What? You Skipped These In Your Case Study?

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

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

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

Why We’re Better

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

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

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

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

How It Helped

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should We Really “Think Like Publishers?”

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”

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.

Content Cookbook #3: Selling DevOps

content marketing DevOps(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 508 725-7258.)

DevOps is the process of combining historically separate development and operations functions to speed application deployment. This is especially useful for companies that need to rush consumer-facing mobile or social applications to market, or those that  need to roll out or test new features quickly.

But DevOps is a major change, especially for large organizations with complex and/or highly regulated software environments. That means opportunity for vendors that sell tools or services to help them make the shift.

Here’s a quick, and relatively easy, content marketing sequence to identify and rank prospects for your DevOps offerings.

Story One, for those at the “top of the funnel/awareness” stage: Explain DevOps and how it’s different and better than what came before. Describe how a DevOps org chart is different than a conventional environment where development and operations are separate. Explain, based on your actual experience with customers, to what extent DevOps is hype or real. Be realistic and honest about what types of organizations and business cases it is best suited for. Cite case studies and examples of how actual customers made the shift and the benefits they realized.

Offer this 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. The call to action is a link to a second, also ungated story, for prospects that are moving into the consideration phase.  

Story Two: Use the ever-popular checklist format for an “Is DevOps for me?” piece. Questions for readers to ask themselves might include:

  •  “Have I missed a market opportunity in the last year because I couldn’t field a new app quickly enough?”
  • “Is my A/B testing of new application features taking too long? How much would it be worth to speed that up?”
  •  “Do I have the stomach for the organizational and skill changes required to move to DevOps?”
  • “Do I have executive backing to make these changes and force my developers and operations folks to work more closely together?”

Promote this piece as you did story one, offering it ungated to attract the widest audience. The call to action can ask reader to register to read a third, gated piece that contains more detailed implementation guidelines.

Story three: A DevOps reality check for those in more serious consideration mode. Based on real-world experience, describe what it takes to implement DevOps in the real world. Make this a detailed implementation guide that doesn’t shy away from the tough changes in both process and technology needed to implement DevOps. Include sometimes-forgotten considerations such as security and how DevOps may affect databases. How much training, in what areas, and at what cost are required for your staff? Where do companies typically go wrong in their shift to DevOps and how can other companies avoid these mistakes?

Gate this with a short two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  (You can profile them more carefully later with additional questions.) Since every prospect’s needs are unique, the call to action can be to offer a detailed assessment of their specific DevOps readiness. 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 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.

Differentiating Local IT Service Shops

content marketing solution providers

Logicalis US does a good job of presenting short, sweet customer “stories” on its home page (with links to full case studies, of course.)

A lot of local and regional IT “solution” providers I work with have a self-esteem issue. When I ask “What differentiates you from your competitors?” they say “Nothing.”

“We just do what everyone else does – install and manage networks, do user support, plan upgrades, execute cloud migrations,” they say. Or, “We try to listen to our customer needs and tailor a solution to them – you know, what everyone does.” Or, “we try to provide good service, but everyone does…our only advantage is we’re local and can get to the customer in half an hour.”

They’re selling themselves short. Every business – every business – has something unique to offer or it wouldn’t exist. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Commodity? Fughedaabout It.  

  • Chain gas station/convenience store:  Even the humblest, no-name, most run-down gas station/snack shop has at least one unique attribute, which is its location.  When a customer needs gas or coffee now location is critical. The same is true of a local IT service provider, and rather than shrugging it off as “our only advantage” you can play it up. (See details below.)
  • Donut/coffee shop: Here in Boston, we seem to have a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop every quarter mile. The ultimate commodity experience, right? But I have friends who swear “their” Dunkin’ makes better coffee than the one down the street. Maybe it’s really the cleanliness or the friendliness of the staff or how fast the drive-through line moves. It doesn’t matter because the customer perceives it as better. And even if other coffee shops across town offer the same clean floor and smiling employees, each shop competes only with those within easy walking or driving distance of their clientele.  (Again, IT service providers take note.)
  • Handyman: There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of folks who handle odd householder repair jobs in the Boston area. But we stick with one fellow who is 1) exceptionally creative at solving tough problems in our more than 200-year-old house, 2) is meticulous in his craftsmanship, 3) is reasonably priced and 4) shows up when he says he will. (Yes, he is booked solid, and no, you can’t have his number.) As a local IT service provider, you probably share one or more of these winning traits. If so, tout them.

