scheierassociates.com http://scheierassociates.com Translating IT Jargon Into Business Benefits Tue, 16 Apr 2019 15:12:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 Busting the AI/Security Hype Cycle http://scheierassociates.com/2019/04/busting-the-ai-security-hype-cycle http://scheierassociates.com/2019/04/busting-the-ai-security-hype-cycle#respond Tue, 16 Apr 2019 15:12:59 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3172

Whenever a buzzword gets hot, you can expect lazy marketers to start pasting it on every product or service in sight. When two buzzwords get popular at the same time, expect double the hype.

So it is with the two hot high-profile trends of security and artificial intelligence (AI). Security is a big deal because more than 50 years into the computer age we still haven’t figured out how to protect our applications and data well enough, and the problem is only getting worse. AI is on everyone’s lips because of its potential to analyze massive amounts of data more quickly and accurately than a human could to identify, and possibly predict, events.

Smart Machines Fighting Bad People

The AI play in security is that algorithms can do a much better job than people at picking out potential threats from the thousands, tens of thousands or millions of clues in your network traffic and among your devices.  At the very least, the pitch goes, AI can sift out the most likely real signs of threats among from everyday shifts in network traffic or whether a repeated log-in attempt is a user who forgot their password or an automated bot trying to guess that password.

That all sounds reasonable, but I’m hearing (even from some of my security clients) that too many security vendors are pasting the “AI” label on their offerings without delivering the goods. As a marketer, if you’re knowingly complicit with this you’re not only misleading the end consumer but setting yourself and your client up for failure when customers realize the client can’t deliver.

I get it that AI story is a rapidly evolving field, your client may still be growing their own AI expertise, and that security customers are justifiably reluctant to share their successes or, even worse, their failures. We still owe it to our clients and their customers to push for real proof that their AI security solutions can do what they claim.

Some tough questions to answer before pumping out more AI/security fluff:

AI/Security Reality Checks

  • What algorithms is the vendor using to sift through the network or device data they are collecting? How have they been proven to be useful?
  • How accurate (numbers, please) is the AI-enabled assessment of real security events vs. false positives? How are those results improving over time?
  • How big is your client’s AI staff and how quickly is it expanding? If they are partnering with other/bigger AI experts, who are they and how strategic is the partnership?
  • What does the solution do to ensure it is being fed correct samples, to avoid the “garbage, in, garbage out” syndrome?
  • How does it guard against hackers turning AI against the enterprise, such as feeding bogus samples into the machine learning data pool, using AI to gather information about the target and identify vulnerabilities, and using AI chatbots to fish for information?
  • Does the vendor recognize the limits of AI and make it easy to bring people with their fuller understanding of context (and common sense) into the decision-making process?
  • And, as always, push for customer case studies, even if anonymous.

We’ve all been to this rodeo – of vendors trying to jump on a new technology trend before they can really deliver – many times before. Curious for your thoughts on:

  • What percent of AI/security claims can your clients back up?
  • What other proof points can they provide for their claims than what I’ve mentioned here? and
  • How willing are your clients to go the extra mile to tell a provable AI/security story?
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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Over Half of Marketing Content is Trash. Again. http://scheierassociates.com/2019/01/how-improve-quality-marketing-content http://scheierassociates.com/2019/01/how-improve-quality-marketing-content#respond Wed, 23 Jan 2019 21:42:53 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3159

how to improve the quality of marketing content News flash (or not): Too much of our marketing content stinks. Who says? More than 250 global technology decision makers surveyed by Forrester Research.

  • 57% said “most of the material is useless.”
  • 66% said “vendors provide me too much material to sort through”
  • 60% said they get most of their information from other sources.

What’s more, this is the third consecutive year vendor content got such poor rankings. As someone who produces B2B content full time, I’m sorry to say I’m not surprised.  The problem isn’t (just) that writers like me have bad days, that product managers don’t believe in the value of content, or that marketers don’t understand the value of content.

The problem is structural. Most vendors can’t afford to create a big staff of journalistically-trained editors and writers to find good ideas and write (or film, or podcast) great content that describes them. As a result, an internal “content marketing manager” or outside PR or marketing firm tries to impose some professional standards for content.

But day to day “real” business deadlines (client engagements, product ship dates) push the hard work of creating great content off the table. No one has the time or skills to ask if a customer really has the details to flesh out that great case study idea, if a market survey is worth sharing, or if a subject matter expert has the chops to opine on a hot topic.

