I try to steer my clients from vague buzzwords such as “transformation” in content marketing because they confuse customers rather than engage them. Now, no less an authority than industry guru Gartner is warning that using the word “transformation” in contract negotiations can also  foul outsourcing deals by raising false expectations among customers.

The warning came in Gartner’s June 2011 Magic Quadrant ranking of finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing providers as it advised to “Ban the words `innovation’ and `transformation’ because they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”

Specifically, the Gartner report said, it can lead the customer to believe “`…my service provider is all-knowing and can fix everything.’” Imagine, for example, a customer who’s been unable to reduce costs or understand a new market due to internal cultural and organizational problems. An outsourcer comes in promising to “transform” their organization and runs afoul of those same problems. The outsourcer loses money trying to solve problems it never signed up to tackle in the first place, and the customer has wasted time and effort without achieving their goals.

Another scenario Gartner mentioned involves the customer choosing the lowest-price provider and  “left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.” Innovation and “transformation” require understanding where a business is now and where it needs to be. That’s why, Gartner advises baselining the current state of affairs and not hoping the outsourcer “will solve all the internal process issues, which may never have been addressed internally.”

Using “Transformation” in Content Marketing

This confusion is mirrored in the results of my ongoing online survey which shows 40 percent of respondents agree with my “gut” definition that transformation means a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believe marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers just use transformation in their copywriting as a synonym for “improve.” Hence the confusion when an outsourcer is using “transform” to mean just a lower price, while the customer is expecting a radical makeover

One simple way to avoid trouble in content marketing – and to set yourself apart from the hordes throwing around the “transform” buzzword – is to insert the word “by” after the word “transform” and explain specifically what you will do, how you will do it, and the specific business benefits you’ll deliver.

Examples:

  • We will transform your accounts payable by performing all transactions on our cloud-based platform, analyzing all payments with our proprietary algorithms to detect waste and fraud, and shifting any manual processing such as troubleshooting to our offshore staff. We commit to permanently reducing processing costs by at least 36% and waste and fraud losses by at least 23%. Reducing payment times by one week will also allow you to recover 10% early payment discounts from your vendors.
  • We will transform your IT infrastructure by shifting peak loads and Web-facing systems to our lower-cost cloud, managing remaining internal systems with our offshore remote management staff and remotely testing applications. This will permanently reduce your  capital budget by 60%, your operating budget by 60% and time to market for new applications by one month. Future work shifting will, within five years, allow you to devote 50% of your IT spending to new initiatives versus only 20% now.
  • We will transform your customer service by surveying current and past customers to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and comparing your costs, service levels and customer satisfaction levels to other clients with whom we have worked. We will design, implement and monitor the organizational and cultural changes required to meet your strategic goal of permanently becoming the top-ranked vendor in your industry for customer service.

In each case, everything after the word “by” explains what you mean by “transformation” and how you will achieve it. While Gartner focused on outsourcing, describing “transformation” in any content marketing clearly leaves  much less room for confusion, and much more compelling content to attract and keep customers. Let me know how you’re hearing “transformation” used and misused in content marketing.

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.

Occupy Marketing Slams Puffy Collateral

These white papers aren't even white!

Well, not quite. But my good friend (and sometimes boss) Larry Marion, CEO of Triangle Publishing Services, does the next best thing with these gloves-off scoring of actual IT white paper by brand-name  vendors.

You’ve all probably heard the best practices for white papers – skip the hard sell, prove your claims, make the text easy to read. But it’s not often you see someone who creates content for a living bite (or at least snarl at) the hand that feeds him by calling out vendors who have succumbed to the temptation to pitch rather than educate.

(By way of credentials, Larry’s has more than 20 years of research, writing and editing reports on the use of technology, interviewed hundreds of senior executives at large organizations about technology, and served as a judge of a major white paper contest for many years.)

Database giant Oracle got a dismal 42 out of 100 for a white paper on “Big Data for the Enterprise.” On the plus side, says Larry, writing “isn’t bad,” the first half covers the right issues and it provides lots of hypothetical examples of how “big data” (the analysis of very, very large data sets) can help businesses.

On the down side, though, he complains of “exceptionally heavy Oracle references,” and only “ one third-party reference, despite many debatable assertions,: no information about the author’s credentials (he’s  in Oracle product management, not exactly an unbiased source) and only one graphic that didn’t focus on Oracle’s product, rather than on customer needs. Finally, he says, there was no clear call to action, and several obvious errors caused by poor editing.

Thoroughly depressed on behalf of Oracle, I trolled through several other critiques in search of good news. But a Siemens white paper on “The Communications Tipping Point” did only slightly better, with 61 out of 100 points. On the plus side: Original survey data, lots of charts, a strong writing style and point of view, a good mix of external data sources and what Larry playfully calls “self-control – Siemens doesn’t  plug its solutions until the last page.

The weaknesses:

  • Headline needs a subtitle, so you know what the paper is about
  • Poorly conceived charts
  • Missing information
  • Who is the author? His/her credentials?
  • Some assertions lack data to support them
  • Some comments reflect unfamiliarity with business budgeting and spending practices
  • No clear call to action

(I would add that nowhere in the executive summary, which is all some people will read, did it describe what the “tipping point” is and why the reader should care. But this is Larry’s rant, not mine.)

A quick glance through Larry’s list showed no white paper got even a gentleman’s “C” for best practices. Was he too kind? Too cruel? Feel free to drop a note and let him know. But his basic protest – that too often vendors use white papers to sell rather than educate — is spot on and ignored too often. Let the street protests begin.

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.