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By Gretchen Dukowitz

Case studies – love ’em or hate ’em – remain a critical part of the content marketing mix for almost every B2B organization. To some, they may seem stodgy (or dare I say boring?), but CMI research shows more companies are using them – 77% in 2015 – and 58% say they’re effective.

But, let’s be honest. Case-study creators’ opinions probably fall more on the hate-’em end of the spectrum. The tried-and-true formula – challenge, solution, benefit – doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or good storytelling, and the fallback – to pack them full of bad business jargon – can make writing a case study a huge chore.

Life is short; you shouldn’t waste it laboring over case studies. Fortunately, a few simple steps will allow you to not only create your case studies faster, easier, and less painfully, but can help make them sound better, too.

  1. Interview a real, live person

A good customer interview is the lifeblood of a good case study. Before you write a case study, do yourself a huge favor and actually talk to a real, live customer. In the past, I’ve been asked to write case studies based on quotes taken from videos, testimonial quotes, emails from sales teams – anything and everything but a customer interview.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying, “it’s hard to find customers and get time on their calendars. And get sign-off on the final product? Forget it.” Yes, it can be difficult and time-consuming, but trust me when I say that trying to use secondhand sources makes case study writing 100 times harder than it needs to be.

Case studies are stories. They have narratives and need to be rooted firmly in the experience of the customer. You can get all of these things by talking to one. The end result is a strong case study with a clear beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to a Frankenstein-assembled story that you put together from random parts.

  1. Edit the heck out of your quotes

You are a case-study writer, not a reporter. You are not being held to some journalistic standard that says you must reproduce all customer utterances word for word (not even journalists adhere to this standard, by the way). You can – make that should – edit and embellish quotes to make their point more effectively. In all my years of writing case studies, I have never had an interviewee take me to task for altering a quote. In fact, most people appreciate being made to sound better.

You can’t go crazy and just make up stuff for the fun of it. You have to retain the spirit of what a customer says and make it sound plausible. If you take a quote like, “Yes, on the whole, I would say the WidgetTron 2000 is a pretty good product,” and turn it into “The WidgetTron 2000 is the best product in the whole wide world and its awesomeness brings me to tears every time I think about it,” you’re going to run into problems.

A better way to shape the original quote would be something like this: “The WidgetTron 2000 is a really good product. It is easy to use and allowed us to streamline our operations.” I deleted the “on the whole” and changed “pretty good” to “really good,” which removes the lukewarm tone. I also extended the quote to make it sound well-rounded. A few small, completely OK tweaks make a big difference, and with customer approval, you are secure in knowing your updated quote works for everyone.

  1. Blow things out of proportion

When you get right down to it, most businesses aren’t too terribly concerned about the challenges other businesses face. This may be short-sighted, but more often than not, businesses are too knee-deep in their own issues to worry about the other guy (aside from giving lip service to outpacing the competition, of course).

This thinking is a big problem for case-study writers because exploring the case study’s problems – the challenge section – usually makes up at least a third of the story. To effectively hook readers, take a step back and think about why a broader audience might be interested in the one business’ challenge.

Let me show you. In this case study, the challenge is written as: “Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, needed to sell more pizzas, but his point-of-sale technology was slow and buggy.” Clearly, Mozzarello has a problem, but as written, the challenge isn’t compelling.

Here is a more broadly detailed challenge that has greater appeal: “Operating a restaurant is fraught with challenges, from demanding customers to razor-thin margins. Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, thought he could rely on his point-of-sale technology to give him a competitive edge, but it was slow and buggy.”

The revised challenge situates Mozzarello’s specific problem – bad technology – in the context of the larger restaurant industry and a universal business theme of competitive differentiation. The first sentence of your case study should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. This provides a better chance that readers will identify with the broader challenge even if they are not in the study’s specific vertical or business.

I think crafting a first sentence like this also makes case studies easier to write. After all, if you have bigger, meatier issues to explore, you are less likely to simply go through the motions to craft the case study.

Conclusion

When you implement these three tips into your case-study process, you will be able to create an authentic, easy-to-understand voice that sets the stage for a meatier and more effective case study that is appealing to a wider audience.

Gretchen Dukowitz has spent more than a decade writing case studies, white papers, and other marketing content for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Symantec and Cisco. She currently works as a writer and content strategist for a tech startup in the Bay Area. You can find more writing tips like these at her blog, DIY Content Marketing, or connect with her on LinkedIn. This post originally appeared on the Content Marketing institute Web site.  

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.

Want Good Writers? Make Onboarding Easy

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stopwpmadness1Today, I give you an exciting post about how to onboard writers to the content management systems that handle your marketing content.

Bored already? So am I, which is the point.

When you’re trying to develop a lot of marketing content very quickly for the launch of a major B2B Web site (as a Fortune 500 client is doing) a clunky onboarding process will make it harder to lure the writers you need. This is especially true if you’re paying those writers – how do I say this delicately? – less than stellar rates.

