Four Tips for Doing “Buyer’s Guides” Right

product comparisons content marketing Here’s an ideas for radical “transparency” in product marketing: Do an exhaustive comparison of your products and services vs. your competitors. Get down and dirty in specific areas like platform support, ease of management, need for staff retraining, and overall return on investment.

And make this an impartial comparison of the players that will establish our thought leadership – while highlighting our strengths and soft-pedaling our weak spots.

Not for the Timid

That was the assignment I recently completed, along with a publishing partner, for a top-tier software vendor.  We’re nearing publication, and I’m proud of the work we did. It’s much more insightful, in-depth, comprehensive and, yes, impartial than most content marketing. This is powerful content, rich in detail, which if promoted right will be downloaded, read, and passed on throughout today’s committee-driven B2B buying process.

But it took seven long months of work, with a lot of internal agonizing over how impartial we could afford to be when the chips were down: In other words, when product managers had to swallow us describing a short-coming in their wonderful offerings, or admitting to strength in a competitor.

Marketer Beware

This is industrial-strength, high-commitment, high-reward content marketing. If I were working with another client on such a “product guide” here are four questions I’d ask before starting:

  • How honest are you willing to be? Everyone knows you won’t pay a writer to trash your own product. Nor (I hope) do you expect to make this a thinly veiled ad for your own offerings. But specifically how far are you willing to go to admit when a competitor has a superior set of capabilities? In this assignment, figuring out where the fine line was took a lot of unexpected time and effort.
  • Who gets to comment on the draft, and do we have their buy-in? At least a month or more of delay was the result of a new group of stakeholders who saw the draft late and had their own comments and concerns. Knowing they existed, and having them in the loop beforehand, would have gotten this finished and out the door more quickly.
  • Who will referee the tough calls? I was lucky enough to be paired with a very professional, savvy and honest contact person within our client. He buffered me from the product managers who were understandably pushing hard to make their products look good. Having such a buffer made my life as a writer much easier. More importantly, it reduced internal costs and improved quality by making sure the “referee” was inside the client and had the contacts and authority to push for final answers.
  • How are you going to use this before it goes stale, or refresh it so it stays useful? Annual and quarterly release cycles are so 20th Most cloud-based services, much less mobile apps, make improvements and enhancements on a continual “drip” basis. We, and our client, would have been better served with a plan to more quickly distribute and promote our work, and to keep it updated over time.

Journalism, or Marketing?

Such “buyer’s guides” were a long-term staple of the IT trade press. That’s because they saved customers time by presenting side by side comparisons of competing products. But how do they work as marketing content? How do they perform from a lead-gen perspective? Can they be honest enough to be credible while still promoting the strengths of the sponsoring vendor?

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

Does This Pop-Up Make Me Look Fat?

Or, should say, does this pop-up below try to make the reader look stupid?

dont value technology

Or, how about this one:

I DONT NEED TODAYS MOST IMPORTNT NEWS

Or (I can’t resist):

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You. Really.

I usually just look for the “X” so I can close pop-up ads as quickly as I can and get on with what I was reading. But in these cases, and others I’ve seen recently, the “opt-out” line was so insulting I had to do a screen grab.

Assuming these aren’t intentional efforts to grab the reader’s attention, the common message is “Our site is so great there’s no rational reason you wouldn’t want to visit it. You must be stupid, uninformed or irrelevant yourself if you don’t click `yes.’”

Before trying this on your site, ask how you would respond if a sales or marketing person took the same approach with you:

  • Car shopping: Can I put you in this $100,000 Tesla right now, or do you not care about being on the cutting edge of style and technology?
  • In a restaurant: Do you want to try the pickled eel with curried aioli, or do you note like new, intriguing foods?
  • On a date: Do you want to see me again, or are you not interesting in being with the hottest, most fascinating person in the world?

Turn you on, or turn you off? Thought so.

Opting Out Without Put Downs

Seeing how content marketing is supposed to be about nurturing customers who aren’t ready to buy (rather than turning them off), here are some alternative approaches to “opt out” messages.

