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Is this what they mean by a transformative change?

After being nice and congratulating a vendor for a clear, simple job explaining their value proposition, my dark side takes over as I blast another for a confusing – and potentially damaging — attempt at rebranding.

When business process outsourcing firm Data Dimensions  recently announced a new “Mission, Vision, and Values statement” it totally failed to explain exactly what is new and why anyone should care. As someone who follows the BPO market closely, I was hoping to learn something.

But it was clear Data Dimensions was talking to itself, not its customers, from the very start with the headline “Data Dimensions Looks to the Future with a New Vision.” Unless I’m a Data Dimension employee or customer, why should I care?

The naval-gazing went on as the release explained the company wanted to “make our (vision) statement more in line with who we are and to better clarify our commitment to the clients that we serve, and the people we employ.” If you’re having an internal identity crisis, why publicize the fact, at least without mentioning what’s in this clarification for the customer?

Now, to the “meat” of the news, although there’s not much to chew on. The company’s new mission is — wait for it – to provide “innovative business process solutions (with) an uncompromising commitment to quality, responsiveness, and integrity.” It’s “vision” is “To be the leading solutions provider for every customer we serve!” For this, they wasted valuable Web bandwidth?

Their values (which I’m sure you’ve never heard of before) include “integrity, “excellence,” “innovative” and “responsive.” To make the kitchen sink of jargon complete, they collaborate with each other while recognizing the diverse background of their employees. And since you asked, you’ll be relieved to know “the new Mission, Vision, Values statement is posted throughout our buildings and in key public areas” and that it is actually “a continuation of the principles that Data Dimensions was founded on in 1982.”

Besides failing to explain the importance of this for its customers, Data Dimensions fails to provide any context by explaining what is new, or has changed. This makes me, as a suspicious reader, look between the lines for signals of problems or failures they’re trying to fix. If their values now include “integrity” does that mean they lacked integrity in the past? If they’re now committed to “excellence” and being “innovative” have they not been in the past? If they’ve always had integrity and innovation, why emphasize it now?

It may be wonderful that Data Dimensions went through this internal values clarification, but it’s not, in and of itself, anything the market cares about. It only becomes worth sharing when the company can explain specifically how it will deliver lower-priced, higher-quality, or more innovative services for its customers. Until then, these feel-good generalities teach the customer not to bother reading the next press release they see from this company.

Let me know if you think I’m being too hard on these folks or you want help explaining your own strategic repositioning. 

Yoda Says: Be Patient, Marketing Wanna-Be

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There is no such thing as "try." You're either generating leads or you're not.

For those of you who’ve been following my “Lone Ranger Content Marketing” blogs you’ll note it’s been quiet for the last few months. Too quiet, as they say in the movies.

The “problem” has been a glut of paying work customers have wanted delivered quickly. This has kept me from doing the hard, patient work required to use marketing automation software to distribute content and identify prospects by tracking what they read. That background work includes building customer personas, creating content to reach each customer type, measuring the readership of that content and then following up with the highest quality leads.

A recent post on the “Marketing Automation Software Guide” site does a great job describing what it really takes to get ROI from marketing automation software. In it, Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist of marketing services firm Leaded, tells customer that “If you have all of your content in place and a solid plan, you will start seeing different (better) leads around the six-month mark as nurturing starts to precipitate leads out of the funnel and into sales.

His four pieces of advice, while aimed at larger companies than mine, also speak to a one-person (or similarly understaffed) MA operation:

  1. Get executive buy-in for the purchase you’re about to make…MA can get complicated and take a while to show results. You need the executive suite to fully understand this or they will get impatient, fast. For the one-person shop the “buy-in” means making regular time in your schedule, no matter what, for the MA grunt work regardless of what short-term fires you need to fight
  2. Assemble and assess your content, re-using existing content and building it into your lead scoring by shaping it around the buyer personas you’ve created. For you lone rangers out there, this is part of the background work you need to be doing every day.
  3. Determine milestones. What results do you want, and by when? This is a trial and error process so the plan will probably change quite a bit in the beginning. For sole practitioners (even if they’re working within larger organizations) such external milestones can help restore your focus when several days of urgent work for clients have taken our eye off the MA ball. 
  4. Don’t hand off every single lead to sales, but wait until “they are so hot they’re ready to sign.”  The temptation to “pounce” on a seemingly interested lead is even greater for a sole practitioner grinding away in isolation for months. Again, patience is best so when you do contact a lead, they sign and give you the reinforcement and ROI you really need – new business. 

