Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

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By Larry Marion, Editorial Director, Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc.

In this era of iPads and short attention spans, is it worth writing a book to establish your (or your client’s) thought leadership?

Yes, but only if you plan from the start how to reuse parts of the book in other forms (such as white papers, Webinars and case studies) in lead generation campaigns, insist on top quality research and writing, and ride herd on all concerned to meet their deadlines.  Done right, you can produce a book (with all the associated prestige, lead generation and other benefits) for little more than the cost of the standalone content elements that make it up.

Here’s how it worked  with the recent publication by McGraw-Hill Professional of The Customer Experience Edge, by Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer and Dr. Volker Hildebrand. The three authors, executives at enterprise software company SAP, approached me in the summer of 2010 with a book idea and a vision of how to economically and efficiently produce it. Together we created four white papers, four case studies, two surveys, two mini books and other assets in addition to the book. Essentially, the total investment for the variety of assets produced a book for free—the normal spend on the co-branded white papers and case studies covered the cost developing the book, including a massive order of copies to be distributed by SAP.

The reasons for doing a book are not what you may think (ego and self-aggrandizement.)  Seeing a great idea take shape in a way that drives sales of the book is what drives the publisher.  For the authors and their corporate sponsor, a commercially published book is more than just a door opener for sales people.  Properly leveraged through webinars, industry events, white papers, case studies and other venues, a book becomes a clear lead generator.

In addition, many authors view a book as a critical component of their C.V., establishing their credibility in an industry in addition to the internal recognition.

Here are some other benefits we’ve seen from helping our clients produce books:

If the book includes leading edge customers, the corporate sponsor ends up with a much tighter bond with them.  The process energizes the customer base in ways you can’t imagine. For example, one of the users/customers cited in the Customer Experience book agreed to write the foreword.  In addition, customers quoted in your book enjoyed increased status as visionaries.

Besides the obvious leadgen, distributing a free copy to select customers instantly establishes your vision for a credible and compelling approach to a business problem or opportunity. Think of it as presales tool for your target market.

Here’s how SAP, Triangle Publishing Services and McGraw Hill delivered a book in October 2011, 12 months after the project began. Yes, you read that right: we delivered all of these assets in a year.

  1. Plan in advance.  We created a content development strategy knowing the goal is repurposing content, yet preserving enough unique content for the book to maintain the sanctity of the publisher’s copyright. McGraw Hill would not bother publishing a book that had already appeared as a series of free reports. The strategy also included recruiting the right team of researchers and editors—extensive prior experience required.
  2. Research. Our goal was to approach every leading edge user and consultant/analyst.  Together we identified 40 potential sources and approached them all. Most agreed to discuss their views and experiences, as well as alert us to other qualified sources.  Working with Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services, we conducted two surveys to identify the current state of customer experience goals and challenges among a global audience of senior executives. The surveys, and polls by others, enable us to deliver an evidence based narrative.
  3.   Writing and editing. We supported the authors with a style guide, to make sure the book would read as if it were written by one person.  This guide also established the tone, the target audience, our goals and other details in the beginning, with examples.  Repurposing the huge amount of information and survey data required two experienced editors who knew the customer experience domain as well as packaging content. They were intimately involved with every word and sentence, before the files were sent to McGraw Hill. We knew its standards and how to meet them.
  4. Project management—this program could only succeed in delivering the key assets within 12 months if publishing industry discipline was enforced. The bureaucratic delay cycle typical of corporate content development would not only stifle creativity, but would doom the book to a forbidden multiyear schedule.  The presses rolled on time due to a huge effort by all of those involved.

Lessons learned:

  • It is possible to do a book in one year, from start to finish.
  • It is possible to derive white papers, case studies and other collateral/assets from book research, but you must have a plan.
  • And you must be flexible—your original plan may be no more than a series of informed hunches.
  • Non writers are not familiar and typically uncomfortable with publishing industry style, work cadence and deadlines. In publishing, deadlines are not a wish list item.  It takes continued vigilance to maintaining the schedule.
  • Of course, while you stick  to the schedule, you don’t sacrifice quality or content.
  • Credibility is everything—the book should not be used to overtly sell a product. The book can sell ideas and techniques and capabilities.
  • Partners. Pick a publisher who is flexible, creative and focused on delivering great books. Avoid those  who just want your client’s money and don’t  care that the book would be replete with errors.
  • Insist on evidence for the points you’re making. No data, no credibility.

