Three Ways Hoarding Your Secret Sauce Hurts You

In the past I’ve argued for the value of sharing more, rather than less, of your consulting smarts in your thought leadership content and case studies.

Yet I keep running into resistance when I ask for examples of how my clients work their magic with customers and specifics of the challenges they’ve overcome for them. As a result, everything from white papers to ebooks to product and service descriptions are full of the same general, vague, and repetitive promises and gauzy goals a customer gets from my client’s competitors.

Here are the three main reasons I hear for not sharing “proprietary” knowledge in marketing content, and why I think each of them are wrong:

  1. Our readers understand the business problems and we don’t want to talk down to them by being too specific. Point taken about not being condescending. But you don’t want to bore them to death, either, by being too vague. Explaining a very specific case where you helped a client shows you can do what you claim, and that you have hands-on experience with the technology and/or industry in question.
  2. We don’t want to get too specific because we want to spark a further conversation with the reader. For me, actual success stories and specific tips spur me to click through to the next video, podcast, or blog post. The same vague claims and promises as your competitors aren’t, I suspect, generating those requests for follow-up conversations your marketing efforts need.
  3. If we tell them how to do it in our content, they won’t need us. My first, and easy response, is whether your secret sauce is so thin we could sum it up in a 2,500-word white paper? Of course not. Your value doesn’t come in knowing in general how to tackle the really big technical, change management or “digital transformation” initiatives, but how to do it in the real world. That requires, among other things, learning from past mistakes and knowing how to overcome the “real world” organizational, logistical and culture issues you only learn about from experience.

Sell Your Experience

There is no way a reader can acquire any of this from anything you would write, at least in the 1,500 to 2,000 word format that’s the high range of most of the content I write. It’s even harder to condense this expertise into a Webinar or video. And even if they could, most customers don’t want to steal the recipe for your secret sauce and do the cooking themselves. They want assurance that you have the secret sauce and know how to use it to help them.

For example, I provide detailed advice for writing marketing content in my blog. I have no fear my readers will use my advice to become expert writers because that’s not their skill set and they’re too busy running their own businesses to become professional writers. My aim is to show I’m so expert and experienced I can give away my “secrets” and have plenty more value to offer once they hire me. Which they do.

Have I broken through any of the resistance or do you still think your methodologies, frameworks and processes are too valuable to share?

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.

Blockchain Blues, Case Study Heartache

best practices blockchain marketing case studies Demand for IT marketing content remains as strong as I’ve ever seen it. But not all tech categories are as healthy as others, and in some ways, creating quality content is becoming harder and harder.

Among the changes I’m seeing and some tips for coping:

  • Email struggles: Clients are getting more sophisticated in their use of marketing automation tools to target customized emails to the right prospects. But the logistical details (like honing the messaging and integrating it into different email templates) are still challenges. The more nurture campaigns I do, the more my stock advice holds true: Get your messaging and workflows down before jumping into your first campaign. That will save uncounted hours of rework and chaos as you ramp your email volume.)
  • Blockchain blues: After a colossal wave of hype, concerns over security, cost, and speed are spreading doubts over blockchain (the distributed database technology designed to eliminate middlemen for everything from financial trading to customs paperwork.) Every week seems to bring news of another intriguing pilot, such as the AP (my former employer) using blockchain to be sure it gets paid when its content is republished. But next there’s yet another hack of a blockchain-protected cryptocurrency or concerns that blockchain uses more power and is slower than conventional transaction systems. Suggestion: In your blockchain messaging proactively address concerns such as cost, speed and security, and back up any claims with real-life successes, not just pilots. 
  • The “T” word: The use of “digital transformation” to describe just about every part of the IT industry is worse than ever, with marketers sprinkling it like fairy dust into every piece of copy. One client had a good definition that ran something like this: “Long lasting, quantum improvements in efficiency, sales or costs.” That level of precision eliminates a lot of the “transformation” stories that turn out to describe only conventional cost-cutting or moving workloads to the cloud (not exactly radical in 2018.) Why not hash out a one-sentence description of “transformation” everyone on your marketing staff understands, and make sure each piece of marketing material explains how you help achieve it?
  • Case study heartache: By definition, a case study must describe how your product or service helped the customer, and how your product or service is better, cheaper, faster than its competitors. But extracting that essential information from vendors’ sales and delivery staffs is getting harder, not easier. I have no easy answer for this, except to train, train, train the staff working with the client to think about the business benefits of their work. That means metrics like lower costs, increased sales, quicker time to market or increased customer retention, not internal benchmarks like meeting project milestones or the number of employees who use a new application.
  • Operationalize this. From cloud migration to Big Data, many of my clients are promoting their ability to “operationalize” IT functions with automated, consistent, repeatable processes. The aim is to cut costs, speed delivery, and reduce security and other risks with standard ways of working across the business. Describing all this can get pretty dry, though, with long descriptions of frameworks, best practices, and the capabilities you’re streamlining. I try to keep it relevant by describing a business benefit for every process the client is improving, and pushing them (again!) for how they achieve that improvement better than their competitors.    

