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Why Great Interviewers Produce the Best Content

No matter what kind of content we’re tasked with producing – whether it’s a case study, new web copy, a solution brief or a ghost-written thought leadership article – invariably there’s an interview with a subject matter expert to guide the output.

That’s a given.

But not all interviews are the same, no matter what questionnaire template you design. In fact, they are like diamonds, snowflakes, and fingerprints: they are utterly unique.

So how do good interviewers extract the most meaningful information for content development purposes? In my experience as a former journalist trained in the art of asking probing questions, sometimes it’s the unexpected follow-up that yields the best results.

I’ll give you a good example. For the past two years, Write Angle has been producing case studies for Pure Storage. Yes, we’ve developed a questionnaire that asks about the nature of a customer’s business, their pain points, the evaluation process, selection criteria, key technical and business benefits and TCO/ROI results. And yes, the questionnaire has evolved over time to keep pace with product innovation and shifts in value propositions.

What’s not built into these interview guidelines is what I refer to as the art of the redirect or subtle insistence on elaboration. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous question can yield a dynamite response, especially with a difficult interviewee that isn’t terribly expansive.

A case in point involved a financial services customer whose corporate communications team sat in on the interview to “oversee” the interview. While this presented a gating influence from the outset, the subject of the interview was a “just the facts” spokesperson. After getting blunt and uninspiring input, I decided to shift gears i.e. utilize the redirect. I decided to ask about this individual’s history as an IT director so he could get comfortable talking about himself. Not only did this “loosen” him up, it provided some historical context that allowed me to probe for his experience with legacy storage systems and how this contrasted with his organization’s adoption of flash storage.

The results were dramatic. Suddenly, I had an expansive and engaged subject. By invoking the redirect strategy, I succeeded in pushing for greater elaboration to responses. This resulted in terrific real world examples of “before and after” scenarios involving his storage infrastructure. What had been a teeth-pulling exercise morphed into an engaging story with real drama: a subtle yet growing problem threatening a segment of the business; a proof of concept trial ripe with competitive give and take; and a powerful resolution with meaningful results that went well beyond technical metrics.

So what’s the takeaway? Like great jazz musicians, be prepared to improvise when leading an interview. Sometimes straying from the melody can take you in an entirely new direction with better results.

Q: How do you know your content is working?

 

As writers of content for marketing, we at Write Angle work for companies of all stripe from nascent start-ups to large publicly-held brands. How to best measure the effectiveness of this or that content invariably comes up along the way and there’s never a shortage of opinions on how to do it. Which is the most important metric — click-through, volume of readers, new site visitors, orders, revenue?  We put this question to the Linked In community recently, asking  1) what measurement methodologies do you find to be the most effective and 2) how do you rank order your content assets from most to least effective and why?

We were prompted by Contently who passed along the work by Ascend2 and Research Partners: http://contently.com/strategist/2015/04/27/the-most-effective-and-difficult-types-content-marketing-in-one-chart/ Their research examines the relative effectiveness of articles/case studies, videos, infographics, research/white papers, webinars/online events, eNewsletters, photos/illustration and news releases.

We would now like to know what you think of these findings. Yes, it’s using an awfully broad approach to determining meaningful findings. Still it raises some fundamental questions about content categories and their respective “effectiveness”, presumably in triggering new site visitors, generating new sales leads, increasing conversion rates and driving revenue.

How do do you measure the value of the content your team creates?

1185 Design: A Preferred Partner of Write Angle

 

From the beginning (2011), we’ve made a priority of handpicking a circle of preferred partners outside of writing services — in design, public relations, market development and branding.

This isn’t website window dressing. It’s our way of presenting a “bespoke” solution to the gamut of our clients’ marketing needs–beyond written content–personally sourced among the best of the best practitioners we can find.

It’s why we’re especially enthusiastic about our most recent addition: 1185 Design. If you’re unfamiliar with them, check them out. They do great work for great clients.

To say that Peggy Burke and her team at 1185 add further luster to our Partners Page is an understatement. It’s a digital brand agency extraordinaire. In Peggy’s words, “We envision technology brands through strategic narrative and design, creating digital and physical experiences that enable companies to ultimately build massive market cap”.

Hate to say it, but we couldn’t put it much better.

Write Angle Now In Its Fifth Year

 

Like most entrepreneurs, our team’s concept of time is slightly warped.  Maybe it’s due to living a life of deadlines.  Or perhaps it’s the relentless immersion in so many different avenues of technology on behalf of our clients.  Being perpetually busy makes time fly.  So it’s hard to believe that Write Angle has just completed its fourth year in business

And what a great ride it’s been so far.  We’ve had the good fortune to work with extraordinarily interesting clients across a broad spectrum of technologies.  From our first gig with Endplay, a leading provider of content management, engagement and monetization solutions to our multi-year relationship with Paxata, a red-hot provider of adaptive data preparation solutions, we’ve benefited from a steady stream of word-of-mouth referrals.  To our way of thinking, that’s the ultimate compliment of our body of work.