Water Torture, CMS Style

This came up because I have a friend who’s editor of a new tech Web site and under pressure to deliver a lot of content quickly.  His budget only lets him pay at a level that makes it hard for writers with busy practices to justify working with him. But he’s a good guy, and his employer is a potential good client, so I want to make it work.

Here, though, is what the client forces me to go through just to enroll in their CMS and start my first piece.

  • Upload a resume and clips. If the editor knows me and trusts me, why force me through this? And why not let me directly upload clips, rather than having to provide them only in link form, which is clunky for content such as white papers I have on my PC but difficult to find on clients’ Web sites?
  • Answer security questions and set up security codes. We’re not launching nuclear weapons or changing the Fed’s interbank lending rate here. We’re assigning marketing collateral. Is there really a threat some imposer will write that ghosted blog post instead of me?
  • Categorize the stories I’ve uploaded. After going through the hassle of uploading a story about, say, different forms of cloud-based developer platforms, the CMS asks me to choose from a long list of categories, including “Travel and leisure,” “Arts and entertainment,” “Food and fitness,” and, by the way, “Information Technology.” If the client is in IT, and I’m an IT writer, why force me to manually tell me again?
  • What language the story is written in: If Google can detect what language a post is in, and offer to translate it for me, why can’t a CMS (in which I’ve already entered my home address and uploaded clips in English) figure this out?
  • Accept a list of terms and conditions, such as that I will agree to “build trust with the reader,” be “straightforward, credible, authentic, witty, opinionated” and “share with readers (how to) address real problems” and to educate the reader. If you have to tell your writers to be clear and helpful, you’re hiring the wrong writers.

Too Much Whining?

Am I whining? Yes. But if a good writer is busy, each of these steps make it less likely they will work with you — especially if you’re trying to hold down the rates this pay them.

Still not convinced? Consider this: Another colleague is going through the onboarding process with another technology giant (whose name you would instantly recognize) that asked him to fill in one form using a typewriter. Beyond the unpaid time it takes to find such a relic, what would a prestigious analyst or industry leader think faced with such a request from you? And what a customer think of you as a tech vendor if they found out you still use typewriters?

CMS onboarding may not be a sexy subject, but trust me: Do it wrong and it will hurt you.

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

Content Cookbook #5: Cloud Security

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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”

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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:
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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.

Should Everyone Be a Writer?

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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?

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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.

Should We Really “Think Like Publishers?”

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Just when we all got used to the idea that “every vendor should be a publisher” comes word that, indeed, they shouldn’t. They instead need to be marketers who publish content to achieve specific business objectives.

It’s one of a number of good points in a very useful presentation “Yeah, it’s content, but is it marketing?”  from the PJA Advertising + Marketing agency.  It’s aimed at marketers who aren’t getting the return they need by content marketing efforts that cost too much or deliver too few leads.

Maintaining, promoting and monitoring an ongoing stream of great content takes too much effort not to tie it to concrete business goals, they point out. I like their advice to shift from a focus on “What (content) will we produce?” to “What are we trying to achieve?”

 Doing It Better

Among their specific tips:

  •  Tie branded content to business value by “understanding a conversation your buyer is interested in—and defining a valuable role for your brand to play in it. “ At each stage in the buying process, the role you play as content provider should change. (See next tip.)
  •  Make “the buyer journey your roadmap” In the awareness/education stage, teach them about why they might need a product or service. As they move into consideration, start talking about what features to look for in such offerings. As they move closer to product selection, start offering detailed implementation tips.
  • Think as hard about promoting content as creating the content. By simply using the scheduling feature in Hootsuite to schedule a series of promotional Tweets for each new post (instead of just at the original post) has boosted retweets of my posts, and my Twitter followers. Even simple steps to promote and target readers can pay off big.
  • Add a specific call to action to each piece of content, and track the uptake on them to measure the ROI of the hard work that went into it. Consider asking for something more specific than a generic “click here for more information” by asking for something that drives further engagement, such as subscribing to a newsletter, providing contact information, filling out a brief survey or registering for a Webinar.
  • Be flexible about formats. Coming from the long-form journalism world, it’s easy to think that every question needs a long, text answer. I’m finding that shorter Q&As, checklists, videos or podcast sometimes work better. An edgier format that’s more fun to produce is also likely to generate more interest.
  • Finally, and not surprisingly, the agency suggested to “grab a partner” that can handle some of the content marketing load better than you can. This isn’t as self-serving as it sounds. There’s a lot of moving parts involved in marketing automation and they’re changing quickly. By outsourcing what you don’t excel at, you can spend more time making sure you have a solid business goal for your content marketing.

Getting Started

Check out my sample content sequences for selling cloud services, security response and DevOps. And let me know what other IT products or services you’d like to see a sample sequence for.

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”

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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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