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Editorial CalendarAn editorial calendar (like this one for Computerworld, for whom I still write) is simply a list of content ideas, with a schedule for when each will be published.

This keeps everyone on schedule about what they need to produce, and when. To make an edit calendar really effective in content marketing, build it around the most important challenges facing your prospects, and the information that will keep them engaged.

When I needed editorial calendar ideas as a trade press editor, I asked myself and my other reporters:

  •  In our recent conversations with customers, what common problems have they mentioned?
  • In our recent conversations with vendors, what buzzword have they thrown around we don’t understand or believe in?
  • In our recent customer visits, what’s impressed us as so smart that our readers could learn from it?

Your sales, customer support and marketing staff aren’t paid to be reporters. But they are talking to customers and analysts and are (or should be!) following the competition. Here’s how to get them to share ideas that you can turn into great marketing content.

  • Tell them how many ideas you expect from them, and when.
  • Be specific about the type of ideas you want. “From support reps, we want two examples per month of smart workarounds customers have developed for common problems. From analyst relations, we want two of the newest/most insightful things you’ve heard this month. From sales, we want the objections you’ve heard most often during a close, and how you overcame them.”
  • Give them examples of “news” or trends you want. From a customer support rep: “A lot of mobile developers are asking for better Python documentation.” A sales rep might notice “Suddenly realtors are returning my calls. The market’s picked up and they’re willing to spend.” From analyst relations: “Analysts are really picking up on the `agile data’ theme but we think they should also be talking about the `orchestration’ layer we provide…” All of these are great grist for blog posts, white papers, videos and other content.

And a few final suggestions

  • Have your “requests” for editorial calendar ideas come from the top of the company to “encourage” cooperation.
  • Make the sharing of ideas part of employees’ evaluation and compensation.
  • Aim for a mix of topics, from the tactical (bug fixes and effective sales tactics) to the strategic (big trends in technology, how macro-economic trends are affecting sales) to the fun and off-beat (video of a well-known entertainer opening a big tradeshow.)
  • Use the “water-cooler” test. If it’s worth talking about around the office, it’s worth considering for the editorial calendar.

Let me know how these trade press tips work in corporate marketing and what challenges you’re still facing.

Look, Ma, No Hands! Automated Content Curation

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Not bad for a machine: Content as “curated” by Paper.li.

I used to think that curating content – reusing content from other sources to keep your prospects engaged with you – was for wimps. Real men (and women) did the hard work of coming up with ideas, researching and writing them.

An online service called Paper.li has me reconsidering my stance.  It scans the Twitter accounts you’re following (or a list of Twitter accounts you’ve created, or Tweets found through a hashtag search.) It does a very nice job of automatically capturing the headline, image and an excerpt of each Tweet. For the price of two Starbucks’ ($9 per paper) per month you can add your own logo, decide which captured stories get the biggest play and notify your followers when a new edition is ready for publication.

I was impressed with the first such paper I found, Content With Content which covers (not surprisingly) content marketing. It shows how, by carefully choosing which accounts Paper.li scans, you can automatically create a good-looking compilation of quality content for your followers.

Add Thought Leadership and Stir

Where this content curation tool gets really interesting is the Editor’s Note feature, which allows you to add one (and only one, as far as I can tell) own story of your own to the mix. This is your opportunity to, in your given field, add your insightful comments to what would otherwise be a showcase for others in your field.

If you’re a virtualization management vendor, for example, you could use the Editor’s Note to comment on the features a competitor failed to announce in a Tweet picked up by Paper.li If there’s a rash of Tweets from VMworld (happening as I write this) you can use the Editor’s Note to explain why, for example, there’s suddenly a lot of talk about the security risks in virtualization. You can also include hyperlinks to steer your readers to stories you think they should, and shouldn’t read; tell them what they should think about them or even to a landing page on your own site.

Twitter Overload?

Such automated content creation seems like a good fit for areas where there’s a lot of quality content floating around, and a lot of “news” to keep the paper fresh. In the IT space, think for example of virtualization, storage, security, mobile or anything related to “cloud.”