Justin’s bottom line is that good marketing is hard, and that marketing automation (like other forms of automation) is only as good as the processes it speeds along. For a marketer working for a very small organization, or in isolation within a larger group, it seems the key is to work as slowly and methodically as you need to – but not to stop.

May the force be with you, and may it direct you the post itself here.

When to Outsource Your Writing

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What's our product positioning again this week?

One of the toughest decisions for budget-conscious marketers is when to hire an outsider to create marketing content, and when they can do the heavy lifting themselves. What they often overlook is whether they themselves understand what they want to say before bringing in outside help.

Marketers ask themselves if they have anyone on staff with both the subject matter expertise and writing ability? Does that person have time to write on top of their other work? And is writing a better use of their time than, say, selling or billing hours with clients? But a recent chat with Christophe Cremault, who heads up marketing for Radix, an innovative branding and marketing agency, gave me some new thinking on this question.

He pointed out there are two kinds of content sellers need.

The first is white papers, Webinars, podcasts, ebooks, etc. where you’ve already thought through the subject, knows what you want to say, and can explain it well enough that an outside wordsmith just needs to polish it up. Unless you already have a superb writer on staff, this is a slam dunk to outsource, and with the right writer you’ll get excellent, fast results.

The second case is where your content needs more work before you outsource it.  Maybe you haven’t thought through the tough questions, such as “What is our real differentiation?” or “What is the real pain point we’re addressing?” Other times, especially in large global organizations (you know who you are) scattered sales and operational units haven’t yet agreed on messaging, or functional groups are too busy meeting client needs to provide background.

Based on recent experience, you’re not ready to hire a free-lance writer, editor, or Webinar host until you can answer these questions in ten words or less. (More than that and you haven’t clarified your own thinking enough.)  

  1. The three messages we want to get across are __________, ________________, and ___________.
  2. The three things we do better than our competitors are _____________, ____________, and ___________.
  3.  The target audience(s) for this piece is (are)   ___________.
  4.  The action we want readers to take after reading this is to  ___________.
  5.  The one person who will serve as single point of contact for the free-lancer, who has the authority to decide when the piece meets our needs, is _____________.

 

The better you can answer these questions before hiring an outside writer, the less time you’ll spend in messy clarification sessions, revising useless copy, and juggling production schedules due to delays. You’ll also be the type of good client that writers want to work with, which is important in a market where increasing demand is letting writers be pickier about assignments.

But most importantly, you’ll be spending your precious marketing dollars most efficiently, and getting great content out to your customers before your competitors.

Coffee With Bob For Those 25 Hour Days

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Just checking Twitter once more before logging off...

Nothing makes me feel like a real industry expert than coffee with PR veteran Tim Hurley, who recently let me pontificate on his Web site about tech, PR and media trends in 2012. Based on a whole mess of reporting I’ve been doing for publications such as Computerworld and InfoWorld, and ongoing marketing work with clients in the cloud, storage and outsourcing areas, trends I managed to pick out of my cluttered mind include…

  • Cloud computing going mainstream
  • Not only apps, but everything IT, going mobile, and
  • The challenge of using social media to enrich customers’ lives rather than distract them to death.

Another big trend I keep seeing is internal IT staffs, and outsourcers, struggling to move up the fabled value chain and deliver innovation, and not just lower cost, to the business. This requires change not only in business models (how staff and outsourcers are measured and paid) but changes in mindset. Good luck doing that while cutting costs and keeping the wheels turning in a tough economy.

On the media/communications/PR/marketing world, I observed that content marketing is still struggling to prove its worth to the enterprise, as is social media. I also predicted, somewhat hopefully, that “content curation” (automatically gathering content from around the Web to push to readers) will turn out to be just another buzzword. Why so nervous? Because, despite claims to the otherwise, I think it  undermines my value proposition of creating unique, high-quality content. Hey, as Andy Grove once said, even paranoiacs have real enemies.

