Head out to Paine Field in Everett, Washington, and you’ll see 20-25 brand new, nearly finished 787 airliners sitting on the flight line.
Boeing can’t deliver them to customers (or get fully paid for them) until they perform more than 140,000 fixes. Various planes need different combinations of work on stabilizers, electrical systems, engines and even condensation that sends moisture dripping down the inside of the airplanes. Just tracking which plane needs which changes is a major challenge, as is juggling the repair schedule to match the delivery slots airlines paid for. Taking apart nearly-completed planes to fix hidden flaws plays havoc with the normal manufacturing sequence, cripples profit margins and lowers customers’ faith in the finished product.
Boeing’s manufacturing mess shows the limits of outsourcing critical engineering and manufacturing work, which Boeing did to an unprecedented degree with the 787. But it also shows the importance of doing work right early in the production process, whether that end product is a long-range jetliner or a white paper.
In my business, writing marketing material, the work you need to do right at the beginning is knowing who your target audience is; what you have to tell them that’s fundamentally new and what is the unique value you offer. If you get this early research wrong (or don’t do it at all) you’ll deliver the wrong raw material to your internal or external writer. Your written product, like those 787s, will need to be torn apart and reworked. And, as Boeing is finding out, that costs a lot more than spending time up front to make sure the underlying, basic work is done right.
Knowing what is the critical “news” you’re communicating to the world is only the first link in the value chain of content creation. Learn the whole chain – and how to use it to maximize your investments in content marketing – in my free ebook.)
One month and hundreds of dollars worth of development help ago, I began consolidating my Web site and blog onto WordPress, the popular blog, Web site and content publishing system.
My new site still isn’t up, I’ve lost dozens of hours of productive or leisure time (and will lose more) and my output of marketing posts (the aim of the whole exercise) is lower than ever. The reason: Confusing, contradictory terminology, a truly baffling design interface and the need to understand and upload obscure files into obscure server directories to do simple things.
If you sell the highly-touted Thesis, Headway, or Flexibility 3 themes don’t bother calling. I’ve tried each and none of them deliver. When I should be writing insightful, clever posts on recent industry trends (or, even better, doing paying work) I’m trying to remember the difference between a widget and a plug-in, a top sidebar vs. a sub-sidebar, and a regular sidebar vs. a widget-enabled sidebar. Then there are “skins” for themes. Isn’t “Skins” a TV show?
Designing a page is tricky because the “left” sidebar really appears on the right side of the page, and is actually the “top” sidebar – but only if I resize the “right” sidebar to certain dimensions. To create a scrolling text box I have to download an FTP client to upload the “external.php file” to the “themes” directory on the server, and then find the right place in the code (see screen shot to the right) to insert my text. And on and on.
Some smart coder out there is going to get rich by selling a truly easy-to-use, WYSWIG (what you see is what you get) drag and drop design interface for WordPress. Especially with the economy picking up, it would be worth several hundred bucks (which I’m spending on themes and professional help anyway) to get beyond setup and into creating compelling content to get more business.
The same, by the way, goes for any marketing automation/demand gen/content management/inbound marketing system. People do not have the time to even create the content they should be creating, much less learning complicated systems to host, distribute and track it. If we don’t make things much simpler, we’ll never get mass acceptance for content marketing.
Does anyone out there in the WordPress developer community get this? If so, I’m dying to hear from you.
When drafting a press release for a client recently, I highlighted a lot of the themes that would have made it a great newspaper feature. These included dramatic government budget cutbacks, a scramble for funds among richer and poorer regions, and how the vendor’s solution helped bring affordable IT services to all.
My client, as is their perfect right, told me to lay off the negative tone, which I did. But remember this is a press release, designed to get the attention of editors and readers who like drama and conflict. In these days when every vendor is a publisher, can we can really afford to keep press releases and case studies free of anything that smacks of bad news or negativity?
I know the job of a PR person or lawyer is to protect their client's image, and to ensure they don't look as if they’re taking sides in political (or any other) fight. But this isn’t the old days when a vendor could leave it up to a trade publication to use their press release as a starting point, and give the “real” (messy) story all the drama and ink it deserves. Trade pubs don’t have the staff or time to do that follow-up reporting these days.
So if you’re a vendor and you have a story that legitimately addresses a real controversy, are you hiding your light under the proverbial basket if you eliminate all the conflict? And when competing against bloggers who won't hesitate to tell the full story, where do you draw the line? Am curious to hear how you PR pros out there are handling this eternal conflict these days.
At Schwartz Communications’ breakfast roundtable on content marketing last week, attendees were asked to rank which channels they used to get the news out about their company. Plenty of people use “blogs,” “Twitter,” “Facebook,” or “LinkedIn” but “press release” barely registered.