Three Starting Steps

There’s no way we can turn every vendor into a high-quality publisher overnight. But here are some suggestions for delivering the three types of content buyers told Forrester they want.

  • Customer/peer examples.Customers are more reluctant than ever to talk for fear of admitting they needed help or of endorsing a vendor. That often leaves content creators dependent on the account rep within a vendor, who is often more focused on their own products and services than the customer’s business issues. Train someone on each account team on the whys and hows of getting good case studies. Educate them on the importance of real people, good quotes and the “big picture” results. Provide key questions to help them identify the best case studies and templates for the must-have elements, such as why you’re better than competitors and how you helped the customer.
  • Content from credible sources.You may not be able to commission a report by a pricey top-tier analyst but you have your own experts in-house – the technical and sales folks on your staff who see customers’ real problems and the unique ways you are solving them. Before sitting them down for an interview, make sure they can answer these seven essential questions for producing compelling content. Track the clicks, downloads and shares of content generated by your SMEs to convince others to join the club.
  • Short content.In the Forester survey, shorter formats captured two out of the top three spots for content types buyers prefer to interact with. But shorter is not easier, or necessarily less expensive.  It requires a lot of up-front effort deciding exactly what you  want to say and what you don’t need to say. Create a clear outline and make sure every word carries its weight. Vet it against my checklist for depth, originality and timeliness or do a “top ten tips” list that showcases your expertise in an easy to digest way.

Déjà vu All Over Again

If you feel like you’ve heard this before, you’re right. As far back as 2012 fewer than half of buyers found digital content useful. It’s time we find practical ways to deliver the clear, concise and compelling content that drives 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.
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Selling Three Top IT Trends in 2019  http://scheierassociates.com/2019/01/selling-three-top-it-trends-in-2019 http://scheierassociates.com/2019/01/selling-three-top-it-trends-in-2019#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 23:21:57 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3149

2019 IT marketing challengesBetween waves of new technology and political and economic jitters, 2019 will be an extremely noisy marketing environment. Getting and keeping the attention of IT buyers will be harder than ever.

Here are three of the biggest IT growth areas I’m seeing from my work with clients, and suggestions for practical messaging that will lift you out of the “me-too” scrum this year.

Cloud Migration

With security fears easing and cloud providers upping their game, it’s no longer news when a customer moves to the cloud – or that you helped them move to the cloud. Here are some not-so-obvious angles to differentiate your cloud platform and/or cloud migration consulting services.

  • How you help automatically identify which of a customer’s apps are best for the cloud from a business This might take into account management costs, software licensing, security/regulatory requirements, application performance and demands for local hosting in area such as the European Union.
  • How you automatically identify which apps are best for the cloud from a technical This might include dependencies on aging hardware platforms that would make such migration difficult or impossible and how you help link internal access control, security, management or chargeback platforms to cloud environments.
  • How you help customers manage their cloud migration so they don’t wind up with islands of expensive, insecure cloud apps.

Raising Digital Twins

Expect more talk in 2019 about “digital twins” (software-based simulations of physical objects or processes that continually become more accurate by analyzing real-time data from the Internet of Things. This ongoing realistic modeling of real-world objects and processes promises to slash time to market, prevent breakdowns through proactive maintenance and improve the efficiency and quality of products and services.

Ways to make your messaging stand out:

  • Explain what a digital twin is with examples specific to your industry. For pharmaceuticals, that might be a digital drug trial using wearable sensors; for an electric car manufacturer, a map showing range and charging stations for a customer based on their driving habits.
  • Explain how your digital twin technology or architecture handles obstacles such as intermittent or slow network connections with IoT devices.
  • Explain how you handle the all-important ingestion, cleansing and normalization of data needed to create an accurate digital twin.
  • Explain how each component in your digital twin architecture (from field devices through data gateways and cloud-based analytics) is designed to work most efficiently and securely.

Software Defined What?

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once famously predicted that software will eat the world.  Software may not consume everything in the IT world, but it is increasingly defining it. By that I mean using software to automatically configure, provision and manage compute, network and storage hardware far more quickly and less expensively than manually clicking through a user interface or changing wires on a patch panel.

Between software defined wide-area networks, software defined storage, software defined data centers, infrastructure as code and (yes) software defined everything, how do you stand out?

