scheierassociates.com http://scheierassociates.com Translating IT Jargon Into Business Benefits Thu, 16 Nov 2017 19:43:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.3 Pulling Case Studies Out of Customers http://scheierassociates.com/2017/11/how-create-b2b-case-studies http://scheierassociates.com/2017/11/how-create-b2b-case-studies#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 19:43:43 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3049

how to create customer case studies One of the more predictable, and sadder, moments in my work with clients comes when I ask for a customer case study to help illustrate all the good things their hardware, software or services can do.

Their answer is often an awkward silence, followed by something like “Uh, we’ll have to talk to sales to see if they have anything. But they probably don’t so why don’t you start writing anyway…”

That hurts their marketing efforts, because a recommendation from a trusted peer – which is what a case study is – is one of the most credible forms of content you can publish. One recent survey showed that case studies are the top form of content busy B2B buyers want to read.

There are many reasons customers don’t want to help you create a case study. The interviews and review cycles take time out of their busy schedules, and force them to jump through hoops with their internal legal and PR departments for what they may see as “only” a favor for a vendor they’re already paying for a product or service.

Try These Tacks

The Content Marketing Institute recently published some helpful hints for getting customers to participate in a case study. They include (with my comments in italics.)

Create a formal submission and request process, and explaining to your own customer success, sales and marketing teams why case studies are so vital.  A good start, but it requires a lot of internal education and still may not break down resistance among your customers.) 

Create a formal document that outlines how to submit marketing case study opportunities. This can easily degrade, in my experience, into a dreary bureaucratic exercise producing “fill in the form” summaries with vague jargon like “transformation” or wooly benefits like “optimized systems” instead of the quantifiable specifics a good case study needs.

Create a case study request email template to make requests of your customers. A good idea as long as it gives the customer a good reason to cooperate. (See below.) I’d also suggest giving the customer engagement teams lots of rooms to customize them to build on what are (hopefully) their great relationships with clients.

Offer employees a bonus for recruiting customers for case studies. CMI admits this is a “bandage” approach that could get expensive and encourage subpar submissions, but can also jump start longer-term efforts. I actually like this idea, as long as you’re clear with your people about what makes a good case study. You could even make the production of case study “candidates” part of employees’ compensation, giving them an incentive to make case studies part of their “partnership” with their best customers. 

Provide value to the customers doing the case studies (and explain it to them). This is of course the Holy Grail. Possible hot buttons to push in today’s climate include:

  • Using the case study as a recruitment tool by showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Using the case study to help your client attract good business partners by, again, showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Telling the rest of the client’s organization about the good work IT is doing to grow revenue and market share.
  • Discounted pricing or extra support.

 Anonymous or “masked” case studies, such as referring to the customer as “a major European telecom provider.” A good, tried and true alternative. Not as powerful as a name-brand reference, but if specific enough it can still provide value.

A group case study describing average results seen by your customers. An interesting approach I’m currently trying with one client. Possible obstacles include making “apples to oranges” comparisons of benefits or challenges across customers, and widely differing quality of information or results across multiple customers.

What Else?

In these days of fewer, and larger, customers and increased regulation, getting customers to help out with case studies will probably get harder, not easier. What is working – or not working – for you?

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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Five Ways Storytelling Goes Bad http://scheierassociates.com/2017/10/five-ways-storytelling-goes-bad http://scheierassociates.com/2017/10/five-ways-storytelling-goes-bad#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 15:50:49 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3040

Wherever you go in the content marketing industry, people are talking about brand storytelling.   You have to tell stories to get customers emotionally involved in your brand. The human mind is intrinsically geared to hearing and understanding stories.

Hey, I’m all for storytelling. When my clients go on about how they digitally “transform” this or that, I harass them for real-world examples – stories, if you will — to explain what they’re doing.  When they give me a cookie-cutter, jargon-filled case study to word-smith, I push back for more details on the business challenges and the internal implementation headaches that will bring their work to life.

But in each of those examples, I use stories to illustrate a wider theme or broader truth. When we use stories to trivialize, to distract, to pander or to cover up, we’re cheapening our profession and pulling the wool over our reader’s eyes. Is that we went into this profession for?

How might story-telling hoodwink a reader, either intentionally or not? Stick with me for a sec for an example from the pharmaceutical rather than the IT industry.

