Tuning Content for Account-Based Marketing

content account based marketing David McGuire from UK-based copywriting agency Radix did a great post recently on account based marketing (ABM.) I won’t repeat his excellent explanation. But suffice it to say it’s all about focusing your marketing efforts on the very specific subset of prospects who have a genuine need (and budget) for what you’re selling.

It’s the most expensive way to sell, but can be useful for big ticket products that a relatively few customers need. It’s not, as Radix points out, a new idea. But, as Radix points out, it requires content that is far more focused on each specific customer than the customary, “one size fits all” content many marketers produce.

Producing that content requires specific skills on the part of a writer. McGuire says that to turn out highly-focused ABM content a copywriter must:

  • Do enough research to understand the specific issues facing each targeted account
  • Write well enough to capture the imagination of each account, with…
  • …the understanding to deliver the most relevant information without wasting their time…
  • …and the soft skills to push back on marketers that want to use overly technical language or marketing the account won’t care about.

Let’s assume you’re launching an ABM campaign and are looking for content, and writers, to populate it. Here are some tips for ensuring either your internal writers or outside contractors meet the content bar for ABM.

Research

A good writer will ask questions like:

  • What’s the concrete business benefit? How will your solution increase sales or reduce costs?
  • What existing applications and platforms is this customer running, and how does that affect whether your solution is right for them?
  • What are the strategic challenges this customer is facing? (Customer retention, chronically low margins, competition from disruptive competitors?) And, again, how might your solution help this specific customer?
  • What is their corporate culture – aggressive and risk taking, or conservative and hemmed in by regulations? How does our solution fit with this culture?
  • Who are the critical decision makers? How many of them are there, and how do their priorities agree or conflict? Which of them needs to be convinced first before moving the buying decision up the command chain?

Writing

Besides the “sniff” test (do you like their writing) some objective criteria include:

  • Is the content based on the specific client’s needs, or just a superficial tweak of generic content?
  • Does it read like an objective story in a trade publication or an analyst report (good) or a piece of marketing fluff (bad)?
  • Is the content useful and/or interesting enough that you would pass it on to a colleague?
  • Is it clear enough that your parent/partner/friend who is not in the IT industry could understand the value proposition?

Efficient Delivery 

  • Does it include a three paragraph “elevator pitch” a reader can absorb in 30 seconds or less?
  • Does the opening paragraph grab this specific customer’s attention with compelling new information designed for them, or bog down in the same messaging you use with all your customers?
  • Does it reinforce the relevance for each prospect by repeatedly explaining how what you’re telling them helps them with their specific challenges?

No Techno-Jargon

  • Does the writer insist on spelling out and explaining acronyms, even if you think the prospect understands them? (You’ll be amazed how many people around the decision making table have nowhere near the understanding of technology you have as a seller.)
  • Once the writer has asked you to explain something, do you feel like you yourself understand it better? (If you do, the customer will as well.)
  • If the writer challenges wording as too technical or confusing, can they offer replacement text that is both clearer and accurate?

Now, how is account-based marketing changing the type of copywriting you need and how you work with writers? Is it best to bring the writer in after you’ve decided what you want to say, or give them a say in honing the value proposition and messaging? And do you feel comfortable with letting mere writers push back on your messaging? Let me know how we writers can do a better job at ABM.

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.

Lose Content Flab, Make Buyers Swoon  

Illustration of a Man with a Rose Admired by WomenWell, maybe not swoon. But with 55 percent of visitors spending fewer than 15 seconds on Web sites, you don’ want to waste their time before they get you
r marketing message.

Shorter is often better when it comes to marketing content. But all too often, your in-house experts turn in bloated, unclear, jargon-filled bylined articles, blog posts or white papers that are far long than they should be. What’s worse, a lot of the words don’t need to be there at all.

Getting the essential points across in the least amount of space takes work, and experience. In my years of editing I’ve kept a list of words or phrases you can cut without losing anything useful – and actually improving your content.

Try deleting the words or phrases in italics and see if the copy gets to the point faster.