Bottom line: There’s plenty of marketing work out there, but it’s getting harder to deliver the caliber of content that gets results. What are you doing to keep quality up amid the rush to push content out the door, the need to learn new marketing platforms and clients that struggle to describe the business benefits of the solutions they sell?

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 Want The Case Study That Google Got

how to create detailed case studiesIn the past, I’ve ranted about what vendors leave out of their case studies, what they need to make them great, and how much of your “secret sauce” you should reveal in them.

But rarely do I see a case study that is so good it sets the bar for the industry. It involves Spotify switching from its own data centers to Google to host its streaming music service. Published in the form of a blog post from Spotify, it goes far beyond the usual “apple pie and motherhood” generalities to describe specifically why Spotify chose Google over other cloud providers.

Maybe this level of detail results from what sort of a discount Spotify got. More likely it has to do with an engineering-centric culture at Spotify that led them to share the technical details behind their infrastructure growth in gleeful detail.

But instead of wondering how this case study came about, let’s talk about what makes it so good and how you can try for the same level of detail with your customers.

Why They Choose Google – Specifically

In its blog post announcing the shift, Spotify said:

What really tipped the scales towards Google for us…has been our experience with Google’s data platform and tools. Good infrastructure isn’t just about keeping things up and running, it’s about making all of our teams more efficient and more effective, and Google’s data stack does that for us in spades… (f)rom traditional batch processing with Dataproc, to rock-solid event delivery with Pub/Sub to the nearly magical abilities of BigQuery, building on Google’s data infrastructure provides us with a significant advantage where it matters the most.

Note that Spotify went beyond euphemisms such as “enhancing efficiency” or “end to end solution” to talk specifically about how Google helps them cut costs and improve the streaming experience for their users. It also mentioned specific Google  tools. While the post could have been more specific about how those tools helped, it’s already head and shoulders above most case studies.

Questions to ask your customers to get similar results include:

  • What specific products or services from other vendors did you consider besides ours?
  • For each of our offerings you chose , describe the specific benefits (such as lower cost, higher performance, greater ease of use) that drove your choice, with at least one example of how we were better in each area.
  • What strategic aims or needs (such as optimizing use of your infrastructure or assuring a great customer experience) drove your purchase decision? Please provide an example of how each of our products or services helps you reach these high-level objectives.

Honesty – Painful Honesty

In its more detailed “deep dive” technical blog post,  the Spotify team also discussed frankly what they don’t like among Google’s tools and services. It found, for example, that the Google Cloud Deployment Manager was too difficult to use, leading it to build its own  Spotify Pool Manager to more easily spin up new servers as needed.