Of course, things don’t happen in a vacuum.  Kudos are due to some very influential and talented people in our industry.  And that includes a shout out to Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent at Crowded Ocean who have been kind enough to refer us to amazing clients like Sumo Logic and the Exploratorium.  A shout-out, too, to Cari Jaquet who has engaged Write Angle not once but twice as VP of Marketing with SenSage and Paxata.

So what are Write Angle clients looking for help with?  It runs the gamut.  We are developing everything from case studies to white papers, ghost written thought leadership pieces, solution briefs, web copy, blogs, data sheets and press releases.

What makes life interesting is the variety of projects, clients and technologies we tackle.  From venture-funded startups like Cloudscaling (developer of OpenStack-powered hybrid clouds and recently acquired by EMC) to stalwarts like McAfee, we have to stay current on the blinding rate of change impacting multiple industries.  One day we may be knocking out a detailed data sheet on BYOX solutions.  And the next day we’re editing an eBook providing CEOs with guidance on corporate transformation.

When it comes to our work, we prefer to let our clients do the talking:

“Finding versatile writers that deliver compelling white papers, informative case studies and web copy that hits the mark is hard to find–if not impossible–in this market. We’ve come to rely on Write Angle–and Peter Davé’s quality, speed and smarts–to work with our most demanding startup clients.” [Tom Hogan, managing partner with Crowded Ocean]

“A good editor can make a world of difference in improving the clarity, organization and impact of an eBook. I was fortunate to work with Peter Davé who did a superb job of tightening the narrative, reordering content and strengthening the voice of my new eBook, The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Transformation and Renewal. His writing skills and editorial direction are second to none.” [Beatriz Infante, CEO and Managing Member, BusinessExcelleration]

“Finding great writers who can produce compelling white papers, case studies, web content and solutions briefs – especially for complex technology like machine data analytics – is always a challenge. Fortunately, we engaged Write Angle’s content creation services. And the results have been stellar.” [Puneet Pandit, CEO, Glassbeam]

And finally:

“We engaged Write Angle and Peter Davé to develop a wide range of assets ranging from an extensive array of new web copy to highly strategic use cases. Write Angle proved to be integral to our marketing communications efforts that played a key role in influencing our recent acquisition by EMC. Peter’s writing style is energetic and engaging. Equally important, his storytelling skills adeptly deliver technical depth while making a strong business case. Peter has my highest recommendation as a top notch writing resource.” [Teri Elniski, VP of  Marketing, CloudScaling].

Thanks to all for making our first four years a success.  We’re looking forward to our next chapter.

Content development in 2013: Write Angle looks back

Looking ahead

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As Write Angle ramps up for what looks like a very busy 2014, it’s always good to look back at the variety of content development projects we tackled in 2013.

It’s no surprise that Big Data, Cloud and Mobility clients dominated our time.  But we also found opportunities to collaborate with one of the world’s most famous science museums and an emerging talent recruiting organization.

Here’s a short list of key clients and the projects we worked in 2013:

AppSense:   Write Angle was tasked with crafting copy for the company’s MobileNow web site as well as use cases, a comprehensive MobileNow datasheet, a BYOX white paper, a case study and a strategic iOS7 Readiness blog.

Cloudscaling:  Delivering elastic cloud infrastructure to enterprises, service providers and web application providers, Cloudscaling turned to Write Angle to help with a comprehensive web refresh.

Exploratorium:  In our second year of collaboration with one of the world’s most famous science museums, Write Angle was called upon to develop compelling content for the organization’s Annual Fund brochure and Annual Report.  Look for writing samples soon once these pieces are published.

Glassbeam:  Providing business intelligence from machine log data, Glassbeam once again utilized Write Angle to develop a key Service Revenue Generation solution brief as well as a case study featuring Hitachi Data Systems.

Paxata:  Emerging from stealth this year as a highly innovative provider of Adaptive Data Preparation technology for agile business intelligence, Paxata is working with Write Angle in the development of two major contributed thought leadership pieces that will publish in the Q1/Q2 timeframe.  Check back for a look at these compelling articles.  We also created a “Declaration of Data Independence” marketing collateral that supported the company’s coming out party at the recent Strata Conference.

Pertino:  As one of the most innovative providers of cloud networking solutions, Pertino turned to Write Angle to help craft its “Under the Hood” web copy.

