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?

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.

Which Transformation Soup Are You Selling?  

selling transformationWith winter coming, it’s time to think about soups. Not as in savory stews, but in the unsavory slop we dish out when we carelessly talk about “transformation.” Blending the various definitions without thinking dilutes the message and leaves prospects confused, rather than wanting to learn more.

More than seven years ago (yikes!) I first trashed the term as meaningless jargon and since then tried to puzzle out its various meanings. Since folks can’t stop using the “T” word, I thought I’d offer what (based on my most recent work) clients mean these days by the various flavors of transformation and some messaging that works best for each:

Application transformation. This usually means deciding which applications to keep, which to get rid of and which to improve. This often involves existing tools and techniques such as “application portfolio rationalization” or “application portfolio management” and includes the use of enterprise architecture tools to understand the apps you have, how they relate to the business and how to streamline your portfolio. Today it usually involves moving apps wherever possible to less expensive, more scalable cloud platforms.

Your messaging:  Get specific about how reduce the speed and cost of application assessment and prioritization. Quantify the savings you enabled by ditching unneeded applications and moving others to the cloud.  Be sure to also describe how “app transformation” drove the top (sales) line through better information access for customers, employees and business partners, and how the streamlined apps boosted customer retention and margins through more differentiated services.

Customer experience transformation. This means making life easier for customers than your competitors (or how you did it in the bad old days.) This often means on-line (think user interfaces and easy to use chatbots) but can extend to in-person (roaming service agents with tablets at airports or self-service kiosks at stores.) Services range from rapid application development and redesign through, on the high end, on-site “ethnographic” research to better understand customer needs.

Your messaging: Stress how your agile development helps developers quickly roll out “minimum viable products,” get feedback, fine-tune and redeploy them with continuous integration and continuous delivery. Prove it not with internal metrics like how many MVPs you rolled out or how much customer research you did, but with business benefits such as higher revenue per visitor shopping cart, increased margins or (best of all) dominating new markets through sheer ease of use, such as Amazon does with one-click shopping.

Infrastructure transformation: This is all about the IT plumbing of hardware, storage and networks. While it can include streamlining such processes on site, it usually means moving them from internal data centers to the cloud, shifting applications from proprietary platforms like mainframes to commodity hardware and open source software, and moving from manual, reactive management to lower cost, faster, automated monitoring and management.

Your messaging: Depending on where you play, you can stress anything from your automated cloud migration tools to your skills in cross-cloud or hybrid (public and private) cloud management or at deploying and managing containers that run multiple applications on a single server. The overarching trend here the use of software, automation and artificial intelligence to cut the cost and expense of managing IT through a “software defined data center” or “software defined Wide Area Network.” With giants like Cisco scrambling to define and dominate the market, it takes careful thought to position yourself right. Don’t forget to cover security, which is becoming trickier the more complex such environments become.

The tactical benefits are, of course, lower costs. But the more strategic play is increased agility, the ability to scale infrastructure up and down as needs change, and quickly delivering new products and services to meet changing customer needs.

Digital transformation. The great grand-daddy of them all, which is often used to mean any or all of the above subsets of transformation. I hear my clients use it most often to mean changing the corporate culture and strategy to focus around the effective use of new technologies such as mobile, social, analytics and the cloud.

Your messaging: Changing corporate culture and strategy is a huge challenge. If you’re playing here, you’ll need a good, defensible story that includes business consulting and strategy and organizational change management as well as delivering the underlying technology. Even more than with other transformation flavors, the benefits to stress are long-term corporate survival and the creation and domination of new markets.

What other flavors of transformation are you seeing and what messaging works best in marketing them?

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.

Pulling Case Studies Out of Customers

how to create customer case studies One of the more predictable, and sadder, moments in my work with clients comes when I ask for a customer case study to help illustrate all the good things their hardware, software or services can do.

Their answer is often an awkward silence, followed by something like “Uh, we’ll have to talk to sales to see if they have anything. But they probably don’t so why don’t you start writing anyway…”

That hurts their marketing efforts, because a recommendation from a trusted peer – which is what a case study is – is one of the most credible forms of content you can publish. One recent survey showed that case studies are the top form of content busy B2B buyers want to read.

There are many reasons customers don’t want to help you create a case study. The interviews and review cycles take time out of their busy schedules, and force them to jump through hoops with their internal legal and PR departments for what they may see as “only” a favor for a vendor they’re already paying for a product or service.