Admitting your own products aren’t the absolute ideal fix for every customer, regardless of their needs, takes courage. Standing by graciously while one of your customers does so ain’t easy either.  But the smart, and ethical, product managers I talk all the time are the first to know, and admit, when one of their solutions isn’t a good fit for a specific customer. Just imagine the credibility you get by being as honest, and as technical, as Spotify is when talking about Google.

Sweat the Details

The common theme here is the importance of details in making a case study come alive. Push your customers to explain what they mean by jargon such as “transformation” or generalities such as “agility.” Digging into specifics helps tell your story, and may even give you added insight into your client’s needs for follow-on 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.

By Gretchen Dukowitz

Case studies – love ’em or hate ’em – remain a critical part of the content marketing mix for almost every B2B organization. To some, they may seem stodgy (or dare I say boring?), but CMI research shows more companies are using them – 77% in 2015 – and 58% say they’re effective.

But, let’s be honest. Case-study creators’ opinions probably fall more on the hate-’em end of the spectrum. The tried-and-true formula – challenge, solution, benefit – doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or good storytelling, and the fallback – to pack them full of bad business jargon – can make writing a case study a huge chore.

Life is short; you shouldn’t waste it laboring over case studies. Fortunately, a few simple steps will allow you to not only create your case studies faster, easier, and less painfully, but can help make them sound better, too.

  1. Interview a real, live person

A good customer interview is the lifeblood of a good case study. Before you write a case study, do yourself a huge favor and actually talk to a real, live customer. In the past, I’ve been asked to write case studies based on quotes taken from videos, testimonial quotes, emails from sales teams – anything and everything but a customer interview.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying, “it’s hard to find customers and get time on their calendars. And get sign-off on the final product? Forget it.” Yes, it can be difficult and time-consuming, but trust me when I say that trying to use secondhand sources makes case study writing 100 times harder than it needs to be.

Case studies are stories. They have narratives and need to be rooted firmly in the experience of the customer. You can get all of these things by talking to one. The end result is a strong case study with a clear beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to a Frankenstein-assembled story that you put together from random parts.

  1. Edit the heck out of your quotes

You are a case-study writer, not a reporter. You are not being held to some journalistic standard that says you must reproduce all customer utterances word for word (not even journalists adhere to this standard, by the way). You can – make that should – edit and embellish quotes to make their point more effectively. In all my years of writing case studies, I have never had an interviewee take me to task for altering a quote. In fact, most people appreciate being made to sound better.

You can’t go crazy and just make up stuff for the fun of it. You have to retain the spirit of what a customer says and make it sound plausible. If you take a quote like, “Yes, on the whole, I would say the WidgetTron 2000 is a pretty good product,” and turn it into “The WidgetTron 2000 is the best product in the whole wide world and its awesomeness brings me to tears every time I think about it,” you’re going to run into problems.

A better way to shape the original quote would be something like this: “The WidgetTron 2000 is a really good product. It is easy to use and allowed us to streamline our operations.” I deleted the “on the whole” and changed “pretty good” to “really good,” which removes the lukewarm tone. I also extended the quote to make it sound well-rounded. A few small, completely OK tweaks make a big difference, and with customer approval, you are secure in knowing your updated quote works for everyone.

  1. Blow things out of proportion

When you get right down to it, most businesses aren’t too terribly concerned about the challenges other businesses face. This may be short-sighted, but more often than not, businesses are too knee-deep in their own issues to worry about the other guy (aside from giving lip service to outpacing the competition, of course).

This thinking is a big problem for case-study writers because exploring the case study’s problems – the challenge section – usually makes up at least a third of the story. To effectively hook readers, take a step back and think about why a broader audience might be interested in the one business’ challenge.

Let me show you. In this case study, the challenge is written as: “Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, needed to sell more pizzas, but his point-of-sale technology was slow and buggy.” Clearly, Mozzarello has a problem, but as written, the challenge isn’t compelling.

Here is a more broadly detailed challenge that has greater appeal: “Operating a restaurant is fraught with challenges, from demanding customers to razor-thin margins. Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, thought he could rely on his point-of-sale technology to give him a competitive edge, but it was slow and buggy.”