  • Explain where you fit in all these conflicting market spaces and create a simple, elevator pitch to explain it to customers. For example: “We deliver on the promise of `software defined everything’ by automating the provisioning, management, updating and troubleshooting of all components of your infrastructure from a single pane of glass.’”
  • With everyone moving to public or public/private hybrid clouds be ready to explain how your management spans the private, hybrid and public cloud worlds. Be precise about which cloud platforms you support, and how robustly.
  • The same goes in spades for your support for popular scripting and management tools such as Puppet and Chef. Explain how to what extent you support them and (if you’re providing services) the scale and depth of your expertise with each.

Hey, What About Blockchain?

I left out the blockchain distributed-ledger technology as the hype seems to be fading due to security and performance problems, and the lack of high-profile success stories. But there’s still a lot of enthusiasm among the faithful. If you’re among them, check out my 15 ideas to jump start a blockchain blog and tips on driving thought leadership in blockchain. I also didn’t covert “digital transformation” as you need to decide what type of “transformation” you’re selling before you develop content for it. (Tips for doing so here.)

Whatever you’re marketing, economic and political uncertainty plus new technology means a lot of confused, frantic, “me-too” messaging. Stand out in 2019 by digging beneath the buzzwords to explain the practical, real-world challenges our customers face and how we help meet 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.
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How to Play It Snarky But Safe http://scheierassociates.com/2018/12/how-to-play-it-snarky-but-safe http://scheierassociates.com/2018/12/how-to-play-it-snarky-but-safe#respond Wed, 12 Dec 2018 17:41:06 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3130

There’s a lot of talk about the need to make marketing content funny and edgy enough to rise above a sea of “me-too” blather.

Yet too many of my clients continue to play it safe – too safe, to my mind, to accurately describe the real business problems they help their customers solve. If, for example, one of their customers took six weeks to process a simple product change on their Web site, my client will balk at using that example because it makes the customer (even if they’re not named) look bad.

But it’s just that sort of real-world story that tells a prospect you understand their problems and you can help. How can you inject that drama and realism, along with some humor, into your content without burning your customers?

By using your knowledge of the quirks in your industry or market to create a snarky “Devil’s Dictionary” describing what commonly used clichés really mean. Here, for example, are samples from a Facebook post comparing common job descriptions for software developers with their “real” meaning. (Excerpts have been edited for brevity.)

What the Job Description Says What It Means
 
“…fast-paced environment.” …constant firefighting.
 
“…be a team player.” Must not question authority.
 
“Dynamic environment.” …leadership keeps changing our priorities.
 
“Self-starter” We have no process.
 
“Must be able to work with minimal supervision.” You’ll be blamed when something goes wrong.
 
“…work with cutting edge technology.” Do what everyone else is doing.
 
“…rockstar developer.” You’ll work very long hours with impossible deadlines.

Why is this content like this so valuable?

It’s real. Even if all these jabs aren’t true all the time, any developer will recognize the painful reality behind each of them. Content like this instantly shows your target audience you have hard-won experience in your field and aren’t just repeating the latest marketing jargon.

It’s funny and shareable. People need relief from tough situations by sharing a laugh with others who get the joke. Imagine if you created a list like this for your industry and it showed up on cube walls around the world, with your company name and contact info at the bottom?

You can show how you solve the problems you’re highlighting. Let’s say you’re a software recruiter and post this list and describe how you help developers avoid or cope with employers with chaotic, exploitative or otherwise miserable work environments. You’ve not only proven you know your industry, but how you can help your customers.

It protects the guilty. The creators of this list didn’t have to name any of their employers, or even mask them as “a global retailer based in the U.S.” That’s because the problems described by this list describes are so common they could apply to anyone in the industry. You get to tell real horror stories without implicating any of your customers or competitors.

Next Steps 

Don’t know how to get started? Imagine you’re at a bar trading war stories with friends or colleagues.  What common avoidable problems, organizational screw ups, failed promises and hyped technologies would you all complain about? While a “Devil’s Dictionary” is an easy way start, don’t be limited by that format. You could use a similar list of common headaches in your industry to create:

  • A series of blogs describing each of the problems and how you help your customers cope with them.
  • A “top ten” list of common problems or marketing half-truths.
  • Actual stories showing how these problems tripped up real people, with details of how they coped.