Try These Tacks

The Content Marketing Institute recently published some helpful hints for getting customers to participate in a case study. They include (with my comments in italics.)

Create a formal submission and request process, and explaining to your own customer success, sales and marketing teams why case studies are so vital.  A good start, but it requires a lot of internal education and still may not break down resistance among your customers.) 

Create a formal document that outlines how to submit marketing case study opportunities. This can easily degrade, in my experience, into a dreary bureaucratic exercise producing “fill in the form” summaries with vague jargon like “transformation” or wooly benefits like “optimized systems” instead of the quantifiable specifics a good case study needs.

Create a case study request email template to make requests of your customers. A good idea as long as it gives the customer a good reason to cooperate. (See below.) I’d also suggest giving the customer engagement teams lots of rooms to customize them to build on what are (hopefully) their great relationships with clients.

Offer employees a bonus for recruiting customers for case studies. CMI admits this is a “bandage” approach that could get expensive and encourage subpar submissions, but can also jump start longer-term efforts. I actually like this idea, as long as you’re clear with your people about what makes a good case study. You could even make the production of case study “candidates” part of employees’ compensation, giving them an incentive to make case studies part of their “partnership” with their best customers. 

Provide value to the customers doing the case studies (and explain it to them). This is of course the Holy Grail. Possible hot buttons to push in today’s climate include:

  • Using the case study as a recruitment tool by showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Using the case study to help your client attract good business partners by, again, showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Telling the rest of the client’s organization about the good work IT is doing to grow revenue and market share.
  • Discounted pricing or extra support.

 Anonymous or “masked” case studies, such as referring to the customer as “a major European telecom provider.” A good, tried and true alternative. Not as powerful as a name-brand reference, but if specific enough it can still provide value.

A group case study describing average results seen by your customers. An interesting approach I’m currently trying with one client. Possible obstacles include making “apples to oranges” comparisons of benefits or challenges across customers, and widely differing quality of information or results across multiple customers.

What Else?

In these days of fewer, and larger, customers and increased regulation, getting customers to help out with case studies will probably get harder, not easier. What is working – or not working – for you?

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.

Five Ways Storytelling Goes Bad

Wherever you go in the content marketing industry, people are talking about brand storytelling.   You have to tell stories to get customers emotionally involved in your brand. The human mind is intrinsically geared to hearing and understanding stories.

Hey, I’m all for storytelling. When my clients go on about how they digitally “transform” this or that, I harass them for real-world examples – stories, if you will — to explain what they’re doing.  When they give me a cookie-cutter, jargon-filled case study to word-smith, I push back for more details on the business challenges and the internal implementation headaches that will bring their work to life.

But in each of those examples, I use stories to illustrate a wider theme or broader truth. When we use stories to trivialize, to distract, to pander or to cover up, we’re cheapening our profession and pulling the wool over our reader’s eyes. Is that we went into this profession for?

How might story-telling hoodwink a reader, either intentionally or not? Stick with me for a sec for an example from the pharmaceutical rather than the IT industry.

Yes, We Price Gouge, But Our People Are Nice

Consider these two audio spots I heard within ten minutes the other day on NPR:

The first described allegations that drug companies vastly overstate the cost of drug development to justify higher drug prices and greater profits.

The second was a promotional notice from an NPR donor – a drug company — inviting listeners to hear stories about how their employees volunteer their time to help their communities.

Which story is more emotionally engaging? The feel-good piece about the volunteers. Which is easier to tell? The feel-good piece about the volunteers. Which drive more positive views of the drug company? The feel-good piece about the volunteers.

But that volunteer story describes dozens or maybe hundreds of volunteers doing individual good works. Unless the drug company is giving them paid time off to volunteer, it’s not really about the drug company at all. The second story involves billions of dollars and whether hundreds of millions of people get the health care they need.

So you tell me. Which story is more important?

