Mine the Past for IT Thought Leadership

We often think thought leadership requires uncovering some fundamental new truth about the universe, proving it is correct, and showing how to get there. That’s a heavy lift, and it’s not always possible – or even necessary.

Sometimes, just having been around the industry, seeing a thing or two, and applying that historic perspective to a new issue is enough. For evidence, see this recent blog post by aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia expressing his skepticism about the much-hyped emerging technology of very light aircraft and air taxis.

His piece looks not forward but back, to the early 2000s, and the death of an earlier generation of companies trying to make air travel easier and less expensive through, among other things, very small jets available for rent. He used his  experience to list six reasons the current very light/very small “air mobility” market will collapse. They range from investors ignoring the high capital costs of the aircraft to a lack of serious engineering work to the human tendency to believe hype – all illustrated with detailed examples.

The lesson for IT marketers: Having been around and seeing several technology hype cycles gives your senior developers or executives the potential to develop compelling thought leadership. To do so, they need to look beyond the shiny surface of today’s tech toys for deeper trends and hard-learned lessons.

Several examples of how this could look like:

  • Data Lakehouses: The latest magic pill for our data woes? Look back on the history of traditional databases, data marts, data warehouses, and  data lakes and why each failed to solve the perennial challenges of scale, cost, speed and data quality. What similar questions should we be asking about data lakehouses that we are not, and how should that affect product development, customer purchase choices and marketing?
  • Security: The problem that keeps sucking up more money but never seems to get better. We’ve moved from firewalls to securing APIs, from whitelist-based antivirus to AI-enabled behavior analysis, and from descriptive to predictive to prescriptive security and zero trust security. But there always seems to be new threats around the corner, and security managers struggle for budget in part because previous magic bullets failed. What questions should we be asking, but are not, about the latest and greatest security approaches? What new approaches should be consider, such as considering security spending like insurance premiums – a cost of doing business that mitigates, rather than eliminates, risk?
  • Cloud Everything: Once upon a time centralized IT was in, with most data processing going through a mainframe. Then decentralized-client server was the rage. Now, the big cloud hyperscalers provide central sources of compute, storage and networking and are the default choice for many  workloads. Based on our lessons with previous computing models, what are the hidden weaknesses (from cost to security to vendor lockin to compliance) we’re missing in the move to cloud? When and why should companies consider keeping some internal IT capabilities?
  • Edge computing: This refers to the growth of processing and storage capabilities close to the edge of the network, quickly analyzing and acting on data from sensors, factory devices and vehicles. An industry veteran could look back at the spread of department-level local area networks in the 1980s for hard lessons about the need for standards, policies governing data sharing among groups,  proper security and for making sure local “edge” infrastructure doesn’t  become a hidden, unproductive drag on budgets. The technology may change, but the impulse to avoid slow, stodgy central IT to solve a pressing problem hasn’t. Nor have the problems of uncontrolled, local technology deployment.

Begin your quest for backward-looking thought leadership by asking your most experienced team members which recurrent problems or patterns they see, either in the underlying technology or business’ use of it. Then ask them to draw two or three hard-learned lessons from the past and apply them to the present.

They don’t have to be 100 % right in every one of your criticisms (or praise) of a technology or a business trend or their predictions. They just need a reasonable observation, connection, or question no one else has found. Getting the reader thinking alone new lines is real, and valuable, thought leadership in and of itself.

Wrenching Thought Leadership from Tecchies

thought leadership(This post first appeared in Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey (SWMS), which produces research and analysis that helps tech PR pros pitch more effectively. SWMS interviews editors, studies their work and produces research and analysis that helps tech PR pros land coverage and build relationships. Learn more here. mediasurvey.com/about)

Everyone and their brother seems to be looking for “thought leadership” these days – the unique, thoughtful insights that show you understand the technology you sell and the industry you’re selling into better than anyone else. In a recent Gartner survey close to a third of respondents said “…a form of thought leadership is the single highest driver of marketing-qualified leads (MQLs).”

But how do you extract compelling thought leadership from a technical specialist whose job is to be down in the weeds with the chip registers, whether to use linear regression, logistic regression or linear discriminant analysis in AI, or the ins and outs of Agile Vs. DevOps?

Here are four thought leadership tar pits I fall into with clients and tools I use to get out.

Morass One: “What do you mean by thought leadership?”

It’s not fair to ask a technical expert to deliver something you haven’t defined. My thought leadership elevator pitch goes like this:

  • It must present a new way of thinking about an old problem, a new question your customers should be asking, or even just define a problem most people can’t see yet.
  • It must be new thinking about how information technology can meet business challenges. If you’re repeating questions (or answers) the reader can get elsewhere it ain’t thought leadership.
  • It is about your customers and their challenges rather than your products or services. If you must mention your capabilities or customer success stories, limit them to proofs of your new thinking.
  • Even if you don’t have (or don’t want to share) a complete soup to nuts solution, you must explain why your thought leadership vision is plausible.
  • And you must tell the reader how to get started realizing this vision.

