PR/Marketing Writing Tips Archives

Using an E-Book To Make a Complex Sell

Cover croppedE-books (short, illustration-rich explainers of complex concepts) can be good or they can be trite. Too much dense copy and they become as hard to read as the worst white paper. Too little copy, or a too-cute theme, and they turn off serious buyers.

Sonatype, in my opinion, hit the sweet spot with their promo pamphlet “Go fast. Be Secure.”  While I picked up a paper copy at the MIT Sloan CIO Summit last week, it’s crying out for re-purposing as an ebook.

It uses a medieval type face and “knights in shining armor” theme to explain how Sonatype’s  software automatically ensures that Java code from the global open source community (rather than from commercial software vendors) won’t pose a security threat to corporate developers.

Short and Sweet

They had me on the cover page with a concise value statement. “Go fast. Be Secure.” The subhead explains: “A true story of how Development and Security came together to fix the risk in open source.” Note the short, direct sentences. (One quibble: Using present tense would emphasize this is a service available now, not something that happened in the past.)

Keep reading and you see big, clear pictures and a maximum of about two dozen words per page, in large type for easy reading. The words are carefully chosen for maximum impact, without redundant background or jargon. “Development wanted to GO FAST. But Security wanted to slow down and BE SAFE.” I like that the wording is specific enough that CCF05252013_00002experts in software development “get it” but even an outsider (like a CFO or CEO) can get the general drift. And the illustrations reinforce, rather than confuse, the message.

About four pages in, the e-book introduces technical concepts and the pain point they solve. “Code became like Legos™ – applications easily assembled from thousands of freely available parts. Developers ran even FASTER and Security found it even harder to SECURE.”  Note there’s only one concept introduced per page, and not a word is wasted.

A few pages on they describe the answer: “Bringing SECURITY and SPEED together by building component intelligence and governance in from the START…using all the tools developers love to use today!” Again, the sentences are short, direct, and describe what’s new and better about their approach.

Halfway through the ebook they introduce their notion of “component lifecycle management.” This might turn a reader off as jargon if the vendor had led with it. Instead, they wait until they’ve described what type of components they’re talking about, what kind of lifecycle these components have and why those components need to be managed.

Ye Olde Mini Demo

The second half of the book is essentially a mini-demo of the service. There’s a standard format with a short, concise value proposition on the left (“AUTOMATE and enforce GOVERNANCE in the tools you use today”) and a screen shot CCF05252013_00001on the right. A one-sentence supplemental explainer sits under each screen shot.

One added benefit of the e-book format is that it makes these screen shots large enough to actually read — long a pet peeve of mine in conventional white papers and trade pubs.

Finally, at the end, there’s the call to action (a link to a free snapshot of the reader’s application vulnerabilities) and a “Learn more” page.

Looks Easy But It Ain’t

Creating an e-book this clear required, I would guess, a lot of gut-wrenching work behind the scenes. You need to:

  • Define very, very clearly the top two or three messages you need to convey.
  • Find a very, very clear and concise way to say them.
  • Choose your words carefully so you’re not speaking down to or confusing or reader.
  • Choose and execute a graphical theme that supports but doesn’t distract from your message.
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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Keeping Your Client In the Quote Game

PR tips for placing executive quotes in stories

That WAS thought leadership! What are you, blind?

Today being the Red Sox home opener, my thoughts turn to those infield dramas where the coach and players go toe to toe with the umpire arguing a call.

By the way, has anyone ever won such an argument with an umpire? Probably about as often as a PR person gets a reporter to admit they were wrong to interview their client for a story, and then not quote them.

I know it’s hard for PR pros to get time with busy executives. I know those executives call PR on the carpet when they give up their time and don’t get placement. And, yes, it’s hard to know exactly what a reporter will ask, what the source will say or how well they will say it.

I’d also ask PR folks to understand (and most of them do) that trade press reporters may do as many as 20 interviews for a story, each covering multiple complex and often ill-defined concepts. (Software-defined networks, anyone?) We ourselves often don’t know until very late in the writing process which angles, much less supporting quotes, will make it into our stories.

And no, we’re not under orders to only quote advertisers, at least not in the 20+ years I’ve been doing this.

Prep Your Spokesperson

But I can suggest ways to better prep B2B sources for interviews, and tell them what they need to deliver to get placement in the final story cut.

