Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

Cloud Framework Marketing a Murky Mess

Lesssee, the framework supports the APIs which support storage but not authentication...

In more than 25 years of technology reporting rarely ran into such chaos as I did reporting a recent story for Computerworld on open source cloud frameworks. Just about everyone worth talking to claims to have a framework; just about everything valuable calls itself a framework; and just because you have (or are) a framework doesn’t mean you don’t need another framework to get anything done.

Let’s start simple: A framework is a collection (or, if you prefer, library) of software that helps you do something. In the case of cloud frameworks, the objective is to develop, deploy and/or manage a cloud-based application. The “library” of enabling software that makes up a framework might include development, management and test tools, middleware to link the application to other cloud components such as databases, or APIs to make it easier to move applications among clouds.

A Pain in the PaaS and the IaaS

Some frameworks are designed for use with private clouds (those within a customer’s own data center.) Others are for public clouds, such as those hosted in multitenant (multiple customer) environments such as Amazon. Others are designed for “hybrid” clouds (a mix of public and private) except, of course, if by “hybrid” we’re talking about a mix of physical and virtual servers, as some vendors do.

Then, of course, there are cloud frameworks built at various levels of the “stack” that leads from the base hardware to the applications user see. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) clouds help customers deploy servers, storage and networks; platform as a service (PaaS) platforms have all the tools needed to deploy actual applications. Each level of framework provides a different combination of price, agility, control and security. A customer might need one framework (such as OpenStack) to provision virtual machines, and another (such as Opscode Chef) to describe how those servers will be configured.

Confused yet? Consider that not all frameworks have all the pieces customers need to not only deploy but manage very large, complex applications over time. Some, such as Eucalyptus and Deltacloud, are APIs (application programming interfaces) aimed at making it easier to move applications from one cloud to another. But customers have found that without the ability to also move underlying services, such as data storage, from cloud to cloud these APIs fall short. If your framework can provide that (or you need another to do this work) say so.

Some have even built their own frameworks after being unable to find one that handled enterprise-scale requirements. These requirements include updating hundreds of applications, providing the strict levels of authentication needed for financial applications and discovering and reusing services such as security and data warehousing. If you can provide these services, these are big draws for enterprise customers.

Open Source or Not?

Many large organizations now see open source software (where the source code is freely shared and open to improvement by customers and others) as a safer choice than proprietary code, as long as they can get enterprise-level support. But whether a framework is truly open source and not tied to one vendor can be another mystery.

Some frameworks have a true open-source feel (geeky Web pages with no major company logos.) Other frameworks are backed with financial and technical help from big-name software vendors. Cloud Foundry, for example, is backed by VMware, while Red Hat’s Open Shift is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

That big-name backing is often a plus, not a minus, to customers. But it raises another question in customers’ minds about just how committed the vendor, or partnership of vendors, is to open-source versus their own in-house products. Providing details like the number of developers you’re committing to open source, what modules or code you are contributing to the effort, and how open you are to new members joining the “community” and pitching in. Those are all questions I hear customers asking when considering open source frameworks.

Guess What I Am. Go Ahead. Guess.

Kudos to those who clearly explain what type of framework they are (the level at which they operate, what functions they do and don’t provide, and exactly what role commercial vendors play vs. the volunteer “community.” But others confuse customers with cute product names and high-level benefits such as “agility,” “flexibility” and “portability” without explaining whether or how these hold up under the scalability, manageability and security requirements of the real world.

To avoid being swept away in a flood of look-alike offerings, use my tried and true “fill in the blanks” formula to make your framework pitch more understandable:

               “(Product name) is a “(noun) that (verb, verb, verb.)

                The product consists of (noun, noun, noun.)

                 It is better than competitive products (adjective, adjective, adjective) because it (specific claim, specific claim, specific claim.)”

 And be sure to describe, clearly and up-front, how you meet the life cycle application demands of complex enterprise environments if you hope to serve that market.

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.

Occupy Marketing Slams Puffy Collateral

These white papers aren't even white!

Well, not quite. But my good friend (and sometimes boss) Larry Marion, CEO of Triangle Publishing Services, does the next best thing with these gloves-off scoring of actual IT white paper by brand-name  vendors.

You’ve all probably heard the best practices for white papers – skip the hard sell, prove your claims, make the text easy to read. But it’s not often you see someone who creates content for a living bite (or at least snarl at) the hand that feeds him by calling out vendors who have succumbed to the temptation to pitch rather than educate.

(By way of credentials, Larry’s has more than 20 years of research, writing and editing reports on the use of technology, interviewed hundreds of senior executives at large organizations about technology, and served as a judge of a major white paper contest for many years.)

Database giant Oracle got a dismal 42 out of 100 for a white paper on “Big Data for the Enterprise.” On the plus side, says Larry, writing “isn’t bad,” the first half covers the right issues and it provides lots of hypothetical examples of how “big data” (the analysis of very, very large data sets) can help businesses.

On the down side, though, he complains of “exceptionally heavy Oracle references,” and only “ one third-party reference, despite many debatable assertions,: no information about the author’s credentials (he’s  in Oracle product management, not exactly an unbiased source) and only one graphic that didn’t focus on Oracle’s product, rather than on customer needs. Finally, he says, there was no clear call to action, and several obvious errors caused by poor editing.

Thoroughly depressed on behalf of Oracle, I trolled through several other critiques in search of good news. But a Siemens white paper on “The Communications Tipping Point” did only slightly better, with 61 out of 100 points. On the plus side: Original survey data, lots of charts, a strong writing style and point of view, a good mix of external data sources and what Larry playfully calls “self-control – Siemens doesn’t  plug its solutions until the last page.