Morass Two: The Spec Sheet Syndrome  

You ask a product manager for thought leadership and get one – or worse, two or three – PowerPoints filled with product details (support for all leading hyperscalers, internal benchmarks like how many Tbytes of data they moved to the cloud, or vague benefit statements like “Increased efficiency and reduced data pipeline TCO.”

I counter with questions such as:

  • What is better, different, less expensive, more flexible about your tools or capabilities vs. your competitors?
  • How did these technical features or process frameworks increase the scale, efficiency, quality or agility with which the customer met their business challenge?
  • What lessons did you learn that others can use, regardless of the technology involved? (Push beyond technical details (“We used X sharding method for the database”) to business-relevant lessons (“We asked the sales teams what 20 percent of the data would produce 80 percent of the benefits and migrated that data first.”)
  • Push the customer engagement team or the customer to quantify the business benefits. You may not get specific figures, but you can probably find a safe range like “millions of dollars in savings” or “…at least 20 percent increase in customer satisfaction.”

Morass Three: Actually, All We Have is This Case Study…

The symptoms are similar to Morass #2 except your subject matter expert can tell you only about their use of one product or service for a one customer for a specific need. However spiffy the solution and how pleased the customer, this is a single success – not thought leadership for achieving repeated success.

I ask questions such as:

  • What makes this customer’s challenge, and our response to it, typical of a broader trend? For example, the need to effectively merge CRM systems after an acquisition, for pharmaceutical companies to use AI to speed drug development, or to migrate a legacy development team to DevOps?
  • What techniques, lessons or “tricks” did we learn in this engagement or deployment that could help others in the same boat? (Bonus points for lessons that are not specific to your product or service.) For example, rather than “Our machine learning platform helped us integrate more data types than anyone else,” you want something like “We started small and defined the business problem up front to keep us on track.”

Morass Four: We See the Problem But Don’t Have a Solution

Symptoms include statements like “We’re planning to address that in a future release,” “Everyone’s waiting for guidance from the regulators” or “We hope to fix that with our acquisition of vendor XYZ.”

Questions to dive deeper:

  • Even if we don’t have the “holy grail” answer, can we describe the problem in enough detail to hint at some answers? (“Five top reasons security is chronically underfunded and what our customers need to free up budget.”)
  • Explain why the common framing of a problem is wrong. “Struggling with scaling your machine learning project? That’s because they work best when they stay small and nimble.”
  • If you can’t answer one question, answer another that presents new thinking. For example, there’s plenty of back and forth about the best ways to deploy DevOps (the merger of development and operations teams.) Configuration management vendor Puppet took a different tack, citing survey results to argue that the term “DevOps” itself is too vague, and that more function-specific terms (such as DevOps for system administration or application development) delivers better business results.

Rinse and Repeat…and Repeat…

I wish I could say these tips will instantly unlock the gates of earth-shaking technology and market insights. Be ready to instead patiently explain all this multiple times to the same players in the same project before their eyes light up and they get it.

The good news is they often appreciate the extra effort you put in to bring the good stuff they know to market. As a PR or marketing person, this exercise also lifts you above the run of the mill hacks willing to happily repeddle the latest buzzwords. You are providing, if you will, thought leadership about thought leadership.

(What’s your secret sauce for extracting thought leadership from your best and brightest?)

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.

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.

technology road maps If good content marketing creates conversations with your customers, what better conversation could there be than learning what customers want in your next-generation products?

Google recently gave the disk drive industry some free, and detailed, market research in the form of a speech, a blog post and even a detailed white paper. Google’s wish list is interesting to me both from a technical storage perspective, and from says more generally about what you can learn from your customers.

The Storage Lessons…

Among the new, interesting points Google raised were:

  • How much video is driving cloud storage demand, and the need for disks optimized to stream video. (Season Four, House of Cards, anyone?)
  • And per those needs, that Google is willing “to pay a higher gigabyte price for storage, so long as it delivers a lower total cost of ownership as well as higher capacity and higher I/O operations per second.”
  • That solid state drives, despite how prices have fallen, are still too expensive for massive cloud deployment.
  • The need to “optimize the collection of disks, rather than a single disk in a server.” This includes accepting somewhat higher disk failure rates, as the data is likely stored on another disk as well.
  • A call for taller disk drives, and thus “more platters per disk, which adds capacity” and amortizes the costs of packaging, the printed circuit board, and the drive motor/actuator. “Given a fixed total capacity per disk, smaller platters can yield smaller seek distances and higher RPM, due to platter stability, and thus higher IOPS, but worse GB/$,”
  • And the importance of security in disk drive design, especially in areas like preventing hacks to the drive firmware. This is not something I often see in storage marketing material.