Yes, We Price Gouge, But Our People Are Nice

Consider these two audio spots I heard within ten minutes the other day on NPR:

The first described allegations that drug companies vastly overstate the cost of drug development to justify higher drug prices and greater profits.

The second was a promotional notice from an NPR donor – a drug company — inviting listeners to hear stories about how their employees volunteer their time to help their communities.

Which story is more emotionally engaging? The feel-good piece about the volunteers. Which is easier to tell? The feel-good piece about the volunteers. Which drive more positive views of the drug company? The feel-good piece about the volunteers.

But that volunteer story describes dozens or maybe hundreds of volunteers doing individual good works. Unless the drug company is giving them paid time off to volunteer, it’s not really about the drug company at all. The second story involves billions of dollars and whether hundreds of millions of people get the health care they need.

So you tell me. Which story is more important?

Where Storytelling Goes Bad

Story telling is essential because it grabs viewers and listeners emotionally. But it gets in the way when it:

  1. Describes only anecdotes while ignoring systematic root causes. You can always, for example, find a student from a failed family and lousy school who made it into Harvard. But that doesn’t mean poor schools and chaotic home lives don’t holding many more students back. A corrupt mortgage broker could tell lots of good stories about the nice people who work for them. But that doesn’t compare with the human loss caused by systemic abuses such as weak underwriting, corrupt lenders, and too-loose credit.
  2. Conflates a one-time event with real change. At the recent Content Marketing World Kate Santore, who heads up integrated marketing content for Coca-Cola, played a 2013 ad showing Coke kiosks encouraging person to person contacts  between citizens of nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. The spot is beautiful and even inspirational. But did it make a lasting difference in how those people felt, thought or acted?
  3. Appeals to the emotion at the expense of clear thinking. Check out this light-hearted ad from Cisco claiming the ideal Valentine’s Day gift is an ASR 9000 Series Aggregation Services Router. I can see this working for top of the funnel “awareness” of a product, but will it convince either a system administrator to recommend it, or a CIO or CFO to approve the purchase?
  4. Doesn’t reflect the company’s true value or role. You have to praise Coke’s diversity-boosting Super Bowl ad this year as at least taking a stand on a controversial subject. But at the end of the day, is Coke’s mission showing “what unites us is stronger than what divides us” or selling beverages for a profit?
  5.  Doesn’t tell the customer what they need to make a purchase decision. At Content Marketing World, I overheard one speaker enthusing over how a post on a bank Web site about watching an eclipse out-performed traditional content such as, he sneered, “stories about the interest rate on credit cards.” Maybe it’s just me, but I want to hear about my bank’s interest rates.

Wherever I turn, I see “storytellers” trying to distract me with anecdotal, emotion-filled messages when what I need are facts. If we’re selling big-ticket IT solutions, we need to make sure “stories” support the message but don’t overwhelm it.

Thoughts?how story telling goes bad

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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Do You Want Sales or an Audience – or Both? http://scheierassociates.com/2017/09/content-marketing-driving-leads http://scheierassociates.com/2017/09/content-marketing-driving-leads#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 15:45:00 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3033

Give clients “real business metrics,” says, Joe Lazauskas of Contently.

Walking the halls of my first Content Marketing World I wasn’t surprised to hear lots of agreement that high quality content is essential to effective marketing and sales.

But I was surprised at the mixed messages about whether the goal of that content should be to generate short-term benefit in the form of qualified leads and sales, or if it is enough – or even better – if content captures the right audience and makes you the dominant “voice” about whatever you’re selling.

The answer to this question will determine everything from your editorial to your distribution and content marketing measurement strategies. Hence, it’s something we need to figure out before producing a single piece of copy. Check out these arguments from both sides.

Show Me the Money… 

First, as if anyone needed convincing, research from the Content Marketing Institute and business news publisher SmartBrief  reinforced “the value of content marketing in guiding prospects during the purchasing process.” Among the findings: Two thirds tap sources other than manufacturers or vendors in the initial information gathering stage of a purchase, and almost as many said the most important consideration was that the information speak to their specific needs or pain points. That seems to point to the need for content to generate leads and sales, and to be measured on that basis.

One speaker, Joe Lazauskas, director of content strategy and editor in chief at software and services provider Contently, argued in favor of “accountable real business metrics” that generate return on investment, rather than just “impressions” when a reader sees a piece of copy. Another speaker, Jeannine Rossignol, chief executive and marketing officer of Edge Building and Construction, urged content marketers to think more like sales people and design content to drive sales, not just hits on a Web site.

