PR/Marketing Writing Tips Archives

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

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

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

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

So how do you track who read what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

No kisses needed for product placement. Really.

Days after Computerworld published my most recent story on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) a friend in PR called to thank me for mentioning his client.

A nice gesture, and probably standard operating procedure at many PR firms. But it was unnecessary, and represents the kind of thinking that actually makes it harder for PR pros to get their clients’ products placed in trade pubs.

A reporter isn’t doing a PR person a favor by mentioning their client or “placing” their product in a story. The PR person did the reporter a favor by connecting them to someone who had something worth saying, and thus made it easier for the reporter to write a good story.

By thinking reporters are doing them a favor by mentioning their clients, PR pros go about the pitching process all wrong. They tend to fall into a mindset of “calling in a favor” with a reporter to get them to listen to their client’s pitch, hoping something will stick.

They should instead remember that PR is a service industry, whose customers are not only their clients but the reporters and bloggers who follow their industries. PR folks should (and the best ones of course know this) build relationships based on trust, where they pitch only the clients who have something good to say and can say it well.

The tough part, of course, knowing when a client is a good fit. Ask yourself:

  • Have I carefully read the reporter’s description of the story and completely understand what they are looking for?
  • Do I have the courage to pitch only those clients who I genuinely believe are a good fit, rather than pitch someone with only a tangential relationship to the story and hope the reporter doesn’t notice?
  • Does the client have something new, interesting or relevant to say about the subject?
  • Is this client ready, willing and able to focus on what the reporter is writing about, rather than turning every question into an opportunity to pitch their products or services?

Yes, I know many clients haven’t developed a good story or the skills to tell it. That’s where the messaging and media training most PR firms offer becomes so important.

I also know many PR clients insist on being pitched even when they’re not a good fit for a story. If you have such a problem client, gather a list of stories for which they were interviewed in which they should have played a major role but got only minor billing, or were left on the cutting room floor altogether. Or, if you think a candid, gentle  (and complementary) one-hour feedback session from a former trade press editor would help, drop me a line.

But above all, remember that when a reporter mentions your client in a story, we do it only because they (and you) earned that mention. Now, it’s up to they (and you) to earn 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.

Are You Ready to Hire a Copywriter?

What the heck is it we do so well?

The other day, a prospective client realized he wasn’t ready to hire me – or any — content marketing copywriter.

He realized as we spoke that before asking a copywriter to present his message, he and his subject matter experts needed to agree on what their message was. He asked if I had any “documentation” of what questions he and his team needed to answer before hiring a copywriter.

Here are the questions I came up with. Let me know what I missed.

Messaging Questions:

  •  What is our “elevator pitch” – the 30 second description of what we do, why we do it better than our competitors, and why it matters to customers?
  •  What is our specific differentiator vs. our top three competitors? Lower cost? Higher      quality? Better customer service? Proprietary technology? In-depth knowledge of our customers’ industries?
  •  What’s special about how we deliver our specific value? Our bonus system for sales reps tied to long-term customer satisfaction?  Our proprietary testing framework for mobile apps? The fact our CEO is a former customer?
  •  Who are the two or three customer types we need more of? How big are they, what industries are they in, what pain points do they face, what systems are they now running, what competitors are they dissatisfied with?
  •  What tone do we want each piece of content to take? i.e., very technical for lower-level influencers and users, more business-oriented for C-level execs who pay the bills?
  •  What stories can we tell about our success – either customer case studies or internal stories of lessons learned and how we improved processes internally?
  •  What similar products do we not compete with, and what markets do we not want to tackle? (This is great for cutting time, effort and cost out of the process.)