Now, Tell Your Story

How do we turn these elements of differentiation into compelling content for a “commodity” local IT service provider? Through stories other prospective customers can relate to. For example:

  • The location advantage: “When the point of sale system crashed at a local party supply store the week before Halloween, the screams about lost sales were for real. Because we were located just across town, we had a technician on site within 30 minutes and the system back up in another hour – just in time for the Saturday afternoon sales crush.”
  • The customer service/creativity advantage: “The staff at a local commercial insurance agency found themselves struggling with the new customer service portal rolled out by one of their most popular insurance providers. While training was not part of our existing service offering, we quickly learned the portal, provided training to their staff and wrote custom scripts to integrate it with our client’s CRM and accounting systems. Our client’s staff can nowfocus on business, not learning the new portal, and is even using the new portal to provide special discounts and mobile service to their customers.”
  • The “we know your business” advantage: “A local hospital we support was struggling with the shift from the ICD-9 to ICD-10 codes for classifying diseases and treatments. Training their staff on the new codes was hard enough. They had no time or skills to tackle the associated changes to their applications and databases. With our deep understanding of the hospital’s IT infrastructure (much of which we deployed) we were able to handle the technical side of the upgrade with minimal fuss and cost. We even deployed analytic software to help them recover revenue they were missing due to mis-coded treatments.”

Needed: Happy Customers

The best proof of your value is always a real customer, with a name and a face, describing what you do well in their own words. Logicalis US, a global service provider, is among those who do it well (see screen shot above.) If you’re not asking your best local customers for referrals, now’s the time to start. And remember: Just because you’re small and local doesn’t mean you’re not special.

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.

case studies thought leadership While developing a thought leadership white paper for a client, they asked whether customer case studies or “use cases” (examples of how a technology or process would be used to help the business) have a place in such “non-sales” content.

My answer: You bet, if they’re used right.

Yes, “thought leadership” means giving prospects a new, insightful way of thinking about a common business or technology problem without a detailed sales pitch. But case studies and use cases are an ideal way to tease your expertise without giving away the store. Here’s how.

We’ve Handled That

Case studies belong in thought leadership collateral if they are presented as illustrative examples of a general problem faced by many customers, and contain valuable advice that can be used by any reader without making a purchase from you.  

For example, “At one global pharmaceutical company, our data architecture evaluation discovered hundreds of potentially sensitive databases the compliance staff wasn’t even aware of. Issuing a blanket edict against use these valuable data sources would have been ineffective and hurt the credibility of the IT organization. Instead, we worked with the client to develop a series of incentives and approved processes to successfully nudge the business units towards compliance.”

This is a valuable lesson that will impress prospects with your smarts, but doesn’t give away the “secret sauce” of how you pulled this trick off. The prospect still needs to call for specifics such as:

  • What neat technology and processes did you use to find sensitive data stores the client’s own compliance staff couldn’t?
  • How did you navigate the corporate power structure to steer the business owners away from a heavy-handed response that could have backfired?
  • How did you figure out the right incentives and processes to convince, rather than force, business units to do the right thing?
  • And how did you balance the business units’ legitimate need for data with the corporate need to prove security compliance?

The Use Case for Use Cases

 More general business use cases – what I think of as “the problem, whether we have a case study or not” are also extremely valuable because 1) they tell specific stories rather than lay out generic challenges, and 2) demonstrate how you’re developing approaches to meeting them.

Some examples, based on recent projects I’ve done:

  •  Many of our clients want to automate testing to meet consumers’ demand for more apps, on more devices, more quickly. We recommend, among other things, carefully choosing which tests to automate, developing standardized, centralized test processes and understanding how much manual test effort is still needed.
  •  With the combination of mobile social apps and Big Data analysis, many retailers want dashboards that show changes in consumer behavior and sentiment in near real-time. To deliver those, you’ll need to combine structured data such as customer IDs with unstructured data such as blog posts, and to present the analysis in user-friendly formats.
  •  The shift from hosting applications in-house to buying software as a service (SaaS) forces software vendors to not only code great apps, but to become service providers. Making this transition requires new capabilities such as meeting service level agreements, creating real-time usage monitoring and billing platforms, and meeting strict security requirements.

