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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.

Marketing Tips for Selling the IoT

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Internet of Things marketingRemember all the dumb ideas that crashed and burned in the Internet bubble? Think Pets.com, based on the idea that consumers would rather order heavy packages of pet food online, pay delivery charges and wait for it rather than just pick it up at a local store.

It took years for businesses like Amazon to show how the Web should really be done. We’re in much the same place today with the Internet of Things (IoT) — the hundreds of millions of devices (from appliances to fitness monitors to industrial equipment) that will link to the Internet in coming years.

There already are solid business cases for IoT applications. They include early warnings that equipment needs maintenance to prevent breakdowns, or Bluetooth-based locator beacons to track when a customer is about to leave a store so you can text them a last-minute discount.

Then, there are those that are just not thought through yet, and that can make you (or your client) look clueless.

Got Gum?

One example is Trident gum which is partnering with Strap, an IoT-focused startup, and a convenience store chain “to leverage wearable data for brand marketing.”

How will knowing how many steps a customer takes, their calorie burn, or their active and non-active minutes help sell more gum? “We don’t yet know the exact use case,” the CEO of Strap said, though the story noted the parties will take 90 days to “work together to devise a market approach” followed by a pilot early next year.

In other words, nobody knows whether or how this would work – or if they do, they aren’t ready to say. At least one other reader was also confused, asking “…what this can possibly do for a brand like Trident other than give the appearance they are progressive and innovative?”

Pitch Wisely

That’s why pitching far-out experiments like this reads like a flashback to the bad old Internet bubble: Mash a random product (pet supplies or gum) with the latest buzzword (the Web, or the IoT) and see if something fantastic happens.

Trident (and every other company) should absolutely be casting far and wide to see how wearables and other IoT devices can help their business. But if you’re going to promote this work, put it in the proper perspective that shows how you’re being smart and innovative rather than casting about blindly.

Some ideas:

  • Wait till you have something to say. After 90 days of gathering and assessing data, I’ll bet the three parties will have some intriguing ideas about what data will and won’t be useful and some ideas for a pilot. Talking to the press then lets you show true thought leadership and build your brand.
  • Ask for help. Along with describing your internal efforts, sponsor a contest for ideas about what useful apps Trident customers might want on a wearable device or a Hack-a-thon with a prize for coolest app.
  • Share what you already know. I’ll bet the folks at Trident, the start-up and the convenience store chain have some hunches about how data and apps on wearable can sell gum. Describe those in your marketing material and (per step two) and invite feedback. This again shows thought leadership and could prompt some good suggestions.

The failures of early players didn’t stop the Web from changing all our lives, in ways that are still unfolding. The same will be true of the IoT.  Let’s help our clients survive the early stage shake out by being smart about how we position their early-stage IoT experiments.

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 Four Pitching Sins

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tips for pitching editors Forbes recently reported that 68% of reporters are unhappy with the pitches they get from corporate communications and PR types.

Here are four pitching sins I see almost every day, with my suggested improvement in italics.

Sin #1: Vagueness

“Hi, Bob –

I wanted to touch base to see if you would be interested in a company update briefing with *****, the leading provider of next generation ****** solutions. ***** We have an upcoming announcement and would love to brief you…”

Instead tell me what you’re announcing, how it’s new and different and why it’s important to the customer. For example, “Next week, we are announcing a service that slashes and cost and complexity of securing mobile devices through a new, lightweight encryption protocol. We’re also announcing a distribution deal with AT&T to spur adoption…” 

Sin #2: Tech for Tech’s Sake

 “**** has announced the availability of its much anticipated new rugged handheld…with better overall performance with an astonishingly bright display, an extra-long battery life, enhanced GPS capabilities, and rugged IP68 construction.”

Better, cheaper, better…yadda yadda yadda. This sounds more like a bill of materials than an exciting story about what readers can do with the new device. How about “For years, roughnecks in North Dakota’s oil country have struggled to place rush orders for critical drilling equipment due to dim screens, inaccurate GPS readings and failing batteries on their handhelds. Soon, their orders will arrive more quickly and drilling will go easier due to the ease of use, brighter screen, extended battery life and enhanced GPS capabilities of our new…”

Sin #3: Good for us, we’re at a trade show.

