Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

Stop the Video Madness!

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when to use video If I have to sit through another vendor video full of bouncy music, cute special effects and a happy-talk narrator when I’m trying to learn something I’m going to scream.

And I’m not (just) speaking selfishly as someone that still gets most of their assignments producing old-fashioned word documents rather than video. I’m speaking as an information consumer that, just like one of your prospects, needs to quickly learn about new technology, rather than be “entertained.”

Almost everyone uses video in B2B sales these days. But here are six ways it gets in the way of educating these busy customers and steers them to your competitors.

  1. They have to wait for the video to load and buffer.
  2. They have to sit through the afore-mentioned theme song, graphics, cute jokes or happy talk before they hear anything worthwhile.
  3. Once the voice-over starts they need to toggle between the video and their word processor to take notes. (No way to easily cut and paste information as they can with text.)
  4. If the customer misses an important point, or the speaker mumbles or speaks too quickly, they have to rewind the video to listen again. This usually takes two or three tries to get to the right place in the video, forcing them to sit through the same video again and again.
  5. There’s no way to quickly scroll through the content to find what they need. With video, you force the customer to sit through the whole conversation before finding if their question was answered.
  6. The content is often presented out of sequence or full of vague jargon such as “solution,” “optimize,” “transform” and “digital.” The reason: The vendor didn’t properly script the interview and prepare the presenter, meaning they had to choose from whatever good video they got. With text, there’s more opportunity to push for more detail and reorder the content to focus on the most important points.

When Video Works

Having gotten that off my chest, here is where video is as good as, or even better than plain old text.

  1. When you have emotionally or visually engaging images to help tell your story. Think of showing patients helped by your Big Data diagnostic software, the factory equipment that stays running thanks to your Internet of Things sensors, or customers responding to real-time offers from your marketing software on their smartphones.
  2. When a moving image helps explain the process improvements you delivered or the unique benefits of your technology. Think of before and after flow charts showing agile application development, how Big Data analysis finds security breaches and how your advanced algorithms improve route planning.
  3. And when you have that rare articulate, passionate speaker whose presentation and presence adds to, rather than harms, your ability to tell a good story.

Being an old fuddy-duddy, I’m probably missed other areas where video trumps the written word. But for someone (like a customer) that needs to find very specific information very quickly, I beg you to at least offer them a transcript of the video so they can scan it quickly rather than sit through your entire spiel.

Anyone else out there agree that video can be incredibly annoying, or do I need to lighten up and enjoy the show?

 

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.

Tailoring Content to the IT Buying Cycle

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content marketing for IT vendorsIt’s no surprise that the IT sales cycle is getting longer and more complex, with more and more players involved all the time. The move to “digital” means not only IT, but sales, marketing, operations and finance is and should be involved in everything from setting requirements to agreeing on budgets.

But specifically what content do each of these players need, at what stage in the sales cycle, and for what type of IT product?

To the rescue comes business networking site LinkedIn, with a survey of how 8,600 professionals in 11 countries purchase four types of products: Hardware for end users, software for end users, hardware for the data center and software for the data center. While it’s a long (76 pages) read, (and covers only products, not services) its well worth the time if you’re looking to fine-tune content in these four categories.

Until you download the report, some highlights.

The Problem

The report found that IT sales are getting more competitive, with less than one in five large companies even willing to consider a new vendor. That makes it even more important, if you’re trying to crack a new account, to engage everyone involved in the purchase with engaging, relevant content.

Across all four product categories, the critical “vendor selection” stage typically involves four or more people, with any individual often engaged in more than one stage at any time. For every product type, the three stages that involve the most players are 1) the up-front needs assessment, 2) determining specifications and budget, and 3) implementation.

Although many vendors don’t consider this last, post-sales period part of the sales process, it’s actually critical, according to LinkedIn. That’s when, the report says, those who chose their product “…are very exposed and vulnerable…and need to know that the vendor” is there to help them prove to their bosses that they made the right product choice. Successful customers are more likely to stick with you for upgrades, and to recommend you to their peers – word-of-mouth that is often the most effective form of advertising in this social media age.