Bottom line: I will happily take either case studies and use cases and put them to good use. In each case, they give the prospect a new way of thinking about a common problem, but force them to contact you to learn how to solve their specific problems.

If anything, my clients usually err on the side of being so vague (“We found multiple opportunities for optimizing IT operations”) their promises sound like vague marketing fluff. Trust me: Every client’s IT environment, culture and business needs are unique enough you’ll have plenty to talk about once you’re in the door. You’re better off telling them more, not less, to get in that door.

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.

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.

Got No Time For Content Marketing? Good!

Running Out Of TimeIf you have no time, money or staff to do content marketing, you’re lucky. So argues Roger C. Parker in this excellent post, reprinted with permission from the Content Management Institute. Scarcity forces you to focus on your core audience and core message, and to work efficiently. Read on for his great tips on everything from limiting project scope to keeping too many cooks out of the soup.

More is always better, right? It would only make sense. More space permits you to share more information. More time permits you to write better. And more options permit you to share your message with greater impact.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, especially in today’s fast-moving content marketing world. Effective content marketing requires getting your message out in a timely and consistent manner. Success requires ongoing productivity – not just isolated moments of brilliance.

The key to boosting your content marketing productivity involves leveraging the Paradox of Limits. Although “more” is usually viewed as an advantage, there are times when “less” is better, achieved by reframing or rescheduling a project or reducing your options.

Just like the supermarket shoppers who, when faced with too many choices end up not buying anything, giving your content marketing team too much freedom can torpedo even the best content marketing ideas and intentions. This is why it’s essential to set limitations on your content creation, to keep you focused on your top priorities – and keep you from getting burned out.

Here, are seven ways to strategically place limitations that can boost your content creation efforts and overall content marketing productivity.

  1. Limit the scope of the project

Avoid trying to cover too many ideas or providing too much information about each idea:Trying to write when you haven’t identified the proper balance between the ideas you plan to share and the amount of detail you aim to provide will almost certainly result in indecision and procrastination – if not outright frustration – on the part of a content creator.

Once you identify the right number of ideas and amount of detail you need to get your points across, content creation will appear more manageable and easier to start.

Here are three ways to reduce the scope of a project:

  • Offer readers an overview: Instead of covering a lot of points in great detail, view your project as an introduction, or overview. The more ideas you include, the less your readers will expect you to write about each one. For example, a post like 10-Question Content Curation Scorecard Every Content Curator Needs to Measure Success is easy to start because it focuses on one component of curation: measuring its success. Once you identify the topics your questions should focus on, it becomes relatively easy to write a brief description explaining each one. A topic like How to Get Started in Content Marketing, however, presents more of a challenge because there’s less of a structure – virtually anything having to do with content marketing would be fair game in a post like this.
  • Write from a selective point of view: Another approach for reducing the scope of your content creation project is to focus on only a few carefully-selected points and describe them in greater detail – a technique used in the post, 3 Tips for Enhancing Your Content Productivity. Your criteria for selecting the topics could be best, cheapest, closest, easiest, or most important, etc.
  • Target a narrow niche: Another way to select a perspective is to target your project to different experience levels or focus on a specific goal or task. Take the post, 11 Ways to Use SlideShare for Content Marketing Success. By narrowing the focus to considerations that directly pertain to content marketers (vs. all marketers), it’s easier to identify what information needs to be included, and what can be left out.

Ideal Project Scope Fig. 1View each content creation project as a balancing act, where you let your marketing goals determine how you will ultimately choose between content that briefly discusses a lot of important points, or content that homes in on a few key points but addresses them in greater detail.

  1. Limit the length or size of the project

The bigger the project, the easier it is to put off starting it: This usually results in the exquisite stress of procrastination, which gets worse and worse as deadlines approach. Using less space (i.e., reducing the word count or the length of an audio or video) reduces the intimidation factor caused by worrying about the number of words you have to write to meet expectations.