…and the Marketing Lessons

Google was good enough (and has enough clout) to begin this visionary conversation about the next generation of storage. I don’t see any reasons why any vendor in the technology sector, couldn’t start such a conversation without making it sound like a mere marketing ploy.

For example:

  • Write a “next-generation product roadmap” based on conversations with customers, insights from your technical visionaries and analysts you trust. Then open it up (via social media and online polling) to feedback and discussion.
  • Break out separate elements of your product roadmap and continue the discussion via blogs, contributed editorials, etc. Describe why you think each element is or isn’t important, and invite feedback.
  • Describe the “ifs, ands and buts” that would make each future product feature more or less valuable. In the disk drive example, is there some new solid state memory technology (maybe your own) that would make solid state drives more affordable than customers expect? Is there a new type of exploit that makes protection against firmware hacks even more important?
  • Make a quick poll about future feature sets part of every Webinar or blog post you do. Build your “next generation” wish list one piece at a time.

A final thought: Disk drives are (how do I say this?) not the sexiest, most leading edge product. They’re part of the IT plumbing and, some would argue, a commodity. If Google could make them interesting, and tie them to more compelling trends like video on demand and security, we should be able to do the same with almost any technology solution.

All we need is the imagination to get started, and the commitment to leverage what we find for thought leadership (and to guide product development.)

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.

How Big Data Will Fail. Why That’s Good

Big Data marketing tips When clients ask for “thought leadership” white papers, they want  ideas that aren’t yet common knowledge and that will grab and keep readers.

Here’s some thought leadership about the hot topic of Big Data: It can do massive harm if you use it to ask the wrong questions, overload users with documentation, implement it with the wrong data or ignore common sense. Being first to guide your customers around these pitfalls can mean competitive advantage.

Big Noise About Big Data

Big Data – analyzing a greater volume, variety and velocity of data to make better decisions – will grow at six times the rate of the overall information technology market, reaching $41.5 billion in 2018, says market researcher IDC.

Businesses have sliced and diced data about everything from underground oil deposits to customer sales for decades. But the growth of the Internet, of devices linked to the Internet of Things and social media means more data to mine every day. The opportunities range from using location data to text coupons to customers based on their location in a store to using arrest records to predict where crimes are likely and prevent them with a heavier police presence. (Hello, Minority Report.)

So what could go wrong? At least three big things. Here’s how to use each of these minefields to show thought leadership and speed the benefits of Big Data to us all.

  1. Data for Data’s Sake

ICD-10 is the latest version of the codes used around the world to describe medical conditions, and is the basis on which providers get paid by insurers. The most recent version, which went into effect October 1, is much more detailed than the previous versions, with 70,000 codes for everything from parrot bites to getting sucked into a jet engine. While the extra detail may help health researchers, Bloomberg Business Week reports says it means huge amounts of unpaid paperwork for providers – time they could be spending with patients. Skeptics note the added complexity means a windfall for consultants and software companies happy to sort out the mess, and gives insurers an excuse to deny claims.

  Thought leadership: Big Data will only be cost-effective and gain the trust of customers if we         gather only the data we need, ensure data gathering doesn’t interfere with an organization’s prime mission and is used for good, not evil. Be proactive about addressing these issues in your marketing.

  1. Forgetting the End Customer

In industry after industry, practitioners are scrambling for data-driven rules that will assure them they are doing a good job. In education, for example, some claim that the more a teacher moves around the classroom, the better their teaching. Have you ever had a teacher who could keep a classroom spellbound while standing in one place, and others who bored you to tears while they paced all over the place? Another teacher pointed out that too much stimulation (like a teacher wandering around the room) might distract students with autism or other disorders. Our fixation with data can blind us to our own experience.

Thought leadership: Stress (as many analytic experts already are) the importance of working closely with business managers and front-line workers to understand what data matter in the real world. Focus on metrics that matter to the end consumer. In education, for example, don’t monitor the teacher, but the students, and whether they’re listening raptly or are tapping on their smartphones. In sales, customer service or app development, focus on the user experience, not just stats like system response time.    

3. People Aren’t Robots. Yet.

There may come a day when we’re always guided to rational decisions by embedded neural networks, but we ain’t there yet.

Consider the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, which almost sank the globe into an economic depression. Some experts did predict the crash, and there was data (such as overly inflated home prices and rising household debt) that pointed to trouble.

