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When Are “Secondary Personas” Worth It?

When should I create secondary personas“Secondary” personas are detailed prospect profiles that marketers use to better understand what content to send to various potential customers.

For example, in one successful persona-based content marketing campaign, global information vendor IHS used “secondary” personas to create custom content sequences for sub-groups with specific content needs.

Unfortunately, these sub-personas aren’t free. They cost time and money to set up in your content marketing system, to create content for, and to track over time. So when does it pay to create one?

When a sub-persona is different enough from other groups of prospects to need different content and respond to it in a way that generates revenue or profits for you.


Since my focus is the IT market, I’ve come up with some differences among various types of IT buyers that signal you should consider creating a secondary persona for them. What would you add here?

  • What gets them a raise or gets them fired? Consider two prospects with a “network management” persona. One, in the security operations center (SOC), gets fired if the network is hacked. They’ll fight unnecessary changes to the IT infrastructure. Another in the network operations center (NOC) gets fired if they don’t upgrade servers and switches quickly enough to meet demand. They need separate sub-personas because they need different content to help them keep their jobs.
  • Are they a purchase influencer or a decider? The technical staff that actually use IT products or services often play a big role in suggesting what the decision makers (CEOs, CFOs) should buy. The same might even be true within a single functional unit, like application development and testing. Asking for titles within a single unit might identify the technical types who need “speeds and feeds” in their content, versus the decision-makers who need to understand the business benefits to justify their purchase.
  • How informed are they? Consider the overall “industry expert” persona that includes trade press reporters and industry analysts.   The “analyst” sub-persona is usually already knee-deep in your field and require a lot of technical depth to write a lengthy report. Reporters juggling multiple beats need to quickly know “what’s new” in your product or service, how you stack up against the competition and whether you can give them a fresh angle and sources for a quick story. With such different information needs, they deserve separate personas.
  • What link in the value chain do they occupy? Within a given vertical persona such as “manufacturing” lie potential sub-personas along the value chain. These include procurement, design, engineering, manufacturing, logistics and support. Each of these prospects have different questions about your product and service, different time frames for buying, different regulatory or internal approval requirements and different measures of success. Decide which are most important in the buying process and how different are their content needs and decide which deserve sub-personas.

Start Small

I’m not suggesting you go crazy creating dozens of sub-personas. You could start by focusing on your most profitable products and services, or those you hope to grow the most, and create a few of what you think are the most critical sub-personas to achieve that growth. Then, refine them over time as you gain experience.

But do focus, in your persona creation, on the content the prospect needs to succeed in their job, not in the story you’re dying to tell them.

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.

Man with black mask in studioBuilding personas (profiles of the customers you most want to sell to) is like flossing. You know you should do it, but it always seems to be too much time and trouble. Besides, you’re not sure it’s that it’s worthwhile.

If that sounds like you, take a lunch break to watch this 30-minute video from the MarketingSherpa Internet Marketing Webinar Archive. It describes how IHS, a global provider of B2B market data, got measurable boosts to sales from its use of personas. Just as importantly, it’s full of specific tips for how to perform good persona “hygiene” without staying up half the night.

And it’s one of those well-done presentations that’s actually fun to watch.

First, the challenge. IHS was getting hundreds of thousands of site visitors per month, said Senior Director of Demand Management Byron O’Dell, but relatively few were doing anything but looking at the top-level pages. Like many, if not all, B2B companies IHS needed to convert those visitors into more qualified leads.

Now, the results: From the first half to the second half of 2013, IHS estimates marketing’s contribution to its aerospace and defense business revenue rose 83%. (Note that’s not increases to Web hits, downloads or even sales calls, but revenue.) O’Dell gives credit to a content marketing and lead gen program built around the unique needs of six primary personas, supplemented by about 20 secondary personas.

Getting Granular 

IHS’s marketing and product management teams created six personas, based on their experience with customers as well as data from the company’s CRM system. Only then did it take it to the busy sales teams.

The sales folks, who understand best how deals actually get done, suggested adding more detail to the mix by adding about another 20 “secondary personas.”  For example, under the single primary “Military/government planning and strategy” persona, sales recommended creating one sub-persona of “strategy and planning” professionals and another sub-persona of “research and development” prospects.

PersonasThis is important because each persona is supposed to represent a group with unique content needs. I’d guess, for example, that someone in planning and strategy has a need for shorter-term market predictions than does someone in research and development. Under the “Media/Advertising/PR” persona IHS was smart to create “Reporter/media” and “advertising” sub-personas. For reporters, IHS might want to highlight the free statistics they can provide in return for media exposure. For advertising agencies, it might want to push case studies about the value of their custom, paid research.

Step by Step

Rather than wait until they had the perfect, global persona-based strategy, O’Dell didn’t stop doing “batch and blast” content marketing while he developed his personas. He simply added the more granular, persona-based offers where they made sense and as his team developed them.