For example, about 10 years ago, I frequently created one-page print newsletters for my clients, limiting each month’s newsletter to the front and back of a single sheet of paper, (approximately 650 formatted words).

Limiting the word counts in this manner can also pay another important dividend: It helps content creators improve their writing because limited space encourages you to be as concise in communicating ideas as possible.

One of the reasons that blogging a book works so well is that instead of thinking of your project as a 25,000-word document, you view it as a year’s worth of 500-word blog posts or podcasts.

  1. Limit the decision-making process

Reducing the number of decisions needing to be made when starting a new project can play an important role in boosting your content marketing productivity. There are two ways you can do this:

  1. Create an editorial calendar and stick to it: This involves making decisions in advance, so you don’t need to remake them each and every time you create content.
  2. Use a content template as a writing guide: This helps you maintain a single standard of quality and gives your content a reliable format – and no one has to “reinvent the wheel” each time you need to create new content.

A lot has been written about monthly and weekly editorial calendars, but I only recently discovered the importance of sticking to previously-created calendars.

Limit the Decision Making Process #2For example, I write a short (250- to 300-word) weekly content marketing article for a client’s newsletter. Because it’s a short project, I enjoy the challenge, and often use it as a “warm-up” writing exercise.

About 6 months ago, however, I made a simple change that resulted in a huge productivity improvement: Previously, I would select the topic for each week’s article by choosing from a short list of randomly assembled topic ideas for the coming month. Choosing the best of the three or four titles would typically spark an inner debate on which topic would be easiest to complete. Now, I just immediately start writing about the topic at the top of the list. Eliminating the need to make a new decision and avoiding the temptation to second-guess myself removed a time-wasting obstacle and made it easier to start writing.

A content template can boost your productivity by guiding you through the writing process. It doesn’t have to be complex – and it doesn’t even have to be digital: In fact, I’ve created a simple three-step content template that can be filled in by hand. You can download it here and print it if you want to give it a try.

The key is to fill in the template as quickly as possible, in the spaces provided. Start by entering the title of your project in the center, and the current date. Then:

  1. Set the stage by describing the problem you’re addressing, the solution you’re recommending, and how readers will benefit.
  2. Support your recommendation by identifying three main ideas, examples, or steps, as well as a few pertinent details for each idea.
  3. Conclude by re-emphasizing the benefits of your approach and including a call to action where readers can learn more.

Like me, you may find that occasionally writing ideas out by hand offers a refreshing change of pace that makes it easy to generate new ideas and make new connections.

  1. Limit the time you make available for working on each project

Buck Howe, a friend of mine from the University of New Hampshire’s Business School, gives the best explanation of this limitation: “Humans are always deadline-driven!” He continued:

  • It’s inevitable that the more time you have available to do something, the more likely you’ll put it off until the last minute.
  • Limiting the amount of time you have available, however, encourages you to make the most of your time.

You can rethink your approach to content creation by looking for ways to break projects down into small tasks you can complete in short writing sessions, and by trying to get as much done during each session.

Let’s say you have to write a blog post by the end of next week, which typically takes you two hours to do. Instead of trying to schedule a single two-hour writing session, try scheduling three half-hour writing sessions, like this:

  • Day 1: When the time comes, start writing as soon as possible and write as quickly as you can. See how much you can write in 30 minutes. Aim to get the bulk of your idea written by the end of the first session.
  • Day 2: Review your draft, filling in any holes and checking the sequence of your ideas to make sure they have a logical flow. Look for ideas and words you can delete, or long words you can replace with short words. Then, review the title and look for ways you can better target your intended reader and concisely communicate the value of what you’ve written.
  • Day 3: Review the text and title one more time, focusing on clarity, conciseness, and SEO relevance. Each time you return to your project from a fresh perspective, you’ll likely notice new and easily implemented edits.

What you’ve done is replace a big task with three simpler and less-demanding tasks, each with its own action-stimulating “mini-deadline.” More important, at the end of each session, you’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment that encourages you to continue creating content. Your times may vary but, over time, the benefits of short deadlines, writing to “beat the clock,” and feelings of accomplishment, will soon add up.