…Or Show Me the Audience

But an Curran, CEO of content publishing software and services vendor PowerPost, argued that the real road to success for content marketers isn’t  in generating leads, but  in capturing share of “voice” – being a or the leading authority on a subject. The market presence and leads will follow, he argues.

But don’t his clients want hard dollar results like quality leads, I asked? Unfortunately, no, he said – because they often lack the internal processes that would let their sales forces put those leads to good use. This is a real and continuing problem, with some research indicating sales forces ignore a full 50 percent of the sales leads they’re given.

Robert Rose, chief content advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, had an even more revolutionary take. Maybe, he said, we’re not really in the business of creating content but of creating audiences. Those audiences can then be tapped for anything from advertising (Google) to sales of goods and services (Amazon) to tracking their needs to fine tune new products and services. Rose’s stance is not that sales and lead gen isn’t an essential goal for content marketing, but that focusing on it exclusively can blind you to even greater benefits.

“Strategic content creation helps build an engaged audience of people who exhibit specific, desirable behaviors – like greater willingness to share personal data, greater interest in upselling opportunities, and greater brand loyalty and evangelism,” he blogged in October 2016. “When your content compels your audience to adopt these behaviors, not only does it become easier for your business to achieve its long-term marketing goals, it can also open up new business opportunities – and even new revenue streams.”

When Things Go Bad

I can’t help think that, if and when the economy slows, our clients are going to revert to (if they’re not there already) demanding quality leads and not just share of voice or audience to justify their content spending.

But even so, should we be giving equal attention to building long-term audience and “share of voice” along with short-term qualified leads?

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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What We’re Doing Wrong in Blockchain Marketing http://scheierassociates.com/2017/07/what-were-doing-wrong-in-blockchain-marketing http://scheierassociates.com/2017/07/what-were-doing-wrong-in-blockchain-marketing#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 16:40:47 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3025

blockchain marketing tips One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “always explain what you’re talking about. Never assume your audience knows the background – even if they’re experts.”

I’m especially careful to do that now around blockchain, the distributed database technology that assures the integrity of transactions or data without a central clearing house.* The hype around blockchain is so great, and the marketplaces in blockchain-based virtual currencies so hard to understand, that one billionaire investor recently called digital currencies based on blockchain “an unfounded fad.” In one story, he freely admits he is stumped by such cryptocurrencies and isn’t alone among savvy Wall Street investors puzzled by their popularity.

How’s That Again? 

To understand where we’re going wrong, check out one company’s response to the successful hacking of its peer to peer platform for initial coin offerings. These allow individual investors to help fund startups, creating a more democratic alternative to initial public offerings of stock that are usually only open to insiders or big investors.

In a July 24 post on a discussion thread, this company (which will go unnamed to protect the accused) said “We were hacked, possibly by a group. The hack seemed to be very sophisticated… the hacker(s) made away with $8.4M worth of tokens.” Doesn’t sound good, does it?

Here’s a sample of their explanation, edited for brevity. See if you can make heads or tails out of it.

“Although I hate to see assets stolen, and I hate thieves, the incident proved both the resilient demand for our tokens and the utility of the decentralized exchange…the amount stolen was miniscule (less than 00.07%) although the dollar amount was quite material.. .(the tokens stolen) are software that represent our knowledge, advisory and consulting skills, products and capabilities. Without (our) team, the tokens are literally worthless…we aren’t selling currencies, we aren’t selling securities. We are selling capabilities…We have already landed (a regional stock exchange as a client) just 30 days after the initial token offering…now you can see how inconsequential the mere hack of a few million dollars”

 Get all that? It’s reasonably clear that this company is offering tokens, on its blockchain-based platform, that customers can exchange for their consulting services. But while the dollar amount was miniscule, the dollar amount was quite material. So that means…what?

It’s Only A Few Million Dollars

The mention of the stock exchange as a customer (right after the company said “we aren’t selling securities”) is needlessly confusing. So is the rest of the post which I didn’t quote, as it goes into rambling detail about meetings they had with senior hedge funds executives who are thrilled with what they are doing. Also left unanswered is the central question: If a hacker could steal millions of dollars of worthless tokens from their platform, why should a stock exchange trust them with actual securities?