That led one attendee to ask why. Her employer, a B2B electronics manufacturer, regularly uses press releases that have been optimized for search engines. They get decent readership, she said, as well as some media mentions. From the tone of her voice, she was wondering if she was crazy for still issuing press releases or everyone else was crazy for avoiding them.
I thought I had killed off the press release earlier this year with my post pointing out there’s fewer and fewer official “press” folks to distribute news to, and that they’re more and more likely to hear your news over the Web before you “release” it. No “press,” no “release” means no need for a “press release,” right?
OK, maybe not for everyone. You’ll always have important news to share with the world and if you want to call it a “press release,” go for it. Just remember the aim is to share news with the world, not just “release” it to the “press.” So what should you do differently?
Don’t just do a press release and share it over the syndication services. Reuse the content in the form of Tweets, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc
Do search-engine optimize both the press release and the spin-off content, based on an analysis of the keywords your target audience searches for.
Don’t write about what you think is exciting. Write instead about what’s in it for the reader (whether that’s a reporter, customer, industry analyst, or investor.) Include a benefit statement for that target reader in the first paragraph of every press release. For example:
Backing up its promise to aggressively comply with new financial regulations, Goliath Universal Bank today announced it has already met 2014 requirements established by this summer’s financial regulatory overhaul…
Bringing iSCSI capabilities to the small business network-attached storage market for the first time, PackRat Storage today announced…
Adding HP products to the existing IBM and HP offerings it can provide customers, Joe’s Regional Geek Services today announced it has become an HP Silver Solutions Partner…
And drop the useless quotes. “We are very pleased to have Amalgamated Stores choose us as their exclusive supplier of paper towels for their five trillion retail outlets worldwide.” Of course you’re pleased, the quote says nothing and will drive readers away lest you follow up with something equally dull.
Whether you call your news a “press release,” a “blog post” “mutterings from around the water cooler” or just “content” is less important than how you write it. Focus on what the reader wants to know, rather than what’s exciting to you from inside the organizational glass bubble. Then reuse it, share it, repeat it and search-optimize the heck out of it.
The frigid cold along Route 128 the other morning didn’t keep a standing-room-only crowd from Schwartz Communications’ Breakfast Roundtable on content marketing (using information shared on the Web to drive sales.) Featured speakers were Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at online marketing site MarketingProfs, and Brian Halligan, CEO of inbound marketing software vendor HubSpot.
Among the ideas and tips they tossed out for making the most of your blogs, Tweets, emails, videos, etc.:
1) The title of your blog post is more important than the content, both to draw readers and to optimize its search engine ranking. Including hot key words and being snarky (i.e., edgy) helps.
2) The higher up the org chart you’re selling (like to CEOs and CFOs, the fewer words and the more pictures the better.
3) Speaking of which, blog posts with photos or illustrations get more readership than those without them.
4) Along with that photo, add a discrete “call to action” at the end of every post. (“For more information…”)
5) Video is fading as the hot medium to “go viral” and be passed around the Web. What works now: Easy-to-read charts, especially those showing usable data from your original research.
6) Mix up your posts up with something light and/or personal every now and then to keep readers’ awake and to build a relationship with them. Hey, did I tell you my knee is acting up again?
8) Both long and short blog posts can work, but about one page (screen) of content seems to draw the most readers.
9) For whatever reason, ebooks draw up to double the downloads of white papers. Maybe it’s because CEOs are looking at all the pictures.
10) Email marketing is getting less effective every year, while social media marketing is getting more effective.
11) Seven out of ten emails are read on mobile devices, so make sure yours read well on them.
12) f you can’t think of anything else to write, do a “Top Tips” list.
Official call to action: My specialty is writing marketing material that gets the attention of IT buyers based on where they are in the sales cycle. Email or call at (781) 599 3262 to learn more.
Hell, no, I say, and not just because I make my living writing white papers, newsletters, and the like for the IT market.
Here’s why. Yes, StatSheet of Durham, N.C. has developed software that writes (or, rather, assembles) stories based on statistics from college football and basketball, NASCAR and other sports. Algorithms pick out key facts (the top scorer, in which quarter did the winning team pull ahead, etc.) and stitches them together using a choice of pre-defined phrases.
If this sounds formulaic and bloodless, it is. Consider this story about a lopsided Ohio State win over North Carolina A&T: Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game. On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61. The game lacked a lot of drama, with Ohio State up 52-25 at halftime and never letting up.
