Winning the Content Production War

 

case study thought leadershipI just finished reading Freedom’s Forge, which describes how American industry produced planes, guns, ships, and everything else in quantities our World War II enemies couldn’t match.

What struck me were how much money and time production experts achieved by eliminating bottlenecks. Some were as simple as rearranging work flows so pieces didn’t have to be moved so often, or making components so accurately that even unskilled workers could install them correctly. In one famous example, a shipyard built a no-frills Liberty ship in under a day from preassembled components.

Content marketers face the same do-or-die challenge: Cranking out huge amounts of quality content much more quickly and cheaply than ever before. Yet even working with word-class companies, I often see writing projects delayed for weeks or months by the same bottlenecks.

Here are the four worst offenders and my suggestions for eliminating them:

Poor raw materials: It’s a lot easier to reject a load of bad steel when it arrives at the shipyard then to pull it out of a ship that’s fully built. The same is true of the raw material you provide your content creators writers.

  • Review the background material you give writers to ensure it doesn’t include out-of-date messaging, survey results that are unusable because they came from a competitor or “case studies” that are actually hypothetical examples from client presentations. (Yes, I’ve seen all of these – recently.) Before sending a 120-page PowerPoint “in case it’s useful” pull out what is relevant and tell the writer why. This work up-front slashes production time while improving quality.

Unclear Objectives and Unanswered Questions: By the time a piece of content is in draft mode, you’ve probably invested thousands of dollars in staff time defining it, assigning it, brainstorming it, and providing background to the writer. But all that investment can’t “go to war” in the marketplace unless it was designed from the start to hit the proper target audience, and the author has the information they need to build it.

I’m often stalled while various experts argue over the target audience, the desired messaging or their understanding of a buzzword. (So are many others, according to this conversation on the LinkedIn Hubspot Partners Forum.)

  • Invest the time up-front in person-to-person phone conversations with all stakeholders to clarify objectives and definitions. Letting an experienced writer ask clarifying questions eliminates massive re-work later, as well as hours responding to emails. (I’ve found such calls especially useful when working across language or cultural boundaries.)

Delayed Reviews: Your smartest and most articulate people probably think meeting a project deadline or closing a deal is more important than answering a pesky question for a white paper. And they are right – unless their bosses make it clear that content creation is just as important as grinding out code or a client meeting.

  • Suggestion: Make content development part of the evaluation criteria for your account managers, developers and practice managers. How much of their evaluation is tied to content is an easy way for them to prioritize content versus other responsibilities. For faster results, measure their content contributions quarterly.

Sloppy Version Control: Juggling multiple sets of changes to the same document from different reviewers is a time sink that practically guarantees errors and reduces quality. When a writer reworks a paragraph to meet one reviewer’s request, and another reviewer later eliminates that paragraph, you’ve wasted two people’s time while delaying delivery.

  • Make one person responsible for reviewing, accepting and publishing content. That person, or someone with suitable knowledge and authority, should also be responsible for resolving editing disputes and consolidating all the changes in a single document for the writer to review.

Those are my tips from the content production front lines. What are yours?

Bob Scheier is a veteran IT journalist turned content marketer who fights the deadline wars from Swampscott, Mass. His specialties include technologies such as security, cloud, mobile, storage and Big Data, and the role of IT in industries ranging from health care to retail and manufacturing. He can be reached at bob@scheierassociates.com.

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 #2: Selling Security Response

(One in an ongoing series of sample IT drip content marketing campaigns. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like Content marketing security response sequence help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Antivirus products are “doomed to failure.” So says, of all people, Symantec, even though it gets 40% of its revenue from AV.

What’s up? For one thing, AV not a huge money maker. Second, hackers have moved on from endpoint attacks using viruses. The most serious threats now come from “zero day” network intrusion and denial of service attacks that target the core of the IT infrastructure and are too new to be caught by AV scans. As a result, Symantec and other vendors are trying to sell software and services that help customers limit the damage from attack.

If you’re selling security response services what sequence of marketing content can help you to identify and rate prospects for those services?

Story One: This captures prospects early in the sales cycle by clearly explaining the limits of AV, the nature of the new threats AV cannot stop and how security response, rather than prevention, can help limit the damage. Be honest about whether antivirus is really “dead” or is just not sufficient, in and of itself, to provide security. Get specific with recommendations without touting your product. Should customers, for example, just get basic free AV for end points and focus the rest of their efforts on hardening the core and on security response? If they shift more security spending to the network, specifically where should they invest? And what is the ROI of security response versus prevention?