Strategy Questions:

  • What is the goal of this content marketing campaign? How many new customers, how much revenue, how many quality leads?
  • How will we use this content in our sales and marketing activity? Will we direct customers to “landing pages” teased by emails or Tweets? Which of our prospect lists will each piece of content be sent to?
  • What “call to actions” do we want each piece of content to encourage? Signing up for a newsletter, following us on Twitter, downloading a new piece of content or agreeing to a sales call?
  • How will we “score” the leads this program generates? What actions will trigger different scores (i.e., downloading “Introduction to widgets” gives them one point, “How to choose the right widget for you” gives them two points, “Three questions to ask before signing your widget contract” gets them three points.)=
  • Have we asked sales what they need from this campaign, how they would score prospects, and in what form (alerts through our CRM system) they would like to get updates on prospects and their behavior?
  • What marketing automation tools (such as email marketing services or Web site monitoring) do we have, do we need and what new skills would we need to use them more effectively?

You don’t need the final answers to all these questions. But do get enough agreement to move forward with a measurable plan and refine it from there. Let me know which questions worked, or didn’t, for you and which questions I missed.

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.

Quick Tip: How to Ensure Content Is Reader Focused

There’s a customer angle in here somewhere…

In content marketing for lead generation we know we should focus on the customer and their needs, and not about ourselves and what we’re trying to sell. Here are four questions that help ensure every blog post, white paper, bylined article or other marketing content focuses on what the reader needs.

1)     Have I told the reader why they should care? In the B2B market the customer needs to either sell more or save more. All the latest buzzwords (the “agility” of cloud computing, the “insights” of big data, the “innovation” generated by social media) are new, technology-enabled ways of reaching either or both these goals.

When you announce multi-cloud support in your storage virtualization “solution,” describe how it lets customers shop for the lowest-priced cloud provider. When you proudly announce a new reseller or OEM distribution agreement, explain how this makes it possible, for the first time, for businesses in the upper Midwest to get overnight support for your products.

And if you can’t explain why the reader should care, don’t tell them. It only trains them not to listen the next time you come calling with marketing content, and hurts your lead generation.

2)     Have I told the reader what action to take, or not take? Like you, your customers are doing two or three jobs at the same time and need the advice or insight you have to offer – quickly. The best place to describe it is near the beginning of each piece of marketing content, and in clear, simple terms.

Examples:

  • “When starting an enterprise architecture program, talk to the business managers to be sure you’re meeting their critical, short-term needs. Otherwise, you’ll produce a useless ‘science project’ that will hurt your career.”
  • “If your outsourcer is doing a lousy job, it can be less expensive and easier to fix the relationship than to replace them. Make sure you’re doing a good enough job clarifying your expectations, and are treating them fairly on pricing and other terms as your needs unexpectedly change.”
  • “To see how different configurations of solid-state disk would improve your database performance, click through to our on-line estimator.”

3)     Does your marketing content tell the reader something new, or given them a new way of thinking about a subject?

With so many vendors self-publishing on the Web, you can’t afford to repeat what the reader already knows, or that is self-evident, in your marketing content.

  • Instead of: “We listen to your needs and develop a custom solution backed by our factory-trained technicians.”
  • Try: “Unlike mere “resellers” we give you the home and cell phone number of a dedicated account rep who’s paid based on your online ranking of his performance.”
  • Instead of: “Cloud storage can help enterprises cope with the cost and management challenges posted by the exponential growth in application data.”
  • Try: “While some tout the `cloud” as a cure-all for your data storage problems, it’s actually best-suited for non-regulated applications where latency is not an issue.”

4)     Does every piece of marketing content refer to terms, problems, examples the reader will recognize?

Improve your lead generation by showing you understand the unique needs and everyday concerns of your target market. Replacing buzzwords with specific examples is a great way to do this.

  • Instead of: “Automated storage provisioning reduces the cost and delay of meeting enterprise storage needs.”
  • How about: “Tired of getting yelled at by the development staff asking `Where are my test systems?’ Automated provisioning lets you close out those service tickets with a click of the mouse.”
  • Not so good: Proper involvement of the legal staff can assure the proper negotiation of outsourcing contracts.
  • More specific and real world: Your corporate attorney should not just say “no” to every outsourcing contract clause they don’t understand. They should focus instead on the areas that make or break deals, such as carefully defining service levels, assuring change control so the outsourcer isn’t overwhelmed with unexpected work, and creating a partnership instead of an adversarial relationship.”