On the skills front, I recommend PR and marketing pros learn how to 1) work with social media without busting the budget or working 25 hours a day, 2) cost-justify these social media and content marketing efforts, and 3) develop a multimedia strategy that includes podcasts, video and Webinars easily viewable on mobile devices.

One of my predictions, that PR agencies that still focus on story placement in print pubs are missing the boat, has already been undermined by several PR pros telling me such placements still drive leads. They’re also very important to Indian-based outsourcing vendors, because in India the print trade press is still far more robust than in the U.S.

Let me know if I’m right or wrong on story placement, and if you have any great ideas for how not to work 25 hours a day.

Four Questions To Speed Up Your Tech Pitch

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Among the ongoing excellent recent posts from Lauren Goldstein, VP, Strategic Planning at Babcox and Jenkins, was some advice on how to talk to technical decision makers in business to business (B2B) sales. She recommended giving these “TDMs” more technical information earlier in the sales process than you would to a business decision maker, and to “Be clear about what your product is and what it does.”
I’d argue being clear is vital to reach any IT decision maker overwhelmed with things to do and sales pitches to sift through. Too many pitches I see are too obvious and self-serving when describing the problem they solve, and too vague in describing how they solve it.
This led me to dust off a simple template I used during my 15 years as an IT trade press reporter to understand whether, and how, to cover the Latest Great Thing someone pitches to me. Here it is:
Our product is (hardware, software/a service, or a combination thereof) that (describe the technical function it performs) to (describe in the business benefit it provides.) It is better than competitive offerings because it is (less expensive, easier to use, faster to implement, more scalable, more reliable, etc.)
This template works regardless of the type of customer you’re selling to, the industry they’re in and what problem you’re solving. Because it forces you to be specific, it also discourages you from using jargon such as “solution,” “seamless,” or “best in class” that obscures your message.
Finally, it forces you to define your value proposition very clearly. And that helps you develop everything from elevator pitches to product taglines to defining target markets and the segmented content necessary to reach them.
Do you have a template or formula that defines your value proposition?

Occupy Marketing Slams Puffy Collateral

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These white papers aren't even white!

Well, not quite. But my good friend (and sometimes boss) Larry Marion, CEO of Triangle Publishing Services, does the next best thing with these gloves-off scoring of actual IT white paper by brand-name  vendors.

You’ve all probably heard the best practices for white papers – skip the hard sell, prove your claims, make the text easy to read. But it’s not often you see someone who creates content for a living bite (or at least snarl at) the hand that feeds him by calling out vendors who have succumbed to the temptation to pitch rather than educate.

(By way of credentials, Larry’s has more than 20 years of research, writing and editing reports on the use of technology, interviewed hundreds of senior executives at large organizations about technology, and served as a judge of a major white paper contest for many years.)

Database giant Oracle got a dismal 42 out of 100 for a white paper on “Big Data for the Enterprise.” On the plus side, says Larry, writing “isn’t bad,” the first half covers the right issues and it provides lots of hypothetical examples of how “big data” (the analysis of very, very large data sets) can help businesses.

On the down side, though, he complains of “exceptionally heavy Oracle references,” and only “ one third-party reference, despite many debatable assertions,: no information about the author’s credentials (he’s  in Oracle product management, not exactly an unbiased source) and only one graphic that didn’t focus on Oracle’s product, rather than on customer needs. Finally, he says, there was no clear call to action, and several obvious errors caused by poor editing.

Thoroughly depressed on behalf of Oracle, I trolled through several other critiques in search of good news. But a Siemens white paper on “The Communications Tipping Point” did only slightly better, with 61 out of 100 points. On the plus side: Original survey data, lots of charts, a strong writing style and point of view, a good mix of external data sources and what Larry playfully calls “self-control – Siemens doesn’t  plug its solutions until the last page.

The weaknesses:

  • Headline needs a subtitle, so you know what the paper is about
  • Poorly conceived charts
  • Missing information
  • Who is the author? His/her credentials?
  • Some assertions lack data to support them
  • Some comments reflect unfamiliarity with business budgeting and spending practices
  • No clear call to action

(I would add that nowhere in the executive summary, which is all some people will read, did it describe what the “tipping point” is and why the reader should care. But this is Larry’s rant, not mine.)