Take as much time to market the book as to write the book. Promotion is not just the publisher’s job—the authors must take the lead.

Bottom line: For most  nonfiction authors, and especially IT vendors, the financial rewards  come from leveraging the book as  the ultimate marketing tool, not as a direct revenue generator.

Want to hear more? Contact me at  lmarion@triangle-publishing.com. And to learn what NOT to do, read on…

One day last year I had an urgent telephone call from a vice president at a major public relations agency.  The Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a software company client had paid a ghostwriter to spend six months interviewing the CIO and doing other “research.” The PR team didn’t think the resulting 40,000 words  was a real book. Would I review and make recommendations, given my 20+ years of media experience (including the writing or ghostwriting/editing of four nonfiction books)?

It turns out the CIO and the ghostwriter together made a series of serious errors. The  manuscript  was devoid of examples or enough proof points for a white paper, let alone a book.  It turns out that the CIO had hired a writer who knew nothing about the topic area and had never written a book before.

Only about 20% of the manuscript was good enough for a book, so the CIO’s idea needed a lot of research to develop enough proof points to make it credible.  The client didn’t want to fund the additional work, legitimately complaining that it had already spent a lot of money and didn’t have much to show for the investment.

 So a great book idea died, even though I knew a publisher that would be interested in the idea. The lesson: Choose your author carefully, set your goals for the book and above all, plan for where you want to end up before you begin. 

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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I’m a big fan of content marketing – writing content geared to the needs of a specific audience. Content marketing gives the prospect the information they need when they need it (win for the customer) while nurturing prospects along until they’re ready to make a purchase (win for the vendor). More and more smart companies are doing it.

But a lot more either aren’t doing it or doing it poorly. That’s because it’s hard work and takes a lot of time, as I’m finding in my work with clients on sponsored Web sites and blogs. The effort and expense make it all the more important to target your efforts on your best prospects, and to measure the ROI of your efforts.

Things to know before jumping in:

  • Creating quality content takes time, ranging from finding a relevant subject, identifying the “news” angle you’ll pursue, and then writing it clearly enough that everyone can understand it. I find it takes at least an hour or two to knock off a worthwhile 400-600 word blog post.
  • Corralling internal subject matter experts is a huge time sink. The good ones are too busy doing “real” work on products or for customers to write. When they do, their copy usually needs editing for clarity and brevity. Again, think an hour or two of edit time per internal blog post.
  • If you’re running a single-sponsored site, it takes extra effort to sift out content that mentions competitors or that might otherwise ruffle feathers at the sponsor. This is true of course with any “custom” content but is more of a pain when your Web site is demanding fresh content every day.
  • Monitoring other social media for content to re-use or sources to tap also takes time – especially with the profusion of spam and redundant posts you see on Twitter. Just nuking the political crazies and work from home scams from my client’s Twitter feed is a half-time job.

All this is, of course, part of the inescapable value chain of creating quality content. (The ebook linked to here contains a more complete breakdown of all the costs.) I don’t describe all these obstacles to scare you away from content marketing, but to help you do an accurate cost-benefit analysis – and to target your efforts at a real business problem rather than trying to be all things to all people.

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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A client told me the other day that if a blog post on his site doesn’t mention his product, or convince people to at least learn more about it, it doesn’t do him any good.

To be fair, the post in question was about the slow, but real, progress a customer was making implementing his product despite technical, political and logistical  hurdles. It wasn’t surprising my client didn’t jump for joy about how it would look. And, as it turns out, the customer had made more progress than they mentioned in the interview that led to my post. I reviewed a presentation the client had given, revised the post with a more rounded view of their progress, and all was well.

But this little incident got me thinking about the rules of the road for “corporate journalism” in which paid reporters cover an industry for a vendor. Sometimes the news isn’t all rosy, through no fault of the vendor, but because driving change with new technology can be difficult. A frank, no-holds-barred story about the struggles customers are facing is more compelling and would (in my opinion) draw more readers to the vendor’s site than one tilted, however subtly, towards the inevitable happy ending with the vendor’s name prominently mentioned.