  1. Limit options and resources

Limited options and resources can be a powerful productivity builder. It encourages you to start working with what you have available, rather than wasting time trying to figure out which tool or option makes the best sense.

I was not aware of the power of limited resources until I encountered the following paragraph in Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life:

I used to bask in the notion that all my obstacles to creative efficiency would vanish if I only had exactly the right resources: my own studio, my own dancers, my own theater; and enough money to pay the dancers all year long and to hire the best collaborators. But I’ve learned that the opposite is true: Limits are a secret blessing, and bounty can be a curse.

Her quote resonated with me because I never could understand why the majority of my best photographs were taken with my camera’s normal (i.e., 50mm) lens even though I was carrying a bagful of wide-angle and telephoto lenses. I realized that limiting my choice of lens immediately engaged me with the scene, encouraging me to make the most of what I had available, rather than interrupting my concentration and switching lenses.

Like Twyla Tharp, I got more done, with less stress, by focusing on what I could do, rather than getting distracted by stressful “what if” decisions.

So, look for other ways to limit your options. Focus on what you can do right now – maximizing the effectiveness of every idea and every word – rather than wishing you had Malcolm Gladwell’s team of researchers or an unlimited web design and programming budget.

More important, save something for later! Resist the urge to add unnecessary complexity, which delays the appearance of your project. On-time delivery of your message may require less research, fewer examples, fewer graphics, and fewer quotations. Focusing on what you do have available can pave the way for spending more time developing your ideas and making the most out of every word.

  1. Limit distractions and interruptions

Today, multitasking is an accepted (and often expected) work habit. However, experts like Daniel Goleman, a leading neuroscientist and bestselling author, refer to multitasking as “the bane of efficiency.” In his latest book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Goleman describes how multitasking involves switching the working part of your brain from your primary task to the interruption. His research into how the brain works reminds us that, after an interruption, “It can take 10 to 15 minutes to regain full focus.”

There are several ways you can reduce distractions and interruptions:

  • Establish boundaries: This involves informing your co-workers (or even your family, if you work at home) that you will be unavailable during certain periods of time (except for emergencies, of course). Enlist support by sharing the importance of your project to all involved, and – perhaps – promise to put work aside when they need your full attention.
  • Find a time and a place to write: Identify the times when you’re least likely to be interrupted. If necessary, step into a conference room or break away to a coffee shop for an interruption-free writing session.
  • Clear your desk and working area: You will concentrate better in the absence of competing stimuli. In addition, straightening up your working area can become a habit, or ritual, that helps you prepare for fully engaging with your project.

These days, no one has enough time. However, with a little effort, you should be able to carve out the distraction-free time necessary to boost your content marketing productivity.

  1. Limit your expectations

The more you inflate the importance of a single article, blog post, or white paper, the harder it often becomes to start and complete the content creation process. Performance anxiety based on unreasonably high expectations can torpedo productivity before a project even starts.

The cure for unreasonably high expectations is to view each content marketing project as a step in the right direction, rather than a “silver bullet” to annihilate the competition and lead to a brighter future.

You don’t have to be perfect the first time – there will always be opportunities to expand on your first development of an idea, to readdress and restate your ideas, and to repurpose or reformat them for different audiences and types of learners. For example, Al Ries and Jack Trout didn’t start by writing The Positioning Era. They started with an article, adapted it into a speech, and built their business from there.

View every project as part of a process, rather than an all-or-nothing event. This eliminates the potential to become paralyzed in pursuit of perfection, freeing you to move forward and explore the possibilities.

How do you leverage the power of limits?

Do any of these ideas sound familiar, or resonate with you? How could you use these ideas to enhance your content marketing productivity? Share your experiences, questions, and suggestions below, as comments!

Author: Roger C. Parker has been an “explainer” all of his life, valued by clients for his judgment, ability and clear, concise writing style. He helps clients organize their ideas and become more productive. His 40 books have helped readers in 37 countries. His clients include Apple, Microsoft, Mindjet, and Yamaha. Follow Roger on Twitter @RogerCParker or email him at RCPcontent@gmail.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.
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