Be Specific: I recently interviewed an industry association which couldn’t cite some “speeds and feeds” specifications that were central to my story. They instead referred me to their members. That part of the interview, of course, didn’t make my story. Recommendation: Ensure your sources can discuss, for each trend, “When will this reach the market, at what price, and what type of customers will it be best suited for?”

Get Past the Background: Reporters are usually asking about how vendors will solve a problem their readers are facing. Sources often waste the first ten minutes repeating the problem to me. Recommendation: Unless the reporter asked for more details about the scope of the issue at hand, provide new information about how to solve it. Don’t waste time rehashing the story setup.

Make It Actionable: Sometimes, a source makes a good point but I’m left wondering: “What does this mean for the reader?” In one recent interview, several sources mentioned that application vendors are reluctant to share the “metadata” that storage vendors could use to tier information among more or less expensive storage devices. Recommendation: Always include a recommendation or “takeaway” such as “Until app vendors release this metadata, customers must adopt a third party metadata standard to get the best results from tiering.”

Put Old Wine in New Jars: Sometimes, even often, part of the legitimate “takeaway” for the reader is to do what they already know they should do. For weight watchers, it might be to eat in moderation and exercise more. For security managers, it might be focus on user behavior as well as hardening systems. Recommendation: Put the old insight into a new, or at least, current context. “Today’s data requirements make it more important than ever to understand your storage needs, and applying that understanding to new technology such as solid state drives and clustered file systems.”

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa  

Now, what should we reporters and editors clean up our act? I’d say we need to be more explicit about what we are looking for in interviews, such as in my “Edit Opportunity” newsletter. We might also do PR pros a favor by pushing back harder before granting an interview. That would give PR contact more  ammunition to go back to their sources and ensure they can deliver the goods.

And do we owe a PR professional a call if an interview won’t make the cut? Part of me thinks that would be nice. Another part thinks it’s up to the PR pro and the spokesperson to give it their best shot and that I’m too busy. What do you think? Tell me how you’d like reporters and editors to improve the reporting process  and I’ll pass on your thoughts in a future post.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Demystify DevOps — Or Else

DevOps? I thought you meant SPECIAL ops. Watch me collapse those deployment cycles...

DevOps? I thought you meant SPECIAL ops. Watch me collapse those deployment cycles…

Doing one thing at a time is so…nineties. We now have to do everything, all the time, like the guy texting as he walked past me into a ladies’ room in O’Hare Airport.

But that’s a different story.

The big emerging trend in IT multitasking is DevOps. It means combining what used to be the sequential tasks of creating an application (development) and keeping it running (operations.) Doing both in parallel should allow businesses to roll out new applications and services more quickly. That’s essential when a photo sharing site like Instagram needs to add 1 million users in 12 hours, users expect constantly updated mobile applications, and popular Web sites do continuous “A/B” testing to see if users like the scroll bar looking like this or like that.

 Beyond Process Change

 You might think DevOps is largely a “soft skills” story – how to get often warring development and operations teams to play nice. Development, after all, is paid to get cool new apps out the door quickly. Operations is paid to slow down and make sure they work right and are secure. And there are, indeed, plenty of good stories for marketers to tell about consultants who can do the necessary training and process change.

But it turns out there’s also a big technology story. Operations, after all, collects reams of log files and other data that track the operation of everything from Web servers to load balancers. By feeding that data back to the developers, in real time, they can tweak their applications and system architectures to avoid slowdowns, and adapt user interfaces based on what’s hot from the Web analytics that week.

This has raised the profiles of vendors such as Splunk, whose software monitors and analyses “everything from customer clickstreams and transactions to network activity to call records.” This can be used, among other purposes, “to debug and troubleshoot applications during development and test cycles.” Likewise, the CA LISA software suite from CA Technologies (one of my clients) simulates production environments to help multiple development teams work in parallel and manage test environments, another important part of the DevOps process,

Eschew Obfuscation 

So we know there’s a tech story to tell here. But in my conversation with vendors I’m finding some common challenges:

  •  Many customers either don’t know what DevOps is, or think it is hype. Define DevOps carefully and put it in context of related buzzwords like agile and open source. How you position all these trends isn’t as important as being clear in how they relate. Case studies of how DevOps has scaled securely in the real world will also help win over skeptics.
  •  Especially if you provide products or services on the data analysis side, make sure you explain exactly how you fit into DevOps process. This is a classic opportunity to define the conversation around an emerging market space by being first to explain it. (One sign of confusion: One of my clients described Splunk as a leader in the DevOps space, but Splunk itself doesn’t seem to agree, as a search for “DevOps” on their site yielded no hits.)
  •  Again, if you play in the data warehouse/data analysis/query tools space of DevOps, make sure you explain you’re analyzing machine data from the IT infrastructure, and not business data like when to put the beer next to the diapers to sell more of each. (A classic “Big Data” insight which, by the way, may have been ignored.)