The beauty of this “snarky but safe approach” is you already have the raw material at hand. It’s just a matter of gathering it, packaging and promoting it.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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Which Transformation Soup Are You Selling?   http://scheierassociates.com/2018/11/which-transformation-soup-are-you-selling http://scheierassociates.com/2018/11/which-transformation-soup-are-you-selling#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 22:08:07 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3113

selling transformationWith winter coming, it’s time to think about soups. Not as in savory stews, but in the unsavory slop we dish out when we carelessly talk about “transformation.” Blending the various definitions without thinking dilutes the message and leaves prospects confused, rather than wanting to learn more.

More than seven years ago (yikes!) I first trashed the term as meaningless jargon and since then tried to puzzle out its various meanings. Since folks can’t stop using the “T” word, I thought I’d offer what (based on my most recent work) clients mean these days by the various flavors of transformation and some messaging that works best for each:

Application transformation. This usually means deciding which applications to keep, which to get rid of and which to improve. This often involves existing tools and techniques such as “application portfolio rationalization” or “application portfolio management” and includes the use of enterprise architecture tools to understand the apps you have, how they relate to the business and how to streamline your portfolio. Today it usually involves moving apps wherever possible to less expensive, more scalable cloud platforms.

Your messaging:  Get specific about how reduce the speed and cost of application assessment and prioritization. Quantify the savings you enabled by ditching unneeded applications and moving others to the cloud.  Be sure to also describe how “app transformation” drove the top (sales) line through better information access for customers, employees and business partners, and how the streamlined apps boosted customer retention and margins through more differentiated services.

Customer experience transformation. This means making life easier for customers than your competitors (or how you did it in the bad old days.) This often means on-line (think user interfaces and easy to use chatbots) but can extend to in-person (roaming service agents with tablets at airports or self-service kiosks at stores.) Services range from rapid application development and redesign through, on the high end, on-site “ethnographic” research to better understand customer needs.

Your messaging: Stress how your agile development helps developers quickly roll out “minimum viable products,” get feedback, fine-tune and redeploy them with continuous integration and continuous delivery. Prove it not with internal metrics like how many MVPs you rolled out or how much customer research you did, but with business benefits such as higher revenue per visitor shopping cart, increased margins or (best of all) dominating new markets through sheer ease of use, such as Amazon does with one-click shopping.

Infrastructure transformation: This is all about the IT plumbing of hardware, storage and networks. While it can include streamlining such processes on site, it usually means moving them from internal data centers to the cloud, shifting applications from proprietary platforms like mainframes to commodity hardware and open source software, and moving from manual, reactive management to lower cost, faster, automated monitoring and management.

Your messaging: Depending on where you play, you can stress anything from your automated cloud migration tools to your skills in cross-cloud or hybrid (public and private) cloud management or at deploying and managing containers that run multiple applications on a single server. The overarching trend here the use of software, automation and artificial intelligence to cut the cost and expense of managing IT through a “software defined data center” or “software defined Wide Area Network.” With giants like Cisco scrambling to define and dominate the market, it takes careful thought to position yourself right. Don’t forget to cover security, which is becoming trickier the more complex such environments become.

The tactical benefits are, of course, lower costs. But the more strategic play is increased agility, the ability to scale infrastructure up and down as needs change, and quickly delivering new products and services to meet changing customer needs.

Digital transformation. The great grand-daddy of them all, which is often used to mean any or all of the above subsets of transformation. I hear my clients use it most often to mean changing the corporate culture and strategy to focus around the effective use of new technologies such as mobile, social, analytics and the cloud.

Your messaging: Changing corporate culture and strategy is a huge challenge. If you’re playing here, you’ll need a good, defensible story that includes business consulting and strategy and organizational change management as well as delivering the underlying technology. Even more than with other transformation flavors, the benefits to stress are long-term corporate survival and the creation and domination of new markets.

What other flavors of transformation are you seeing and what messaging works best in marketing 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.
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Differentiate This! http://scheierassociates.com/2018/10/nailing-differentiation-lessons-from-a-concrete-screw http://scheierassociates.com/2018/10/nailing-differentiation-lessons-from-a-concrete-screw#respond Tue, 02 Oct 2018 19:37:00 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3098

product positioning Many of my small to medium size clients, such as regional IT service providers, struggle when I ask them what differentiates them from their competitors.  The best they can come up with is often:

  • “We really listen to our customers’ needs.”
  • “Our staff really cares about our customer’s success.”
  • “We take a consultative approach, rather than just trying to sell them stuff.”

