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

Friday October 18, 2013

 

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

Friday August 16, 2013

 

 

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?

Is ‘Silicon Valley Speak’ annihilating everyday language?

Friday April 26, 2013


No-Jargon

 

Now in our third decade of technology marketing in Silicon Valley, we’ve been exposed to our unfair share of linguistically challenging content and mind-numbing jargon.

You’d think we would have been de-sensitized at this point.  But a recent email containing a slew of cringe-worthy zingers inspired this blog posting.  It was as if we were previewing a script for a sitcom on “Valley Technobabble”.  Like us, even the laugh track was groaning.

No matter how many times we call it out, tortured business language continues to pollute even the simplest communications.  Like cockroaches, taxes and acronyms, it just won’t go away.

The peculiar dialect now permeating every avenue of communications is something that might be best described as “Silicon Valley Speak”, a bewildering vocabulary that redefines (or it is “defies”) grammar, tramples well-established definitions and creates an entirely new glossary of befuddling terminology that would leave even Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, slack-jawed.

What punched our buttons in the aforementioned email was the word “onboarding”.  No, this is not a variation on the CIA’s torture tactics, but it might as well be linguistically.  The term may not exactly be new, but with all due respect to HR folks, do we really need yet another ham-handed concept to convey “a systematic and comprehensive approach to orienting a new employee to help them ‘get on board’”?  What happened to “hiring” or “orientation”?

Alas, we’re not alone in our incredulity at the insidious invasion of the “jargon-slingers”.  Credit goes to Christopher Steiner for creating that gem.  He penned one of the funniest and most astute articles titled The Most Annoying Business Jargon that takes the business world to task for “cutting its anchors to the English language.”

Let’s face it.  We’ve all heard the usual suspect lingo clanging around web sites, press releases, conference presentations and the like.  But do we have to stand for it?  At Write Angle, we certainly hope not.

To quote Mr. Steiner, “Let the jargon slinger know that you know who they are:  a vapid, message-clouding, English-avoiding, communications nightmare.”

Amen to that.

What SV-speak do you hear around the cubes or watering holes these days that cause you to cringe? What do you do to stamp it out?

The five worst practices in B2B technology-content marketing

Monday March 25, 2013

 

1.  Shove a datasheet into a prospect’s face right after you introduce yourself.

When a qualified prospect on a fact-finding mission enters your tradeshow booth, you introduce yourself and inquire about their business and their familiarity with you (read: you qualify them). What you do not do is dive right into a spec-sheet monologue. It’s the same with content. Just as your marketing material should be calibrated (and designated) according to the prospect’s stage-of-purchase, it must be sequenced accordingly.  In the same way, the best “family” of content begins at the primary level and gradually moves up to more advanced material.  Caveat: don’t always assume that a relatively well informed prospect won’t find use for introductory materials. Savvy shoppers will contrast and compare competitors every step of the way and cross-check competing claims. Hint: vendors showing the most proof-points with the most relevance to the reader usually win.

2.  Emphasize your features and benefits rather than their problems and issues.

A variant of #1 above, it’s no secret that content with user themes earn the most favor with users. But you must go further. Don’t talk about your offering per se so much as the solution it represents to problems vexing the customer. There are nuances to being perceived by a customer as “one of us”, rather than being seen as just another vendor.  You want them to receive you as a partner rather than a supplier. Your content will either validate one perception, or the other.

3.  Assume they believe you have no competition

If you think this is a no-brainer, then why is so much vapid marketing content floating around? The first step in breaking away from the pack is to acknowledge that it’s there. Customers understand you only in terms that they’ve already come to understand–by virtue of what they’ve learned and continue to find out about alternative offerings.  Besides, if you’re the only solution, how can a viable market exist? The worst impression you can create is that you don’t know your competitors as well as your prospects do.

4.  Presume everything you slap a logo on makes it inherently “must-see TV”

Happens all the time to product managers who look at a user through the lens of their product when they should be looking at their product through the eyes of the user. It’s no coincidence that so many marketers of this persuasion tend to be hyper-competitive, obsessing on how the competition is marketing, what it’s saying, doing and achieving. Make your customers’ issues your issues and your content will naturally reflect a customer-centered POV.

