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Archive for September, 2011

One simple rule for making your case studies more readable and effective

Thursday September 29, 2011

Maze - Problem Solved

It’s become a cliche in marketing to say that a case study is supposed to be more about about your user, not about you.  Still, reading a lot of case studies will convince you that a relatively few vendors have gotten this message.

Case studies are valuable selling tools because buyers rely on them in the purchasing process, specifically in the discovery phase of research.  What do they look for?  They want to know how people like them solved problems like the ones they want to solve.  They want to read about those people and those problems much more than read praises for any particular solutions.

Here’s a suggestion to keep your case studies honest. Review some recent samples and screen them for mentions of your company name vs. how many times the customer or user’s name was cited.  Just do a simple “Search in Document” if you’re using Word, for example.  Our own experience suggests that your user’s name should appear at least 50% more than yours.  If your name is cited 10 times, for example, the name of the user in the case should come up 15 times.  If you show up 20 times in the case, your customer should be referenced 30, and so on.  This rule-of-thumb does two things: it forces the writer to focus on the main character of the story, namely, the user.  This, in turn, makes the case study spotlight the benefits to the user in the eyes of the reader. It also makes for far more compelling reading.

How do your cases measure up?  How do you ensure that they are less about your solution and more about the problem you solved and the benefits you delivered?

Five questions to ask BEFORE embarking on a content-creation effort

Thursday September 22, 2011

What Where Why When Questions

In journalism and police work the five Ws — who, what, when, where and why — amount to the framework of investigation and the building blocks of a story or case. This also applies to just about any content-creation initiative you can name. The order of the questions may be different but the same regimen applies.

For example, a product launch or a major re-branding campaign might call for support materials, a web site makeover, an update to existing content and a variety of other deliverables.  Each piece will have its own objective but still be seen as part of a larger effort that should be greater than the sum of its pieces.

Making the whole exceed the sum of the parts requires a plan. Specifically, it requires asking these questions up front:

1. Why are we engaged in this effort in the first place? A product launch typically doesn’t necessitate a new web site but a re-branding would.  A major acquisition might call for something else entirely.  You may want to consider how to re-purpose existing material consistent with new messages along with creating something entirely new.

2. What is the objective or mission we want to accomplish? Giving reassurances to existing customers is not the same as acquiring new ones.  New versions of established products require descriptive material that is subtly different from the content created for an entry into a new market or an altogether new product.

3. Who is the target of this effort? An purchase influencer might respond to a very different appeal than the outreach you make to the actual buyer or the key decision maker. Once identified, “who” you are pursuing will tell you what it will take to get this target to act.

4. Where is the source material on which the content will be based?  Content creation is not the same thing as as creation of the underlying product or marketing strategy.  The content articulates the product’s benefits.  But those benefits were the outcome of rigorous efforts made earlier in a far different process.

5. When is the trigger event for delivery of the content? You may want to use the content creation process as an ingredient in preparation of the strategy – as a way to prompt ideas and new thinking. All assumptions should be challenged as a way to ensure validity and consistency with the current environment.  Best of all, it’s a good measure of how well prepared you are to embark on your initiative.  Better to know this in advance, than to find out “in real time”.

Success is based on asking the right questions at the right time. Ask the wrong questions, get the wrong answers. Get the wrong answers and you mobilize the wrong effort and waste a lot of resources.

What’s your process for content creation?  How do you create and prepare source material to generate compelling marketing content?

How computer-authored content can miss the key point

Tuesday September 13, 2011

Hand Of The Robot And The Laptop

We read last weekend’s NYT piece on computer-generated news stories with great interest (and we will quickly add that, no, this post is not being written by a machine).  The story reminded us of something we used to hear NetApp chairman Dan Warmenhoven say repeatedly to anyone who listened.  According to Warmenhoven, writing the plan isn’t so much about the the plan you end up with.  Rather, it’s largely about the process you go through to produce the plan.  What you think about, discover, debunk or become aware of as part of the diligence of the planning process can often force you re-think your strategy, tactics and even some of the fundamentals of your whole business.  This can make a huge difference.

Our experience with the process of writing white papers, case studies, speeches, or even blog posts is absolutely consistent with Warmenhoven’s observation.  The ideas and insights that can, and often do, bubble up during interviews — not to mention the reflection that happens during the editing process — provide the driving force a team may need to re-think its assumptions.  They can drive improvements to your strategy and a sharpening of tactics.  They can fortify a connection with a customer or a partner, especially during preparation of a case study.  We think of these things as being the equivalent of the “hallway conversations” you miss when your interactions are strictly via email, teleconference or webinar.   While we won’t  minimize the power and significance of machine intelligence, sometimes an “end product” includes what’s learned during production. Ask Dan Warmenhoven.

Do you see the content-generation process as way to make observations about your business or product strategy?  Do you look at producing case studies and white papers as a chance to broaden relationships with customers?