I would recommend it, however, only for organizations that have the time and ability to add value by carefully choosing which Twitter accounts to sweep for content, controlling the “play” various stories get and, above all, adding their own commentary through the “Editor’s Note.” I still maintain, purist that I am, that a newspaper edited only by an algorithm will eventually look random and chaotic.

You also need to watch overloading your prospects. Do they really need a daily recapping of many of the same Tweets they may have already seen from the accounts they’re following? You also need to figure out how this fits with the other social media channels (such as email newsletters) you’re already offering them.

Services like this provide some of the collection and present functions required to provide quality content, but as I describe in my ebook on where to invest in content marketing, adding context, insight and excellent presentation requires more work.

Low-Hanging Fruit?

One client recently asked me about creating a “super-site” about their technology niche — a “must-view” Web site for potential customers. With the right amount of customization, a service like Paper.li could be the cost-effective core for such a site.

Used right, I’m starting to think there’s a place for curation in content marketing. I’m curious about whether, and how, services like this have worked for you in the B2B space.

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Just waiting for this video to load…

There’s a lot of noise out there about making video a part of your content marketing strategy. Here are five reasons why it’s a waste of time for you and your customers:

  1. Customers need to wait for the video to load and stream. B2B prospects lack the time for this.
  2. They need to sit through two, five, ten minutes or more of talking before they learn all the key points.
  3.  To capture interesting points that aren’t in the accompanying PowerPoint, the customer must take notes and enter them into a database/tickler file (rather than just cutting or pasting as they can from text.)
  4.  If the customer is interrupted or accidently closes their browser window, they have to go back, wait for the video to reload, find where they left off and resume taking notes.
  5.  Producing quality video is difficult and takes time. Low-quality video is easier but can look amateurish, especially for complex, B2B sales.

I admit video IS great for:

  1. Adding credibility to B2B customer case studies IF the customer is articulate and enthused about what you did for them. (The same goes for showcasing the quality of your workforce or your facilities.)
  2. Explaining complicated concepts with pictures as well as words.
  3. Showing, rather than telling, how a product or process works.

My advice is NOT to throw a video up on your B2B site without adding a brief, but complete, written summary of it for those who lack the time or interest to sit through it. Video is a sequential learning tool, for those with the time and motivation to devote to it. A brief written summary is a random-access alternative for those time-pressed, B2B customers who want to scan quickly and pick out the key points.

Subscribe to my free Editor’s Notes newsletter for more tips, or email me if you have other content marketing strategy or implentation questions.

Quick Tip: How to Ensure Content Is Reader Focused

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There’s a customer angle in here somewhere…

In content marketing for lead generation we know we should focus on the customer and their needs, and not about ourselves and what we’re trying to sell. Here are four questions that help ensure every blog post, white paper, bylined article or other marketing content focuses on what the reader needs.

1)     Have I told the reader why they should care? In the B2B market the customer needs to either sell more or save more. All the latest buzzwords (the “agility” of cloud computing, the “insights” of big data, the “innovation” generated by social media) are new, technology-enabled ways of reaching either or both these goals.

When you announce multi-cloud support in your storage virtualization “solution,” describe how it lets customers shop for the lowest-priced cloud provider. When you proudly announce a new reseller or OEM distribution agreement, explain how this makes it possible, for the first time, for businesses in the upper Midwest to get overnight support for your products.

And if you can’t explain why the reader should care, don’t tell them. It only trains them not to listen the next time you come calling with marketing content, and hurts your lead generation.

2)     Have I told the reader what action to take, or not take? Like you, your customers are doing two or three jobs at the same time and need the advice or insight you have to offer – quickly. The best place to describe it is near the beginning of each piece of marketing content, and in clear, simple terms.

Examples:

  • “When starting an enterprise architecture program, talk to the business managers to be sure you’re meeting their critical, short-term needs. Otherwise, you’ll produce a useless ‘science project’ that will hurt your career.”
  • “If your outsourcer is doing a lousy job, it can be less expensive and easier to fix the relationship than to replace them. Make sure you’re doing a good enough job clarifying your expectations, and are treating them fairly on pricing and other terms as your needs unexpectedly change.”
  • “To see how different configurations of solid-state disk would improve your database performance, click through to our on-line estimator.”

