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.
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...
As everyone knows, Toyota has had some major quality and safety issues. So they’re developed something called the “Star Safety System” which they’re including in every car and truck they make, and telling customers about it in full-page ads. But click on this ad to view it full size and tell me where it explains what the STAR Safety System is, how it protects you or why you should care. You can't, because it doesn't.
The Star Safety System in fact includes Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and other great stuff to keep you from spinning off the road into oblivion. But all you get from the ad is a vague buzzword. I’ll bet Toyota thinks the ad will raise general awareness of the concept and encourage customers to go on the Web or to a dealer to learn more. Or maybe the folks creating the ad have lived and breathed the Star Safety System for so long they assume everyone knows what it is.
But the customer doesn’t know or care enough to learn more. They take 20 seconds to glance at the ad and either get it or they don’t. The ad made me suspicious that the Star Safety System can’t be all that impressive or they would have explained it. Or that Toyota not only can’t make safe cars, but can’t even explain what they’re doing to make safe cars. I know neither of those is true, but why even make me think about those possibilities? With an additional 20-25 words, Toyota could have summed up the benefits of the system and left me with a positive impression.
If you want to tell your customer something, tell them. If you introduce a new brand or product name or initiative, explain what it does. If a global, industry-leading giant like Toyota can miss this basic step, so can you. Getting someone from outside your organization review your marketing content will force you to answer obvious questions such as “Uh, what exactly does this thing do, and why should anyone care?”
SAP appears to have done a bang-up job with its combined physical and virtual customer conferences, according to B2B Magazine. Not only did it focus on getting customers to talk to each other, (VS. SAP talking at them,) but tracked which content prospects viewed to learn about their needs, and will use a content management system to target future info and offers to them based on those actions.
The simultaneous physical events attracted 20,000 people to Orlando and Frankfurt, not to mention satellite physical locations where people watched live satellite feeds. More than 30,000 virtual attendees watched and heard content generated by editing studios, satellite trucks and a global broadcast network. Chief Marketing Officer Marty Homlish says that being able to see who viewed what information, and for how long, goes a long way towards helping SAP “capture demand.”
What can we in smaller companies learn from giant SAP?
First, get the customers talking to each other and stay out of the way, unless you can really help. I recently helped “cover” a customer summit for a multinational services company and was amazed by the amount, quality, and candor of the interchange among customers. Yes, account reps were accompanying their clients, but they spent most of their time listening to their customer’s problems. Which is about as good market intelligence as you can possibly get. It also cemented the reputation of the service provider as “different” than rivals who push marketing harder.
Second, integrate the physical and virtual events. This is tougher, and requires staff to capture the events (in Tweets, blogs, videos, etc.) and then to edit, process and post that information on-line quickly. It also requires paying someone to keep jogging the on-line conversations, offering new questions, insights, observations and thoughts before, during and after the event. And that costs. But it’s not really that expensive, I’d guess, compared to the total event budget, and it can pay off if…
You share (as SAP did) the information about which customers and prospects viewed which events with your sales force. That, of course, is the whole aim of content marketing (to help the sales force,) and if a trade show or customer conference isn’t an exercise in “content creation” I don’t know what is.
But designing an overall plan – which includes deciding on target customers, key issues to highlight, how you are going to score prospects and then how you’ll share their names with the sales force -- requires time and thought, which are in short supply when you’re trying to stage a plain old physical (much less physical and virtual) event. I’d be curious to hear, six months from now, from SAP whether the extra effort was worth it.
OK, maybe some people are so dumb they don’t know a heater gets hot. But they’re not who’s seeing your marketing content if you’re selling a big-ticket IT product or service. Those types are knowledgeable, have a lot on their plate, and make snap decisions on what to read and not to read. If your marketing collateral doesn’t say anything new and interesting, they’ll move on quickly.
One example is repeating familiar “pain points” ad nauseum, like the need to secure your servers in an age of hackers, or to de-duplicate your data to save money on hard drives. Assume everyone gets the general idea and move quickly to your value proposition, unless there’s a specific element within the pain (i.e., the cost of security, the performance hit of de-deduplication) that you tackle.
Another is saying the same thing six ways, as in “Reducing inefficiency and boosting productivity helps to reduce costs and enhance corporate productivity by making better use of corporate resources.” And for this I got an MBA? Better to give specific examples from customers.
Finally, don't waste time boasting you do what any half-sane vendor would do, like “We tailor a solution to meet your needs.” As opposed to someone else’s needs, like all your competitors? “Tailoring” assumes leaving out what’s not needed. Give a brief example of how you sold a customer ONLY what they needed.
What you don’t want to do is give the prospect an excuse to walk away shaking their head at how clueless you are. Stop and think before taping your dumb sign to the virtual wall.
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.