IHS also had the patience to map out a sequential approach to what content they would offer each “persona” based on their past behavior. For example, they sent everyone in one persona an email offering a white paper with an overview of its forecasts for the simulation and training market over the next ten years. Only those who downloaded the white paper, though, received a follow-up asking if they’d like to book a demo of their online data analysis service.

“We saw great conversion between those two steps,” said O’Dell, with those scheduling a demo turning out to be “high quality leads.” If someone clicks on a button asking for a demo, he says, there’s “noting ambiguous” about their interest.

IHS also didn’t turn prospects off by asking them to identify their persona and sub-persona through a lengthy qualification “gate” in their first interaction. It was only after the third week of the campaign that IHS asked for detailed answers that identified their sub-persona. By that time, after seeing some of HIS’s more valuable content, about half volunteered the extra information. It also used outside databases to pre-fill some of the prospect’s content info to reduce their workload.

The Angels Are in the Details

The IHS approach makes sense to me because it mirrors how I want to research products. I need the provider to prove their value before I give up too much information or agree to a sales call. And I’ll most likely to respond to a pitch that reflects my specific needs and interests.

Secondary personas help prevent you from spamming prospects with vague or irrelevant content. But for those of you out there using personas, are secondary personas just too much work?

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.

Selling DevOps? Don’t Forget Security

using security to sell DevOpsWhen we think about DevOps (you are thinking about DevOps, aren’t you?) we usually think about speed. By combining what used to be separate application development and operations into one continuous cycle, companies like Facebook and Netflix can instantly  tweak their Web-based offerings based on the latest usage feedback.

But in a “DevOps State of the Union” dinner hosted by a several cloud hosting and software companies the other night in Boston, security was a bigger topic than speed. One prong of the conversation was how DevOps could make it even harder to secure corporate data and applications. The second was how DevOps could instead be, in the words of Jerry Skurla, vice president of marketing of security management software vendor Firemon, the “last, best hope for security.”

Needed: Security Smarts

Either way, security makes for a relatively little-known area where you can prove your smarts as a provider of DevOps tools and services.

Let’s tackle the end-of-the-world scenario first.

Change, or so the conventional wisdom goes, is inherently bad for security. That’s because any time you tweak application code, update a driver or reconfigure a server or firewall you could create a security gap.  A recent HP report, for example, claims that nearly 80 percent of application vulnerabilities are caused not by poorly written code, but improper file settings, outdated software versions and misconfiguration.

Many DevOps devotees boast of rolling out not one new code package per week or month, but hundreds every day.  Consider that many of these updates might require links to new databases or legacy (read: outdated) corporate systems, or through the corporate network out to third-party data sources? It only makes sense that so much rapid, continuous change could create a security nightmare. And if you put every change through rigorous security checks, aren’t you slowing the rapid code releases that DevOps is all about?

The flip side of the coin is that real-time visibility into application performance will let developers find security vulnerabilities more quickly, while rapid code refreshes will let them fix those vulnerabilities more quickly. In this scenario a vulnerability found at 8 a.m. could be patched as part of a routine code refresh that contains other application tweaks before noon. In fact, says TK, DevOps could make it possible for smart companies to make strong security a competitive differentiator.


Insights Wanted

So will DevOps wind up being good or bad for security? Probably both, depending on how the industry tackles some pesky implementation details. For DevOps marketers, tackling these real-world questions provides great fodder for “thought leadership” blog posts, white papers, newsletters, and the like.

  • How do you enforce security-related coding and configuration standards without slowing code releases? (Skurla says this can be done by adding “built-in checks/processes” to emerging DevOps tools.)
  • How do you perform regression testing to ensure your latest release doesn’t open a security hole, again without slowing code updates?
  • How do you provide for code rollback so you can quickly withdraw a release that caused a security problem?
  • If you need an audit trail of who made what changes to which code and systems, how do you provide this in a DevOps environment without bogging everyone down in paperwork?
  • What balance do you strike between spreading the authority to quickly make needed code changes, and the need to control administrative access to your most critical systems?
  • How do you create a culture where your people speak up about a security problem in code they deployed, rather than staying quiet (and delaying a fix) in hopes someone else will catch the blame?

Where there are good, a new question like this, there’s opportunity to engage customers and set the terms of the marketing conversation. DevOps devotees, fire away!

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.

Get Real With Grown-Up Cloud Management

Don't Make Me Touch All These Wires...

Based on my reporting for a recent deep dive into cloud frameworks for Computerworld and my ongoing messaging work with my clients, here’s what IT customers are looking for when you pitch “grown up” cloud management capabilities to them.

• The scale to accommodate hundreds of applications, and the changes made to them, by thousands of developers. This is a level of complexity far above what many management applications, and even some cloud frameworks, can handle. It may require, depending on the customer, integration with authentication, access control, change management and provisioning systems.