Some Suggestions

With my analysis in italics:

  • When talking to the finance types who influence the sale, “Be up front about the costs of implementation, not only financially, but also in disruption of productivity or operational downtime.” I think such honesty is a compelling draw for customers. But good luck getting your product managers to fess up to this, or your other customers to share such painful data.
  • Customers researching end-user software prefer Webinars over white papers. Makes sense as it lets the customer see the software, not just read about it. Webinars also makes it easier to get user feedback.
  • In the implementation stage, customers “…are the hungriest for rich content and information (but) are rather quiet” about asking for it. “Make it easy for them to self-educate and learn on their own. Maybe we should ask our technical writing peers for help with implementation guides, FAQs, best practices and ROI calculators to offer customers after, as well as before, the sale.
  • Data center hardware buyers are very closed to new vendors, and “prefer in-depth articles and engineering terminology over events, conferences or social media…” Ramp up the geek speak, but team your CTO or engineers with professional writers so their insights can also be shared with less technical folks on the evaluation committee.
  • Buyers of data center software find events and conferences more valuable as they move from determining the need to defining specifications and budgets. In-person schmoozing is where you get the real dirt about what works and what deals you can get from vendors. Rather than fight this, maybe facilitate it with your own networking events for customers?

Brave New Whirl

This is all a far cry from the relatively simple days (if they ever existed) of finding “the IT decision maker” and hammering them into submission over lunch or golf. It also makes for quite an uphill struggle, when so many companies struggle to produce enough content to support simpler sales cycles.

What’s your take on whether the buying cycle is indeed this complex, and on LinkedIn’s recommendations for navigating it?

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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digital marketing strategyI was recently with a major client and their writing team reviewing content plans for 2016 when the D-word – digital – came up.

Everyone agreed it’s a catch-all buzzword that can mean almost anything to anyone. But one of the participants –former Gartner EVP and Head of Research Bruce J. Rogow — had a new and interesting take which he fleshed out with a presentation of his concept of Digital Enabled Businesses.

His take on “digital” helps clear the air because it focuses not on the technologies that make something “digital” as on what digital means to people and organizations.  Rogow, now Principal at IT Odyssey & Advisory, calls it “old IT” and “new IT”

Brave New Digital World

Think of “old” IT, for example, as directive in that companies dictate which applications their employees can use and how they use them. These applications may be old and ugly, but they’re generally proven, stable and secure.

“New” IT, on the other hand, tends to be more elective and collaborative, with companies having to adapt to employees choosing their own devices and customers sharing buying tips about their products on social media.  The user’s experience with your Web site or applications will often  define your brand for them, making their performance over multiple platforms critical.

In short, “digital” is not so much about technologies (though elements such as software as a service, Big Data and the Internet of Things play major roles) as about ways of thinking and ways of working.

He also had some interesting and sometimes snarky comments on “digital” startups. For example, they tend to run on OPM (other people’s money) without the rigorous need for short-term returns as in a traditional business. They’re also often founded by people who would be run out of traditional organizations for their non-conventional behavior.

His findings ring true with similar comments I’m hearing in recent “digital” messaging work with other clients. When I press them for a definition of “digital” they say things like “The customer is in charge,” “Making transactions easy and even delightful,” “Anticipating the customer’s needs” and “Providing a consistent, smooth experience across channels such as phone, online and in person.”

What does this mean for IT content marketing?

Digital Messaging Tips

  • If you’re putting a big bet on “digital” be ready to invest for the long haul. Rogow says becoming “digital” is so complex it may take many traditional players as long as 15 to 20 years.
  • Going “digital” implies fundamental changes to business models, staffing, financial management, sourcing and corporate culture. Address and even highlight these issues in your marketing collateral. This makes you look smart by alerting prospects to these hidden obstacles.
  • CEOs are, he says, profoundly skeptical about what they see as past bogus promises from IT and want to see real results. Be specific in your digital story and back up your claims with real-world results.