SenSage/HEXIS Cyber Solutions:  Write Angle was called upon to deliver a wide variety of content for venerable SIEM vendor Sensage that was acquired by KEYW Corporation/Hexis Cyber Solutions.  We crafted a thought-provoking piece entitled “Defending Against APTs:  Looking For the Big Picture” that ran in the December 20, 2013 edition of SC Magazine.  In addition, Write Angle developed a comprehensive white paper addressing the The Event Analysis and Retention Dilemma.

TalentSky:  Formerly known as Devine Capital, the executive recruiting firm that helped Apple land CEO Tim Cook, TalentSky engaged Write Angle to develop an entirely new web site reflecting the company’s new brand and approach to talent acquisition services.

So what are your content marketing objectives this year?

As Big Money Pours into Big Data Start-ups, Differentiation Makes All the Difference

 

Standing out of crowd

Big Data is becoming an even bigger deal. And when things get big, it gets more important to stand out from the crowd.

Just this week, a group of Silicon Valley investment superstars, including Ron Conway and Andreessen Horowitz, announced another fund, Big Data Elite, targeted at Big Data start-ups.

 At Write Angle, we’ve done a number of projects for companies in the Big Data realm, including Sumo Logic, Glassbeam and Sensage (now Hexis Cyber Solutions). What’s clear to us is that the term “big data” means different things to different people – which is another way of saying it may mean nothing at all without the proper context. Big Data applications and analysis services run the gamut from information security to customer support to consumer marketing to social media.

As the volume of hype becomes deafening in the Big Data arena, it’s easy for a young company to be grouped together with other perceived players despite having little, if anything, in common with them. Market analysts, journalists and potential customers may not have clue about who does what in which space – or even if the space exists.

Would-be Big Data players must ensure that they differentiate themselves in terms of what market they’re targeting and how they serve that market better than anyone else. If you’re not continuously informing your market about who you are and what makes you worth paying attention to – with constantly refreshed content across your media platforms – competitors who articulate a more compelling story will surely pass you by.

Simple steps to thought-leadership using your B2B blog

 

 

How would you like to boost the perception of your B2B brand as one of your industry’s thought leaders, grow your blog readership over 2000% and develop relationships with the who’s-who of your business — all in less than a year?

This is exactly what Drillinginfo (DI) did. Today, DI, a SaaS vendor serving a sector not exactly synonymous with trendy social media, is positioned as a premier source of information in the oil and gas industry. And its forays into social media began only last September.

It’s been a given that a B2B brand’s social efforts are a long-term slog, so DI’s results merit a closer look. In fact, this report suggests that the company’s approach amounts to a study in best-practices that might be replicated in any industry, especially when it comes to blogging. To our way of thinking, these practical steps are actionable for any B2B blog:

  1. Get your employees to contribute ideas and content.
  2. Set an editorial calendar — don’t assign topics, assign people and let them write about industry-relevant subjects that they’re interested in.
  3. Involve them in brainstorming topics and angles relevant to your products and customers.
  4. Involve your contributors so they feel ownership. Teach them “blog-consciousess” by explaining what blog-friendly writing and content are all about.
  5. Push content out to your email lists and social accounts (Linked In, FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).
  6. In your email to blog subscribers, include the full blog post, but include a custom call-to-action for readers to go to your website and make comments.
  7. Compile interest-groups on Linked In (and elsewhere) of relevance to your industry and post your content there. Caveat: be absolutely certain that what you’re sharing is of genuinely useful value. If it isn’t, it’s spam.
  8. Find out who the influencers are in your industry and publish your own Top 20, 50 or 100 list(s).
  9. Set a big goal for your blog: Aspire to thought leadership.

What are you doing to promote your blog?

How I.T. marketers can benefit from wisdom of the crowd

 

 

If you market and sell to IT buyers or do marketing and PR for an IT brand, you should know about Spiceworks.

Why? It’s an online community of two-million information-technology professionals who share views on their industry, technology and vendors just like you. Think of it as the Yammer, Yelp or TripAdvisor for the IT crowd. In other words, what HR.com and GlassDoor have become for the human-resources profession, Spiceworks is for IT.

Think “product reviews” in this context and you realize the implications for IT marketing and public relations.  According to , who visited the site’s reviews section recently, it’s not a pretty picture. Few vendors draw raves. And few brands bother to weigh-in or even know about it. How ironic that such a resource, whose existence owes to technology, exists in a blind-spot for so many technology marketers.

The same crowdsource forces
at work in today’s consumer markets like Amazon Reviews are coming into their own in the B2B world, too. Industrial brands late to this party are paying the price in missed opportunities. Our rule of thumb is simple: whenever there is a discussion underway online about your company or product, you need to be in the middle of it. Not to dominate the conversation but to share your point of view — and understand the issues being raised. It’s just good business.