Where Storytelling Goes Bad

Story telling is essential because it grabs viewers and listeners emotionally. But it gets in the way when it:

  1. Describes only anecdotes while ignoring systematic root causes. You can always, for example, find a student from a failed family and lousy school who made it into Harvard. But that doesn’t mean poor schools and chaotic home lives don’t holding many more students back. A corrupt mortgage broker could tell lots of good stories about the nice people who work for them. But that doesn’t compare with the human loss caused by systemic abuses such as weak underwriting, corrupt lenders, and too-loose credit.
  2. Conflates a one-time event with real change. At the recent Content Marketing World Kate Santore, who heads up integrated marketing content for Coca-Cola, played a 2013 ad showing Coke kiosks encouraging person to person contacts  between citizens of nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. The spot is beautiful and even inspirational. But did it make a lasting difference in how those people felt, thought or acted?
  3. Appeals to the emotion at the expense of clear thinking. Check out this light-hearted ad from Cisco claiming the ideal Valentine’s Day gift is an ASR 9000 Series Aggregation Services Router. I can see this working for top of the funnel “awareness” of a product, but will it convince either a system administrator to recommend it, or a CIO or CFO to approve the purchase?
  4. Doesn’t reflect the company’s true value or role. You have to praise Coke’s diversity-boosting Super Bowl ad this year as at least taking a stand on a controversial subject. But at the end of the day, is Coke’s mission showing “what unites us is stronger than what divides us” or selling beverages for a profit?
  5.  Doesn’t tell the customer what they need to make a purchase decision. At Content Marketing World, I overheard one speaker enthusing over how a post on a bank Web site about watching an eclipse out-performed traditional content such as, he sneered, “stories about the interest rate on credit cards.” Maybe it’s just me, but I want to hear about my bank’s interest rates.

Wherever I turn, I see “storytellers” trying to distract me with anecdotal, emotion-filled messages when what I need are facts. If we’re selling big-ticket IT solutions, we need to make sure “stories” support the message but don’t overwhelm it.

Thoughts?how story telling goes bad

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.

Do You Want Sales or an Audience – or Both?

Give clients “real business metrics,” says, Joe Lazauskas of Contently.

Walking the halls of my first Content Marketing World I wasn’t surprised to hear lots of agreement that high quality content is essential to effective marketing and sales.

But I was surprised at the mixed messages about whether the goal of that content should be to generate short-term benefit in the form of qualified leads and sales, or if it is enough – or even better – if content captures the right audience and makes you the dominant “voice” about whatever you’re selling.

The answer to this question will determine everything from your editorial to your distribution and content marketing measurement strategies. Hence, it’s something we need to figure out before producing a single piece of copy. Check out these arguments from both sides.

Show Me the Money… 

First, as if anyone needed convincing, research from the Content Marketing Institute and business news publisher SmartBrief  reinforced “the value of content marketing in guiding prospects during the purchasing process.” Among the findings: Two thirds tap sources other than manufacturers or vendors in the initial information gathering stage of a purchase, and almost as many said the most important consideration was that the information speak to their specific needs or pain points. That seems to point to the need for content to generate leads and sales, and to be measured on that basis.

One speaker, Joe Lazauskas, director of content strategy and editor in chief at software and services provider Contently, argued in favor of “accountable real business metrics” that generate return on investment, rather than just “impressions” when a reader sees a piece of copy. Another speaker, Jeannine Rossignol, chief executive and marketing officer of Edge Building and Construction, urged content marketers to think more like sales people and design content to drive sales, not just hits on a Web site.

…Or Show Me the Audience

But an Curran, CEO of content publishing software and services vendor PowerPost, argued that the real road to success for content marketers isn’t  in generating leads, but  in capturing share of “voice” – being a or the leading authority on a subject. The market presence and leads will follow, he argues.

But don’t his clients want hard dollar results like quality leads, I asked? Unfortunately, no, he said – because they often lack the internal processes that would let their sales forces put those leads to good use. This is a real and continuing problem, with some research indicating sales forces ignore a full 50 percent of the sales leads they’re given.

Robert Rose, chief content advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, had an even more revolutionary take. Maybe, he said, we’re not really in the business of creating content but of creating audiences. Those audiences can then be tapped for anything from advertising (Google) to sales of goods and services (Amazon) to tracking their needs to fine tune new products and services. Rose’s stance is not that sales and lead gen isn’t an essential goal for content marketing, but that focusing on it exclusively can blind you to even greater benefits.

“Strategic content creation helps build an engaged audience of people who exhibit specific, desirable behaviors – like greater willingness to share personal data, greater interest in upselling opportunities, and greater brand loyalty and evangelism,” he blogged in October 2016. “When your content compels your audience to adopt these behaviors, not only does it become easier for your business to achieve its long-term marketing goals, it can also open up new business opportunities – and even new revenue streams.”

When Things Go Bad

I can’t help think that, if and when the economy slows, our clients are going to revert to (if they’re not there already) demanding quality leads and not just share of voice or audience to justify their content spending.

But even so, should we be giving equal attention to building long-term audience and “share of voice” along with short-term qualified leads?