3)     Does your marketing content tell the reader something new, or given them a new way of thinking about a subject?

With so many vendors self-publishing on the Web, you can’t afford to repeat what the reader already knows, or that is self-evident, in your marketing content.

  • Instead of: “We listen to your needs and develop a custom solution backed by our factory-trained technicians.”
  • Try: “Unlike mere “resellers” we give you the home and cell phone number of a dedicated account rep who’s paid based on your online ranking of his performance.”
  • Instead of: “Cloud storage can help enterprises cope with the cost and management challenges posted by the exponential growth in application data.”
  • Try: “While some tout the `cloud” as a cure-all for your data storage problems, it’s actually best-suited for non-regulated applications where latency is not an issue.”

4)     Does every piece of marketing content refer to terms, problems, examples the reader will recognize?

Improve your lead generation by showing you understand the unique needs and everyday concerns of your target market. Replacing buzzwords with specific examples is a great way to do this.

  • Instead of: “Automated storage provisioning reduces the cost and delay of meeting enterprise storage needs.”
  • How about: “Tired of getting yelled at by the development staff asking `Where are my test systems?’ Automated provisioning lets you close out those service tickets with a click of the mouse.”
  • Not so good: Proper involvement of the legal staff can assure the proper negotiation of outsourcing contracts.
  • More specific and real world: Your corporate attorney should not just say “no” to every outsourcing contract clause they don’t understand. They should focus instead on the areas that make or break deals, such as carefully defining service levels, assuring change control so the outsourcer isn’t overwhelmed with unexpected work, and creating a partnership instead of an adversarial relationship.”

For more tips on creating customer-focused marketing content for lead generation based on my 20+ years of IT writing, subscribe to my email newsletter or email bob@scheierassociates.com.

If You Can’t Profile Right, Don’t Bother

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There’s an old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That’s sure true when it comes to profiling customers, or scoring leads, based on their digital profiles. Just ask travel site Orbitz, which is getting a lot of grief for reportedly steering Mac users to higher-priced fares than it does PC users.

Maybe Orbitz assumes Mac users have higher incomes than PC users, or are more likely to spend more for a perceived “quality” experience. Unless Orbitz has some nifty purchase pattern data about Mac users the rest of us haven’t seen, this not only is lousy PR for Orbitz but a lousy way to determine how much a given user has to spend, and how likely they are to spend it.

I Use a PC and I Have Money…Honest…

Any one digital clue (such as choice of operating system) is too small a sample to be meaningful when scoring leads. How about, for example, all those modestly-paid teachers whose school districts use Macs? Or all those starving artists and graphic designers who insist on using only Macs? Or poor college students who got an educational discount on one? And all those high-priced consultants and middle to upper management types who use PCs because of the enterprise applications available for them. They probably book more last-minute, high-priced fares than your average teacher or free-lance designer.

What’s worst, this single-metric profiling (if it did actually happen) is not how profiling should be done if you aim is to get the most maximum lifetime value out of a customer, rather than wringing every last dollar from every transaction. The real aim of profiling should be to give every prospect the information they need when they need it to make an informed choice. Give the customer more, and better information they can trust, and they’re more likely to trust and buy from you.

Profile Me. Please

This is especially true in more complex sales where you’re comparing more than departure, arrival and layover times. I, for example, am considering a solid state drive for my aging ThinkPad. I would love it if an online retailer could (with my permission, of course) analyze my system and honestly tell me which would provide the most bang for the buck based on my combination of processor, RAM, current disk, etc. Based on that, would I pay another 20 to 30 percent for the best performing drive? Absolutely.

The further up the cost and complexity scale you go (think IaaS providers, databases, service providers) the more carefully you should choose the digital “clues” you should follow. Unsure how to score prospects based on your current “one-size-fits-all” content? Carefully craft content designed to attract specific customer types so they score themselves based on what they read. (Watch a two-minute video example.)

When done well, customer profiling is not only acceptable but a benefit. Think of when Amazon gets it right and tells you about a cool book or musician you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Doing it right takes a lot more time and effort, but (if focused on your most attractive customers) pays off big-time.

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Got any product road maps you'd care to share?