The revised challenge situates Mozzarello’s specific problem – bad technology – in the context of the larger restaurant industry and a universal business theme of competitive differentiation. The first sentence of your case study should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. This provides a better chance that readers will identify with the broader challenge even if they are not in the study’s specific vertical or business.

I think crafting a first sentence like this also makes case studies easier to write. After all, if you have bigger, meatier issues to explore, you are less likely to simply go through the motions to craft the case study.

Conclusion

When you implement these three tips into your case-study process, you will be able to create an authentic, easy-to-understand voice that sets the stage for a meatier and more effective case study that is appealing to a wider audience.

Gretchen Dukowitz has spent more than a decade writing case studies, white papers, and other marketing content for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Symantec and Cisco. She currently works as a writer and content strategist for a tech startup in the Bay Area. You can find more writing tips like these at her blog, DIY Content Marketing, or connect with her on LinkedIn. This post originally appeared on the Content Marketing institute Web 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.

What? You Skipped These In Your Case Study?

content marketing think like publisherWhile revising a series of case studies for a global IT services company, I found myself asking them over and over:

  • What did you do for your client that was different or better than what either the client or your competitors could have done?
  • How did your work help your client’s bottom line?

These two seemingly obvious questions were often very hard for the “in the trenches” account and project managers to answer. But without that context, any case study is just a “so what?” list of tasks you accomplished. Here’s what’s worked for me in making these case studies matter to prospects.

Why We’re Better

Account and project managers are stuck in the weeds because they’re paid to meet internal processes and delivery goals. To them, implementing an application upgrade, server refresh or shift to an offshore location are successes in and of themselves. The business-level benefits (such as cutting software licensing costs, speeding problem resolution or reducing support costs) are often hammered out several layers above them and long before they started work.
As a result, when I ask “Why are you better?” I hear things like:

  • “Global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…”
  • “Performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…”
  • “In Q! completed offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…

By repeatedly asking a) specifically what they did differently than others and b) the specific process-level benefits of their work, I can often drive them to cough up more useful details. For example:

  • “Using our proprietary transition methodology, we provided global delivery of seamless service for database, compute, storage, network and applications…” in half the time competitors had promised in their proposal.
  • Using our custom configuration scripts and customized server imaging tools, we “performed on-time and on-budget migration of Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010,
    VPN upgrades, XP to Windows 7 and self-service password reset…” without interruptions to applications or employee productivity.
  • The intensive pre-engagement training of our staff in the client’s systems allowed us, in half the time the customer expected, to “complete offshoring of Level 1 and Level 2 services to Mumbai, Prague and the Philippines for 24/7 help desk coverage…”

How It Helped

It’s also important to dig for quantifiable details about how the service engagement paid off to the business. The first time through, I’ll often hear vague descriptions such as:

  • “Transformation of server, network and application pillars increased agility and optimized operational costs.”
  • “Moving from siloed SLAs to a scalable business services model aligned IT and the business.”
  • “Automation-related efficiencies led to reduced demand, greater performance and improved agility.”

By pushing for a) definitions of these terms and b) quantification of the business benefits we can come closer to something like:

  • “Virtualizing the client’s servers, networks and applications allowed the client to scale their servers 2,000 percent to meet the holiday crunch. Our timely completion of a mobile app generated $2.5 million in additional revenue. Reducing the number of physical devices saved $125,000 in one time equipment upgrade fees and $50,000 a year in heating, cooling, space and management costs.”
  • “Rather than siloed SLAs that track the performance of only part of the IT infrastructure, our business services model lets senior executives track how essential business services (such as order tracking and customer support) are operating. This lets them focus IT spending on the areas most critical to the business.”
  • “Automation in areas ranging from password reset to server monitoring reduced the number of trouble tickets by 46%, increased availability from 97.6 to 99.99 percent, and made it easier to roll out upgrades to their CRM system.”