Sound familiar? It should. These aren’t differentiators – they’re the minimum requirements to keep the doors open. To effectively explain what makes you better, you need to define and describe it from the customer’s perspective.

If you think your products or services are too much like commodities to stand out, check out this in-store display for a lowly cement screw, used to attach walls to concrete floors or hardware to blocks or bricks.

How My Screw Is Better Why The Customer Should Care
Stikfit T25 Bit For one-handed installation. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)
Serrated head Flush seating . (Improves appearance, makes painting easier.)
Serrated threads For quick install (speeds work).
Sharp point For immediate pickup. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)

In a few dozen words and an easy-to-understand picture, this screw manufacturer has given a harried contractor or do-it-yourselfer four reasons why their “commodity” product will make their life easier.  How can a regional IT services provider do the same for a busy prospect?

We’re Good, Just Like Everyone Else

The first step is the hardest: Identifying those subtle differences that set you apart from all your  “me-too” competitors. These differentiators do exist – the challenge is identifying them and explaining what they mean to the customer.  I’ll use some of the most common strengths I’ve seen in service providers and provide the customer benefits as an illustration.

How My IT Services Are Better Why The Customer Should Care
Platinum certification with leading hardware vendors. Faster and less expensive fixes for problems.
We care. Really. We work nights and weekends to keep you up and running in a jam.
We’re small and locally owned. You don’t have to chase multiple vendors in case of a problem. You can call our CEO’s cell 24/7 if you have an issue with our service.
We understand your industry. We stay on top of the latest technology and best practices in your industry so you don’t have to.

 Next: Do Your Homework

All these are obviously generic benefits for a generic regional IT services firm. But the same process can work for any hardware, software or services vendor. It even works in a new market like the Internet of Things or containers where multiple vendors make “me too” claims.

Whatever your offering, the lesson from this concrete screw holds true: Every product and service has some market differentiators. The hard work is identifying them and explaining in very clear terms how they help the customer.

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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Blockchain Blues, Case Study Heartache http://scheierassociates.com/2018/09/blockchain-blues-case-study-heartache http://scheierassociates.com/2018/09/blockchain-blues-case-study-heartache#respond Thu, 06 Sep 2018 13:25:30 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3084

best practices blockchain marketing case studies Demand for IT marketing content remains as strong as I’ve ever seen it. But not all tech categories are as healthy as others, and in some ways, creating quality content is becoming harder and harder.

Among the changes I’m seeing and some tips for coping:

  • Email struggles: Clients are getting more sophisticated in their use of marketing automation tools to target customized emails to the right prospects. But the logistical details (like honing the messaging and integrating it into different email templates) are still challenges. The more nurture campaigns I do, the more my stock advice holds true: Get your messaging and workflows down before jumping into your first campaign. That will save uncounted hours of rework and chaos as you ramp your email volume.)
  • Blockchain blues: After a colossal wave of hype, concerns over security, cost, and speed are spreading doubts over blockchain (the distributed database technology designed to eliminate middlemen for everything from financial trading to customs paperwork.) Every week seems to bring news of another intriguing pilot, such as the AP (my former employer) using blockchain to be sure it gets paid when its content is republished. But next there’s yet another hack of a blockchain-protected cryptocurrency or concerns that blockchain uses more power and is slower than conventional transaction systems. Suggestion: In your blockchain messaging proactively address concerns such as cost, speed and security, and back up any claims with real-life successes, not just pilots. 
  • The “T” word: The use of “digital transformation” to describe just about every part of the IT industry is worse than ever, with marketers sprinkling it like fairy dust into every piece of copy. One client had a good definition that ran something like this: “Long lasting, quantum improvements in efficiency, sales or costs.” That level of precision eliminates a lot of the “transformation” stories that turn out to describe only conventional cost-cutting or moving workloads to the cloud (not exactly radical in 2018.) Why not hash out a one-sentence description of “transformation” everyone on your marketing staff understands, and make sure each piece of marketing material explains how you help achieve it?
  • Case study heartache: By definition, a case study must describe how your product or service helped the customer, and how your product or service is better, cheaper, faster than its competitors. But extracting that essential information from vendors’ sales and delivery staffs is getting harder, not easier. I have no easy answer for this, except to train, train, train the staff working with the client to think about the business benefits of their work. That means metrics like lower costs, increased sales, quicker time to market or increased customer retention, not internal benchmarks like meeting project milestones or the number of employees who use a new application.
  • Operationalize this. From cloud migration to Big Data, many of my clients are promoting their ability to “operationalize” IT functions with automated, consistent, repeatable processes. The aim is to cut costs, speed delivery, and reduce security and other risks with standard ways of working across the business. Describing all this can get pretty dry, though, with long descriptions of frameworks, best practices, and the capabilities you’re streamlining. I try to keep it relevant by describing a business benefit for every process the client is improving, and pushing them (again!) for how they achieve that improvement better than their competitors.    