Don’t want to subscribe now? You can always check out our past posts here. )

               Getting too many newsletters? You can bookmark our site instead…

              Tech news not your thing? Check out our blog on business management…

Respect

Each of these alternative “opt out” lines:

  • Don’t insult the reader for daring to say “no” to your content.
  • Offer the reader other ways to get your content, or
  • Offer other content that better meets their needs.

And isn’t that a better way to nurture and engage prospects who aren’t ready to buy (or even subscribe) than giving them the back of our hand?

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.

Content Cookbook #5: Cloud Security

marketing campaign cloud security CIOs love the agility, flexibility and lower prices offered by the cloud. But year after year, security breach after security breach, fear keeps them from moving more sensitive data and applications to off-premise data centers.

If you’re selling cloud security, either as a cloud service  or in the form of consulting to help clients assure cloud security, what sort of content do you need to find, score, and nurture prospects?

Based on my recent reporting and a recent global survey of IT executives I helped execute for Oracle, here are some security-related questions you can use to build content for each nervous step along the cloud purchase funnel. Each of these topics can easily be expanded into a blog post, white paper, Webinar, ebook or “Top Ten Questions to Ask” cheat sheet.

Awareness/General Education Stage

  1. What questions should I, as a customer, ask to determine if the cloud is likely to be more or less secure than my in-house environment?
  2. What general questions should I ask my cloud provider about security?
  3. What types of applications and data are my peers trusting to the cloud?
  4. How do assess my applications and data to determine which are most suitable for the cloud from a security perspective?
  5. How much can I trust security certifications such as PCI? What are the hidden “gotchas” that can make such certifications worth less than they seem?
  6. (For cloud-based security as a service:
    1. What is “security as a service?” How does it work?
    2. What forms of security are available as a service (Identity management? Remote monitoring?) What are the pros and cons of each?

Product/Service Consideration Stage

  1.  What specific questions should I ask a cloud provider based on my vertical market and its industry/governmental compliance requirements?
  2. What processes, and technologies, should the service provider use to alert me to security issues? How quickly will I be notified, and what are the escalation paths if the problem isn’t solved quickly
  3. What types of encryption should they provide for data in transit and at rest?
  4. What are the different methods of isolating customer environments in the cloud (such as network traffic isolation vs. database traffic isolation? How does a customer determine which is best for them?
  5. What security service level agreements (SLAs) should I expect from a cloud provider, or a security as a service provider?

Product/Service Evaluation/Purchase Stage

  1. What specific security-related controls and reports should I insist on from my service provider?
  2. How will the provider give my internal or external auditors the information they need to help prove my compliance with essential security requirements?
  3. Specifically how do they assure my data and applications are isolated from those of other customers?
  4. Do they offer any federated identity or access management capabilities that make it easier for me to integrate my on-site security mechanisms with the cloud?
  5. Specifically how does each provider assure only proper access to the administrative accounts that are the “keys to the kingdom” for their cloud? Who performs patching, and who on their staff is authorized to log onto each host and guest
  6. How quickly will they inform me about the existence of a security breach, their progress toward resolving it, and what if any of my data was compromised?

The specific points you address at each point in the sales cycle may differ. The point is, the closer your prospect is to the evaluation/purchase stage, the more specific the questions become. Let me know how this list looks to you, and what content has worked well in selling cloud security.

 If you’d like to see a content cookbook for any other product or service, email or call at (508) 725-7258. 

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 the Five Waves of “Transformation”

How to sell transformation IBM, Dell, Capgemini and Accenture all claim they can deliver it.  McKinsey & Co. claims the entire nation of China is doing it.

“It” is  digital transformation. Personally, I don’t get it, because:

  • If “digital” means “computerized,” we’ve all been “digitally transformed” a bunch of times since the 1960s. (Think mainframe, minicomputer, client-server, Web, and now mobile, social, cloud and Big Data.)
  • And as for transformation, as I’ve argued  repeatedly, this is meaningless jargon unless you say what you’re transforming yourself from and to. Much of the time, “transformation” is just a fancy word for saying “better” or “cheaper.”