Finally, I love this sentence: “Now, you can see how inconsequential the mere hack of a few million dollars.” Not to me. The writer failed to remind readers of the essential context that no actual money was stolen – only tokens for the company’s service, which the company could disavow. A phrase like “…the mere hack of a few million dollars” is and should be a red flag for a customer or investor who is already skeptical about blockchain.

What we are left with, then, is a chasm between the enthusiasm for, and investment in, blockchain among major industry, financial and technology players such as  IBM, Bank of America and Amazon  and the skepticism that naturally results when we can’t explain what a blockchain is, what we’re using it to sell, and why a security breach on one isn’t such a big deal.

Into the breach, as always, step marketers like us. Our job is to explain complex concepts in ways that clearly show how they help the reader, viewer, or listener (for those into video or podcasts.) If we can’t do that well, we shouldn’t respond at all, as we’re only contributing to the problem.

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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No Robot Overlords at MIT CIO Symposium http://scheierassociates.com/2017/06/ai-digital-transformation-trends http://scheierassociates.com/2017/06/ai-digital-transformation-trends#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 01:50:54 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3019

The recent 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. was full of talk about “digital transformation,” driven by everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain to the Internet of Things. Among the insights, for me, were the current limits and future potential of AI, and how much a real (rather than hyped up) story of digital transformation stood out.

Are the Robots Coming for Your Job?

Some reports predict that artificial intelligence (software programs that can teach themselves how to do complex tasks) will take as many as half the jobs humans now do in the next decade. For those of us not made of silicon and algorithms, Tom Davenport, President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, had some comfort from his survey of 160 such projects. He found no evidence of job loss, although there was some reduction in outsourcing.

The bad news, he said, is that smart machines are not yet delivering increased productivity, and that doing so may require the layoffs the experts are predicting. Nor is machine learning yet delivering other dramatic breakthroughs optimists had hoped for. He cited the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which spent $52 million in an attempt to use IBM’s Watson AI system to diagnose, treat and cure cancer. Not a single patient has yet been treated with the technology, he said, and the project is “pretty much on hold.”

However, the use of AI for more basic and labor intensive tasks, such as helping patients schedule visits and determining which patients are unlikely to pay their bills and thus need prodding, are delivering “huge and rapid” return on investment, he said.

He is still predicting big, and impressive, long-term results from AI, with an “amazing” breadth of projects underway spanning functions from legal to human resources to auditing. He also was careful to say his predictions about the limited impact of AI could change dramatically with the rapid, ongoing increase in machine intelligence (one of the programs he studied taught itself Italian.) When the “singularity” arrives (the point at which machines become more capable than humans), he said “all bets are off.”

Marketing/PR tips: Stay informed about AI developments and aggressive in understanding how they affect your industry, no matter how “low tech” it seems. Don’t underestimate AI and how quickly it is developing. One sweet spot for thought leadership (on which I’m working with one client) is how to ensure smart machines act ethically and don’t harm humans. With luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warning of the dangers to the future of the human race this has obvious headline value.

Real Digital Transformation, at Last

The meaningless (to me, at least) “digital transformation” buzzword was all over the symposium, although not one speaker took the time to define it. Naturally, this meant discussion of how to achieve it was all over the map, and some of the examples were, shall we say, less than compelling.

The most convincing story at the conference came from Tetra Pak Group, a leader in the not seemingly digital nor transformative business of supplying milk and juice cartons and the machinery to fill and seal them. (Yes, they make those little juice cartons with the plastic straws that litter the back of every parent’s car.)

As CIO Mark Meyer described it, this 60-year old family-owned firm has dominated its space for years. Expansion came from entering new geographies, which it did with a classic razors and razor blade strategy: Sell the packaging equipment at a low margin to make higher margins selling the packaging material the machines need.

With increasing competitive pressures, the packing firm is increasing the amount of monitoring data it gets from its machines in the field, so it can sell services such as preventive maintenance and information about best production practices to reduce waste. Eventually, he hinted, it might get into the business of running its customers’ packaging equipment, “selling” a certain number of packed cartons guaranteed to meet their freshness, sterility and cost needs rather than just equipment and packing materials.

This is similar to the much-touted GE strategy of moving from selling jet engines to selling “time on wing”  – a jet engine on an airplane guaranteed to meet specific levels of reliability, thrust and fuel consumption, enabled by GE’s wealth of data about engine performance. The appeal of the Tetra Pak story is that it is an attempt to “transform” an even more old-style manufacturing company through the smart use of data, and in a fundamental and permanent way.