“Joe Doakes, CEO of Transformative Solutions, has been selected to speak at The Global Transformation Forum on “The Role of Software-Defined Networks in Enabling Next Generation Solutions in the Internet of Things.” Transformative Solutions will also be displaying at booth #422 in the Hotel Mediocre…”

And I care…why? Wait until you’ve drafted his speech (and he approved it) so your pitch can summarize what he will say and why it matters to customers or the industry. Even better: How about a link that will send me his presentation after the speech, making it easier for me to write about it? Or even a link to a video of his speech so I can help it go viral if I find it compelling? 

Sin #4: Bearing false witness.

One virtualization vendor sent an email promising “Five tips for evaluating software-defined storage.” They included:

  1. Does Software-Defined Storage work?

“Yes. Convergence of compute and storage and software-defined storage has been field-proven in leading companies…”

  1. Does Software-Defined Storage make sense for me?

“…there are few IT environments where these benefits are not desirable.”

  1. Am I capable of implementing Software-Defined Storage?

“Software-defined storage is simple to implement and configure…in most cases, a single administrator can manage both compute and storage resources.”

  1. Can I use my existing storage and servers to deploy Software-Defined Storage?

“Yes. Software-defined storage solutions should seamlessly co-exist with the existing infrastructure…”

Sounds like a not-very thinly disguised product pitch, doesn’t it? If your subject line promises “honest” advice you have to provide it to get the interest you want. Answer real questions such as “Is software-defined storage a good idea for a company that lacks a dedicated storage admin?” “Is everyone really capable of implementing it equally well?” Are the standards mature enough to avoid vendor lock-in?”

 And if you’re really serious about reforming your pitches, check out these five phrases that drive most editors to the “delete” key.

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.

SMB Buyers Reveal Hidden Desires

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Marketing tips SMB IT managersEarlier this year, help desk software vendor and online community Spiceworks threw four Boston-area IT managers from small and medium businesses to the wolves – or, more specifically, to an audience of about 50 marketing and sales people.

The audience was actually well-fed with appetizers (and watered with drinks) but they were fairly itching to ask these real-life would-be customers what works and what didn’t in selling them IT products and services.

These four guys all came from different industries, ranging from legal to financial services and academic, and of course had somewhat individual preferences. But they were all down to earth, intensely pragmatic and surprisingly savvy about the tips and tricks we use to identify when they’re ready to buy.

They’re wicked busy. (I can use the word “wicked” since we were in Boston.) Their days are relentlessly busy and unpredictable. They don’t have a lot of time to waste on anything, and interruptions and nagging from vendors are huge turnoffs. One said any salesperson should assume they are always – always – doing something else on their computer while they’re on the phone.

Some tips these SMB buyers offered the marketers in the audience:

  • Just because they bailed in the middle of a Webinar doesn’t mean they’re not interested. They were probably called away on an emergency. Provide a link so they can see it as their leisure.
  • If they make time to talk to a salesperson they want it to be scheduled. Don’t just call and expect them to sit still for chit-chat.
  • Make all marketing content short and sweet. Keep white papers under four pages. Consider adding a spec sheet to a white paper so the customer has all the info in one place. (Most of my clients would hate to be so “salesley” but customers favor convenience over such stylistic fine points. If the white paper itself is informative and not hype, why not make it easy for the prospect to see a product data sheet as well?)
  • They don’t have time to be led down the garden path with something they can’t afford. Disclose the price early.
  • Their formal titles or roles are far less important than their pain. “I don’t care about whether I fit your profile” of a customer, one said. “I care about whether you can solve my problem.” Optimize your content for searches around problems, not around target titles.
  • Free trials rock. They’re a great, low-risk way to see if your software does what it says, when it’s convenient for the customer. 

None of these tips has anything to do with highfalutin’ theories about content funnels or prospect personas.  But they are intensely practical and a reflection of how busy SMB customers are, and the need to keep it short, clear and to the point when pitching them.

Have you –or would you – be so bold as to add a lowly product data sheet to your lofty thought leadership white papers? If so, how did it work?

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.

Top Eight Ways to Better “Top Ten” Lists

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How to tune top ten lists for effective marketingTurns out the folks over at Spiceworks, who seem to have thought of everything, have a forum talking about not only IT issues, but IT marketing. And one recent thread stopped me in my tracks.

It turns out that customers are on to our marketing trick of doing “Top Ten” lists of IT best practices, especially when the “Top Ten” list is only a thinly disguised way to say “Buy our stuff.”