Go With the Flow, Bob

Rather than fight the tide, maybe I should accept that “digital transformation” is popular because it speaks to what my clients are trying to tell their prospects. Let’s try riding the wave instead, based on several of the definitions floating around out there:
[table id=1 /]

Note that, while there are common themes across definitions, how much room there is for differentiation based on each specific definition, and the specific strengths you bring to the market.

Breakthrough! Transformation Defined

By making its definition very specific (“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” the Altimeter Group was able to craft a customer survey that uncovered specific, rather than vague, implementation issues.

The “process,” rather than technical issues, uncovered (below) seem to make digital transformation an easier pitch for consultants than hardware or software-centric players, unless they can describe specifically how their skills in areas such as Big Data or business intelligence help organizations better understand today’s mobile and socially-connected customers.

Even One Word Can Help

All this is well and good if you and your prospect agree on a definition for digital transformation.  If you don’t bother defining it, or define it only vaguely, you’re inviting your customers to misunderstand what you’re offering.

nJust changing one word – “digital transformation” to “IT transformation” – means you’re talking about, as Accenture puts it, the need to “…identify which IT capabilities are most critical to the success of the overall enterprise, and shape an IT organization and capability that supports the business cost-effectively.”

That’s what most of my clients mean by “transformation” and it usually boils down to reducing costs through things like virtualization, data center consolidation, and training lower-level or lower-cost offshore staff to handle more complex support requests. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t deliver the unified customer experience and universal market insights “digital” transformation implies.

Does any of this clear up all this transformation talk or just make it confusing in a new way?

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 We Lead With Value in 2015?

2015 trends B2B content marketing Another day, yet another lament about how lame business-to-business (B2B) marketing content can be.

The latest eye-rolling comes from Forrester Research, courtesy of a report in AdAge. It quoted Laura Ramos, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, on her review of 30 B2B Web sites in in the technology, software, investing, medical products, manufacturing and services industries.

She scored the sites on ten criteria, “ranging from a customer-centric home page to innovative use of video” Out of the 30 sites, only four passed. The biggest problem, says Ramos, “is that the majority of content talks about the company, what its products and services do and how many awards they’ve won, but doesn’t speak to the issues their prospective buyers are trying to solve.”

Funny, I was just blogging about how often this happens in case studies (and how to prevent it.)

Two of Ramos’ suggestions jumped out at me, one of which I agree with, the other I don’t.

Good: Lead With Value

Ramos talked up how offering usable content such as research and self-evaluation tools can engage the prospect and keep them reading by offering value. Two recent survey-based projects in which I took part show how this works.

One survey, done for Oracle on global cloud adoption trends found, among other things, that:

  • Traditional datacenter requirements, such as performance, service-level guarantees, application lifecycle management and integration, become more, not less, important in the cloud.
  • Frequent cloud concerns include migrating applications with very high performance, availability and security requirements; inability to easily migrate existing application data; lack of ability to manage/monitor or modify existing applications in the cloud; and inability to integrate with non-cloud applications.
  • There are intriguing differences between the workloads customers plans for public vs. private cloud (see below.)

cloud adoption trends

Or consider another recent survey in which I played a role, this for Dell on mid-market use of Big Data.

Its findings include:

·        The biggest drivers of big data success are IT/business collaboration, proper skills and performance management.

·        The biggest causes of failure are lack of IT/business cooperation and lack of tools and skills.

·        And that the most influential departments in big data projects are IT and sales/marketing.

Surveys like this let your salespeople lead by offering valuable help, not putting on a hard sell. By describing the actual state of the market, they can better frame the argument for your products and services. Finally, knowing what customers really care about helps you fine-tune your marketing message and strategy.

Not So Good: Saving the Client’s Bacon

While most b-to-b companies feature case studies on their websites, they don’t do a good enough job telling customer stories, Ms. Ramos said.

“The case studies were OK, but they weren’t really compelling. There are a lot of companies bragging about themselves, disguised as customer success stories, but they don’t feature people and their struggles and successes.” she says. “Companies need to show the things they really struggled with, where they failed, and then show redemption — everyone loves a story of redemption.”