Offer this content free and promote the heck out of it via emails and social networks. Repurpose it for videos, ebooks, blog posts, contributed op-ed pieces and Webinars. This is your chance to become the trusted voice of reason on this topic. The call to action (CTA) is a link to the more detailed stories 2 and 3 which are aimed at more specific market segments.

Story 2: Focuses on one subset of your target market with specialized content. To find SMB prospects, for example, produce a checklist they can use to determine whether this shift from prevention to response is true for them as well as for large companies. If basic AV is still necessary, what are the “must-have” features an SMB in particular should focus on? And if SMBs should start thinking “response” rather than just prevention, what are the basic “response” steps an SMB should take themselves, given their limited budgets, and what can best be done by an outside vendor?

Gate this content with two to three basic contact/qualification questions, such as name, business email and top security challenge they are facing. The CTA is a link to story three, pulling prospects further through the sales funnel to the product/vendor evaluation.

Story 3: To capture prospects that are in the “consideration” stage of the purchase process, offer tips for evaluating the security response services that are flooding the marketplace. Which of the services they are selling, such as centralized real-time monitoring or documentation and forensics of past attacks are most valuable? What of the incident response workflows they are offering will help limit the damage from each type of attack most effectively? What security response steps should a customer take themselves, and which should they leave to a service provider? What are some of the “gotchas” that could hurt a customer by choosing the wrong provider, and how can they avoid these mistakes?

Gate this content with two or three further progressive profiling questions, such as whether they have (or plan to) create a security response plan and their time frame for action. If you can combine this with third-party data to further qualify them, all the better. If they plan to act soon, the call to action could be a sales call to further discuss their response needs. If they’re months away from action, offer them a subscription to your email newsletter of security response tips, tracking their readership to determine if and when they might be open to a call.

Note: In place of each “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar”, “video”, “podcast”, “white paper”, or other format.) And if you have a product or service for which you’d like to see a sample, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

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

Get More Oomph From Your Vendor Certifications

How to promote advanced certification from a vendor.Congratulations! You just got “premium” or “advanced” or “platinum” or “really hot stuff” certification from a vendor whose products or services you sell.

Who cares?

You do, because you know how much work it took to get that certification. Your customers should care, too. But how can they if you don’t tell them specifically how your superior skills, training, experience or customer service helps them?

For example, I recently got a press release announcing a service provider had received advanced certification from Amazon Web Services because it had met AWS’ “rigorous set of prerequisites.” Rather than describe what those requirements were and how they help the customer, the press release rushed on to describe the services the company offers, with the usual bland quote from the CEO about how pleased he was about it all.

What would I do differently? Let’s take the actual certification program, Amazon Web Services Partner Network (APN).

Talk Up the Requirements…

This company could have gotten a lot of mileage just by describing, and expanding on, the requirements publically available on the Amazon Web site. Among them are:

  • Four customer references.If you need those anyway for the certification, why not plug them in the press release, with specifics (as always) on the business benefits you provided the customer, not just the bits and bytes you delivered?
  • $25,000 a month in AWS billings for a “technology” partner and $10,000 for a “consulting” partner. Just saying you’ve met these requirements shows that you know your stuff and are financially healthy enough to be around for the duration of a new project.
  • Five staff members trained on AWS (for consulting partners only.) Why not provide a brief example of how this training helped one of your employees’ solve a specific problem for a specific customer, in a way your lesser-trained competitors could not?

…and the Benefits

All vendors reward those who sell more of their stuff with goodies like access to advanced training and technical support. If those added benefits help you help your customers, why not explain how? Again, using Amazon’s partner program as an example:

  • The partner portal allows partners to find and work with other partners with specialties they may not have. Were you able to use the portal to solve a particularly gnarly problem for a customer, or find local help for them in setting up their new field office in Mongolia? Flout it in your press release.
  • The portal also provides access to e-learning modules. What is some of the training you accessed, and how did it help one of your customers make or save money? How did this training help your customers (not you) succeed?

You can obviously re-use much of the content for this press release in promotional case studies, blog posts, video clips or podcasts. You may also already have some of this information available in case studies or client references, making it less excusable for you not to include it.

Becoming an “advanced” partner is hard work, and it should matter to your customers. What, in your experience, keeps us from explaining this to them?

Download my free checklist of more tips for ensuring marketing content is timely, clear, original and deep enough to engage prospects.   

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 #1: Selling Cloud Services

sales campaign cloud services(One in an ongoing series of sample drip content marketing campaigns for IT vendors. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Despite (or because of) all the hype, many customers are still confused about the different types of cloud services, fearful over security and regulatory compliance and uncertain about their ability to manage data, applications and users in the cloud.