  • Saying the same thing twice: “First founded,” “predict future failures” “combined together with” “…In addition, it will also…”
  • Unnecessarily wordy terms: “quality control processes,” “products in use” “critical and essential.”
  • Unnecessary clauses: “The ordering process that was being followed…” “The audits that were required…” “Operational costs while using the product…”
  • Unnecessary “throat clearing” phrases: “In other words…” “essentially” “basically” “The list of critical requirements is listed below…” “The customer’s problem was clear and critical…
  • Two buzzwords when one is clearer: “Software solution,” “cost cutting and optimization,” “transformation and migration to the cloud.”
  • Quotes that don’t describe specific benefits, your competitive differentiation or why a prospect should consider you: “We were very pleased to offer our XYZ solution to Acme Widgets…” “The XYZ met our needs for a scalable, end to end solution…” “Global Services Inc. successfully completed the project on time and on budget…”
  • Restating needs rather than describing your solution: “Next-generation virtualization solution that cuts costs and increased efficiency to reduce excessive overhead and underutilization of virtual servers.”

And After Cutting…

…use the extra space wisely. Add words that describe specific benefits, how your product or service is different or better than your competitor’s, and how it helps customers save money or increase sales.  Write, and edit, as if every word cost you money. Which it will, if it’s not gripping enough to keep your prospects reading.

 

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?

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.

Avoid These Three Deadly Case Study Sins

killpressreleaseI’m in the middle of a lot of intensive case study work for several clients. Much of it involves reviewing and punching up the “first draft” project descriptions written by their internal experts.

These folks are far more expert than I will ever be in everything from Big Data analytics to system administration to banking and retail trends. But perhaps because they’re so close to the nitty-gritty of what they do, they have a very hard time pulling back and explaining how they did it, why they did it and how it helped the customer.

(Note this post focuses on services such as IT or business processing outsourcing or consulting, rather than product case studies. With products, my clients usually already have descriptions of the value their product delivers, and my work lies in uncovering where a well-defined product delivered value to each customer. With services, each engagement has more variables, and my client’s value lay in long, detailed   fine-tuning of highly technical work flows. Their on-site experts have to dive so deep into details and process it’s that much harder for them to come back up for air and remember the business problems they’re solving.)

That said, let’s dive into the three things I often find missing from my clients” “first draft” case studies you should be on the lookout for:

How you did it

The folks who make big professional services engagements success have to be extremely process-focused. Their work revolves around completing checklists, implementing frameworks and meeting deployment schedules. Not surprisingly, when I ask them to describe their achievements they’ll answer “completed upgrade to Oracle 8  on time” or “completed transition to off-site resources” (shifted work from the client to themselves.)

What a prospective client wants to know is how you did the work that is different or better than your competitors. Try: “Completed upgrade to Oracle 8 33% more quickly than industry benchmarks through the use of our proprietary data cleansing tool,” or “Completed transition to off-site resources three weeks ahead of schedule” due to our best practices in project management and knowledge transfer.

Why you did it

This is the problem statement that is central to every case study. I usually find this under a heading such as “Challenges.” Examples include “Need to improve system availability,” “Excess support costs” and “Lack of agility.” To the folks in the trenches, again, these are high-level goals they take for granted and thus don’t see a need to expand on. What’s missing here are the specifics and the impact on the bottom line that bring drama to the case study, and help prospects see you solved problems they have also.

Push back on the implementers until you get descriptions such as “Unacceptable 93% uptime in critical systems cost $4 million in revenue during peak shopping seasons” “$6 million annual support costs for legacy payroll system starved mobile app effort of funds” or “Inflexible older systems delayed cost-savings from merger, costing client $50 million per year.” Again, you’re looking for specific problems, and their effect on the top or bottom line.

How you helped the bottom line

This is the flip side of the “why you did it” question, and requires pushing for quantitative answers to how close the service provider came to fixing the “why you did it problems.” These may be financial (dollars saved per year) or percentages (17% improvement in storage utilization, 33% improvement in customer support) or time (40% shorter time to market for new products.)

Tip: the implementers in the trenches often won’t need to ask, or to know, these specific improvements, as they’re judged on how well they did their part of the overall project. You might need an account exec or a client-side manager charged with tracking the return on investment to get that higher level view.

However you do it, it’s your job as a content provider to get out of the implementation weeds and explain how what you did helped the client’s business more than a competitor could have.

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.

You Make Me Feel So…Optimized

We're just not leveraging our synergies, honey.

I just don’t feel we’re leveraging our synergies, honey.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, do these words set you afire?

I’m guessing not. That’s because “optimize” is a vague buzzword that could mean anything and, thus, means nothing.