5.  Believe that everything is as good, or as bad, as Sales says it is.

Snarky, maybe, but this old saying has been around too long to dismiss it out of hand. Your sales force is inherently focused on the deals and crises of the moment. This means perceptions can become quickly and easily distorted in the heat of the transaction process. It’s only human to project what we want to see and hear from our prospects and customers, rather than take a breath, stand back and understand a situation for what it really is. Look at large pattern of data points, not just the ones you’re infatuated with, or most alarmed by, at any moment. Which, after all, is fundamental to the marketing mission and the marketing content it depends on.

So what are your content-marketing practices?  How do you ensure a customer-and-market focus?

The first step toward making your B2B marketing content drive revenue

Friday March 15, 2013

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So when an authority like Marketo weighs in on why a steady stream of great content is key to driving B2B revenue today, we’ll pay attention.

Marketo is a leader in marketing automation (MA), the software that more and more companies use today to make their marketing teams more measurable and accountable, more engaged with customers and better enabled to scale time and resources. In other words, it makes the companies that use it better at marketing and selling. And it’s been good for Marketo, and for Eloqua, to name the two biggies in MA.  If the trend continues, according to Gartner, money spent on this type of software is projected to exceed corporate IT budgets by 2015. 

At Write Angle, we were struck by something Marketo had to say via a recent post by Heidi Bullock: “Technology is awesome, but it really is only as good as the people who implement it and manage it on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it is important to think about your team structure when putting software systems in place”.

So what was first on the team list they cited? It was the day-to-day manager of content.

No matter which member of your team is tapped for the job, the skill-set is the same: It must be someone who can conceive and create a steady stream of compelling content, from written web copy, case studies or white papers to engaging video that showcases your value proposition from all angles — and re-purposes this content across all media and platforms. Whether you have the talent on hand for this key task, or choose to outsource to a content writing service, the overarching need for marketing content in today’s content-marketing world is clear.  The question is: How clear is your content today and how do you know for sure?

Easy ways to boost visibility of your B2B marketing content

Friday March 8, 2013

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No argument here with PR veteran Len Stein that it pays to be click-smart in a click-driven world. So what does this mean for B2B marketers tasked with creating content that sells?

Plenty. Because every company is now a publisher (as well as a merchant), marketing troops are the tip of the spear in this publish-or-perish era.  They’re charged with creating authentic content that speaks directly to the information needs of your market. As obvious as this might seem at first glance, it’s a deceptively simple prescription that all too often falls prey to what the company wants to say about itself rather than what a customer needs to hear or learn. It also calls for social media savvy that’s a must-have for your content team.

Successful marketing organizations push their content well beyond their target publications and media that now represent only one conduit among many in reaching hot prospects. Today, by proactively posting links on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and elsewhere, you encourage readers to relay these links among their followers and communities via the familiar share buttons prominent on their sites.  This “network effect” increases online visibility, in some cases by orders of magnitude.  And this dramatically improves your “connection rate” with the right readers in your market category. These simple techniques help your marketing team expand the presence of your content well after it goes live.

Put these steps on your check-off list each time you’ve updated your web site, built out a new micro-site, published a strategic white paper, generated a new series of case studies, posted new video, or earned feature-treatment in key media:

  • To drive optimum traffic, include keywords in every piece of content. Caveat: craft carefully to ensure you pass muster with new search algorithms — here’s where an expert outside writing service can contribute.
  • Never fail to use your blog to reference all your new content . Think of yourself as a columnist.
  • Promote links to your content across your communities and social media channels, including customer councils, Linked In groups and all relevant industry associations.
  • Encourage your customers not to hesitate re-tweeting links.  For example, most would be only too glad to give visibility to case studies that feature them.
  • See that your PR agency does all of the above vis-à-vis the communities in their own social-mediaspheres.