The weaknesses:

  • Headline needs a subtitle, so you know what the paper is about
  • Poorly conceived charts
  • Missing information
  • Who is the author? His/her credentials?
  • Some assertions lack data to support them
  • Some comments reflect unfamiliarity with business budgeting and spending practices
  • No clear call to action

(I would add that nowhere in the executive summary, which is all some people will read, did it describe what the “tipping point” is and why the reader should care. But this is Larry’s rant, not mine.)

A quick glance through Larry’s list showed no white paper got even a gentleman’s “C” for best practices. Was he too kind? Too cruel? Feel free to drop a note and let him know. But his basic protest – that too often vendors use white papers to sell rather than educate — is spot on and ignored too often. Let the street protests begin.

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.

Riding the range in search of leads...

Chapter Two: After finding what looks like a good marketing automation tool and developing the personas (fictional representatives of each of my target prospects) I spent last week in a dive into the deep end of the pool: Creating a strategy to define what content I need for each of my target audiences.

I expected this would be hard work, which is why I kept avoiding it and why it felt so rewarding when I did it. This required thinking very, very hard about the key segments of my target audience is (and, just as importantly, who is NOT a target segment) and about exactly how I think I can add value to each. This refining and zeroing in is always one of the hardest things for my clients to do when outlining a white paper or response to an RFP, and the same was true for me.

A little background on who I’m trying to reach and why: After about a dozen years in the IT trade press, most recently as technology editor at Computerworld, I’ve spent the last decade creating high-quality B2B marketing collateral for everyone from Microsoft to BMC and AT&T to EMC and Cognizant. I now want to use these editorial skills, and my understanding of what customers need from information technology, to help craft content marketing campaigns that produce high quality leads.

I had to keep remembering this as I refined the personas (which you can also think of as customer profiles, or customer segmentations) the questions I think these individuals would have, and the content I would produce to answer those questions. Whenever I found myself repeating general observations about content marketing or trends in the IT industry, the more I felt I was spinning my wheels. What felt much more useful in creating my plan was when I focused very specifically on my specialty – understanding IT and the IT buying cycle – and explaining how I would use that to help B2B marketers  create more leads.

When I couldn’t do direct research through conversations with experts in areas such as PR, scanning LinkedIn groups and Twitter for blogs in which my other target customers (marketing types inside and outside of vendors) discussed content marketing and related areas. Following their Twitter feeds about their off-hour activities helped me “flesh out” the personas and keep a fully-formed person in mind as I write.

I originally doubted the value of personas, but now see it helped keep me focused on the specific value I hoped to bring to a specific, even if imaginary, person. That kept my mind focused because I care about what an individual thinks about me, but not a generic customer category. In the case of my PR persona, for example, this narrowed my writing from a generic description of the benefits of content marketing to thinking about the needs and pressures facing real PR people I knew. I then, for example, included suggestions for how they could build off their current PR practices to include content marketing. The more focused the story, the better the information the reader gets – and the more I learn about them from their interest or lack of interest in each story.

Once I had my questions, and the list of content required to answer them for my prospects, I needed to track them. After toying with the idea of a spreadsheet, I settled on a more graphical Word diagram that helps me visualize where each story fits in the flow, and where the gaps are. Creating a hyperlink to each piece as it is written also gives me a quick view of where I stand in content creation.

Speaking of which: On to a content audit, and then to writing!

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.

Back when I was a kid, a consumer electronics giant named Zenith had a tag line “The quality goes in before the name goes on.” The message was, of course, that quality was designed in from the ground up, not an after-thought.

I got to thinking about that during, of all things, a conversation a PR veteran with an innovative East Coast agency about how they offer content marketing (the use of tailored content to move prospects towards a sale) to clients who come to them seeking more traditional PR services. Rather than try to sell and educate them on “content marketing,” this PR firm explains the benefits (increased Web traffic, more prospects filling out forms for gated content, higher quality leads) to their clients and uses content marketing to deliver them.

“Content marketing tactics are ingrained in our day-to-day PR work,” he said. This ranges from search-engine optimization of press releases and bylined articles written by their clients for trade publications to make sure they get the most attention. When a client asks for a “thought leadership” white paper or Webinar that’s designed to lead prospects to the vendor’s site, “we make sure we have something on (their) Web site that would nurture that prospect, and potentially turn them into a lead.”

He acknowledges this falls short of a full-fledged content marketing program, which would include the creation of personas for various target customers, content geared to their needs and tracking software to score them based on readership. However, it lets his firm deliver the “immediate gratification” of the boost in Web traffic and leads that comes from story placement in a trade pub (one traditional role of PR) with the longer-term benefits (which he says can take six months or more to appear) of content marketing.

This approach has value because:

It helps prove how content marketing works before asking a client to make a bigger investment in it.

It avoids the confusion around buzzwords such as content marketing vs. marketing automation, demand generation, account-based marketing, Web-based marketing, digital marketing, etc. to focus on the benefits.

It builds on, rather than try to replace, the agency’s traditional strengths and culture.

Perhaps best of all, it makes what could be “only” a PR agency a more integral part of the client’s overall marketing effort, and thus more valuable and harder to replace.

“We have seen increasing appreciation from our prospective clients, and ultimately our customers, that we understand content marketing, that we know it is important,” and that it trains its staff in everything from SEO optimization to the proper use of Web forms to not only drive visibility, but to “close the loop” with action that will help the client’s bottom line.

Zenith has long since faded, a victim of lower-cost foreign manufacturers. But this PR firm is building new services to offer when (and if) its more traditional revenue sources fall. I wonder how many others in PR are finding that “traditional” story placement is still important, and that content marketing is best sold as “built in” rather than a separate service.

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.

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
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.

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.

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

                                                                 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.
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