For more tips on creating customer-focused marketing content for lead generation based on my 20+ years of IT writing, subscribe to my email newsletter or email bob@scheierassociates.com.

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 try to steer my clients from vague buzzwords such as “transformation” in content marketing because they confuse customers rather than engage them. Now, no less an authority than industry guru Gartner is warning that using the word “transformation” in contract negotiations can also  foul outsourcing deals by raising false expectations among customers.

The warning came in Gartner’s June 2011 Magic Quadrant ranking of finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing providers as it advised to “Ban the words `innovation’ and `transformation’ because they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”

Specifically, the Gartner report said, it can lead the customer to believe “`…my service provider is all-knowing and can fix everything.’” Imagine, for example, a customer who’s been unable to reduce costs or understand a new market due to internal cultural and organizational problems. An outsourcer comes in promising to “transform” their organization and runs afoul of those same problems. The outsourcer loses money trying to solve problems it never signed up to tackle in the first place, and the customer has wasted time and effort without achieving their goals.

Another scenario Gartner mentioned involves the customer choosing the lowest-price provider and  “left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.” Innovation and “transformation” require understanding where a business is now and where it needs to be. That’s why, Gartner advises baselining the current state of affairs and not hoping the outsourcer “will solve all the internal process issues, which may never have been addressed internally.”

Using “Transformation” in Content Marketing

This confusion is mirrored in the results of my ongoing online survey which shows 40 percent of respondents agree with my “gut” definition that transformation means a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believe marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers just use transformation in their copywriting as a synonym for “improve.” Hence the confusion when an outsourcer is using “transform” to mean just a lower price, while the customer is expecting a radical makeover

One simple way to avoid trouble in content marketing – and to set yourself apart from the hordes throwing around the “transform” buzzword – is to insert the word “by” after the word “transform” and explain specifically what you will do, how you will do it, and the specific business benefits you’ll deliver.

Examples:

  • We will transform your accounts payable by performing all transactions on our cloud-based platform, analyzing all payments with our proprietary algorithms to detect waste and fraud, and shifting any manual processing such as troubleshooting to our offshore staff. We commit to permanently reducing processing costs by at least 36% and waste and fraud losses by at least 23%. Reducing payment times by one week will also allow you to recover 10% early payment discounts from your vendors.
  • We will transform your IT infrastructure by shifting peak loads and Web-facing systems to our lower-cost cloud, managing remaining internal systems with our offshore remote management staff and remotely testing applications. This will permanently reduce your  capital budget by 60%, your operating budget by 60% and time to market for new applications by one month. Future work shifting will, within five years, allow you to devote 50% of your IT spending to new initiatives versus only 20% now.
  • We will transform your customer service by surveying current and past customers to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and comparing your costs, service levels and customer satisfaction levels to other clients with whom we have worked. We will design, implement and monitor the organizational and cultural changes required to meet your strategic goal of permanently becoming the top-ranked vendor in your industry for customer service.

In each case, everything after the word “by” explains what you mean by “transformation” and how you will achieve it. While Gartner focused on outsourcing, describing “transformation” in any content marketing clearly leaves  much less room for confusion, and much more compelling content to attract and keep customers. Let me know how you’re hearing “transformation” used and misused in content marketing.

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.

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.

When to Repeat a Competitor’s Lies

I hear their beta is buggy as heck...

We all have competitors dishing the dirt on us. One way to fight back: Boldly repeat their lies, only to demolish them point by point.

Maybe they’re saying your growth is unsustainable because you’re giving away product to score reference customers. Maybe they’re claiming customers are ripping out your software a year after installation because it doesn’t scale. Or that you’re in the process of ruining that great technology you acquired from a start-up last year.

Many of my clients tip-toe around the accusations, carefully crafting white papers or mission statements aimed at disproving these claims without ever describing them. By hinting that something might be, or could be wrong, and that you’re fixing it (without saying what it is and what you’re doing) you only make customers more confused and skeptical.