One commentator kicked it off with “I’m in marketing here at Spiceworks and I have a confession: I’m not a fan of “Top 10” lists. Top 10 ways to boost conversion, top 10 social media tips, etc. The headlines sound so compelling that I always click and read, eager to learn some quick wins. But I wind up saying to myself “duh!” on a lot of the points or “that doesn’t apply to my situation” on others. Usually a big ole “whoomp wah” for me.”

David Letterman, Watch Out

One commentator cleverly did his own “Top Ten” list of why he hates Top Ten lists. 

  1. They are overdone.
  2. They oversimplify complex subjects.
  3. They dumb down the reading skills of the public.
  4. They are a cheap marketing ploy.
  5. They’ve become a cliché.
  6. Not many people can count to 10 these days.
  7. They pad out the list with silly tips at the end to make it to 10.
  8. Are you still reading this list?
  9.  Numbers make things look more important than they are.
  10.  Because.

All of which makes me realize I may not be as clever as I think I am when I advise clients that “A top ten list is always a good idea.” And that maybe it’s time for us to kick it up a notch and make sure we’re adding value.

Top Ten Lists With Oomph

  1. Run your list by someone currently working in the field to weed out “duh” tips.
  2. Tailor your tips to your audience. A “top of the funnel” prospect who needs educating might value a tip that rates only a “duh” to someone closer to a purchase. This might mean developing different “Top Ten” lists for prospects at different points in the buying cycle?
  3. Wherever possible, illustrate tips with recent stories and anecdotes. This builds your credibility and makes for better reading.
  4. Include specific recommendations about what to do, not just what not to do.
  5. Identify the specific, quantifiable benefits of doing the right thing.
  6. Ask readers for feedback to keep them engaged, get feedback on your tips and, most importantly, keep helping your audience to keep them engaged.
  7. Measure how your “Top Ten” list content does compared to your other content – and how various types of “Top Ten” lists (more advanced vs. more basic) perform. .
  8. Stop when you run out of smarts, as I hope I’m doing. 

Now, in the spirit of my own Tip #6, let me know whether and why Top Ten lists work or don’t work for you. Do you even measure their success? And do you ever ask for, or get, feedback about whether your clever Top Ten lists are actually boring the pants off your audience?

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.

Marc Benioff Brings Flash Back to IT Marketing

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Salesforce.com's Mark Benioff, not being shy

First, an apology for being off-line for so long, but a welcome flood of corporate marketing writing work has kept me heads-down over the ThinkPad. But a recent blast of sheer outrageousness from Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com was too much fun to ignore.

It’s been many years since we had the leader of a large IT organization who could build buzz and move markets through sheer force of personality and chutzpa. I remember, in particular, Scott McNealy’s evil jibes at the likes of Microsoft and IBM (though that didn’t keep Sun from sinking into irrelevancy by sticking too long with proprietary hardware and software in an open-source era.)

Steve Jobs is of course brilliant and witty, but he lets his products do the speaking — more to his credit. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer is, well, eccentric on stage but his products haven’t been doing enough talking lately, especially in the mobile/social/search battlefields that are most critical today.

Which brings us to Benioff, who is a sheer font of conviction, bluster, chutzpa, call it what you will. His latest attention-getting blast is a call for a “corporate spring,” in which downtrodden corporate users (much like the citizens of Egypt, Libya and Syria) will rebel against the evil enterprise software that is taking away their personal freedom and, presumably, torturing them in cellars. They will be freed not by NATO jets and the sacrifice of their peers, but presumably by Salesforce.com’s cloud-based customer relationship management software.
I exaggerate, of course, but that’s part of the genius of bold marketing.
Benioff used the analogy to point to what he says is a huge divide between old-style software (one person doing one thing with an application, with sharing of information among users or mobile access a bolt-on) to apps such as Facebook where mobility and social interaction are at the core of the experience.
As reported by ZDnet, he showed pictures of Arab citizens holding up messages  and pointed out “there were no signs that said thank you Microsoft. There were no signs that said thank you IBM. The signs said Facebook.”
He didn’t bother to point out that a lot of the computers running Facebook depend on a Microsoft operating system, or that IBM developed the PC hardware standards that made cheap, affordable PCs (and thus Facebook) possible. And he didn’t point out there were no signs in the streets saying “Thank you Salesforce.com.” Not much use for all those pesky CRM fields when you’re dodging tear gas, after all.
But like I said, accuracy isn’t the point when you’re doing bold marketing.  Benioff got me, at least, thinking about if there is a huge revolution happening and, if so, what it is, what the “rebels” want and whether the outcome is a good thing. For that, if nothing else, he deserves credit.
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.