Way back in November 2010, I asked “How Much Rope Should You Give a Corporate Reporter?”  The question just hit uncomfortably close to home, with a blog post (now on hold) that would have required me to get comment from one of my client’s competitors.

The topic is the effects of mergers and acquisitions on well-known product in my client’s market space. The post would have raised the question of what will happen to a well-known group of products, widely used by customers, as a result of their being bought by larger companies. Will the acquiring companies keep selling and supporting them? Will they continue to OEM them, as their former owners did, to multiple other vendors, or kill them off in favor of the acquiring company’s own offerings?

Trust Me, I’m the Competition

These are all great questions, which have formed the basis for countless stories and columns in the trade press down through the ages. As a reporter for a trade pub, I would call the acquiring companies, their customers, their competitors, resellers and industry analysts to ask if there have been or will be any layoffs in the development groups for those products? Will the acquired products be merged into existing product lines, and, if so, how? How long will the acquiring company support any “orphaned” products?

But as a paid representative of a competitor, would any of these folks – should they – take my call as a representative of a competitor? Is a competitor’s Web site an appropriate place to lay out your post-acquisition product strategy, or to defend it? Can you trust a paid representative of a competitor to quote you accurately, and not spin your comments into an ad for their products?

The easy way out is to just pose the questions in an “open letter to the industry,” calling righteously on your competitor, or customers, or someone else in a “legitimate” position to get to the truth. But that is misleading the reader by raising urgent and important questions, but not doing all you can to answer them. That, in my opinion, is lying to the reader, pretending to report the news while only sowing fear, confusion and doubt to boost your employer’s sales.

Morality? What’s That?

There are obviously moral implications here, and the practical need to not compromise my “reporter” reputation by putting my name to blatant marketing material. But there’s also a more practical content marketing question: How far should we go using traditional journalistic tools (like getting the other side of the story) to meet the business need of attracting and keeping readers on our client’s sites?

When to Repeat a Competitor’s Lies

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I hear their beta is buggy as heck...

We all have competitors dishing the dirt on us. One way to fight back: Boldly repeat their lies, only to demolish them point by point.

Maybe they’re saying your growth is unsustainable because you’re giving away product to score reference customers. Maybe they’re claiming customers are ripping out your software a year after installation because it doesn’t scale. Or that you’re in the process of ruining that great technology you acquired from a start-up last year.

Many of my clients tip-toe around the accusations, carefully crafting white papers or mission statements aimed at disproving these claims without ever describing them. By hinting that something might be, or could be wrong, and that you’re fixing it (without saying what it is and what you’re doing) you only make customers more confused and skeptical.

A bolder, clearer and more effective approach is to repeat and even amplify what you consider to be underhanded claptrap, loudly and clearly, and then refute it point by point. It’s a technique you’ve probably heard radio talk shows hosts use. I ran across it while browsing aviation Web sites (yeah, I’m an airplane nut) and seeing a promo for Emirates airlines rebutting charges it gets unfair government subsidies.

Note how Emirates, rather than tiptoeing around the subject with euphemisms like “the proper role of government in supporting the aviation industry” headlined the charges against them, repeating them (and naming those making them) in case the reader hadn’t heard them before.

Identifying the lying so and sos...

 

Then they refuted them, point by point and with pages and pages of statistics and even quotes from oil companies assuring they charge Emirates fair market rates for jet fuel even though the airline is in the middle of the world center of oil production.

 

...refuting them with unnamed sources. Oh, well.

They even defend their record on touchy subjects like the conditions of the many immigrant workers in the Gulf. Taking on risky issues like this that aren’t even central to their business fairly screams that they have nothing to hide. Its part of the sheer mass of facts, figures, numbers and angles they throw at the reader – everything from airport landing fees to whether Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws in the U.S. are, in effect, a form of government subsidy. I’m not sure I buy that argument, but it sure changes the terms of the argument.

And isn’t that what you want to fight unfounded rumors?

This in-your-face approach helps cut though today’s Web-based information overload, telling the audience “We’re so sure these claims are bogus we’ll blast them loud and clear so you can see how ridiculous they are.” This is chutzpa and it works, though I’m not sure I’d use that term resonates in the UAE.

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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. 

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