The more your competitors bore the market with airy “digitization” promises the greater an opportunity you have. Sell your digital story not with technology buzzwords, but with compelling stories around how “new” IT enables customized, easy to use products and services that create and dominate entire new markets.

And don’t stint on talking about the messy “people” side of going digital. Based on Bruce’s savvy insights based on conversations with dozens of CIOs, that’s where much of the “digital” battle will be won or lost.

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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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.

How Big Data Will Fail. Why That’s Good

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Big Data marketing tips When clients ask for “thought leadership” white papers, they want  ideas that aren’t yet common knowledge and that will grab and keep readers.

Here’s some thought leadership about the hot topic of Big Data: It can do massive harm if you use it to ask the wrong questions, overload users with documentation, implement it with the wrong data or ignore common sense. Being first to guide your customers around these pitfalls can mean competitive advantage.

Big Noise About Big Data

Big Data – analyzing a greater volume, variety and velocity of data to make better decisions – will grow at six times the rate of the overall information technology market, reaching $41.5 billion in 2018, says market researcher IDC.

Businesses have sliced and diced data about everything from underground oil deposits to customer sales for decades. But the growth of the Internet, of devices linked to the Internet of Things and social media means more data to mine every day. The opportunities range from using location data to text coupons to customers based on their location in a store to using arrest records to predict where crimes are likely and prevent them with a heavier police presence. (Hello, Minority Report.)

So what could go wrong? At least three big things. Here’s how to use each of these minefields to show thought leadership and speed the benefits of Big Data to us all.

  1. Data for Data’s Sake

ICD-10 is the latest version of the codes used around the world to describe medical conditions, and is the basis on which providers get paid by insurers. The most recent version, which went into effect October 1, is much more detailed than the previous versions, with 70,000 codes for everything from parrot bites to getting sucked into a jet engine. While the extra detail may help health researchers, Bloomberg Business Week reports says it means huge amounts of unpaid paperwork for providers – time they could be spending with patients. Skeptics note the added complexity means a windfall for consultants and software companies happy to sort out the mess, and gives insurers an excuse to deny claims.

  Thought leadership: Big Data will only be cost-effective and gain the trust of customers if we         gather only the data we need, ensure data gathering doesn’t interfere with an organization’s prime mission and is used for good, not evil. Be proactive about addressing these issues in your marketing.

  1. Forgetting the End Customer

In industry after industry, practitioners are scrambling for data-driven rules that will assure them they are doing a good job. In education, for example, some claim that the more a teacher moves around the classroom, the better their teaching. Have you ever had a teacher who could keep a classroom spellbound while standing in one place, and others who bored you to tears while they paced all over the place? Another teacher pointed out that too much stimulation (like a teacher wandering around the room) might distract students with autism or other disorders. Our fixation with data can blind us to our own experience.

Thought leadership: Stress (as many analytic experts already are) the importance of working closely with business managers and front-line workers to understand what data matter in the real world. Focus on metrics that matter to the end consumer. In education, for example, don’t monitor the teacher, but the students, and whether they’re listening raptly or are tapping on their smartphones. In sales, customer service or app development, focus on the user experience, not just stats like system response time.    

3. People Aren’t Robots. Yet.

There may come a day when we’re always guided to rational decisions by embedded neural networks, but we ain’t there yet.

Consider the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, which almost sank the globe into an economic depression. Some experts did predict the crash, and there was data (such as overly inflated home prices and rising household debt) that pointed to trouble.

But some of the biggest dangers were neither reflected in the data or the analytic models acting on it.  They include the folly of home buyers taking on mortgages they couldn’t afford, the greed of mortgage issuers (or those who packaged those loans for resale) in hiding rising delinquency rates, or the temptation for credit scoring agencies (who get paid by big financial firms) to keep the bad news quiet.

Thought leadership: Don’t just admit that human factors defy Big Data analysis. Become a leader in explaining the limits of Big Data, and advising your clients on when to supplement it with focus groups, qualitative research and field experience that take the human factor into account.