Everyone, that is, except the legal and PR departments of the customer featured in the case study. .  What CIO wants to fess up to that, even if the near-disaster was (of course) their predecessor’s fault? And what legal or PR department would let them make such a confession, when it’s hard enough to get clearance for today’s vague “We’re very pleased with the job XYX did for us…” quotes?

One global services client struggling to describe the “real story” in their own case studies raised another objection: That the IT department itself is reluctant to paint itself as the hero that saved the rest of the company from disaster.

Finding satisfied customers in the business to consumer (B2C) space is one thing. If anyone’s found a way to tell the full “redemption” story for a named B2B customer, I’d love to hear 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.

Should Everyone Be a Writer?

finding marketing writersThe insightful Ann Handley recently created ten ways to create a “culture of writing” to get more of your experts creating content for demand generation, inbound marketing, and social media marketing campaigns.

Some of them are useful, others I’m less sure about.

But is the whole idea of getting every subject matter expert (SME) in your organization to write even worthwhile?

Publish or Perish, Guys

On the “yes” side:

  • It can get expensive to hire an outside writer to churn out enough content to fill your blog posts, SlideShare and YouTube channels, not to mention your gated white papers and email newsletters. Why not save money by tapping your smart in-house people to feed the content beast?
  • Even more importantly, these in-house experts have too much great experience, insight and anecdotes from the marketplace not to tap.
  • Finally, it’s hard to find a good writer, and to train them about the fine points of your industry and your differentiation in it. Why not instead tap the skills of our own staff, who we know and trust?

Not My Job, Sucka

On the “no” side:

  • Not everyone has enough writing talent to turn our quality content quickly and easily. For some of your SMEs, using the active tense, understandable language, creating a catchy opener and even spelling out acronyms are second nature. For others, it’s unrelenting hard work. Sure, you can teach them a lot of these skills, but might their time be better spent on vetting ideas and fine-tuning technical content?
  • Language/cultural differences. My hat’s off to the offshore product and project managers who give me the raw material for case studies and white papers. Their English is 12 times better than my grasp of any foreign language, and they run circles around me in technical and project management skills. But there’s an inevitable gap between their use of English and its use for business purposes in the U.S. Their writing is (for good reason) full of in-house jargon and abbreviations rather than the high-level business benefits readers want.
  • Writing isn’t just – or even mainly – writing. It’s reporting, asking the tough questions an outsider will think to ask that that ensure your content meets your prospects’ needs. For example, how does your product or service compare with your competitor’s? How do your fancy features reduce a customer’s costs or increase their sales? It’s often easier and less expensive to have an outside writer do the tooth-pulling than ask the SMEs to do it themselves.

Divide and Conquer

If you have SMEs who can write and like to write, you’re lucky. But even then, I would follow Ann’s tip number seven of hiring a dedicated editor. And not just a copy editor who checks facts and fixes minor grammar errors, but “…someone who can give a piece of writing a higher-level read to help improve, expand, condense, or rewrite.”

Unless your organization has a journalistic culture, does outsourcing (or hiring a full-time pro) to do some of the reporting, writing and editing mean higher quality with less total cost and effort?

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.

What? You Skipped These In Your Case Study?

content marketing think like publisherWhile revising a series of case studies for a global IT services company, I found myself asking them over and over:

  • What did you do for your client that was different or better than what either the client or your competitors could have done?
  • How did your work help your client’s bottom line?

These two seemingly obvious questions were often very hard for the “in the trenches” account and project managers to answer. But without that context, any case study is just a “so what?” list of tasks you accomplished. Here’s what’s worked for me in making these case studies matter to prospects.