And continually ask yourself what more you can be doing to make your content larger than life in a click-driven world of look-alike, me-too content. What can you add to the list above?

What your momma can teach you about writing great content

Thursday February 21, 2013

 

Chances are your mom was a tough customer with a sophisticated BS-detection system.  Especially when it came to shopping and sifting through manufacturers’ claims. Today’s mothers, if we are to believe the studies, are every bit as shrewd.  Difference today is that mom knows her way around the Web and how to find exactly what she wants. Hint: she goes far beyond the brand’s website to find “the friendly neighbor over the virtual fence” who can share the inside scoop on how different products compare.

In other words, today’s moms’ behavior in their marketplace is identical to that of the hardest-nosed prospects in yours. So what lessons can you as a B2B marketer draw from the most successful consumer brands when it comes to building credibility among their most skeptical customers — those prove-it-to-me moms who guard their family’s budgets with a fist as tight as any corporate controller’s?

1. Redouble your efforts to make everything you present specifically relevant and timely to the target. Successful brands understand that today’s e-customers turn first to experts and respected peers, never the brand spokespersons.  And just as moms go right to the blogosphere for tips and guidance, B2B buyers increasingly go straight to the alpha opinion leaders in their categories.

2. Try harder to instigate only those discussions about your industry and technology that the opinion makers and thought leaders want to have. This is a subtle shift from a time, not so long ago, when marketing departments and their various agencies would look for issues that a company might be able to “own”.  The trick today is to pinpoint specific hot buttons drawing the most buzz and then to weigh in with your perspective based on the experiences of your users. If your brand message is delivered in harmony with the hottest issues, over time, you enjoy the halo effect. This inspires direct conversations with more of the hottest prospects and the trials that convert to sales.  From there the credibility spreads and accelerates.

3. Constantly test your material.  A/B testing among various customer segments can reveal surprising data about user sentiments and product usage. Expose different messages that emphasize a different spin and compare the responses in terms of the activity they draw.  Then craft the next wave of content accordingly. Your mom would be proud.

Ridding the world of marketing crap

Thursday February 14, 2013

And good riddance

It’s not often that you sit through a webinar and come away with some real insights.  Fortunately, today’s webinar conducted by Mintigo on improved lead generation through “Content Intelligence” delivered — and hit on some important truisms facing marketers.

As a company that espouses the “power of relevant marketing”, Mintigo struck a chord.  Zeroing in on the content marketing deluge – i.e. “crap” – that is drowning customers and prospects, the Mintigo folks got to the heart of the matter: effective content cannot just entertain and inform, it must contain material that “authentically matters to the people you’re trying to reach”.

So how do you make this determination? It boils down to segmenting your content based on your prospects’ identifiable traits and self-proclaimed areas of interest.   “Content Intelligence” uses more personalized and relevant communication to clusters of targeted prospects based on big data analysis of multiple sources (think websites visited, news preferences, blogs read, social postings and more).  By extracting the needs and interests of prospects, you can segment them into interest groups, clusters and personas.

Make no mistake, this is hard work.  And Mintigo is the first to say so despite the fact they offer up what they declare to be the world’s first Customer Search Engine that automates a lot of the heavy lifting involved.

One of the key challenges of content marketing boils down to producing enough fresh content – and figuring out what topics to communicate – to continually engage targeted prospects with information that is highly relevant in order to trigger more click-throughs.  And this means that engaging the right content development shop to help fulfill this need is becoming one of the most strategic decisions facing marketing departments today.  The days of “spray and pray” marketing are history.  Welcome to the era of content intelligence.

The only things you need to know about writing for websites

Tuesday February 12, 2013

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You’ll notice that there’s no shortage of “best practices” tips online today. And the guidelines for how to write/create content for websites that real people (as opposed to web-crawlers) actually read is no exception: today on Google there were nearly 78 million results. So, why are we weighing-in?  To briefly enunciate our philosophy: when it comes to what should go up your site, there is a deceptively simple tried-and-true golden rule. Less is More.

“Deceptively simple” because anyone charged with web content knows the burden on the gatekeepers who do the vetting.