Big Data is still in the “peak of inflated expectations” phase of what researcher Gartner Inc. calls the “hype cycle” each new technology goes through. Next up is Gartner’s “trough of disillusionment” as customers fall prey to Big Data mistakes like those I’ve described.

As we learn how to use Big Data right, we’ll enter the sunny uplands of what Gartner calls the “slope of enlightenment” and “plateau of productivity” for new technology. Generating, and promoting, insights into the proper uses of Big Data will get your company, or your clients, to that happy state first.

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.

Four Tips for Doing “Buyer’s Guides” Right

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product comparisons content marketing Here’s an ideas for radical “transparency” in product marketing: Do an exhaustive comparison of your products and services vs. your competitors. Get down and dirty in specific areas like platform support, ease of management, need for staff retraining, and overall return on investment.

And make this an impartial comparison of the players that will establish our thought leadership – while highlighting our strengths and soft-pedaling our weak spots.

Not for the Timid

That was the assignment I recently completed, along with a publishing partner, for a top-tier software vendor.  We’re nearing publication, and I’m proud of the work we did. It’s much more insightful, in-depth, comprehensive and, yes, impartial than most content marketing. This is powerful content, rich in detail, which if promoted right will be downloaded, read, and passed on throughout today’s committee-driven B2B buying process.

But it took seven long months of work, with a lot of internal agonizing over how impartial we could afford to be when the chips were down: In other words, when product managers had to swallow us describing a short-coming in their wonderful offerings, or admitting to strength in a competitor.

Marketer Beware

This is industrial-strength, high-commitment, high-reward content marketing. If I were working with another client on such a “product guide” here are four questions I’d ask before starting:

  • How honest are you willing to be? Everyone knows you won’t pay a writer to trash your own product. Nor (I hope) do you expect to make this a thinly veiled ad for your own offerings. But specifically how far are you willing to go to admit when a competitor has a superior set of capabilities? In this assignment, figuring out where the fine line was took a lot of unexpected time and effort.
  • Who gets to comment on the draft, and do we have their buy-in? At least a month or more of delay was the result of a new group of stakeholders who saw the draft late and had their own comments and concerns. Knowing they existed, and having them in the loop beforehand, would have gotten this finished and out the door more quickly.
  • Who will referee the tough calls? I was lucky enough to be paired with a very professional, savvy and honest contact person within our client. He buffered me from the product managers who were understandably pushing hard to make their products look good. Having such a buffer made my life as a writer much easier. More importantly, it reduced internal costs and improved quality by making sure the “referee” was inside the client and had the contacts and authority to push for final answers.
  • How are you going to use this before it goes stale, or refresh it so it stays useful? Annual and quarterly release cycles are so 20th Most cloud-based services, much less mobile apps, make improvements and enhancements on a continual “drip” basis. We, and our client, would have been better served with a plan to more quickly distribute and promote our work, and to keep it updated over time.

Journalism, or Marketing?

Such “buyer’s guides” were a long-term staple of the IT trade press. That’s because they saved customers time by presenting side by side comparisons of competing products. But how do they work as marketing content? How do they perform from a lead-gen perspective? Can they be honest enough to be credible while still promoting the strengths of the sponsoring vendor?

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.

Marketing Tips for Selling the IoT

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Internet of Things marketingRemember all the dumb ideas that crashed and burned in the Internet bubble? Think Pets.com, based on the idea that consumers would rather order heavy packages of pet food online, pay delivery charges and wait for it rather than just pick it up at a local store.

It took years for businesses like Amazon to show how the Web should really be done. We’re in much the same place today with the Internet of Things (IoT) — the hundreds of millions of devices (from appliances to fitness monitors to industrial equipment) that will link to the Internet in coming years.

There already are solid business cases for IoT applications. They include early warnings that equipment needs maintenance to prevent breakdowns, or Bluetooth-based locator beacons to track when a customer is about to leave a store so you can text them a last-minute discount.

Then, there are those that are just not thought through yet, and that can make you (or your client) look clueless.

Got Gum?

One example is Trident gum which is partnering with Strap, an IoT-focused startup, and a convenience store chain “to leverage wearable data for brand marketing.”