I see this term every day in the raw material clients give me as prep for white papers, blog posts, bylined articles and other content marketing. I sometimes wind up using it, if making a stink with a client would just bog down the process without changing their mind.

But here’s why “optimize” is not only worthless jargon, but is actually harmful because it can lull buyer and seller into thinking they’re talking about the same goals when they’re not. Just as the buzzword “transform” can create landmines that can sink deals, confusion over “optimization” makes it harder for prospects to understand why to choose you over someone else.

Here’s why.

We’re Optimum! We’re Good!

Most folks would agree that to “optimize” something means to make it as good as it can possibly be. But “good” has very different meanings for different buyers and sellers.

One Web site I saw recently said their technology “optimizes” the Web. Does that mean reducing the cost of the Web, making it easier to use, or (as I suspect from their tagline) speeding access to it Saying “We speed your Web access” would have grabbed the attention of prospects who need that specific benefit – speed – but who might pass over a vague “optimization” promise.

Even worse is using “optimize” to convey opposing ideas. Outsourcing providers or consultants will promise, in one sentence, to “optimize costs” for customers and in the next sentence to “optimize their cash flow.” Last time I checked, you want to reduce your costs but increase your cash flow. Using the same word to mean two different things in adjacent sentences doesn’t say much for a service provider’s ability to keep you posted on progress and problems.

Optimize for What?

In other cases, “optimize” can mean too many things in content marketing. Does “optimizing” a data center mean speeding its performance or reducing its cost? If cost reduction is key, are capital (equipment) costs or operational (staffing, power, space) costs the main target?  Different data center owners will have different needs. Why not show how you can meet those specific needs rather than hiding it under overall “optimization?”

Finally, consider a consultant trying to sell a cellular carrier on its ability to “optimize” the carrier’s service and pricing plans. Does this mean “optimizing” the plans to deliver the most revenue and profit per customer (as a mature, entrenched player might want) or to sacrificing some profits to earn market share, as a hungry start-up might want?

I can hear someone out there saying “Optimizing” can mean any of these things, so we use it rather than list all the individual things we can do.”

I’m all for keeping things brief, but not at the expense of precision. If “optimize” really means “increase,” “reduce” or “speed” replacing it with those words is a draw. Adding the words “optimizing for cost (or speed, or market share, or whatever)” adds so much precision it’s worth the extra length.

Sweet nothings are fine for passionate moments, but marketing to time-starved B2B professionals requires clarity. I intend to scrub “optimize” from my marketing lingo wherever possible and replacing it with clear explanations of what my clients offer. Your thoughts?

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.

Bah, Humbug! Oops, Just Broke My Own Rule

Don’t let this guy steal your content marketing message.

A recent excellent post by CEO Patrick Murphy of inbound marketing agency Silicon Cloud asked whether too many organizations are doing content marketing. Or, rather, whether they’re doing the wrong kind of content marketing, overusing topical themes (like the election, Christmas, the Super Bowl, etc.).

As Murphy points out, it’s a fine idea to go with a topical hook as an attention-getter – as long as you don’t overdo it. He asks, very properly, whether “the 12 days of IT support (will) still feel like a relevant post to a market that read last year’s post, 12 days of Email Archiving? Or a rival brand’s post that makes similar points under the title Is Your IT Support Naughty or Nice?”

Murphy recommends, and I agree, that the best cure for this overkill is to be original and make sure the content is structured to capture the readers’ interest in what you’re selling and not, say, the Grinch. I’ll build on his recommendations with specific questions to ask yourself when you’re tempted to overdo the topical route:

  • Are you, yourself, sick and tired of seeing far-fetched connections between the event and marketing copy? If so, your readers are probably are also. Don’t add to the overkill.
  • Is there a genuine connection between the event and what you’re writing about or are you just jumping on the bandwagon?  Limit overkill by only using a topical slant when there’s a genuine connection that helps prove your point.
  • When in doubt, don’t. If you have a choice between adding to the mass chorus or providing insight that only you have, about a very specific topic, go with the insight. After all, isn’t that what you’re selling?

Let me know if sticking with your specialized expertise works for you, even during the holidays, or if I’m just being a Grinch. Oops, did it again!

Don’t let this guy steal your content marketing message.

Call me for anything from a quick copy tune-up or check out my all-inclusive marketing automation packages.

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

When to Outsource Your Writing

What's our product positioning again this week?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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.