content from your editor calendar can be used for lead generation.

  • A software vendor needs resellers to boost sales of the software it developed to enhances the performance of a popular database. Because they were asked to share common customer problems, tech support offers tips on how to configure the database to boost performance.  Resellers specializing in that database read the post, find it useful and provide their contact information in return for a subscription to the vendor’s newsletter.  (Check out my two-minute video on using custom content to also troubleshoot channel issues.)
  • A local network installation consultant is looking for new clients in the health care space. Because they were asked what smart customers are doing, someone in marketing describes how one customer took advantage of a little-known provision in Obamacare that provides tax breaks for implementing electronic health care records. The resulting post explains what those breaks are and how to get them. This attracts prospects who would consider such an upgrade if those tax breaks could help pay for it.
  • A global service provider needs to identify new prospects for its ERP implementation services. Because its consultants were asked about problems customers are facing, they identified five areas where shortcomings with ERP software increase the time and effort required to go live. The resulting “five things to consider” post links to a gated white paper with details on each of the five issues. Tracking which readers register for which of the five white papers give sales a detailed idea of what to discuss in the follow-up call.

An edit calendar requires too much effort not to put it to work generating leads. Subscribe here for more tips on content marketing and lead generation for IT providers, or contact me to discuss an immediate need.  Editorial Calendar

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Bob Scheier
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.

What’s the Right Length for Marketing Copy?

“How long should this (white paper, Web page, case study, etc.) be is a question I still get surprisingly often from content marketing clients. The answer an editor would give is: As long as it needs to be, and not a word longer.

We all know the conventional wisdom that a case study shouldn’t be more than two to three pages, a blog post no more than 500-700 words and a white paper no more than four to five pages. But how do you decide specifically how long to make each piece of content to get the most buzz with prospects and on social media?

When I edit marketing copy I make sure it is long enough to:

  •  Say everything important and new you have to say about the subject. If the piece is getting too long, refocus on one idea more closely.
  •  Explain things clearly enough that everyone can understand. If I doubt, overexplain. Spell out acronyms; explain jargon with short explainers. Remember to explain why the reader should care.
  •  Include enough “gold coins” to keep prospects involved. These might be great quotes, fun statistics, videos – whatever.

But short enough to:

  • Contain no extra words.  Trim redundancies such as “first began,” “joined together,” “split up,” and overlong long introductions like “CEO John Smith comments on the product launch…”
  • Hold no unnecessary quotes: Your CEO’s exact words describing how thrilled and honored he is about his latest OEM agreement is snoozeville. Use those precious words to instead describe the impact on customers.
  • Say everything only once. I recently edited a product brochure that made the same point, in different words, in three different places. Decide where it makes sense to say something and say it — once!

Follow these rules and you’ll be “close enough” to the right length. What’s more important than the number of words (or minutes of podcast or video) is that you make every word or second count.

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.

Editorial CalendarAn editorial calendar (like this one for Computerworld, for whom I still write) is simply a list of content ideas, with a schedule for when each will be published.

This keeps everyone on schedule about what they need to produce, and when. To make an edit calendar really effective in content marketing, build it around the most important challenges facing your prospects, and the information that will keep them engaged.

When I needed editorial calendar ideas as a trade press editor, I asked myself and my other reporters:

  •  In our recent conversations with customers, what common problems have they mentioned?
  • In our recent conversations with vendors, what buzzword have they thrown around we don’t understand or believe in?
  • In our recent customer visits, what’s impressed us as so smart that our readers could learn from it?

Your sales, customer support and marketing staff aren’t paid to be reporters. But they are talking to customers and analysts and are (or should be!) following the competition. Here’s how to get them to share ideas that you can turn into great marketing content.

  • Tell them how many ideas you expect from them, and when.
  • Be specific about the type of ideas you want. “From support reps, we want two examples per month of smart workarounds customers have developed for common problems. From analyst relations, we want two of the newest/most insightful things you’ve heard this month. From sales, we want the objections you’ve heard most often during a close, and how you overcame them.”
  • Give them examples of “news” or trends you want. From a customer support rep: “A lot of mobile developers are asking for better Python documentation.” A sales rep might notice “Suddenly realtors are returning my calls. The market’s picked up and they’re willing to spend.” From analyst relations: “Analysts are really picking up on the `agile data’ theme but we think they should also be talking about the `orchestration’ layer we provide…” All of these are great grist for blog posts, white papers, videos and other content.

And a few final suggestions

  • Have your “requests” for editorial calendar ideas come from the top of the company to “encourage” cooperation.
  • Make the sharing of ideas part of employees’ evaluation and compensation.
  • Aim for a mix of topics, from the tactical (bug fixes and effective sales tactics) to the strategic (big trends in technology, how macro-economic trends are affecting sales) to the fun and off-beat (video of a well-known entertainer opening a big tradeshow.)
  • Use the “water-cooler” test. If it’s worth talking about around the office, it’s worth considering for the editorial calendar.

Let me know how these trade press tips work in corporate marketing and what challenges you’re still facing.

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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