How will knowing how many steps a customer takes, their calorie burn, or their active and non-active minutes help sell more gum? “We don’t yet know the exact use case,” the CEO of Strap said, though the story noted the parties will take 90 days to “work together to devise a market approach” followed by a pilot early next year.

In other words, nobody knows whether or how this would work – or if they do, they aren’t ready to say. At least one other reader was also confused, asking “…what this can possibly do for a brand like Trident other than give the appearance they are progressive and innovative?”

Pitch Wisely

That’s why pitching far-out experiments like this reads like a flashback to the bad old Internet bubble: Mash a random product (pet supplies or gum) with the latest buzzword (the Web, or the IoT) and see if something fantastic happens.

Trident (and every other company) should absolutely be casting far and wide to see how wearables and other IoT devices can help their business. But if you’re going to promote this work, put it in the proper perspective that shows how you’re being smart and innovative rather than casting about blindly.

Some ideas:

  • Wait till you have something to say. After 90 days of gathering and assessing data, I’ll bet the three parties will have some intriguing ideas about what data will and won’t be useful and some ideas for a pilot. Talking to the press then lets you show true thought leadership and build your brand.
  • Ask for help. Along with describing your internal efforts, sponsor a contest for ideas about what useful apps Trident customers might want on a wearable device or a Hack-a-thon with a prize for coolest app.
  • Share what you already know. I’ll bet the folks at Trident, the start-up and the convenience store chain have some hunches about how data and apps on wearable can sell gum. Describe those in your marketing material and (per step two) and invite feedback. This again shows thought leadership and could prompt some good suggestions.

The failures of early players didn’t stop the Web from changing all our lives, in ways that are still unfolding. The same will be true of the IoT.  Let’s help our clients survive the early stage shake out by being smart about how we position their early-stage IoT experiments.

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.

All Alone On LinkedIn? Try These Four Tips

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bigstock-Woman-With-Depression-In-The-O-72496321Ever since the days of bulletin boards in the late 1980s, I’ve been involved in efforts to create on-line “communities” of IT professionals. Most have failed, making me wonder what it would take to get IT (or any other professionals) to share useful ideas, comments and suggestions that would draw and keep readers on a site.

Now, I know – or at least have some ideas, based on my recent moderation of a vendor-sponsored LinkedIn group about best practices in Sales Performance Management. Within two weeks of starting the group, I had at least five or six active discussions with multiple legitimate members (not spammers) giving valuable, real-world advice to their peers.

What worked? Here’s my decidedly unscientific findings:

  • Just Respond! If someone took the time to time and effort to say something, reward them by letting you know you heard them. I only let this slide if someone else had already responded, or they were clearly deep in an ongoing discussion so didn’t need my encouragement. Even if you don’t know how to respond, you can:
  • Elaborate on what they said. Did their comment confirm your thinking, remind you of something else you saw or read, or strike you as surprising? Say so, and explain why. If possible, ask a specific question to keep the conversation going. If you’re still coming up dry, try to:
  • Ask for details or clarification, such as why they think something is true or false. If they’re describing a “best practice” that worked for them, ask specifics about how they made it work. If they talk about benefits such as increased sales or productivity, or reduced costs, ask for specifics on “how much.” If they only repeat someone else’s complaint (“Yeah, that happens in my company all the time!” ask what they’ve tried and whether, and why, it worked.
  • Find a subtle, relevant and honest way to do market research or weave your product or service into the conversation. Without going into tiresome detail about your solution, or even mentioning its name, ask questions such as:
    • Do you think what we’re selling helps or hurts this situation?
    • What should such a product or service have to include to help the situation?
    • Do feature or attribute A or B in our product or service help this situation? Why or why not?

My final tip is to prepare to enjoy it when your community starts to take off. Rather than it being a chore, I found myself getting a little kick when I got an email telling me someone posted a comment that wasn’t spam, but rather drove the conversation forward and got me thinking. So good luck and, in the spirit of online communities, let us know what works for you in greasing the conversational skids.

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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