A quick glance through Larry’s list showed no white paper got even a gentleman’s “C” for best practices. Was he too kind? Too cruel? Feel free to drop a note and let him know. But his basic protest – that too often vendors use white papers to sell rather than educate — is spot on and ignored too often. Let the street protests begin.

Use an Audit To Jump-Start Your Content Marketing

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Content marketers generally approach content audits with all the enthusiasm that attends any audit. The very word conjures up stern-looking authority figures thumbing through your records to see where you’ve fallen short.

I’ve been through several content audits myself, mapping the collateral I have against the types of buyers I want to reach, and the stages they’re at in the buying cycle. The good news is that I found a lot more good, and timeless, content than I thought I would. If  you’ve been doing any blogging, white papers, case studies or email newsletters (and who hasn’t?) with any degree of care you must have stumbled on some insights, presented with some degree of style. It’s likely you’ve forgotten half of what you’ve done in the crunch of daily work, another reason the audit might be cause for relief, not grief.

In a recent Webinar with marketing automation firm Manticore, Mike Vannoy, COO of sales and marketing services firm Sales Engine International said this good news can help move you (or your boss) off square one with content marketing by giving you a concrete starting point. Just doing the content audit helped, he said.. “It made is less daunting. We knew where to focus and we found we were in much better shape than we thought we were.” In some cases, less was more, as with case studies. He found readers wanted “a one page case study, short and sweet, to take into their boss” to prove another customer had been successful with Manticore’s platform. Even quick, one to three minute videos were useful as well, he found.

Yet another piece of good news from Manticore’s audit was how much content could be reused, “with with a little bit of freshening up.” One five-year-old white paper, for example, turned out to be “still pretty current” once some minor language changes were made. It also built a promotable blog post around several paragraphs taken from a case study, and in turn used some blog posts as the basis for lead nurturing emails. (A recent guest column on my site explains how to take this even further, essentially creating a book for free out of a carefully planned series of white papers and other collateral.)

But lest you think the whole process was painless, I have found myself in trouble when I found overlaps in some of the categories, and the content, in my audit spreadsheet. If the same article or Webinar or white paper could apply both to “early evaluators” and “financial decision makers,” it showed I hadn’t defined each group and their needs carefully enough. As in so many marketing activities, defining your prospect’s very, very carefully and knowing their needs really, really well at the outset is critical.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how to make content audits less painful and more useful.

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By Larry Marion, Editorial Director, Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc.

In this era of iPads and short attention spans, is it worth writing a book to establish your (or your client’s) thought leadership?

Yes, but only if you plan from the start how to reuse parts of the book in other forms (such as white papers, Webinars and case studies) in lead generation campaigns, insist on top quality research and writing, and ride herd on all concerned to meet their deadlines.  Done right, you can produce a book (with all the associated prestige, lead generation and other benefits) for little more than the cost of the standalone content elements that make it up.

Here’s how it worked  with the recent publication by McGraw-Hill Professional of The Customer Experience Edge, by Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer and Dr. Volker Hildebrand. The three authors, executives at enterprise software company SAP, approached me in the summer of 2010 with a book idea and a vision of how to economically and efficiently produce it. Together we created four white papers, four case studies, two surveys, two mini books and other assets in addition to the book. Essentially, the total investment for the variety of assets produced a book for free—the normal spend on the co-branded white papers and case studies covered the cost developing the book, including a massive order of copies to be distributed by SAP.

The reasons for doing a book are not what you may think (ego and self-aggrandizement.)  Seeing a great idea take shape in a way that drives sales of the book is what drives the publisher.  For the authors and their corporate sponsor, a commercially published book is more than just a door opener for sales people.  Properly leveraged through webinars, industry events, white papers, case studies and other venues, a book becomes a clear lead generator.

In addition, many authors view a book as a critical component of their C.V., establishing their credibility in an industry in addition to the internal recognition.