The earlier in the content production process you can get detailed answers like this, the sooner your internal, or external, writer can turn out compelling case studies. If you can’t get this quality of answer, ask yourself if it’s worth doing the case study at all.

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 Content Turns Off Buyers

best content B2B buyers Recent research  from on-line IT marketer Spiceworks says yes.  Their users don’t give a hoot about spray-and-pray email blasts or mindless product promos on Facebook. What does keep them caring about and buying from vendors, says Spiceworks, are personal, technical responses to their questions from someone who sees them as a person, not just a number.

It’s important to note that Spiceworks sells infrastructure-oriented (not business focused) tools to a fairly tactical audience. Close to two-thirds of their respondents are manager or director level, rather than the C-level execs that sign off on the biggest purchases. And just over half work in companies with fewer than 100 employees, with only 25 percent at enterprises with more than 1,000 employees.

But even if you’re selling higher-level business-focused software or (shudder) “transformational” business-focused business services, you can learn from Spiceworks’ findings.

Tip #1: Lecture, No. Discuss, Yes.

The survey showed that Spiceworks users rely heavily on peer recommendations, ratings and reviews and free product trials. Several respondents said they listen most to people that respond personally to their specific questions in a technical way. (Emphasis added.)

In the typical enterprise sale, this is where vendors rely on a sales rep, cite case studies, or arrange a one-off call with the reference customer if the prospect is serious enough. Another option, taking a page from Spiceworks, is to get that reference customer to do a Webinar answering questions from multiple prospects. To ease the path with their PR folks, stress that they will not endorse your product, but just describe their experience, the factors that went into their evaluation and their lessons learned. The resulting themes and tips can be repurposed into blog posts, white papers or “Top Ten” checklists.

An even easier way to get the conversation going is to have a product manager, technical lead or (in professional services) engagement lead do a Q&A on trends in, say, health care regulatory compliance, stress-testing for banks or the use of Big Data in retail. Begin with the questions or pain points bothering your current clients, and then open it up for questions. Make sure your subject matter expert comes across as a real person, treats the attendees like real people and can drill into either technical or business details. Again, mine this for “top tips” or “industry trend/thought leadership” content.

Tip #2: Facebook, No; Forums, Yes

Spiceworks found that while close to 90% of marketers use “mainstream” social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to build brand awareness and promote products, only 16% of IT pros turn to these channels to research new products or services. For them, Facebook and the like are or entertainment or other non-work topics.

“On the flip side,” Spiceworks found, “nearly all IT pros (92%) are using IT forums during the buying cycle, while only 61% of marketers are investing” in them. Just like a good survey should, these results neatly showcase Spiceworks’ differentiator: A large and active community built around its free cloud-based IT management software. Users provide the valuable, technically rich answers for the satisfaction of helping others, to make human connections in a sometimes-lonely profession, to gain “expert” status and (most importantly) so they can in return get fast, free and expert help.

If you’re selling very high-end or customized software, or very “customer-specific” service engagements, you may not be able to create such a community. (Or maybe Spiceworks has one for you.) At the very least, Spiceworks says, “invest the time and find out which social destinations your customer uses…” and don’t waste your efforts on blatantly useless networks. However you network (see Tip #1) keep the focus on answering specific questions from real people, not one-size fits all marketing messages.

Tip 3: Tell? No. Show? Yes. 

Spiceworks’ users scored videos and Webinars higher than any other content type in every stage of the sales cycle. This figures, since their users are the ones who have to live with the “look and feel” of apps that must deliver specific, well-defined functions.

In emerging, less well-understood area such as the use of Big Data in analyzing new health care models, or the impact of DevOps on databases, longer-form written text such as white papers is still essential, especially in the research and awareness stage.

What Content IT Managers Want, Throughout the Sales Cycle (left-hand columns)) and In Specific Phases.