But some of the biggest dangers were neither reflected in the data or the analytic models acting on it.  They include the folly of home buyers taking on mortgages they couldn’t afford, the greed of mortgage issuers (or those who packaged those loans for resale) in hiding rising delinquency rates, or the temptation for credit scoring agencies (who get paid by big financial firms) to keep the bad news quiet.

Thought leadership: Don’t just admit that human factors defy Big Data analysis. Become a leader in explaining the limits of Big Data, and advising your clients on when to supplement it with focus groups, qualitative research and field experience that take the human factor into account.

Big Data is still in the “peak of inflated expectations” phase of what researcher Gartner Inc. calls the “hype cycle” each new technology goes through. Next up is Gartner’s “trough of disillusionment” as customers fall prey to Big Data mistakes like those I’ve described.

As we learn how to use Big Data right, we’ll enter the sunny uplands of what Gartner calls the “slope of enlightenment” and “plateau of productivity” for new technology. Generating, and promoting, insights into the proper uses of Big Data will get your company, or your clients, to that happy state first.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Marketing Tips for Selling the IoT

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

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

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

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

Got Gum?

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

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

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

Pitch Wisely

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

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

Some ideas:

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

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

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Robot hand typing on a computer keyboard.With software already writing routine stories for The Associated Press (my former employer) it’s only natural to wonder when such apps might start writing press releases, cases studies, Tweets, blog posts and other marketing content.

The AP claims its robo-writing of sports and quarterly-earning pieces hasn’t cost any jobs, but freed staffers to create more nuanced, in-depth stories. But as writing software gets better, it will be able to tackle more complex stories and (by extension) more complex marketing content such as white papers and responding to (just not creating) social media content.

For the sake of (choose your age bracket) our mortgages, our kids’ college funds and our 401(k)s we need to keep moving up the value chain and away from anything that is too formulaic and hum drum. Here are five content creation “fortresses” I see as safe for humans for a while yet.

Thought leadership: In a story about a game or a company’s quarterly earnings, the inputs (runs, hits, errors, revenue, extraordinary charges, etc.) are all well known. So is the format of the finished story. (“Gregg Jones led a fourth quarter rushing blitz that led the Panthers to a last-minute 33-29 win over the Cougars.”)

But I haven’t seen software that can suggest an idea or concept you can’t describe beforehand. That’s at the core of much of the work I do with clients developing thought leadership pieces. For one client, for example, I’ve spent weeks and dozens of hours reviewing background briefings and sitting in on discussions of their technology “vision.” It’s hard and necessary work to tease out and creatively package the unique content, and nothing I can see a set of business rules or algorithms tackling.

Cleaning Dirty Data: In the enterprise application world, dirty data might be three customer records for the same person with different combinations of first and last names, which can lead the company to think it has three different customers when there’s only one. Garbage in, garbage out.

In content creation, “dirty data” is raw material that is incomplete, inconsistent, unclear, loaded with jargon, too long or too short. How do you train an application to sift through a 60-slide PowerPoint full of buzzwords and distill the new, compelling message? How would you write a business rule defining “transform” when it can mean anything from cutting the cost of on-premise software to moving it to the cloud?

Asking the right questions: The more time I spend in marketing writing, the more value I find I provide by asking seemingly obvious questions. They might be as straightforward as “How do you define the cloud?” (Ask three experts and you’ll get four different answers.) Does any robot know to even ask the question, much less keep asking if the answer isn’t good enough to use in marketing collateral? Or creatively take four seemingly different answers and combine them into a new, compelling marketing message?

Coping with chaos: Software works great in defined, predictable environments where inputs and outputs can be predicted and rules created to respond to them. Ever seen a product manager or marketing campaign that works by set predictable rules with everyone following the workflow? How would you design software that can automatically reconcile multiple dueling agendas as new “cooks” in the form of product managers and outside agencies dip their spoon into the content stew?

Applying street smarts: I’m currently moderating a LinkedIn group for IBM on sales performance management software. When one study indicated some sales people are more motivated by “the thrill of the chase” than the size of their bonuses, I reacted with a very human “Really?” based on personal experience. How would you build such real-world knowledge into an application? Or, for example, the knowledge that sales and marketing staffs never seem to get along, or that security and operations staffs are always at odds because one is paid to assure safety, the other uptime? Applying such real-world perspective is essential to showing your prospects you know their business and can meet their needs.

Don’t get me wrong. Robo-writing software will get better at all these things, and maybe more quickly than we expect. That’s why we human marketing and PR types need to keep finding the “fortresses” of expertise that can’t be quantified in algorithms and business rules.  Which ones did I miss — and are you worried about content creation robots?

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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