• Visibility into the cloud, in the form of real-time utilization statistics and the ability to assign a monetary cost to, say, a dollar of compute time for a specific type of server or for a week’s worth of storage. This is essential to charging back costs to various departments, or to “show-back” (letting a department or user know what they’ve used.) Without this visibility, organizations can’t decide when they’re spending too much on a given function or whether a public cloud such as Amazon would be a better deal than their internal infrastructure. A related need: Knowing the geographic location of specific servers or databases for security or compliance reasons.

• Service, not just server, management. This can mean a business service, such as email, claims underwriting or security, or more fine-grained services such as the code required to price a loan or generate an invoice. Large organizations looking for major improvements in agility and cost are creating services that can be tracked and reused over time. Since many of these services will live in the cloud, management platforms need to be able to find, track and manage them. Note: Many cloud frameworks claim to provide portability across cloud platforms, but customers say that’s no good without the ability to move supporting services such as database integration and security.

• Life cycle management of systems that goes beyond the up-front provisioning of servers. This includes the ability to provision not only servers, but their associated network and storage resources, and to automatically change the resources allocated to them as needs change. To assure security and compliance, along with efficiency, this requires the ability to create and manage management policies. If, for example, a developer spins up a server for an agile development sprint and then moves on to other work, the management tool will automatically shut down that server if it hasn’t been used in three weeks.

• Policy-based automation in everything from the discovery, inventorying and monitoring of cloud resources to provisioning and reconfiguring the cloud. As clouds become larger, more complex and more critical, doing this work manually becomes so error-prone and complex it’s almost unfeasible even if a customer could afford it.

Is this an impossible shopping list? Maybe so. But even if you can only hit one or two of these targets, focus on the fact you can provide it, explain clearly how you do it and above all prove it with customer testimonials and demos.

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

I’m a big fan of content marketing – writing content geared to the needs of a specific audience. Content marketing gives the prospect the information they need when they need it (win for the customer) while nurturing prospects along until they’re ready to make a purchase (win for the vendor). More and more smart companies are doing it.

But a lot more either aren’t doing it or doing it poorly. That’s because it’s hard work and takes a lot of time, as I’m finding in my work with clients on sponsored Web sites and blogs. The effort and expense make it all the more important to target your efforts on your best prospects, and to measure the ROI of your efforts.

Things to know before jumping in:

  • Creating quality content takes time, ranging from finding a relevant subject, identifying the “news” angle you’ll pursue, and then writing it clearly enough that everyone can understand it. I find it takes at least an hour or two to knock off a worthwhile 400-600 word blog post.
  • Corralling internal subject matter experts is a huge time sink. The good ones are too busy doing “real” work on products or for customers to write. When they do, their copy usually needs editing for clarity and brevity. Again, think an hour or two of edit time per internal blog post.
  • If you’re running a single-sponsored site, it takes extra effort to sift out content that mentions competitors or that might otherwise ruffle feathers at the sponsor. This is true of course with any “custom” content but is more of a pain when your Web site is demanding fresh content every day.
  • Monitoring other social media for content to re-use or sources to tap also takes time – especially with the profusion of spam and redundant posts you see on Twitter. Just nuking the political crazies and work from home scams from my client’s Twitter feed is a half-time job.

All this is, of course, part of the inescapable value chain of creating quality content. (The ebook linked to here contains a more complete breakdown of all the costs.) I don’t describe all these obstacles to scare you away from content marketing, but to help you do an accurate cost-benefit analysis – and to target your efforts at a real business problem rather than trying to be all things to all people.

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

Your seamless solution delivered significant benefits to...hah?

The lowly topic of case studies is getting a lot of buzz on LinkedIn. It’s all about a study Peter Smith, CEO of Hot to Trot Marketing, did for a client who “wanted to make sure that their case study output matched the level of quality prevalent in the industry.” (Where do the Brits get the nerve to come up wit these names, and what client has the money to spend on such a survey?)

As you might guess, Peter’s study found “a frightening amount of formulaic writing. We actually took ten different stories, from ten different vendors, took out the customer name, vendor name and technical description, swapped them around with those from another vendor’s study and no-one could spot the difference.”

Bless the vendors who pay me to write case studies, as they help pay the bills, but it’s no surprise the turn out the way they do. Vendors ask for, and sometimes insist on, formulaic, bland case studies. Some even have a strict template, down to the number of words in each section and the order in which quotes appear. Between that, and the temptation to stuff them full of marketing fluff, it’s no wonder case studies seem to cookie-cutter.

Having said that, some good ideas came from the discussion. Michael Hope not only highlights “the commercial value and business benefits of the project but then reuses and repurposes (my italics) the case study for everything from speaking opportunities to building ROI sales tools, spread the word on social media, build into an industry lead generation campaign and producing partner specific versions of the case study. A good example of re-purposing/reimaging content.

