PR/Marketing Writing Tips Archives

This Ain’t Your Father’s DR

The same bean-counters – excuse me, cost-conscious CFOs – who are forcing every part of IT to deliver more services for less are now reshaping disaster recovery.

As I recently reported for Computerworld, the days of dedicated “hot site” DR with banks of expensive servers and storage waiting around for a volcano to blow are long gone, except for the most mission-critical applications.

Most customers are more pragmatic. Some are using virtualization to quickly reshuffle production applications onto less-critical test or development environments in case of an outage, forcing the less-critical workloads to wait until the trouble is over. Others are providing limited uptime rather than immediate 24/7 coverage. If that means payroll has to work from 9 PM to midnight on Sunday night to process paychecks during the emergency, so be it.

Some vendors are claiming the cloud will finally bring DR to the small to medium sized businesses who until now couldn’t afford it. But I found some SMBs who are not only skeptical of security in the cloud, but turned off by the prices some vendors are charging on a per-server basis. If you’re marketing cloud-based DR. be ready to prove it delivers on ease of use, low cost and security.

Anyone claiming to provide cloud DR also must show how its lets customers monitor the health and security of their DR site. Across all sectors of IT, customers are demanding business-friendly reports and dashboards so they can constantly monitor the costs and the benefits of their internal and external service providers, and that also goes for cloud DR.

In this era of wired and cloud-centric everything, I was surprised to learn how many companies still back up data by physically shipping tapes or (increasingly) portable hard drives to remote locations. That is still more cost-effective, it seems, than spending big bucks on the replication software and huge network connections it would take to move today’s data stores over the network. As one user joked, “FedEx is still the largest-bandwidth network out there.” Obviously, lower-cost, easier or even automated options for replicating data over today’s networks are a good play.

A final note to cloud and DR marketers: The confusion around different types of cloud and DR is reaching crisis proportions. For example, sometimes the term “private cloud” means a virtualized, on-demand infrastructure within an organization’s own firewall rather than that of an external provider. Other times, it also means a customer’s dedicated hardware running at an external site. Sometimes “hybrid” means a mixed public/private cloud, and other times a mix of virtual and physical servers.

I’ve seen some reports that such confusion is spooking customers so much they’re throwing up their hands and delaying a purchase decision. That’s a disservice not only to you, but the entire market. Whenever you’re unsure if “everyone knows” what your definition of “cloud” means, the safest bet is to explain it anyway – as clearly and simply as you can.

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.

Simple Pitch Makes Editor Weep With Joy

Well, not quite weep. But simple and straightforward is the best way to explain a product to busy editors and prospects. A recent eight (count ‘em, eight!) slide deck from data management vendor Sanbolic shows how it’s done.

They started with a quick reminder of who they are, what they do, and why the reader should care. Note the specific, precise language, lack of buzzwords and the focus on what the reader needs to know, not just what the company wants to tell them.

 

Next slide: Tell me what your product does. Sanbolic took the classic “what is it?” “what does it do?” and “why should I care?” approach (translated here into “What does this mean for the customer?” and “how does this translate into operational value?”) Notice again the clear language and full explanation of how the technical features product benefit.

 

They continue with a “problem statement” so well crafted a reporter or blogger could almost copy it, throw in some copies, and use it in their story:

 

Followed up with a technical “how it works” dive that is just technical enough without becoming an eye chart, and describes the functions of each component in their platform rather than often confusing names of the modules (a mistake I often see vendors make.) Note the neat restatement of customer capabilities on the right-hand side.

 

 

And the wrap-up (which, to be fair, could have used specific sales figures, though it may have been too early for those when I was briefed.)

 

And the wrap-up (which, to be fair, could have used specific sales figures, though it may have been too early for those when I was briefed.)

 

No, Sanbolic is NOT a client of mine, nor did I help create this deck. But I would have been proud to, which is not something I say about a lot of vendor briefings. Their use of clear, specific language and a focus on what the reader needs to know quickly helped me understand what they claim to do, how they fit with the industry and whether and why I should care.

Drop me a line if you’d to talk over how to streamline your marketing collateral.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Outsource Your Writing

What's our product positioning again this week?

One of the toughest decisions for budget-conscious marketers is when to hire an outsider to create marketing content, and when they can do the heavy lifting themselves. What they often overlook is whether they themselves understand what they want to say before bringing in outside help.

Marketers ask themselves if they have anyone on staff with both the subject matter expertise and writing ability? Does that person have time to write on top of their other work? And is writing a better use of their time than, say, selling or billing hours with clients? But a recent chat with Christophe Cremault, who heads up marketing for Radix, an innovative branding and marketing agency, gave me some new thinking on this question.

He pointed out there are two kinds of content sellers need.

The first is white papers, Webinars, podcasts, ebooks, etc. where you’ve already thought through the subject, knows what you want to say, and can explain it well enough that an outside wordsmith just needs to polish it up. Unless you already have a superb writer on staff, this is a slam dunk to outsource, and with the right writer you’ll get excellent, fast results.

The second case is where your content needs more work before you outsource it.  Maybe you haven’t thought through the tough questions, such as “What is our real differentiation?” or “What is the real pain point we’re addressing?” Other times, especially in large global organizations (you know who you are) scattered sales and operational units haven’t yet agreed on messaging, or functional groups are too busy meeting client needs to provide background.

Based on recent experience, you’re not ready to hire a free-lance writer, editor, or Webinar host until you can answer these questions in ten words or less. (More than that and you haven’t clarified your own thinking enough.)  

  1. The three messages we want to get across are __________, ________________, and ___________.
  2. The three things we do better than our competitors are _____________, ____________, and ___________.
  3.  The target audience(s) for this piece is (are)   ___________.
  4.  The action we want readers to take after reading this is to  ___________.
  5.  The one person who will serve as single point of contact for the free-lancer, who has the authority to decide when the piece meets our needs, is _____________.

 

The better you can answer these questions before hiring an outside writer, the less time you’ll spend in messy clarification sessions, revising useless copy, and juggling production schedules due to delays. You’ll also be the type of good client that writers want to work with, which is important in a market where increasing demand is letting writers be pickier about assignments.

But most importantly, you’ll be spending your precious marketing dollars most efficiently, and getting great content out to your customers before your competitors.

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 Questions To Speed Up Your Tech Pitch

Among the ongoing excellent recent posts from Lauren Goldstein, VP, Strategic Planning at Babcox and Jenkins, was some advice on how to talk to technical decision makers in business to business (B2B) sales. She recommended giving these “TDMs” more technical information earlier in the sales process than you would to a business decision maker, and to “Be clear about what your product is and what it does.”
I’d argue being clear is vital to reach any IT decision maker overwhelmed with things to do and sales pitches to sift through. Too many pitches I see are too obvious and self-serving when describing the problem they solve, and too vague in describing how they solve it.
This led me to dust off a simple template I used during my 15 years as an IT trade press reporter to understand whether, and how, to cover the Latest Great Thing someone pitches to me. Here it is:
Our product is (hardware, software/a service, or a combination thereof) that (describe the technical function it performs) to (describe in the business benefit it provides.) It is better than competitive offerings because it is (less expensive, easier to use, faster to implement, more scalable, more reliable, etc.)
This template works regardless of the type of customer you’re selling to, the industry they’re in and what problem you’re solving. Because it forces you to be specific, it also discourages you from using jargon such as “solution,” “seamless,” or “best in class” that obscures your message.
Finally, it forces you to define your value proposition very clearly. And that helps you develop everything from elevator pitches to product taglines to defining target markets and the segmented content necessary to reach them.
Do you have a template or formula that defines your value proposition?

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

Occupy Marketing Slams Puffy Collateral

These white papers aren't even white!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weaknesses:

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

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

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

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

The first rule of marketing communications should be “Don’t confuse your customers.” If they can’t figure out what you’re saying they won’t stick around to find out, much less trust what you’re selling.

Based on the pitches I’m seeing and my copywriting/editing work with clients, here are ten of the current “worst offender” terms that send customers clicking on to your competitor’s Web sites:

When You Say… Do You Really Mean…
Transparent Visible, or honest?
Resources Money, or people?
Impact Help, or hurt?
Solution Hardware, software or services?
Contextualized How something relates to or works with something else?
Purposed Used for?
Transform Really, really, really improved?
Optimized Eliminate what’s unneeded or duplicate?
On the ground On the actual scene? Seeing something for yourself? Most informed?
Align with Coordinate with? Work to improve?

Want more? I’ve got plenty. And if you want help replacing jargon with clear language in your marketing material, I’m available for that, too. What horrible, meaningless jargon are you seeing that drives you nuts?

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.

Corporate Journalism Done Right, by a PR Firm

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether reporters hired to generate “journalism-style” content for companies are really journalists or just paid shills. In some ways, it’s an old argument because there have always been upright reporters and editors and those who push a certain cause, regardless of where their stuff appears. For the current debate, I’d offer a real journalist is someone 1) whose focus is on educating the reader rather than selling them, and 2) who goes further up the value chain from just reporting events to trying to make sense of them.

Text 100, a well-established PR firm with clients such as IBM, Nokia, Facebook and Skype, showed how to do it with their recent reporting from the Mobile World Congress. They began by describing how Twitter and other social media affected the distribution and pickup of news from vendors at the show, with specific advice for how future exhibitors should change their PR strategies at future shows. The reporter, Jonas Rugaard, then delivered a roundup of news and trends worthy of a first-tier trade publication, such as the emergence of dual-core processors and multitasking, and screen shots and video of hot devices.

Finally, he summed it all up: “I guess we all remember the famous tag-line; anything on any device at any time. This should now be replaced with the right content, to the right person at the right place. And so the Mobile World Congress turns to be less about the new products and phones itself, but much more on the entire ecosystem – connecting everything with the phone at the center.”

And at no time could I tell which of the vendors he mentioned, if any, were Text100 clients. If I were in the mobile space, or a mobile vendor looking for PR firm (even more to the point) I would start following their blog religiously because it leads with valuable information, not hype about what their clients announced at the show. And when I needed PR counsel, Text 100 would have to be near or at the top of the list.

That’s how corporate journalism should work, for the good of both the reader and the 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.
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