This content sequence is designed to capture contact and qualifying information for prospects that are interested in cloud services but concerned about security and management.

Story 1: To capture “top of funnel” prospects in the awareness stage, clearly explain the differences between the major cloud platforms (infrastructure, platform and software as a service) with examples of why actual customers adopted each. Describe pros and cons of the various models, and suggest which are best for various types of customers. Briefly summarize the state of the art in cloud security and management to tease interest in follow-up stories 2 and 3 below.

 Offer this content ungated (no registration required) to establish yourself as a trusted and knowledgeable advisor. Promote via your Web site, email newsletters, content syndication, social media, etc. Call to action is an invitation o read gated stories 2 and 3 on, respectively, security and management.

Story 2: To identify prospects who are most concerned about security, offer a checklist of which security features a cloud provider should offer, and challenge the reader to examine if they have those same required safeguards in-house. Alternatively, create a checklist for assessing how much security a customer needs based on their size, industry, application types, etc.

Gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  Call to action is a link to story 4, a “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase.

Story 3: To identify prospects most concerns about cloud management, create a 1,500-2,000 word feature on the state of cloud management tools. What are the most critical cloud management requirements, which of those needs can vendors meet now, what’s coming in the future? Keep it honest and impartial, with only a brief “message from our sponsor” about yourself at the end.

As with story 2, gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name). Call to action is link to story 4, the “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase. 

Story 4: To capture more information about those in the consideration or purchase stages, go deep, long (2,000 words or more) and very specific with a guide for preparing a request for proposal for a cloud provider. This should be a template for assessing a provider, complete with suggested wording for terms and conditions, specific requirements for recovering data in case of failure of the provider and questions to ask about who within the provider is responsible for security and reporting on outages.

This most valuable and expensive content can be further gated with two to three more detailed questions, such as which security standards the reader must meet, the number of servers/storage they have under management or their expected time to purchase. Call to action can be a request for a sales meeting or demo.

Those who make it to story 4 are at least somewhat serious about considering the cloud and have told you, by their story choices and qualification forms, something about their needs and concerns. For those who stopped at stories 2 or 3, continue to marinate them in other useful content until they’re ready for further engagement.

Note: In place of “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar,” “video”, “podcast,” “white paper,” or other format.) And if you have a product or service you’d like to see a sample sequence for, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

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

When Are “Secondary Personas” Worth It?

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

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

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

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

VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE(s)

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

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

Start Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Granular 

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

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

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

Step by Step

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

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

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

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

The Angels Are in the Details

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

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

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

Selling DevOps? Don’t Forget Security

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

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

Needed: Security Smarts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Insights Wanted

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

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

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

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

Checklist for Content Depth, Originality, Timeliness

how to check content for depth, originality, timelinessIn keeping with the traditional end of year naval-gazing (or if you need a break from last-minute gift online shopping) here’s a “print and post” checklist for making sure you’re giving prospects what they want in marketing content.

How do I know this is what prospects want? Because they told us, in a survey whose results ring very true based on my years as a trade press editor.

Hope you find this helpful.

What Prospects Want How to Tell If You’re Delivering It
Depth
  • Have I answered the reader’s questions at each stage from awareness to consideration to evaluation and selection?
  • Have I described specifically how my offering works and why it’s better than the competition?
  • Have I explained the applications and technical environments for which my offering is best suited?
  • Have I described what it takes to manage and scale my offering after it’s deployed?
Accessible and understandable information
  • Have I used jargon such as “solution” or clearly described what I’m selling as hardware, software and/or services?
  • Have I described how I solve the reader’s business challenges (higher sales, lower costs, improved quality, etc.) as well as meet their technical needs?
  • Have I used the type of language I would with a friend over a drink?
  • Have I spelled out all acronyms?
Originality
  • Have I told the reader anything they didn’t already know?
  • Have I just repeated “evergreen” challenges or explained how to meet those challenges in a new and better way?
  • Have I provided new context or a new way of thinking that will help the prospect even if they don’t buy from me?
Timeliness
  • Have I told the prospect why they need to read this content right now?
  • Am I writing this just because I have something to sell or because of a change in the technology, business or regulatory environment my prospects need to know about?
  • Will reading this content now help the reader make more money, keep their job, get a raise or go home earlier?

Download a postable version of this chart here.  Drop me a note if I overlooked any must-haves or, of course, if you could use a bit of outside help hitting any of these sweet spots.

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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