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.

Driving Thought Leadership in Blockchain

blockchain thought leadership

Kosta Peric of thge Bill & Melinda Gates foundation describes a blockchain-based digital payment platform for the poor.

So you’re convinced of the potential of blockchain (networks of encrypted ledgers in which the nodes automatically and continually assure the accuracy of all the data on the chain without the need for a central authority.)

And you think you have some deep thinking that will help you ride the blockchain rocket. If so, what content marketing strategies will make you a blockchain thought leader?

Here are some approaches based on my own recent work on blockchain thought leadership, and from the recent “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. (Videos of the event here.)

Use the “D” Word – Decentralization

The technical rebel (or rebels) who created blockchain were driven by a desire to decentralize power and authority from the centralized gatekeepers that now make the rules, handle the transactions and keep much of the money in today’s economies and societies.

For example, Uber looks like a decentralized ride-sharing service that lets drivers make money when their cars would otherwise sit unused. But the information about who needs rides and which drivers are available sits with a central authority (Uber), not the drivers or riders. And it is Uber that sets many of the rules and takes a percent of each transaction. Same with the home-sharing service Airbnb.

While blockchain since gone mainstream, with the likes of IBM offering “enterprise production ready blockchain services,” the disruptor mentality is still strong. And since blockchain is meant to be so disruptive, much of the talk at the conference was about who will be disrupted, and how.

Not all the answers are clear. Amber Baldet, blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, for example, cited the upside that blockchain can dramatically lower processing costs. But the downside is how blockchain could eliminate, or greatly reduce the need for entities like J.P. Morgan at all. How will this all play out? No one knows. Therein lies your thought leadership opportunity.

In your content marketing strategy, be bold in identifying  middlemen (even yourself) that are ripe for replacement through blockchain. What can or must they do to survive if blockchain replaces their “utility” function of providing safe, cheap transactions? Should they rethink who they can serve as customers, or how? Are their new value-added services they need to develop now to prepare for the loss of revenue if blockchain takes off? What will your industry look like in five or ten years if blockchain eliminates or reduces the need for today’s middlemen?

 Noodle on the Big Legal, Regulatory and Social Issues

Much of the talk at the conference was not about technology, but rather how laws and regulations will need to change if blockchain is to reach its decentralizing, empowering potential. For example, Lawrence Orsini, principal and founder of LO3 Energy, waxed poetic about the potential for local, decentralized solar powered micro-electric grids to produce greener power at lower cost. But in countries such as Germany, the rise of such renewable energy has sent traditional utilities into a nosedive as their revenues drop, while their costs stay the same for standby power plants for when renewables aren’t available, and the electric grids over which renewable producers sell their energy.

Use your industry smarts to think deeply about how blockchain could change your business, and what role regulators as well as traditional middlemen play. In the case of utilities, should regulators allow them to spin off legacy infrastructure into safe but low-return businesses that maintain power grids as a public good while putting more investment into smart grids that allow the dynamic sharing of power across markets? Why (and if so, how) should governments or regulators change how rates are sets and financial returns regulated to encourage such a shift? If a blockchain is corrupted or allows the theft of a cyber currency, who is liable for the loss? What issues should lawmakers and industry groups be tackling now?  

Think Social Good

Multiple users, and even entire sessions at the conference, were devoted to how blockchain can help the world. Ideas (and actual projects) range from delivering credit and secure transactions to the billions the billions who are now “unbanked” to low cost identity assurance programs that can widen access to government aid and even fighting human trafficking.

In some cases, the messaging spans the commercial and public realms.  Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project, an open source blockchain initiative, told the conference his  “aha” moment occurred when he learned of blockchain’s potential to securely record property claims and thus prevent the theft of land from the poor in Latin America.

 If you have a genuine social strategy, go for it in your content strategy. If you don’t, or are mixing social good with private gain, be careful. If you “greenwash” your blockchain thinking with an idealistic spin the rebel zealots in the blockchain community will delight in shredding you. Look instead for areas where your interest and society’s align, such as a utility that needs to reduce peak power generation costs while meeting greenhouse gas emission laws, and can use blockchain to do both.

The potential of blockchain is so great there’s plenty of room to think big thoughts and answer (or raise) big questions. Don’t be afraid to think big, and to focus on the vertical market and business issues you understand, not the blockchain technicalities you don’t.

What do you do when a client, or your executives, issue the trumpet call for blockchain thought leadership?

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.
 Page 1 of 15  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »