IT Marketing Archives

Three Post Covid (?) Cloud Marketing Tips    

cloud marketing challengesAs we bob between COVID waves, many cloud marketers are trying to figure out how to reach prospects in an ever less predictable business climate. Differentiation is difficult with everyone playing a variation on themes such as:

  • Pandemic lockdowns have sped a shift to remote working and the “digitization” (whatever that means) of business.
  • The cloud is now the default choice for most new applications and workloads.
  • Most businesses are already running on multiple public and private clouds.

Beneath these “me-too” messages are questions which, if you can answer them, can raise your visibility and show clients you deserve their consideration. Three examples:

1) Managing the Cloud Right

Running apps and infrastructure in the cloud is less expensive than in those outmoded internal data centers – until it’s not.  It’s too easy for business units to quickly spin up cloud instances to support new applications, processes and AI experiments but fail to shut them down when they’re no longer needed. That  can be not only hugely expensive but risky if the cloud servers and data aren’t properly secured.

Your opportunity: Describe not only the best tools for finding, assessing and disabling unneeded cloud resources, but the messy political and process changes such control requires. Who gets to decide, for example, when a machine learning model has generated most of the insights it can and no longer deserves funding? How should you adjust IT cost chargeback processes when shifting from internally controlled data centers to internal and external clouds? How can businesses cost-affordably track the complex pricing methodologies of multiple cloud providers?

2) Keeping My Best People

Whatever it is that’s tempting folks to jump jobs post-COVID, it’s hitting IT companies hard. I’m hearing of attrition rates in the 30-40 percent range, with a hot job market giving IT and marketing professionals the freedom to jump ship if they’re not happy about anything from pay to their boss or their job satisfaction.

Your opportunity: Be brave enough to share candid, “in the trenches” experiences and tips exploring areas such as:

How many people are leaving not just for more pay but for better working conditions, more interesting work or even a more ethical corporate mission? What can their managers do to keep them on board even if (as is usually the case) that manager can only control their immediate work environment?

What are the warning signs top contributors are getting ready to jump ship? Is it their ominous silence in meetings, rolling their eyes when a pet project is delayed (yet again) due to conflicting corporate priorities, or they’re repeatedly pointing out how often competitors are executing on ideas they had suggested to you?

After you use these danger signs to identify the “flight risks” how do you keep those employees on board without going broke with pay raises? For example: Ensuring top talent knows their manager lobbied for funding for their pet projects; improved communication about the status of stalled projects; or retraining for employees or the problem managers who have driven many employees away. 

3)  Managing Cloud Vendor Lock

For years customers have tried to balance the advantages of “best of breed” technology from individual vendors against the financial and technical risks of being locked into that vendor’s product and upgrade cycles. Some argue the financial clout and technical breadth of the major hyperscalers make this question irrelevant. According to this thinking, the top players are all “close enough” in areas like AI, containerization and development tools  that you can safely place a strategic bet on one and reap the benefit of economies of scale and easier cost tracking.

Your opportunity: There’s plenty of room to argue either way – or even encourage debate. Build  credibility and drive engagement by basing your argument on real world experience with specific technologies and business cases. For example:

  • If you opt for multiple cloud vendors, does the cost and complexity of a single cross-cloud visibility and management platform outweigh the advantages of using multiple clouds?
  • Compare the capabilities of each hyperscaler in a specific technical area (say, AI or quantum computing). This should not be an ad for your preferred partner but an honest comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of each hyperscaler, advising which technical or business use cases they’re best suited for.
  • Do a similar comparison by industries and provide detailed enough advice to show your expertise. Rather than give one hyperscaler a good mark on generic manufacturing, tell the reader which has the best tools for process vs. discrete manufacturing. If you’re talking life sciences, tell the reader which hyperscaler or software as a service provider has the best tools for clinical vs. marketing processes.

What burning questions cloud or pandemic-related issues did I leave out? Building security and compliance into the cloud? Melding DevOps and Agile with cloud deployments? Deciding which legacy apps are too complex, risky or big to deploy to the cloud? And how are you helping clients answer them?

I hope you’re healthy and holding up well in the COVID-19 lockdown and seeing the same demand I’m seeing for COVID-19 product messaging. Having been around the block with a number of such projects, here are nine tips for making such messaging work best.

Go easy on the “We hope you’re safe and the health of our employees and customers” boilerplate. It’s nice to know but we’ve all heard it multiple times. And in the end, this is business, not family.

Don’t hyper ventilate and make every challenge (like the security of home Wi-Fi networks) into a life or death emergency. If there are quick and easy fixes (such as remote configuration of users’ systems) it’s enough to point out this is a good time to implement them.

Don’t “virus wash” every trend. If customers should move to the cloud for better supply chain tracking during the pandemic, this is (as with Wi-Fi___33 security) a continuation of an existing trend, not a revolutionary insight. Skip the breathlessness and describe, in practical and actionable terms, how to achieve this in the unique circumstances of a pandemic.

Don’t publish until you’re sure you’re saying something different and useful.  Review the “state of the art” of COVID-19 messaging in your industry to ensure you’re not repeating well-known statistics and self-evident advice.

Go deep on details when there is a genuine new or more significant risk. One example is relocating workers who deal with very sensitive data from your office to  their homes. What specifically must customers do to secure everything from their internal networks and servers and employees’ home networks?

Be practical. If you’re recommending, for example, employees use headsets for sensitive conversations (so children, roommates or spouses don’t hear both sides of the conversation) do you supply headsets or let employees buy those most comfortable for them? How do you enforce compliance?

Cite real world examples to prove you’re talking to actual customers. Don’t make a vague reference to  “manufacturing supply chain issues. ” instead describe how a lack of a specific buffering compound from a plant in n Wuhan, China, closed an ibuprofen plant in Spain and caused empty shelves in St. Louis.

Describe non-technical challenges specific to the pandemic, such as the difficulty of getting executive attention (and budget) for needed long-term improvements when the business is crashing around them. Then explain how you helped meet the challenge.

Describe the hypothetical success of, for example a data management or AI or collaboration platform that could be useful in the COVID-19 world but that you haven’t sold for that purpose yet. But make sure you can deliver what you promise.

In short, be specific; say something new and useful, go short on the happy talk and long on your value-add.

And stay healthy!

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.

Over Half of Marketing Content is Trash. Again.

how to improve the quality of marketing content News flash (or not): Too much of our marketing content stinks. Who says? More than 250 global technology decision makers surveyed by Forrester Research.

  • 57% said “most of the material is useless.”
  • 66% said “vendors provide me too much material to sort through”
  • 60% said they get most of their information from other sources.

What’s more, this is the third consecutive year vendor content got such poor rankings. As someone who produces B2B content full time, I’m sorry to say I’m not surprised.  The problem isn’t (just) that writers like me have bad days, that product managers don’t believe in the value of content, or that marketers don’t understand the value of content.

The problem is structural. Most vendors can’t afford to create a big staff of journalistically-trained editors and writers to find good ideas and write (or film, or podcast) great content that describes them. As a result, an internal “content marketing manager” or outside PR or marketing firm tries to impose some professional standards for content.

But day to day “real” business deadlines (client engagements, product ship dates) push the hard work of creating great content off the table. No one has the time or skills to ask if a customer really has the details to flesh out that great case study idea, if a market survey is worth sharing, or if a subject matter expert has the chops to opine on a hot topic.

Three Starting Steps

There’s no way we can turn every vendor into a high-quality publisher overnight. But here are some suggestions for delivering the three types of content buyers told Forrester they want.

  • Customer/peer examples.Customers are more reluctant than ever to talk for fear of admitting they needed help or of endorsing a vendor. That often leaves content creators dependent on the account rep within a vendor, who is often more focused on their own products and services than the customer’s business issues. Train someone on each account team on the whys and hows of getting good case studies. Educate them on the importance of real people, good quotes and the “big picture” results. Provide key questions to help them identify the best case studies and templates for the must-have elements, such as why you’re better than competitors and how you helped the customer.
  • Content from credible sources.You may not be able to commission a report by a pricey top-tier analyst but you have your own experts in-house – the technical and sales folks on your staff who see customers’ real problems and the unique ways you are solving them. Before sitting them down for an interview, make sure they can answer these seven essential questions for producing compelling content. Track the clicks, downloads and shares of content generated by your SMEs to convince others to join the club.
  • Short content.In the Forester survey, shorter formats captured two out of the top three spots for content types buyers prefer to interact with. But shorter is not easier, or necessarily less expensive.  It requires a lot of up-front effort deciding exactly what you  want to say and what you don’t need to say. Create a clear outline and make sure every word carries its weight. Vet it against my checklist for depth, originality and timeliness or do a “top ten tips” list that showcases your expertise in an easy to digest way.

Déjà vu All Over Again

If you feel like you’ve heard this before, you’re right. As far back as 2012 fewer than half of buyers found digital content useful. It’s time we find practical ways to deliver the clear, concise and compelling content that drives sales.

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.

Differentiate This!

product positioning Many of my small to medium size clients, such as regional IT service providers, struggle when I ask them what differentiates them from their competitors.  The best they can come up with is often:

  • “We really listen to our customers’ needs.”
  • “Our staff really cares about our customer’s success.”
  • “We take a consultative approach, rather than just trying to sell them stuff.”

Sound familiar? It should. These aren’t differentiators – they’re the minimum requirements to keep the doors open. To effectively explain what makes you better, you need to define and describe it from the customer’s perspective.

If you think your products or services are too much like commodities to stand out, check out this in-store display for a lowly cement screw, used to attach walls to concrete floors or hardware to blocks or bricks.

How My Screw Is Better Why The Customer Should Care
Stikfit T25 Bit For one-handed installation. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)
Serrated head Flush seating . (Improves appearance, makes painting easier.)
Serrated threads For quick install (speeds work).
Sharp point For immediate pickup. (Speeds work, reduces effort.)

In a few dozen words and an easy-to-understand picture, this screw manufacturer has given a harried contractor or do-it-yourselfer four reasons why their “commodity” product will make their life easier.  How can a regional IT services provider do the same for a busy prospect?

We’re Good, Just Like Everyone Else

The first step is the hardest: Identifying those subtle differences that set you apart from all your  “me-too” competitors. These differentiators do exist – the challenge is identifying them and explaining what they mean to the customer.  I’ll use some of the most common strengths I’ve seen in service providers and provide the customer benefits as an illustration.

How My IT Services Are Better Why The Customer Should Care
Platinum certification with leading hardware vendors. Faster and less expensive fixes for problems.
We care. Really. We work nights and weekends to keep you up and running in a jam.
We’re small and locally owned. You don’t have to chase multiple vendors in case of a problem. You can call our CEO’s cell 24/7 if you have an issue with our service.
We understand your industry. We stay on top of the latest technology and best practices in your industry so you don’t have to.

 Next: Do Your Homework

All these are obviously generic benefits for a generic regional IT services firm. But the same process can work for any hardware, software or services vendor. It even works in a new market like the Internet of Things or containers where multiple vendors make “me too” claims.

Whatever your offering, the lesson from this concrete screw holds true: Every product and service has some market differentiators. The hard work is identifying them and explaining in very clear terms how they help the customer.

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.

Four Email Marketing Sinkholes to Avoid

Tips creating email nurture campaignsI recently finished an email nurture campaign for a major software vendor. It included multiple emails across multiple streams for each step in the buyer’s journey (awareness, education, consideration and qualification.)

The writing was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The 90 percent I didn’t see at first included defining the personas (hypothetical reader groups with various needs), deciding which personas should get which follow-on messages based on their reading behavior, defining the messaging for each stream, choosing everything from fonts to configuring the marketing automation system and entering the content into it.

If all this sounds a little overwhelming, it can be. It can also take attention from fine-tuning your emails so they generate interest, leads and sales. Here are the four sinkholes I found us falling into, with tips for avoiding them. Let me know which I missed and how you avoid such problems.

  1.  Oh, yeah. The content. Many of my colleagues were working overtime refining customer lists, designing email flows, building triggers for follow-up emails and fine-tuning personas. By the time I asked what they wanted in a specific email, their only direction might be “Oh, some thought leadership” or “A high-level overview focusing on our differentiators.” But they often hadn’t had time to think through what their thought leadership about a given topic might be, or which differentiators they wanted to highlight. Tips: Before diving into the detailed flow of a campaign, sit back and define what success would look like, and the three to five major points you want to stress across the email streams. Define, in two to three sentences, what your “thought leadership” is. Get sign-off on all this from the decision makers and communicate it to everyone who will edit or input the emails into your MA tool.
  2. Didn’t we change that font in the last version? If you’re running multiple email campaigns with multiple streams for multiple products, you’ve quickly got an awful lot of discrete emails to track. And they can all look pretty much the same as each subject line is, invariably, a variation of the same theme. Add in multiple feedback from multiple commenters and things can quickly get ugly. Tip: Institute a strong change control system – maybe with advice from your developers on how they manage multiple version of code – before you start handling the copy itself. We assigned a unique identifier to each email (such as “A3” for the third email in the first, or “education,” stream) and assigned a single person to keep everyone else on schedule.
  3. That’s not the headline, it’s the subject line! Nurture emails are made up of five or six elements, each with very specific functions and length requirements. The headline might be limited to 50 characters and meant to “Explain the main value prop” while the subhead might go up to 75 characters with the goal of “Expanding on the main value prop or describing a secondary value prop.” You want your writers, and editors, to focus on hitting these very specific targets, not trying to remember which component of the email they’re working on. Tip: Create very specific and clear templates with the required length and the purpose of each text blog, and make sure everyone from writers to editors to the admins who enter the text in your MA tool use the same template. Including any stock photos, illustrations or other graphical content will help the writer match their text to the tone of the illustrations.
  4. Wait. You want me to enter all this in the MA system, too? Every MA platform has its own user interface. None of them are rocket science but each takes time to learn. It might seem straightforward to have your writer not only draft the content but enter it in the system. But do you want to pay them to learn the system and do data entry rather than crafting great email copy? Tip: Consider hiring a dedicated staff to do the uploading so your content and strategy folks can concentrate on what they do best.

Those are my tips for staying out of the muck and mire of email marketing. What  hidden problems – or clever fixes — have I missed?

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.

Three Ways to Lose a SaaS Customer

driving SaaS renewals A recent hack of my Web site led me to sign up with a security as a service (SaaS) vendor to monitor my site. A month in, they emailed to ask if I was pleased.

I don’t know, and that is bad. The updates they give me are so unclear, and their service so hard to navigate, I’m less sure about my security status than before.

When it comes time to renew my subscription, I’ll either cancel or find another SaaS provider whose value I can assess. If you’re a SaaS vendor, are you alienating your customers like this?

Dumb SaaS Mistakes

This provider seems to lack any understanding of my business. I make money by talking to clients, marketing myself, interviewing experts, and writing and revising marketing content. I lose money every hour I spend deciphering cryptic security messages, reading FAQ’s on arcane security topics or fiddling with complex WordPress files.

Whatever application or service you’re providing over the Web, your customers pay you to handle the IT plumbing so they can make money. Here’s what this vendor got it wrong, and what you should avoid with your customers.

Failed to properly set my expectations. Their Web site promised to “clean your site of malware with one click.” They may or may not have done this. But even after my site was supposedly clear of malware, it didn’t look and run right. It took many, many more hours and a lot of money with a designer fixing what the malware broke. A “one click” fix implies I’ll be good as new after that one click. If that isn’t so (and a customer will need other help beside yours to get back to business) tell them up front.

Bombarded me with jargon. This security provider tries to tell me what they’re doing, but fail miserably. Their weekly security alerts are full of techno-babble (see below) and provide “alerts” which turn out to be routine notifications I don’t need to take action on. This is a waste of my time and of theirs.

Error message one

Are hard to work with: Rather than ask questions or get help via email, I have to log into this provider’s Web site to create my own trouble ticket. The site is crammed with tiny type and technical jargon. The “trouble ticket” option is hidden under other buttons, and requires me to submit my FTP log-in info to proceed. (You do have your FTP log-in credentials on the tip of your tongue, right?)

How to Get My Business 

  • Build your service around on my needs, not your technical specialty. In the case of a security monitoring service, I’d love it if they partnered with WordPress experts to take ownership not just for cleaning my site, but returning it to its original look and feel.
  • Communicate effectively.  Only contact me when I need to take action. Don’t tell me about routine security updates or “alerts” about which I don’t need to or don’t know how to respond to. (One exception would be a clear weekly or monthly report telling me how many infections/attacks you stopped, and the effect they would have had on my business, to help me measure your value.)
  • Make everything easy. Large type, attractive icons and plain English terminology on Web sites, please. I work in email, not trouble tickets – let me ask questions and get help without logging into your site. And give me one or two click access to information about the most recent issue, without forcing me to go through a list of service requests. This is user interface 101.

I know security is devilishly complicated and requires safeguards and extra steps to work through customers’ Internet Service Providers and WordPress sites. But it’s comparatively easy to:

  • Not promise a “one click” fix if you can’t provide it.
  • Make it easy for me to understand what you’re doing, and most importantly…
  • Remember the problem I’m paying you to fix isn’t fixed until I’m back earning money.

Need more help selling cloud services? Check out this sample content plan you can adapt to your own needs.

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.

Does This Pop-Up Make Me Look Fat?

Or, should say, does this pop-up below try to make the reader look stupid?

dont value technology

Or, how about this one:

I DONT NEED TODAYS MOST IMPORTNT NEWS

Or (I can’t resist):

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You. Really.

I usually just look for the “X” so I can close pop-up ads as quickly as I can and get on with what I was reading. But in these cases, and others I’ve seen recently, the “opt-out” line was so insulting I had to do a screen grab.

Assuming these aren’t intentional efforts to grab the reader’s attention, the common message is “Our site is so great there’s no rational reason you wouldn’t want to visit it. You must be stupid, uninformed or irrelevant yourself if you don’t click `yes.’”

Before trying this on your site, ask how you would respond if a sales or marketing person took the same approach with you:

  • Car shopping: Can I put you in this $100,000 Tesla right now, or do you not care about being on the cutting edge of style and technology?
  • In a restaurant: Do you want to try the pickled eel with curried aioli, or do you note like new, intriguing foods?
  • On a date: Do you want to see me again, or are you not interesting in being with the hottest, most fascinating person in the world?

Turn you on, or turn you off? Thought so.

Opting Out Without Put Downs

Seeing how content marketing is supposed to be about nurturing customers who aren’t ready to buy (rather than turning them off), here are some alternative approaches to “opt out” messages.

Don’t want to subscribe now? You can always check out our past posts here. )

               Getting too many newsletters? You can bookmark our site instead…

              Tech news not your thing? Check out our blog on business management…

Respect

Each of these alternative “opt out” lines:

  • Don’t insult the reader for daring to say “no” to your content.
  • Offer the reader other ways to get your content, or
  • Offer other content that better meets their needs.

And isn’t that a better way to nurture and engage prospects who aren’t ready to buy (or even subscribe) than giving them the back of our hand?

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.

Selling the Five Waves of “Transformation”

How to sell transformation IBM, Dell, Capgemini and Accenture all claim they can deliver it.  McKinsey & Co. claims the entire nation of China is doing it.

“It” is  digital transformation. Personally, I don’t get it, because:

  • If “digital” means “computerized,” we’ve all been “digitally transformed” a bunch of times since the 1960s. (Think mainframe, minicomputer, client-server, Web, and now mobile, social, cloud and Big Data.)
  • And as for transformation, as I’ve argued  repeatedly, this is meaningless jargon unless you say what you’re transforming yourself from and to. Much of the time, “transformation” is just a fancy word for saying “better” or “cheaper.”

Go With the Flow, Bob

Rather than fight the tide, maybe I should accept that “digital transformation” is popular because it speaks to what my clients are trying to tell their prospects. Let’s try riding the wave instead, based on several of the definitions floating around out there:
[table id=1 /]

Note that, while there are common themes across definitions, how much room there is for differentiation based on each specific definition, and the specific strengths you bring to the market.

Breakthrough! Transformation Defined

By making its definition very specific (“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” the Altimeter Group was able to craft a customer survey that uncovered specific, rather than vague, implementation issues.

The “process,” rather than technical issues, uncovered (below) seem to make digital transformation an easier pitch for consultants than hardware or software-centric players, unless they can describe specifically how their skills in areas such as Big Data or business intelligence help organizations better understand today’s mobile and socially-connected customers.

Even One Word Can Help

All this is well and good if you and your prospect agree on a definition for digital transformation.  If you don’t bother defining it, or define it only vaguely, you’re inviting your customers to misunderstand what you’re offering.

nJust changing one word – “digital transformation” to “IT transformation” – means you’re talking about, as Accenture puts it, the need to “…identify which IT capabilities are most critical to the success of the overall enterprise, and shape an IT organization and capability that supports the business cost-effectively.”

That’s what most of my clients mean by “transformation” and it usually boils down to reducing costs through things like virtualization, data center consolidation, and training lower-level or lower-cost offshore staff to handle more complex support requests. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t deliver the unified customer experience and universal market insights “digital” transformation implies.

Does any of this clear up all this transformation talk or just make it confusing in a new way?

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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