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finding ideas for marketing contentAre your pitches, blogs, videos, podcasts and white papers rehashes of vague buzzwords like transformation and digital?

To avoid pumping out “me-too” messaging, push yourself (and your in-house subject matter experts) to dig deeper and come up with specific, actionable advice for your potential customers.

One great example comes from a story about data analytics on the TechTarget publishing and marketing site. Don’t let the fact it is old (December 2013) stop you from reading it carefully. The subject (data as a corporate asset) is as fresh as ever. More importantly, this story shows how to take a common, even overhyped, topic and bring fresh, compelling insight to it.

The secret: Asking tough questions based on real-world experience with customers — the kind your sales, support and marketing staff get every day.

Five Meaty Questions

After describing the new (as of 2013) trend of older industries such as manufacturing using Big Data, the piece gets to the good stuff – a five question quiz one vendor asks CIOs to see if they’re serious about treating data as a corporate asset.  The questions include “Are you allocating funding to data, just as you would for other corporate assets?” “Do you measure the cost of poor, missing or inaccurate data?” and “Do you understand the “opportunity cost” of not delivering timely and relevant data to your business?”

While each question has a “marketing spin” (a “yes” answer makes them a better prospect) each is also valuable because they help a prospect understand the real-life challenges of implementing new technology.  Note that each question:

  • Drills beneath good intentions to coldly measure how committed a customer really is. (How much are you willing to spend on this new technology?”)
  • Talks about the non-technical issues that often derail IT projects. (Does this initiative have its own budget?)
  • And describes specific processes (such as measuring the cost of poor quality data and the “opportunity cost” of not delivering high quality data) that can improve how a customer implements the new technology.

Providing detailed insights like this helps establish you as a trustworthy, experienced technology provider and makes it more likely customers will listen when you come to them with a more product-specific pitch.

Finding the Nuggets

Now, how do you wring such insights from your sales, marketing or product support staffs? Whether the subject is Big Data, security, containers or any other buzzword of the week, ask them questions like:

  • How do you know a prospect is serious about our product or service rather than just going through the motions?
  • What are the non-technical factors (such as budget, corporate culture, office politics or management processes) that make implementation of our product succeed or fail?
  • What words, phrases or questions do you hear from a customer or prospect that tell you working with them will be a nightmare, or a pleasure?

The answers to these questions are your “raw material.”  Your next steps are to decide which of the answers are most valuable and relevant, flesh them out with real-world examples and follow up questions from your SMEs, and don’t publish until you can provide detailed, specific and actionable recommendations.

Do all that, and you’re not just another echo chamber in the IT hype factory. You’ll deliver usable, actionable content that will keep your prospects reading — and buying.

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.

Nailing Quotes for Reporters

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editorial calendarsCongratulations – a reporter has agreed to interview one of your clients for a story. The bad news: Your client suddenly got too busy for an interview, but will answer emailed questions.

You probably review your client’s answers before passing them on to the reporter. But based on my recent experience, some PR pros aren’t looking for the right things – or not looking closely enough.

Check this “to-do” list to maximize your client’s chances of being quoted.

Did they actually answer the question?

You’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many answers aren’t really answers. They’re discussions, musings, self-evident problem statements or thinly disguised marketing claims. Real answers have a “yes,” “no” or clearly defined “It all depends” statement.

If I ask “Is cloud computing safe for medical records?” don’t tell me “The safety of patient information in the cloud is an issue any responsible enterprise will need to consider carefully.” Instead, give me examples of how to tell when it is or isn’t safe, or examples of safe/unsafe data.

Did you spell out all acronyms and explain all terms?

One recent response said “(IT) automation has the inherent risk of creating a `black box’.”  It never described what the client meant by “black box” or what the risk is. I have a pretty good idea what they meant, but in an email (unlike an interview) I can’t easily clarify it. If I need to start another email thread to ask, under deadline, it cuts your chances of being quoted.

The same goes for acronyms, as in: “CNCF and other communities provide reference architectures…” If you told me this was “the Cloud Native Computing Foundation” an open source standards effort” I’d be much more likely to include it.