There was also a lot of comment on how, or whether, to measure the effectiveness of a case study. Daniel McCarthy suggested “more formal approaches” such as limiting access to readers willing to provide an email (or other contact info), or providing a trackable phone number or website in the document’s call to action. But again, this only works if the case study is compelling.

Stephanie Tilton had great tips on how to convince customers to do case studies for you in the first place, something that’s harder and harder in this risk-averse age.

And I get the last word, since it’s my blog. Don’t scrub your press releases until they’re so inoffensive they’re dull. And if you can’t find something interesting and instructive in a customer’s story, don’t tell it! Customer A buys Product B to solve Problem C, and it works, is not news – it’s the way the world is supposed to work. Find something newsworthy (in either the customer’s problem, how they implemented the product, unexpected benefits they found).

Remember: No news, no drama, no story, no readers, no sales.

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.

Can your friendly sales rep start doing this again?

Well, I guess we can all relax and start raising prices now. David Blake, president and CEO of IT outsourcing advisory firm UpperEdge, says IT buyers are spending money again after the recession, and says March 25, 2011 was the official end of the buyer’s market.

He didn’t say what hour during the day the market turned, or in what time zone, but I expect that awaits further analysis. In any case, it’s a great gimmick to call attention to what he calls the unleashing of pent-up demand from corporate customers for IT products and services. He cites strong recent results from a services provider (Accenture) and a software giant (Oracle), as well as “the emboldened approach we see from sellers of technology in our own sourcing engagements.” Among the effects Blake predicts: That vendors will look to “maximize revenue and margins (as) their focus and sole approach” and that they’ll push for fewer contract limits on rate increases.

A few points:

This is indeed encouraging news, at least for the tech sector, which seems to be recovering faster and more strongly than other parts of the economy;

Calling an arbitrary “turn” in the market, even tongue in cheek, sure gets attention. I would have loved to see more anecdotes from David about how vendors were pushing harder for advantage. This is where he, by dint of being in the negotiations, has premium information and insights the rest of us don’t.

And finally, I would have loved to see more specific suggestions for what customers can do to fight off these newly-emboldened vendors. Again, this is the “secret sauce” UpperEdge has that the rest of us don’t, and a turn in the market (meaning opportunity for some, danger for others) is an ideal time opportunity for David to show us what he’s got.

And a few questions:

Are you – on either the customer or the vendor side – also seeing a turn in the market? Is it only affecting some geographies or industry sectors? Is the higher demand translating into more pricing power? Or can you still beat up vendors?

And from a marketing perspective, do you agree that calling a “turn” in the market is a good way to get attention and, if so, what details should you provide to back up your call?

If nothing else, strengthening demand is a sign of spring we’re not getting from the weather, at least here in the chilly northeast. Thanks, Dave.

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.

Finding the Mythical C-Level Exec

Like the unicorn, whose horn was said to cure illnesses and neutralize poison, the C-level executive is a mythical creature, though long hunted by IT sales rep looking for a cure to their late-quarter sales slump. But, as Forrester Research points out in a recent report, “…no such role as a C-level executive exists."  There are chief executive officers, chief financial officers, chief operating officers, chief technology officers, chief security officers, etc., but no generic “C-level executive.”

Yet I shudder to think how many times I’ve blindly nodded and said “yes” when a client asked for a white paper for the “C-level” executive, meaning it was supposed to focus more on business than on technology. In today’s attention-short world, we as consumers – and C-level execs as busy people – don’t have the time to listen to generic pitches that don’t speak to their specific needs. That’s one reason only 15% of executives find sales calls useful and up to their expectations.

Tailoring the sales pitch, and your marketing content, to the different flavors of C-level prospects takes time and effort. You need to understand the problems they face, the buzzwords and acronyms they use, their measures for success, and then translate your marketing jargon into terms they can understand. This customization is worth it if, having gone to the trouble and expense of getting their attention, you want to keep it and make your pitch.

But how about if you’re selling to a smaller organization where everyone wears many hats, or in which titles are meaningless, like “chief satisfaction officer?) Turn the process around and write your collateral in one or several versions that will attract the eyes you want. Hoping to find the CFO? Talk about capital and operational expenses and return on investment. Looking for the CSO? Talk more about compliance, audits, separation of duties and whatever alphabet soup of regulations they must meet.

Then – and this is the important step – track which folks on your email list or which visitors to your site read which versions of your material. Following up with other messaging focused on their needs will confirm their identity to you, and even give you insights into their specific wants, needs and purchase timetables.

Does this take time and money? Yes. But not as much as you’re wasting sending the same tired message – or the same tired salesperson – into the lair of the mythical C-level exec.

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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