PR/marketing tips: if you’re touting a “transformation” story make sure the change your client is aiming for is 1) fundamental and 2) permanent. The more common and every day the product or service (i.e., milk cartons) the more dramatic the story. Be ready to capture reader attention by explaining the change in business models very clearly, and then sell to the tech reader with details such as the types of data required, the sensors that gather it, the networks that transmit it, the data models used to organize it and the AI capabilities required to analyze 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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15 Ideas to Jump Start a Blockchain Blog   http://scheierassociates.com/2017/05/15-ideas-to-jump-start-a-blockchain-blog http://scheierassociates.com/2017/05/15-ideas-to-jump-start-a-blockchain-blog#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 15:27:26 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3011

blockchain blog topics

Emin Gün Sirer of Cornell University tells the MIT conference how to build blockchains right.

Let’s say you want to put a marketing stake in the ground around blockchain (networks of encrypted ledgers that automatically assure the accuracy of data and transactions without the need for a central authority.)

You’re convinced there’s real potential, but are not sure exactly where you fit in the market and how it will all play out. How do you begin building your reputation, making contacts and getting feedback and partners for your technology or business plan?

Based on sessions at the recent “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab, and my own blockchain marketing work, here are 15 quick hit questions you can blog about even if you’re not a blockchain expert. (Check out videos of the event here.)

Legal and Regulatory Issues

  1. What levels of assurance (if any) will central banks need before allowing the use of alternative currencies?
  2. What changes to laws and contract terms will individuals and companies need to safely rely on blockchain transactions?
  3. In the absence of banks and auditors, who will determine when a blockchain transaction has failed or when a ledger entry has been compromised?
  4. How will responsibility (legal and financial) be apportioned for the failure of blockchain transactions? Who will mediate such disputes – the courts or the parties themselves, in true “peer to peer” fashion?
  5. At what point, if any, should governments or industry groups step in to define blockchain standards and implement auditing systems?
  6. Can and should blockchain operate less like a traditional market and more like an open source project or Internet working group where many participants are motivated as much by a passion for the technology as by profit?
  7. Where should the traceability of a virtual currency stop, and who should its trail of ownership be visible to? If a bitcoin has been owned by a drug dealer or terrorist, should law enforcement have access to that information? If others can see a virtual currency’s checkered ownership history, does that reduce its value and thus make it less usable than current currencies?
  8. What is the best balance between “Big Brother” surveillance and the “Wild West” of a completely anonymous cyber- or cryptocurrency?

Technical and Implementation Issues

  1. Which are better: Permission-based blockchains that limit who may participate or permission-less blockchains open to all? The permission-based approach gives you more control, but risks creating an enterprise-specific silo that limits adoption. As with clouds, will these two flavors of blockchain merge over time? Why or why not?
  2. How many nodes on the blockchain must agree to deem a transaction or data entry valid? How might this change for different business needs? Who gets to decide which approach to use and how to determine the “voting rights” of the nodes?
  3. How do you cost-effectively develop and deploy different code for different blockchain nodes, to reduce the danger of the same vulnerability exposing all nodes to the same attack?
  4. How do you find “low hanging fruit” use cases that prove the value of blockchain in the short run (such as reduced transaction costs) to drive wider acceptance in the long run?
  5. What technical mechanisms should organizations use to prove the identity of those on the blockchain? How do you determine how much proof of identity you need for different transaction types, and with whom will you share that information?
  6. How much “scalability” and “robustness” does your blockchain require for various use cases, and how do you provide that scalability?
  7. To what extent will your blockchains need to interoperate with your legacy systems, and how will you accomplish that?

Don’t Sell. Explore Possibilities Instead

The blockchain movement is bottom up, not top down, evolving constantly with new standards, technologies and even definitions of terms. This is not “selling” to a known group of decision makers but organic, many-to-many discussion brainstorming. Be informed and have an opinion, but use your content marketing at this stage to scout for partners and build awareness of your expertise even as you seek help from others.

Finally, if you’re serious about blockchain be prepared to keep creating content for the long haul. As Amber Baldet,  blockchain program lead at  J.P. Morgan told the conference, her hope is to develop an open source community that builds a “market infrastructure for the next 20-30 years that supports the trust and robustness we need.”  That means a lot of thinking, talking, and communicating still to come.