Did you attribute the response to a specific person with a title, not an amorphous organization?

Editors insist their reporter’s quote people, especially for in-depth, advice-oriented features.

Did you spell check the reply?

I know auto correct makes stupid mistakes, and that your client is in a rush. But sloppy grammar errors make me doubt the rest of the response as well.

Did you provide a three to six word description of your client so the writer can position them in the story?

Make sure these are short and specify whether your client sells hardware, software or services. Think “cloud security services provider” or “Salesforce configuration services provider.” Avoid vague, marketing-driven statements like “Acme Solutions helps enterprises worldwide maximize the value of their sales teams.”

Did you avoid stories, quotes, or examples from third parties?

“A 2016 Gartner report (quoted in InfoWorld) showed demand for data scientists will rise 20.7 per cent per year between 2016 and 2020.” This forces me to check if your client got the number right and if I or they have the right to reuse that figure. I also can’t quote a report in a competing publication. Better approach: Provide a link to only publicly accessible reports so I can cite them accurately, easily and with confidence.

Did you edit for clarity and conciseness?

Not everything has to be a super sound bite, but help your client by crisping up their writing. Here’s one example from Eric Turnquist, senior director of information technology at network monitoring and it management vendor Ipswitch, (not a client of mine.) My question was whether system administrators are still needed in a world of DevOps (combining development and operations to speed applications to market.)

“Traditional systems administrator skills will still be needed. There’s usually tribal knowledge around legacy systems – people that know the old systems because they were here when they were built – that is tough to replace. Everything hasn’t been completely migrated from those old systems…now you’re stuck with it and need folks with traditional skills to use that technology, or to finish migrating from it. Knowledge of traditional systems and the skills to use them will always be in demand for this reason.”

Do you review your clients’ responses to emailed reporters’ questions? If you push back for better answers, do they listen?

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.

To Stand Out, Find Your “Micro Niche”

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how identify target customer content marketingGot a sinking feeling your marketing copy is too “me too?”

If so, you’re not alone, according to content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi. He did an excellent post earlier this year arguing that many campaigns fail because the material they offer is too much like everyone else’s.

I’m always surprised when I push a client to tell me what makes them different and they tell me (as one did the other week) that “When you really get down to it, all of us do pretty much the same thing.”

Granted, this person works in the execution trenches of a global service provider, which makes it harder for them to take a strategic marketing view. But I really had to push them to describe the software tools and skills that help them win deals from the competition.

Niches Within Niches

Pulizzi has some excellent suggestions to fix this. Among them is the need to focus more closely on your specific market niche. I’d go further and say every business has a hyper-niche or it wouldn’t exist. Some of these hyper-niches, and their marketing implications might be:

  • Geographic: “We’re the only bar on the coast within ten miles of a popular beach.” Promote how easy you are to find and plaster the walls with local memorabilia and photos.
  • Skills: “We restore 18th century books, which requires specific skills to deal with the chemicals used in making them.” Show before/after examples and blog about how different types of 18th century paper age over time.
  • Geographic plus skills: “We do pest control in southwest Florida, where the breezes from the Gulf of Mexico bring in pests you won’t see anywhere else.” Blog about those local pests, the damage or diseases they cause and how to fight them.
  • Geographic plus skills plus real-time insights: “We sell real estate north of Boston. We have unique insights into what the latest plans for a rapid transit extension mean for housing prices along the route.” Blog  about your thoughts or, better still, develop an interactive map showing projected price spikes in each community.

Enough About Pests. How About Tech?