So is DevOps real? Everyone from rocket scientist billionaires at social Web sites to somewhat staider outfits like the German Post Office say yes. Others will take more convincing. Ladies and gents, start your explanation engines.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Is SEO Worth Being Redundant?

When redundant words backfire Being snowed in and working long hours, I sometimes find my attention drifting a bit.

Some would do Sudoku or check Facebook for a break. But I’ve been collecting redundant marketing phrases from press releases, white papers and interviews.

As an old-line obnoxious editor, I’d normally say you should ruthlessly eliminate any extra words to keep your marketing copy sharp and keep readers’ attention. The most memorable marketing phrases are, after all, short and simple.

This is truer than ever these days, when not only are buyers multitasking at work, but texting and updating Facebook while watching TV. It would seem that the only way to reach them is with quick, very precise and to the point messages.

Enter SEO

But before a buyer even glances at your pitch, they have to find it (or have it sent to them). That means search engine optimization, which means repeating the terms that will steer them to your wonderful copy.

This quandary came up for me the other day when I was doing a blog post for CA Technologies Innovation Today blog where, of course, the magic word is “innovation.” I found myself the words “new, innovative applications” and realized that, of course, is something is innovative it must be new. Using unnecessary words strikes me as a mortal sin, but in this case would let me slip in the word “innovation” an extra time for SEO purposes.

I couldn’t bring myself to say “new, innovative applications” so I axed the word “innovative” because it was already stuffed into the text enough for SEO purposes. My approach is to, yes, make sure you use your SEO-friendly keywords every chance you get, but do it properly and in context – not to the point of obnoxiousness. That will make your copy read less awkwardly, and won’t get dinged by search algorithms that are constantly tweaked to tune out mindless keyword stuffing.

Hall of Shame

Having gotten that off my chest, here’s my list of recent offenders drawn from actual content that’s crossed my screen recently. Add your own, and maybe we can submit them to Microsoft for use in a future “tautology ticker” in future versions of Word. I’m also curious to hear any recent insights into where to draw the line between appropriate and counter-productive keyword repletion.“New innovation.”

  • “Already begun.”
  • “Effective solution.”
  • “Originally established/first begun”
  • “Finally finished/eventually finished”
  • “Top-line revenue/bottom-line profits”
  • “Span across”
  •  “
  • Expectations for the future”
  •  “
  • Total” as in “30% reduction in total costs.” (“%” by definition is a portion of the whole)
  • “Its own captive retail stores.” (Who else would own their captive stores?)
  • “Its own logistics and transportation system for distribution.” (See above.)

Let me know your least favorite tautologies and your latest thoughts on SEO. And if you need help fine-tuning blog posts, white papers, email newsletters, Web sites and any other IT marketing content, email me or call 781 599-3262.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.
One of the few who really have no competitors.

One of the few who really have no competitors.

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

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

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

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

Arguments in Favor:

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

Arguments Opposed

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

And the Verdict Is…?

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

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Weep For This Healthcare Software Pitch

I usually don’t pity banks, but I hate to see anyone waste money on ads that don’t deliver. Check out this ad from a major business pub. (I’m quoting everything but the headline and fine print, and replacing company and product names with ****.)

“When long-term client **** **** wanted to build their hospital of the future, they looked for us for innovative solutions for funding and streamlining operations. The dedicated ***** **** Healthcare Banking team came through with customized healthcare-specific financial solutions. ***** *****, one of our proprietary healthcare banking solutions, connects patients payments with the back end of the revenue cycle process. With automated revenue cycle solutions in place to help increase efficiencies and optimize capital, **** ***** could focus on providing top-flight healthcare. Let us put your future on automatic.”


Get to the Point — Clearly

First sin: Four uses of the vague word “solutions” instead of describing it once, on first use, as an “application” (which I assume it is).

They could also lose the redundant “The dedicated **** **** Healthcare Banking team came through with customized healthcare-specific financial solutions.” Isn’t this what they’re paid to do?