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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Driving Thought Leadership in Blockchain http://scheierassociates.com/2017/05/driving-thought-leadership-in-blockchain http://scheierassociates.com/2017/05/driving-thought-leadership-in-blockchain#respond Thu, 04 May 2017 15:34:18 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=3005

blockchain thought leadership

Kosta Peric of thge Bill & Melinda Gates foundation describes a blockchain-based digital payment platform for the poor.

So you’re convinced of the potential of blockchain (networks of encrypted ledgers in which the nodes automatically and continually assure the accuracy of all the data on the chain without the need for a central authority.)

And you think you have some deep thinking that will help you ride the blockchain rocket. If so, what content marketing strategies will make you a blockchain thought leader?

Here are some approaches based on my own recent work on blockchain thought leadership, and from the recent “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. (Videos of the event here.)

Use the “D” Word – Decentralization

The technical rebel (or rebels) who created blockchain were driven by a desire to decentralize power and authority from the centralized gatekeepers that now make the rules, handle the transactions and keep much of the money in today’s economies and societies.

For example, Uber looks like a decentralized ride-sharing service that lets drivers make money when their cars would otherwise sit unused. But the information about who needs rides and which drivers are available sits with a central authority (Uber), not the drivers or riders. And it is Uber that sets many of the rules and takes a percent of each transaction. Same with the home-sharing service Airbnb.

While blockchain since gone mainstream, with the likes of IBM offering “enterprise production ready blockchain services,” the disruptor mentality is still strong. And since blockchain is meant to be so disruptive, much of the talk at the conference was about who will be disrupted, and how.

Not all the answers are clear. Amber Baldet, blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, for example, cited the upside that blockchain can dramatically lower processing costs. But the downside is how blockchain could eliminate, or greatly reduce the need for entities like J.P. Morgan at all. How will this all play out? No one knows. Therein lies your thought leadership opportunity.

In your content marketing strategy, be bold in identifying  middlemen (even yourself) that are ripe for replacement through blockchain. What can or must they do to survive if blockchain replaces their “utility” function of providing safe, cheap transactions? Should they rethink who they can serve as customers, or how? Are their new value-added services they need to develop now to prepare for the loss of revenue if blockchain takes off? What will your industry look like in five or ten years if blockchain eliminates or reduces the need for today’s middlemen?

 Noodle on the Big Legal, Regulatory and Social Issues

Much of the talk at the conference was not about technology, but rather how laws and regulations will need to change if blockchain is to reach its decentralizing, empowering potential. For example, Lawrence Orsini, principal and founder of LO3 Energy, waxed poetic about the potential for local, decentralized solar powered micro-electric grids to produce greener power at lower cost. But in countries such as Germany, the rise of such renewable energy has sent traditional utilities into a nosedive as their revenues drop, while their costs stay the same for standby power plants for when renewables aren’t available, and the electric grids over which renewable producers sell their energy.

Use your industry smarts to think deeply about how blockchain could change your business, and what role regulators as well as traditional middlemen play. In the case of utilities, should regulators allow them to spin off legacy infrastructure into safe but low-return businesses that maintain power grids as a public good while putting more investment into smart grids that allow the dynamic sharing of power across markets? Why (and if so, how) should governments or regulators change how rates are sets and financial returns regulated to encourage such a shift? If a blockchain is corrupted or allows the theft of a cyber currency, who is liable for the loss? What issues should lawmakers and industry groups be tackling now?  

Think Social Good

Multiple users, and even entire sessions at the conference, were devoted to how blockchain can help the world. Ideas (and actual projects) range from delivering credit and secure transactions to the billions the billions who are now “unbanked” to low cost identity assurance programs that can widen access to government aid and even fighting human trafficking.

In some cases, the messaging spans the commercial and public realms.  Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project, an open source blockchain initiative, told the conference his  “aha” moment occurred when he learned of blockchain’s potential to securely record property claims and thus prevent the theft of land from the poor in Latin America.

 If you have a genuine social strategy, go for it in your content strategy. If you don’t, or are mixing social good with private gain, be careful. If you “greenwash” your blockchain thinking with an idealistic spin the rebel zealots in the blockchain community will delight in shredding you. Look instead for areas where your interest and society’s align, such as a utility that needs to reduce peak power generation costs while meeting greenhouse gas emission laws, and can use blockchain to do both.