The point is, whatever makes your cut must be better than ever. More compelling, more readable, more useful and stickier. Because your visitors insist. The most recent studies reveal a sharp decrease in the amount of time spent by website visitors.  It’s now less than half a minute. Not a lot of time to drone on about your product-as-hero. Or wax eloquent about your leadership and heritage. With this kind of attention deficit, everything a visiting skim-reader sees must be ultra high-return. It must instantly attract, impress and hook.

With this in mind and with so much recycled stuff out there, here is our condensed list of must-do’s as commonly practiced by the best-seller vendors:

1.  Know your reader. Exactly the same as the ancient marketing tenet of “knowing your customer” to the greatest extent possible. What do your buyers want to know about your value proposition? What were they really buying when they cut a check? Why do they turn away from one thing and lean toward another? What are those things? We are constantly amazed at how many marketers are still in the dark when it comes to reader familiarity.  It all begins right here.

2.  Put yourself where they are.
See #1 above. Chances are you lean toward video and everything visual when it comes to learning and gathering information. Ditto your prospects. The national and regional news sites figured this out long ago.  Try to find one today worth its pixels that has no video or streaming on their home page, or every section  That intriguing screen capture with the arrow inviting the click is irresistible.  Use video to showcase brief product descriptions, short clips of your people sharing insights, and/or a customer or two (or five) endorsing you with a brief problem/solution testimonial. Caveat:  ALL video has the shortest shelf life of anything on your site. You have to be committed to this. Which reminds us to tell you to…

3.  Think like a baker. It’s all about freshness.  You don’t see the same, stale stuff in the pastry case while your barrista is putting the cap on your low-fat mocha every morning.  Maybe not exactly the same thing but the underlying principle is, absolutely. You make your site a destination for a larger audience when you respect the value those folks put on fresh (AKA new) information, tidbits, tips, and news they can use: precisely what people are looking for and the best way for you to rise through the rankings. Last but not least: give something away, like a free sample at a bakery.

4.  Write in chunks.  There’s a bit of controversy today about “linear” writing styles vs. the “chunky” approaches.  Linear = feature stories, magazine articles, novels.  Chunky = headline news, wire-service dispatches and police blotters.  Which category do you think a stressed-out, short-attention span customer falls into?  Chunking does three things to improve your site content: more efficient conveyance of information, helps readers speed things up to find what they’re looking for, and it presents page-to-page information more consistently which makes your site easier to navigate

5.  Ask for the order.  More honored in the breach than in the observance. What do you want your reader to do, think, say to peers, or act upon? Your call to action is right up there with your contact page as the key element(s) of your site.  Make it clear, compelling and memorable.  Above all, make it brief.

Your customers want VALUE, not a “relationship”.

Thursday January 31, 2013

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We love it when marketing myths get exposed.  So when a team of consultants at the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) revealed these results from a recent study, we were intrigued to see a couple of generally accepted marketing 2.0 truisms debunked.
CEB surveyed 7,000 people and learned that buyers really don’t want a “relationship” with brands despite what a lot of New Age marketers would have us believe. What’s more, the theory that a company can somehow build-up this mythical relationship by interacting more often with customers was also rejected. Turns out that when it comes to customer interaction, more is not necessarily better and can often be worse.
While the study focused on consumer brands, in our experience and to our way of thinking there’s a stark message here for B2B marketers: know who’s who in your own customer base — and distinguish those who may be relationship-minded vs. everyone else.

There is no linear relationship between volume of outbound messages and the elusive thing that CEB terms “share of wallet”. Interaction that may seem reasonable and even informative to some buyers will be irksome to others. Takeaway: instead of hammering all prospects and customers alike with endless messages intended to get their attention, carefully consider if the content of your message promises value to your prospects’ research in your category — or just adds to their overload.

The trick is to know exactly what your existing buyers perceived in your value proposition that was consistent with their idea of value. This enables you to flavor future content with the most relevant, like-minded ideas. It’s reality-based marketing, not mythology.