If I were still writing for a trade publication, the “warts-first” story would have run and hit a chord with readers. That’s because conflict and trouble is part of people’s real lives and they want to know how others cope with it. But when does the attention-grabbing draw of bad news on a vendor’s Web site overcome the risk of casting a pall, however slight, over the product or service you’re trying to promote?

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.

How To Tick Off a Customer in 30 Seconds

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                                                                 First, when the customer calls on the phone, start the automated message by telling me I can also get support over the Web. Translation: You’re not worth wasting a service rep on. Go to our Web site so we can save money by having you figure out your problem yourself.”

Second, don’t offer an option to connect to a human being. Translation: Not only are you not worth the cost of a live service rep, you’re so stupid you won’t think of pressing “zero” to reach one.

Next, have the phone robot force the customer to enter their user ID and date of birth (What, no caller ID?) and then mispronounce their name. Translation: We don’t know you from Adam and aren’t ashamed to show it.”Finally, when the customer gets a service rep on the phone, question why the customer wants to do what they’re trying to do — in this case, change from automatic withdrawal to manual payment. Translation: We don’t care what you want. You should use the payment method that’s cheapest for us to process.”

What an accomplishment: I’ve gone from reasonably satisfied to suspicious and grouchy customer, all in 30 seconds. The end result was the same: I got a live rep on the phone and changed by payment method. But in the process my insurer has just made me more likely to delete their emails, balk at their rate increases and consider a competitor if one presents themselves.

This is what happens when you think more about (to paraphrase John F. Kennedy) what the customer can do for you than what you can do for the customer. This is also what happens when nobody in the organization steps back and wonders, “What will this sound like to the customer?”

That’s an exercise you should go through whether you’re recording voice prompts for a customer service line, writing a white paper or creating a Web video. Take yourself out of your “maximizing revenue/cutting costs/boosting profit” shoes and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Think about how your voice-response prompts, the jargon on your home page, the quotes in your case studies or the intro to your white paper will strike the folks who pay the bills by buying your products and services.

As Apple has shown with the iPad and Nordstrom’s with retailing, people will pay more for a superior experience. But you can’t provide that superior experience if you’re just looking out for yourself.

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 Marketing Automation is Floundering (Amen!)

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Trying to Get the Big Mo

A recent post by Jeff Pedowitz on Marketing Automation Software Guide argues that marketing automation vendors – selling tools that automatically send and track responses to marketing material to target prospects – are floundering, or at least not growing as quickly as they should. Pedowitz says they are 1) wrongly targeting marketing executives who lack the clout to make purchase decisions, 2) focusing too much on the software and technology industries, 3) not doing enough to educate customers, 4) requiring customers adopt processes that are too complicated and 5) making their tools too expensive for early adopters.
As someone trying to grow his own use of these tools, all of these shortcomings sound correct. But the two that strike closest to home are lack of customer education and making the whole process too complicated.
First, the lack of education. We can’t even agree on what to call this new market. Is it inbound marketing? Email marketing? Demand generation? Social media marketing? Content marketing? Inbound inline marketing? Closed-loop marketing? The people we’re trying to sell to are too busy trying to close deals and keep their jobs to stay on top of all this jargon. Software and services vendors – myself included! — need to look beyond our own pitches and provide a simple description of the benefits we offer.
Next, even if you’re sold on the idea of marketing automation, it’s WAY too complicated to implement. I’ve chronicled my hellish experience moving my blog to WordPress, which provides only the content management and presentation side of the puzzle. Developing, delivering and monitoring response to your content is a whole other can of worms. HubSpot, among other tools, requires a course and certification which I’d love to take advantage of, except for this small diversion of making a living. Kudos to Jeff for calling for best practice templates, pre-built programs, one-click activation and other easy-to-use aids for us mere mortals.
Marketing automation does have a future, as those early adopters with the right blend of skills in-house are showing every day. But the rest of us need some help crawling before we can walk, much less run. Anyone vendors out there with truly easy-to-use (and reasonably priced) platforms? And anybody got a good, catch-all description for what we’re trying to do?

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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