Bottom line: There’s plenty of marketing work out there, but it’s getting harder to deliver the caliber of content that gets results. What are you doing to keep quality up amid the rush to push content out the door, the need to learn new marketing platforms and clients that struggle to describe the business benefits of the solutions they sell?

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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Four Email Marketing Sinkholes to Avoid http://scheierassociates.com/2018/04/improve-management-of-email-campaigns http://scheierassociates.com/2018/04/improve-management-of-email-campaigns#respond Sun, 29 Apr 2018 17:48:13 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3075

Tips creating email nurture campaignsI recently finished an email nurture campaign for a major software vendor. It included multiple emails across multiple streams for each step in the buyer’s journey (awareness, education, consideration and qualification.)

The writing was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The 90 percent I didn’t see at first included defining the personas (hypothetical reader groups with various needs), deciding which personas should get which follow-on messages based on their reading behavior, defining the messaging for each stream, choosing everything from fonts to configuring the marketing automation system and entering the content into it.

If all this sounds a little overwhelming, it can be. It can also take attention from fine-tuning your emails so they generate interest, leads and sales. Here are the four sinkholes I found us falling into, with tips for avoiding them. Let me know which I missed and how you avoid such problems.

  1.  Oh, yeah. The content. Many of my colleagues were working overtime refining customer lists, designing email flows, building triggers for follow-up emails and fine-tuning personas. By the time I asked what they wanted in a specific email, their only direction might be “Oh, some thought leadership” or “A high-level overview focusing on our differentiators.” But they often hadn’t had time to think through what their thought leadership about a given topic might be, or which differentiators they wanted to highlight. Tips: Before diving into the detailed flow of a campaign, sit back and define what success would look like, and the three to five major points you want to stress across the email streams. Define, in two to three sentences, what your “thought leadership” is. Get sign-off on all this from the decision makers and communicate it to everyone who will edit or input the emails into your MA tool.
  2. Didn’t we change that font in the last version? If you’re running multiple email campaigns with multiple streams for multiple products, you’ve quickly got an awful lot of discrete emails to track. And they can all look pretty much the same as each subject line is, invariably, a variation of the same theme. Add in multiple feedback from multiple commenters and things can quickly get ugly. Tip: Institute a strong change control system – maybe with advice from your developers on how they manage multiple version of code – before you start handling the copy itself. We assigned a unique identifier to each email (such as “A3” for the third email in the first, or “education,” stream) and assigned a single person to keep everyone else on schedule.
  3. That’s not the headline, it’s the subject line! Nurture emails are made up of five or six elements, each with very specific functions and length requirements. The headline might be limited to 50 characters and meant to “Explain the main value prop” while the subhead might go up to 75 characters with the goal of “Expanding on the main value prop or describing a secondary value prop.” You want your writers, and editors, to focus on hitting these very specific targets, not trying to remember which component of the email they’re working on. Tip: Create very specific and clear templates with the required length and the purpose of each text blog, and make sure everyone from writers to editors to the admins who enter the text in your MA tool use the same template. Including any stock photos, illustrations or other graphical content will help the writer match their text to the tone of the illustrations.
  4. Wait. You want me to enter all this in the MA system, too? Every MA platform has its own user interface. None of them are rocket science but each takes time to learn. It might seem straightforward to have your writer not only draft the content but enter it in the system. But do you want to pay them to learn the system and do data entry rather than crafting great email copy? Tip: Consider hiring a dedicated staff to do the uploading so your content and strategy folks can concentrate on what they do best.

Those are my tips for staying out of the muck and mire of email marketing. What  hidden problems – or clever fixes — have I missed?

Author: Bob Scheier
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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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