The potential of blockchain is so great there’s plenty of room to think big thoughts and answer (or raise) big questions. Don’t be afraid to think big, and to focus on the vertical market and business issues you understand, not the blockchain technicalities you don’t.

What do you do when a client, or your executives, issue the trumpet call for blockchain thought leadership?

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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Get Off the Commodity Bus! http://scheierassociates.com/2017/04/how-differentiate-it-service-providers http://scheierassociates.com/2017/04/how-differentiate-it-service-providers#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:37:04 +0000 http://scheierassociates.com/?p=2993

differentiate IT service providersDo you feel like you’re stuck trying to differentiate yourself in a crowded, “me-too” market like, for example, local IT service providers?

Take a lesson from Southern New Hampshire University, maybe best known for the bus they send around the country delivering diplomas to graduates of their on-line programs.

They escaped a death spiral of rising costs and falling enrollment by recognizing an underserved market, reorganizing itself to serve that market better than its competitors and thus lifting itself out of the muck of “me-too” competitors.

Find the Underserved Customer…

The first step out of the commodity swamp was accepting SNHU had no compelling draw for the conventional market — high school seniors looking for a four-year residential experience.

The second step was realizing there was another, even bigger, underserved market. Fully 80 percent of the post-secondary education market is made up of working adults with families and other “non-traditional students.” For them, flexible course timing, fast help with anything from coursework to financial aid and a return on their investment are far more important than life in a dorm or weekend football games.

Understanding the new “customer”, and building on the school’s existing online offerings, SNHU President Paul LeBlanc reorganized everything from admissions to courses to financial aid to provide what these students need anytime, anywhere.

…and Cater to Them

How many traditional colleges, for example, pay more than 160 “admissions counselors” to stand by to answer phone calls (especially on weekends) to help prospective students find the right degree program? Rather than telling a busy applicant to find and send their own transcripts for transfer credits, SNHU hunts them down and even pays the administrative fees. And rather than wait for students to fall behind in their work before offering help, SNHU uses predictive analytics to alert instructors when a student goes too long without logging on to a course or spends too much time on an assignment.

By late last year, the school was nearing $535 million in revenue, a 34 percent compounded annual growth rate for the past five years. Over that time it grew its online offerings to 180 programs serving 34,000 “customers.”

The story isn’t perfect, as completion rates are still stuck at about 50 percent, and some students and faculty) question whether the highly standardized courses deliver a true quality education.

But think of how USNH stands out of the pack by having admissions counselors picking up the phone on weekends, which may be the only time a working person has time to think about college. Think about the competitive advantage of understanding that a non-traditional student might not know when they’re falling behind, and reaching out to them for help before they waste their hard-earned tuition. Even if the education is no better (however the student measures it) than a traditional school, the ease of access and focus on the customer’s real need is a major competitive advantage.

What “Job” Does Your Customer Need Done?

One tactic that helped SNHU zero in on these underserved students was asking what unfinished “job” their students (customers) wanted the school to complete for them. The unfinished work might be getting enough education to make more money without taking on too much debt or dropping the ball on work and family obligations.

What would such a customer-focused approach look like for, let’s say, a regional service provider that has trouble differentiating itself from the competition?

Ask yourself who is the real customer? Are you selling to a line of business manager, the CEO or the IT “super user” who got stuck with handling support? What do each of them really need in an IT service provider that they’re not getting? Easier to read monthly bills? More prescriptive analytics about performance issues? Getting to a human rather than a series of voice prompts? And are there new types of customers (say, those who got started with a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services but have grown so large they need outside management help) you could tap that you have not?.

Taking the “jobs” perspective also leads right to the business problems (or opportunities) your customers are trying to meet. All too often the on-site techies are too focused on incremental milestones or internal tweaks than on the business-critical “job” the customer hired them for, such as improving customer service, or bring new products to market more quickly.

In some cases, the “job” might be something the customer didn’t even think someone could do for them. In the case of SNHU, their prospective customers were often stuck with debt from previous schooling, and had stopped trying for more education because they thought the only option was more conventional schooling that had failed them before.

Find an underserved market, understand its needs and then turn yourself inside out to meet them. Not easy, but if you do it right you’ve got huge growth potential.

Are there any untapped niches left in the local/regional IT service provider market or it is “just” all about local presence and customer service? What’s worked for you in differentiating yourself or your clients?

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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