What Content IT Managers Want, Throughout the Sales Cycle (left-hand columns)) and In Specific Phases.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t illustrate concepts with an illustration or video every chance you get. Don’t just claim the new reports you provide help uncover business trends – show it, with screen shots that are big enough to actually see. If you’re a high-level business consultant, do a quick video comparing the “before” and “after” of the process flows you simplified. Keep whatever you do short, sweet and clear. Finally, don’t be afraid to mix up your formats with variations such as ebooks (heavy on illustrations, short on text) and to tease longer-form print from shorter-form video and vice versa.

Marketing Must-Haves

In my view, Spiceworks’ findings hold most true for sales of tactical products sold relatively far down in the organization. For prospects further up the org chart, more of the care and feeding would need to be done by a sales rep, backed up by more conventional content.  But getting more interactive and personal, showing rather than telling, and choosing social media channels carefully are musts to all prospects groups.

What’s your take?

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.

case studies thought leadership While developing a thought leadership white paper for a client, they asked whether customer case studies or “use cases” (examples of how a technology or process would be used to help the business) have a place in such “non-sales” content.

My answer: You bet, if they’re used right.

Yes, “thought leadership” means giving prospects a new, insightful way of thinking about a common business or technology problem without a detailed sales pitch. But case studies and use cases are an ideal way to tease your expertise without giving away the store. Here’s how.

We’ve Handled That

Case studies belong in thought leadership collateral if they are presented as illustrative examples of a general problem faced by many customers, and contain valuable advice that can be used by any reader without making a purchase from you.  

For example, “At one global pharmaceutical company, our data architecture evaluation discovered hundreds of potentially sensitive databases the compliance staff wasn’t even aware of. Issuing a blanket edict against use these valuable data sources would have been ineffective and hurt the credibility of the IT organization. Instead, we worked with the client to develop a series of incentives and approved processes to successfully nudge the business units towards compliance.”

This is a valuable lesson that will impress prospects with your smarts, but doesn’t give away the “secret sauce” of how you pulled this trick off. The prospect still needs to call for specifics such as:

  • What neat technology and processes did you use to find sensitive data stores the client’s own compliance staff couldn’t?
  • How did you navigate the corporate power structure to steer the business owners away from a heavy-handed response that could have backfired?
  • How did you figure out the right incentives and processes to convince, rather than force, business units to do the right thing?
  • And how did you balance the business units’ legitimate need for data with the corporate need to prove security compliance?

The Use Case for Use Cases

 More general business use cases – what I think of as “the problem, whether we have a case study or not” are also extremely valuable because 1) they tell specific stories rather than lay out generic challenges, and 2) demonstrate how you’re developing approaches to meeting them.

Some examples, based on recent projects I’ve done:

  •  Many of our clients want to automate testing to meet consumers’ demand for more apps, on more devices, more quickly. We recommend, among other things, carefully choosing which tests to automate, developing standardized, centralized test processes and understanding how much manual test effort is still needed.
  •  With the combination of mobile social apps and Big Data analysis, many retailers want dashboards that show changes in consumer behavior and sentiment in near real-time. To deliver those, you’ll need to combine structured data such as customer IDs with unstructured data such as blog posts, and to present the analysis in user-friendly formats.
  •  The shift from hosting applications in-house to buying software as a service (SaaS) forces software vendors to not only code great apps, but to become service providers. Making this transition requires new capabilities such as meeting service level agreements, creating real-time usage monitoring and billing platforms, and meeting strict security requirements.

Bottom line: I will happily take either case studies and use cases and put them to good use. In each case, they give the prospect a new way of thinking about a common problem, but force them to contact you to learn how to solve their specific problems.

If anything, my clients usually err on the side of being so vague (“We found multiple opportunities for optimizing IT operations”) their promises sound like vague marketing fluff. Trust me: Every client’s IT environment, culture and business needs are unique enough you’ll have plenty to talk about once you’re in the door. You’re better off telling them more, not less, to get in that door.

Author: Bob Scheier
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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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