There’s no mention of individual players (“Joe Jones powered Ohio State to a 102-61 drumming of North Carolina A&T.”) There are few adjectives (“Ohio State’s trademark physical style of play overwhelmed North Carolina’s more complex playbook.”) And there’s no mention of how a player’s off-the-court life affects their performance, as in “Shrugging off his DUI conviction last week, center Larry Lamar drove down court to…”
According to the New York Times, StatSheet Founder Robbie Allen “believes that what some readers regard as `stilted’ will be appreciated by others who say ‘I don’t like personality — I just want the straight facts.’” He also says that his original goal was that 80 percent of readers wouldn’t know the stories weren’t written by a human. “Now that we’ve launched,” he says, “I think the percentage is higher.”
And top it all off, he thinks the software could write stories in other fields, such as financial news, that rely on large amounts of data. That’s getting pretty close to my home turf of business/tech writing.
But am I worried? No. This software goes less than half-way-up the “value chain” of content creation I describe in my ebook “Content Marketing: Where to Place Your Quality Bets.” It captures facts, decides which to present, and polishes their presentation to a very limited extent. But it cannot check those facts for accuracy, put them in context, present them in an insightful or delightful way, or learn from them over time to deliver thought leadership.
I suspect that accuracy, context, delight and insight are qualifies you want and need in your marketing material. Or am I whistling past the graveyard and about to be automated by a really clever product positioning algorithm? You can also check out my ebook for details about when you should, and shouldn’t, take the “good enough” route (human or automated) to creating marketing content.
Marketing automation vendor Eloqua has gone a step further and hired Jesse Noyes, formerly a business reporter for the Boston Herald, as a “corporate reporter.” His goal, he says, is “to drill down within the company and the industry to find the stories that too often go untold. I will profile brands and the people that work for them. And I will attempt to explain game-changing trends as they happen.”
Good for Eloqua for recognizing that “old school” journalistic qualities such as fairness, thoroughness, and clarity are more important than ever, and can be found in professional reporters. And good for Jesse for riding the wave that has made every vendor a publisher who needs to tell their own story.
However, as someone who does his own share of “corporate reporting” for IT vendors, here are three tough moments I predict Jesse – or any corporate reporter -- will face. When they come up, how should Eloqua respond? How would you respond?
There are no easy answers to questions like these, but having even rough guidelines will be critical to making your “corporate reporter” successful. I (of course!) have ideas on my own, but am curious to hear yours first…
Software consultancy Software Advice has a good business model: Provide customers free software reviews and advice, both on-line and over the phone, and get paid by vendors when they pass on a quality lead based on those interactions. Its market analyst Lauren Carlson also had an interesting recent post about the major trends pushing customers towards marketing automation software, which tracks prospect behavior to determine which products they’re most likely to consider. Among the main drivers she listed: Buyers’ desire for quality content; an aversion to sales calls (especially before prospects are ready for one), the need for marketing to prove its value to the business and the fact that sales cycles are longer in a down economy.
I agree with her drivers, and would add another one: The decline of the trade press which used to be a source of trusted analysis and objectivity for customers. It would seem PR and marketing firms can help their customers by delivering the skills, processes and content B2B companies need to make marketing automation software work. Recent survey data indicates these are the top three hurdles to companies adopting MA software.
All of which begs the question: Which of these specific hurdles is most critical, and where do B2B vendors need help getting the benefits of MA software? Help us find the answer by taking a two-minute survey on what’s keeping you from MA heaven, and see instant results on how you stack up vs. your peers. And if there are hurdles I missed, I'd love to hear about them...
Some of the more forward-looking PR firms I work with are looking to supplement traditional PR offerings with demand generation services, using marketing automation software such as Marketo and HubSpot to track prospect’s actions to “nurture” them with additional content towards a sale.
I’ve long had a gut feeling that this is a good way to go, and my belief has been confirmed my recent survey results cited by the DemandGen Report. They show that the use of marketing automation software is indeed taking off, but not as quickly as some had hoped.
Why? Turns out that, just as with so many other IT initiatives, that having the right people and processes is as important as having the right software. These include not having the right or sufficient number of people (52% of those polled) and not having the right processes (43% of those polled.) Lack of good content was cited by 32%, but that’s such blatant self-promotion I shouldn’t mention it. Except I just did.
The types of services customers need are well suited to what PR can provide. PR firms already have deep relationships with clients, and understand – and in some cases helped create – their branding messages. They’re also skilled at creating content for different audiences, either using their own employees or outside help. As for having the right processes to put marketing automation to work, that’s something we’re all learning in real time – and those who get it right first will have a competitive edge.
With fewer and fewer pubs to pitch to – and less bang for the buck in pitching bloggers who may or may not have influence – it seems like showing they can generate valuable leads for a client is a good move for PR firms. Or is it too far outside their core compentency?
Bob Scheier is a 20-year veteran of the IT trade press whose specialty is translating IT jargon into business benefits. Besides writing for major trade publications such as Computerworld, he produces white papers, email newsletters and other marketing collateral for major IT vendors including Microsoft, AT&T, Symantec and Nokia.