The phrase “…one of our proprietary healthcare banking solutions…” is also a waste. The reader already gets that you develop banking software for the healthcare industry.

Now, what does the software do?

We’re Not All CFOs

This is where the copy fails to clearly explain the problem it solves. It says their software “…connects patient payments with the back end of the revenue cycle process” providing an “automated revenue cycle (solution)…to help increase efficiencies and optimize capital.”

Those readers who don’t live and breath hospital finance might wonder:

  •  What is the “revenue cycle?”
  •  What is the “back end of the revenue cycle process”?
  •  Why aren’t patient payments already connected with the “back end of the revenue cycle process?”
  •  Why is this lack of connection bad for the business?
  •  How does an automated revenue cycle solution “increase efficiencies and optimize capital”?
  •  And what the heck does “optimize” capital mean? Increase capital? Decrease capital? Make the best use of capital?

 Try This On

 After doing some research, here’s my suggested rewrite designed to get to the point more quickly, and explaining it more clearly:

“When **** **** built their “hospital of the future,” they asked us to automate their inefficient paper-based billing and payment tracking. We developed an application that speeds payments, makes it easier to track disputed claims from insurers and give patients more ways to pay. The resulting faster cash flow and reduced paperwork means more money and more time for patient care.

 Now, how can we help you?”


  •  Don’t repeat the obvious.
  •  Replace jargon with everyday terms.
  •  Explain how you reduce costs or increase profits.
  •  Cut every unnecessary word.

Sad because your software isn’t getting the attention it deserves? Call me for anything from a quick copy tune-up or check out all-inclusive marketing automation packages.

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 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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Content Marketing For Storage Hypervisors

You can’t engage and score prospects with content marketing unless that content is clear, improve and specific. One example is the “storage hypervisor” buzzword I uncovered while reporting a recent piece on Storage Orchestration for Computerworld.

Calling something a storage hypervisor implies it can deliver the same dramatic cost savings and flexibility as a server hypervisor. But looking under the surface, what is what your serious prospects will do, shows important differences between the two. Failing to clearly explain storage hypervisors throws away an opportunity to more closely engage your prospects and to score them based on what content they read.

Server vs. Storage Hypervisors

Server virtualization, for all its underlying wizardry, is fairly easy to understand. Take one physical server, which often runs at a fraction of its capacity, and split it into “virtual” servers that each work harder.  The hypervisor is software that juggles work among the virtual servers to assure work gets done efficiently. The customer buys fewer physical servers and spends less on real estate and power, the virtualization vendor sells some software. Everyone goes home happy.

In storage virtualization, the underlying technology is the same: A software layer that masks the makeup of physical storage devices. So is the aim: To make the best use of customer’s existing storage before they buy more. But looking more closely, things get more complicated.

In server virtualization, one physical device is usually split into multiple logical devices, each devoted to one application. Most storage virtualization does the opposite: Combine multiple physical devices in a single pool of storage that can be accessed by multiple applications.

Some storage “hypervisors” provide new ways for achieving this storage pooling, by (for example) virtualizing the storage servers that control the storage hardware. Other hypervisors virtualize applications such as back and deduplication to perform them more effectively. Some support only some forms of storage (block vs. file) or some uses cases (dev/test vs. production.)

All this makes storage hypervisors a more complex sell than server hypervisors. This is an opportunity to be the first among your competitors to a) educate your prospects and b) score how good a fit they are for your offering based on what they read.

Decision Points

You’ll get far more, and better qualified, leads for “storage hypervisors” by creating, and tracking the readership of, content that answers questions such as:

  • What you are virtualizing? Storage, storage servers, applications or a combination thereof?
  • Which usage scenarios do you target? : Production systems such as Web serving or on-line transaction processing, or infrastructure services such as backup and restore?
  • Which third-party storage tools do you support? Does the customer need to “rip and replace” their existing backup software to get the benefits of your virtualization?
  • How well do your storage hypervisors integrate with server hypervisors to efficiently scale the entire IT infrastructure up and down as application needs change?
  • Where does your storage hypervisor run? On a physical appliance, to maximize performance and interoperability? Or a virtual appliance, to maximize flexibility and reduce cost?

Answering questions like these clearly in your content marketing empowers you to qualify your storage hypervisor prospects based on which features and functions they choose to read about.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.
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