If bars, pest control services and realtors and differentiate themselves, so can we in the supposedly sexier tech industry. Try these hyper niches:

  • Customer service: “We put a director-level manager on site to manage our projects with you, and to coordinate with our off-shore team.” Link to bios of these on-site managers and case studies of how they sped implementation and reduced costs for your clients.
  • Geographic plus customer service: “As the only full-service Cisco partner in the Mid-Coast, we can reach your office within two hours with the equipment needed to restore your network.” Link to an interactive map showing travel time from your your site to local customers, and to  testimonials about the quality of your local service.
  • Skills: “We find the right human resources management software for you by evaluating not only different products, but your corporate culture.” Link to an interactive guide telling customers which platform best fits their needs in “soft” areas such as collaboration, quality of life and employee empowerment.
  • Real-time market insights: “With the sudden upsurge in demand for “digital” branding, we’re seeing massive confusion over what this means and how to explain your message.” Provide your own insights* for writing about digital in ways that drive sales.)
  • Skills plus real-time market insight: “We monitor the current performance and price of cloud providers such as Rackspace, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure and proactively recommend when to shift from one to another.” Link to a free sample assessment and case studies of how you helped others.

Differentiate Thyself

Given the complexity of technology, the rapid pace of change and the wide range of customers, there are plenty of micro-niches for us to work with – if we put in the time and work to identify and then exploit them.  To get started, download my free checklist for evaluating the  depth, originality and timeliness of your content.

*Shamelessly self-serving link to my own 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.

How to Be Your Own Trade Pub

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The brutal mugging of the trade press at the hands of the Internet has meant fewer opportunities to place news story or opinion pieces. A recent post by Katherine Griwert at the Content Marketing Institute shows how to attract prospects to your site by publishing industry news on your own.

She cites security-as-a-service provider ProofPoint Inc., which faced challenges I often see with my clients. ProofPoint needed more content to boost their search ranking, their customers “weren’t always responsive when we ask what they want to learn and there’s only so much one can add to a site’s core products section,” said Director of Market Development Keith Crosley.

In response, ProofPoint added industry news to an existing white paper and weekly blog strategy, and assigned internal writers to generate ideas for articles based on news about around issues such as “data loss prevention” and “email security.” Results included a page rank that matches that of companies with several times its revenue, with organic search traffic rising 18 percent quarter over quarter, and news-related posts generating thousands of unique page views among organic search visitors.

Not Just News, Commentary

As Griwert points out, just re-posting industry news won’t draw as many readers (or impress your prospects) as much as explaining to them why it is important or telling them what they should do in response to it.  (For more on when and how to add value to content, read my ebook.)

For proof, look to cloud-based phone provider ShoreTel Sky, which found a 42 percent higher conversion rate among site visitors who read news content than those who read product promotional content. One of their tactics was to report on a story about what doesn’t belong in the cloud, and then explain why phone systems like theirs do belong in the cloud. This is a favorite tactic of mine: Gain instant credibility by admitting the weaknesses of your approach and explaining, by contrast, where it works best.

Other good ways to turn raw headlines from the Web into good content:

Explain why the reader should care: What trend does it illustrate, what opportunity does it uncover, and which dangers does it warn about? For example: “This wave of ‘software-defined storage’ announcements shows how much confusion there is around the term. This is an early-stage industry that promises great benefits, but needs to shake out before it is real.”

 Explain what the reader should do: “When reading about `software-defined storage’ be sure to look past the buzzword and ask how each offering meets your specific needs, such as scalability, availability and avoiding a single point of failure.”

 Explain what the original story missed and how that affects the reader: “Each of these announcements talk about software-defined storage without integrating it to the broader  software-defined data center. What good is software-defined storage if it’s a silo I need to manage apart from my servers and storage?”

 Expand on the story/explain the trend with an anecdote:  “I was talking with a client the other day who said `software defined storage’ is B.S. He says it’s nothing but a fancy term for storage virtualization, which has never proved its worth. This got me thinking about where we fell short with storage virtualization and where the industry needs to go from here…”

 And how do you tie the stories you write to the products or services you sell? The answer: Only when it’s justified. If in doubt, deliver smarts and insight to your readers, not a drumbeat about your most recent product release. When your product or service is a natural fit for a post, story, mention its advantages briefly with a link to an offer page, but don’t overdo it.

For example, here’s how I would do it for this post: If you’d like an editor’s help developing news content or an editorial calendar for your site, feel free to be in touch.

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.