Truth be told, as ubiquitous and commonplace as social media is today it remains a question mark in B2B C-suites and boardrooms. Even in the face of the U.S. government’s approbation of crowd-sourced reviews (see saferproducts.gov). In Gillin’s view, there‘s validity in what many senior managers believe about manipulation of online reviews and polls.  But this is irrelevant. The genie is out of the bottle. Ongoing engagement with customers and commentators online, is now currency of the B2B realm.

How does your brand engage with online opinion-sharing? Do you have a “crisis” plan or have one in the works?  What’s been your experience?

Why Fresh Content is Critical to Achieving High Search Rank Results

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“Content” is a perishable.  Blame those pesky algorithms.

We live in content-marketing world. And at Write Angle we counsel clients to be wary. Why? Because marketers live in a part of this world characterized by the cat-and-mouse of search practitioners vs.search algorithms — and the creative tension it causes between SEO gurus and content writers. Just throwing “content” out there isn’t enough. It has to be be right stuff at the right time.  And it must stay fresh.

The surefire way to prosper in this world is to create and publish material that earns you a consistent place in search rankings. Today, this means the top three-to-five.  Easy to say, tough to do.  And this is where we come in because organic search is the baseline tactic for the written content of marketing campaigns.

New research from Chitika
, according to Danny Flamberg of Booster Rocket, based on 300 million search impressions last May, “indicates that winning and losing at natural search is clear; you either win big or die quickly. If you don’t place among the top 3–5 positions on the search engine results page you get none of the benefits of your investment. It’s win big or go home”. (Download the complete report here.)

Boiling down the findings: you get 33% of the traffic if Google ranks you number one. Come in second and you get about half of that. Third place earns you about half again (11%). This, BTW, is the response rate of old-time direct mail!

In other words, if you don’t make page one (92% of all traffic) the maximum access you can hope to achieve is about 8% of  total search-driven traffic.

“For most marketers, rankings drive traffic; that’s the payoff,” Flamberg says. “There’s not much value in bragging rights to a position that doesn’t pay off in site trafficit doesn’t pay to be number two.”

As content-driven rankings are key to brand awareness and lead generation, you need to put your brand’s best foot forward with refreshed content — the kind that’s regularly adjusted to changing algorithms.

Is your content driving the traffic you want? Do you keep it fresh?  Is it the right stuff at the right time?

You Want Scary? “Utility Cybersecurity is in a State of Near Chaos”

 

Newspaper Disaster Headline Crisis Trouble Alert Royalty Free Stock Image - Image: 31478066


Those incendiary words are courtesy of a recent Pike Research (now called Navigant Research) study.  Bottom line: It suggests that a dirt cheap smartphone app could wirelessly communicate with a targeted command-and-control computer system — one that utilities rely upon — to cause unimaginable havoc.

What kind of catastrophe are we talking about?  Some U.S. officials foresee cyber-attacks that could take down a utility servicing millions of people and render them powerless. For months.

The way PG&E’s Chief Information Security Officer James Sample, sees it, “We will see catastrophic outages.  We are dealing with a very intelligent adversary.”

But despite the doomsday warnings, have utility companies stepped up their security measures?  Not according to many security specialists.

Why not? Looking at the issue from a purely monetary standpoint, some estimates for upgrading utility security could cost upwards of $14 billion. But from a preparedness standpoint, are utilities in a serious state of denial about the realities and potential impact of cyber-terrorism?

Some vocal critics say yes. Consider what Dale Peterson, CEO of Digital Bond, a firm that evaluates the security posture of utilities and other companies, told the San Jose Mercury News: “[Utilities] just want to kind of pretend the problem doesn’t exist.  So it might take some really tragic thing with some huge disruption of peoples’ lives before something gets done.”

So how many wake-up calls are needed to compel utilities to step up their security act?  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already reported infiltrations of oil and natural gas pipelines and electric power organizations.  Out of 198 cyber-incidents reported, 41% targeted energy companies, 15% were aimed at water-related firms and six included the “nuclear sector”.  Yes, it is that scary.

The California Public Utilities Commission warns that utilities are increasingly vulnerable by way of smart meters and the smart grid.  The same CPUC study reports: “(Eighty) to 90 percent or more of the electric infrastructure currently does not fall under any required standards and that cyber-security practices of the utilities are not monitored.”

If this doesn’t scare the hell out of you, consider the sobering findings from a survey conducted by risk management specialists nCircle who asked 104 energy security professionals if their smart meter installations were adequately protected from hackers, 61% said, “No.”

As content specialists in security, Write Angle would like to hear why security companies aren’t making more noise about the vulnerability of utilities.  We’d love to hear from you.