Here are some other benefits we’ve seen from helping our clients produce books:

If the book includes leading edge customers, the corporate sponsor ends up with a much tighter bond with them.  The process energizes the customer base in ways you can’t imagine. For example, one of the users/customers cited in the Customer Experience book agreed to write the foreword.  In addition, customers quoted in your book enjoyed increased status as visionaries.

Besides the obvious leadgen, distributing a free copy to select customers instantly establishes your vision for a credible and compelling approach to a business problem or opportunity. Think of it as presales tool for your target market.

Here’s how SAP, Triangle Publishing Services and McGraw Hill delivered a book in October 2011, 12 months after the project began. Yes, you read that right: we delivered all of these assets in a year.

  1. Plan in advance.  We created a content development strategy knowing the goal is repurposing content, yet preserving enough unique content for the book to maintain the sanctity of the publisher’s copyright. McGraw Hill would not bother publishing a book that had already appeared as a series of free reports. The strategy also included recruiting the right team of researchers and editors—extensive prior experience required.
  2. Research. Our goal was to approach every leading edge user and consultant/analyst.  Together we identified 40 potential sources and approached them all. Most agreed to discuss their views and experiences, as well as alert us to other qualified sources.  Working with Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services, we conducted two surveys to identify the current state of customer experience goals and challenges among a global audience of senior executives. The surveys, and polls by others, enable us to deliver an evidence based narrative.
  3.   Writing and editing. We supported the authors with a style guide, to make sure the book would read as if it were written by one person.  This guide also established the tone, the target audience, our goals and other details in the beginning, with examples.  Repurposing the huge amount of information and survey data required two experienced editors who knew the customer experience domain as well as packaging content. They were intimately involved with every word and sentence, before the files were sent to McGraw Hill. We knew its standards and how to meet them.
  4. Project management—this program could only succeed in delivering the key assets within 12 months if publishing industry discipline was enforced. The bureaucratic delay cycle typical of corporate content development would not only stifle creativity, but would doom the book to a forbidden multiyear schedule.  The presses rolled on time due to a huge effort by all of those involved.

Lessons learned:

  • It is possible to do a book in one year, from start to finish.
  • It is possible to derive white papers, case studies and other collateral/assets from book research, but you must have a plan.
  • And you must be flexible—your original plan may be no more than a series of informed hunches.
  • Non writers are not familiar and typically uncomfortable with publishing industry style, work cadence and deadlines. In publishing, deadlines are not a wish list item.  It takes continued vigilance to maintaining the schedule.
  • Of course, while you stick  to the schedule, you don’t sacrifice quality or content.
  • Credibility is everything—the book should not be used to overtly sell a product. The book can sell ideas and techniques and capabilities.
  • Partners. Pick a publisher who is flexible, creative and focused on delivering great books. Avoid those  who just want your client’s money and don’t  care that the book would be replete with errors.
  • Insist on evidence for the points you’re making. No data, no credibility.

Take as much time to market the book as to write the book. Promotion is not just the publisher’s job—the authors must take the lead.

Bottom line: For most  nonfiction authors, and especially IT vendors, the financial rewards  come from leveraging the book as  the ultimate marketing tool, not as a direct revenue generator.

Want to hear more? Contact me at  lmarion@triangle-publishing.com. And to learn what NOT to do, read on…

One day last year I had an urgent telephone call from a vice president at a major public relations agency.  The Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a software company client had paid a ghostwriter to spend six months interviewing the CIO and doing other “research.” The PR team didn’t think the resulting 40,000 words  was a real book. Would I review and make recommendations, given my 20+ years of media experience (including the writing or ghostwriting/editing of four nonfiction books)?

It turns out the CIO and the ghostwriter together made a series of serious errors. The  manuscript  was devoid of examples or enough proof points for a white paper, let alone a book.  It turns out that the CIO had hired a writer who knew nothing about the topic area and had never written a book before.

Only about 20% of the manuscript was good enough for a book, so the CIO’s idea needed a lot of research to develop enough proof points to make it credible.  The client didn’t want to fund the additional work, legitimately complaining that it had already spent a lot of money and didn’t have much to show for the investment.

 So a great book idea died, even though I knew a publisher that would be interested in the idea. The lesson: Choose your author carefully, set your goals for the book and above all, plan for where you want to end up before you begin. 

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