A bolder, clearer and more effective approach is to repeat and even amplify what you consider to be underhanded claptrap, loudly and clearly, and then refute it point by point. It’s a technique you’ve probably heard radio talk shows hosts use. I ran across it while browsing aviation Web sites (yeah, I’m an airplane nut) and seeing a promo for Emirates airlines rebutting charges it gets unfair government subsidies.

Note how Emirates, rather than tiptoeing around the subject with euphemisms like “the proper role of government in supporting the aviation industry” headlined the charges against them, repeating them (and naming those making them) in case the reader hadn’t heard them before.

Identifying the lying so and sos...

 

Then they refuted them, point by point and with pages and pages of statistics and even quotes from oil companies assuring they charge Emirates fair market rates for jet fuel even though the airline is in the middle of the world center of oil production.

 

...refuting them with unnamed sources. Oh, well.

They even defend their record on touchy subjects like the conditions of the many immigrant workers in the Gulf. Taking on risky issues like this that aren’t even central to their business fairly screams that they have nothing to hide. Its part of the sheer mass of facts, figures, numbers and angles they throw at the reader – everything from airport landing fees to whether Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws in the U.S. are, in effect, a form of government subsidy. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but it sure changes the terms of the argument.

And isn’t that what you want to fight unfounded rumors?

This in-your-face approach helps cut though today’s Web-based information overload, telling the audience “We’re so sure these claims are bogus we’ll blast them loud and clear so you can see how ridiculous they are.” This is chutzpa and it works, though I’m not sure I’d use that term resonates in the UAE.

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.

Is this what they mean by a transformative change?

After being nice and congratulating a vendor for a clear, simple job explaining their value proposition, my dark side takes over as I blast another for a confusing – and potentially damaging — attempt at rebranding.

When business process outsourcing firm Data Dimensions  recently announced a new “Mission, Vision, and Values statement” it totally failed to explain exactly what is new and why anyone should care. As someone who follows the BPO market closely, I was hoping to learn something.

But it was clear Data Dimensions was talking to itself, not its customers, from the very start with the headline “Data Dimensions Looks to the Future with a New Vision.” Unless I’m a Data Dimension employee or customer, why should I care?

The naval-gazing went on as the release explained the company wanted to “make our (vision) statement more in line with who we are and to better clarify our commitment to the clients that we serve, and the people we employ.” If you’re having an internal identity crisis, why publicize the fact, at least without mentioning what’s in this clarification for the customer?

Now, to the “meat” of the news, although there’s not much to chew on. The company’s new mission is — wait for it – to provide “innovative business process solutions (with) an uncompromising commitment to quality, responsiveness, and integrity.” It’s “vision” is “To be the leading solutions provider for every customer we serve!” For this, they wasted valuable Web bandwidth?

Their values (which I’m sure you’ve never heard of before) include “integrity, “excellence,” “innovative” and “responsive.” To make the kitchen sink of jargon complete, they collaborate with each other while recognizing the diverse background of their employees. And since you asked, you’ll be relieved to know “the new Mission, Vision, Values statement is posted throughout our buildings and in key public areas” and that it is actually “a continuation of the principles that Data Dimensions was founded on in 1982.”

Besides failing to explain the importance of this for its customers, Data Dimensions fails to provide any context by explaining what is new, or has changed. This makes me, as a suspicious reader, look between the lines for signals of problems or failures they’re trying to fix. If their values now include “integrity” does that mean they lacked integrity in the past? If they’re now committed to “excellence” and being “innovative” have they not been in the past? If they’ve always had integrity and innovation, why emphasize it now?

It may be wonderful that Data Dimensions went through this internal values clarification, but it’s not, in and of itself, anything the market cares about. It only becomes worth sharing when the company can explain specifically how it will deliver lower-priced, higher-quality, or more innovative services for its customers. Until then, these feel-good generalities teach the customer not to bother reading the next press release they see from this company.

Let me know if you think I’m being too hard on these folks or you want help explaining your own strategic repositioning. 

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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