Why We’re Better

Account and project managers are stuck in the weeds because they’re paid to meet internal processes and delivery goals. To them, implementing an application upgrade, server refresh or shift to an offshore location are successes in and of themselves. The business-level benefits (such as cutting software licensing costs, speeding problem resolution or reducing support costs) are often hammered out several layers above them and long before they started work.
As a result, when I ask “Why are you better?” I hear things like:

  • “Global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…”
  • “Performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…”
  • “In Q! completed offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…

By repeatedly asking a) specifically what they did differently than others and b) the specific process-level benefits of their work, I can often drive them to cough up more useful details. For example:

  • “Using our proprietary transition methodology, we provided global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…” in half the time competitors had promised in their proposal.
  • Using our custom configuration scripts and customized server imaging tools, we “performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010,
    VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…” without interruptions to applications or employee productivity.
  • The intensive pre-engagement training of our staff in the client’s systems allowed us, in half the time the customer expected, to “complete offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…”

How It Helped

It’s also important to dig for quantifiable details about how the service engagement paid off to the business. The first time through, I’ll often hear vague descriptions such as:

  • “Transformation of server, network and application pillars increased agility and optimized operational costs.”
  • “Moving from siloed SLAs to a scalable business services model aligned IT and the business.”
  • “Automation-related efficiencies led to reduced demand, greater performance and improved agility.”

By pushing for a) definitions of these terms and b) quantification of the business benefits we can come closer to something like:

  • “Virtualizing the client’s servers, networks and applications allowed the client to scale their servers 2,000 percent to meet the holiday crunch. Our timely completion of a mobile app generated $2.5 million in additional revenue. Reducing the number of physical devices saved $125,000 in one time equipment upgrade fees and $50,000 a year in heating, cooling, space and management costs.”
  • “Rather than siloed SLAs that track the performance of only part of the IT infrastructure, our business services model lets senior executives track how essential business services (such as order tracking and customer support) are operating. This lets them focus IT spending on the areas most critical to the business.”
  • “Automation in areas ranging from password reset to server monitoring reduced the number of trouble tickets by 46%, increased availability from 97.6 to 99.99 percent, and made it easier to roll out upgrades to their CRM system.”

The earlier in the content production process you can get detailed answers like this, the sooner your internal, or external, writer can turn out compelling case studies. If you can’t get this quality of answer, ask yourself if it’s worth doing the case study at all.

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.

Overusing “Transformation”

transformation marketing

Transformation, or just flabby marketing?

Everywhere from interior decorating to education to healthcare, everyone’s claiming they deliver “transformation.”

But when it comes to  selling information technology and services, is the “T” word an effective value promise, or a vague buzzword that sets both the buyer and seller up for trouble?

I’m curious to hear from other marketers about how your customers respond to the term, and whether it helps deliver more and better prospects.

Definition, Please

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the primary definition of “transform” is “to change the form of; to change into another shape or form; to metamorphose,” with a secondary definition of “to change in character or condition; to alter in function or nature.” (Emphasis added.)

It is this second definition I think most people assume, and that gets marketers into trouble. It implies not incremental improvement but a fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that lasts.

Consider the idea of a “transformational” president. Franklin Roosevelt made the cut in the 1930s, some argue, by changing “the basic assumptions of national politics for a generation or more” in favor of a greater role for the federal government. You could argue Ronald Reagan was “transformational” in the opposite direction. Whatever your politics, both changes met the “transformational” criteria of being fundamental, wide ranging and lasting.

In a totally different vein, “Transformational Weight Loss” implies (and it seems the author tries to deliver) lasting improvement loss through fundamental, wide-ranging changes in lifestyle and attitude, not just in diet.

Transformation that doesn’t make the cut, I’d argue, is the South Carolina Department of Public Education’s “Office of School Transformation” whose goal is “to change the structure of schools to better serve students.” Their Web site seems to promise only tweaks to improve existing processes. Useful and valuable perhaps, but not transformation.

Are We Overselling “Transformation?”

In my own IT field, respected researcher Gartner advised outsourcing firms to ban the use of both  “transformation” and “innovation” because “they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”  For example, Gartner said, an outsourcer might lose money trying to solve problems it never agreed to tackle, while the customer wastes time and effort without achieving their goals. Or, “a customer might choose the lowest-priced provider and be left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.”

For what it’s worth, my small survey of PR and marketing respondents showed 40 percent agreed that transformation is a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believed marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers use transformation as a synonym for “improve.”

In your experience, do customers get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the word “transformation” and click through to learn more? Or do they drop out of the sales funnel (or complain after the purchase) when they find transformation has been oversold?

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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