Archive for January, 2012

The Big Black Microphone


Jerry Della Femina, legendary ad executive from the “Mad Men” era, insisted his copywriters gather seven times the amount of source information needed on any subject prior to penning one word of marketing material.  A half-century later, we can’t argue.

The time-honored approach paid off again this week in the splashy debut today of our client Sumo Logic, a next-generation log management and analytics service competing in the red-hot Big Data revolution.  What we generated on their behalf, starting from scratch, amounted to a full menu of short- and long-form content, from web copy to FAQs, datasheets, use cases, case studies and whitepapers.

Sumo Logic made its directive crystal clear: develop compelling content that drives web traffic and craft a story that positions the company as highly differentiated, innovative and above all else, relevant and believable.   To the client’s credit, they demanded high-value content that stands up to the pushing, shoving and “prove it” probes from devil’s advocates: customers, media and analysts alike.

So what’s the key lesson learned? It begins with gathering as much relevant secondary and background material as possible.  Then comes a layer of deep sourcing sessions or interviews with all the key people. Kudos to our client for their enthusiastic collaboration providing direct and extensive access to the CEO, CTO, co-founder and director of biz dev, and the executive sales liaison. It’s here where we extract the primary material.  In these sessions we want to come away with the “ore” that can be processed into high-grade ingots:  the specific, real-world examples of customer struggles and challenges.  We probe for as many viable use-cases as possible.

What we’ve learned over the years is that the stronger the reader identification with these use cases, the deeper the impression and the more compelling the read. Only when we’ve extracted all relevant details do we prepare a tight outline as the storyboard or blueprint of the final product. Each piece — web pages, case studies, whitepapers and more — is a specific chapter in the company story.

The Sumo Logic intro reminded us, again, how perspiration trumps inspiration when it comes to crafting really great marketing content. Content drives marketing and sales today as in no other time.  And somewhere, Jerry D. is smiling.

What’s your content-development process?  How do your mobilize for intros and product launches?


(This post was also published today in The Write Stuff, the blog of Write Angle Inc.)

Business Presentation

One of our security-software clients had us come in last week to help craft a pivotal presentation to one of their new customer’s blue-chip partners.  We ended the day with a killer deck of slides — and a reminder of what an effective pitch is and isn’t.

Fortunately, our client understood the principles of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule: no more than 10 slides that support a 20-minute stand-up and utilize 30-point type from the Arial font (which studies repeatedly show is easiest on the eyes).

The secret to turning slide-ware into a weapon of mass persuasion?
  First, understand that a powerful pitch has power because it’s been well rehearsed. And there are no shortcuts.  Second, do not make the mistake of cramming the narrative of the presentation onto the slides. Because audiences read faster than they can listen, they’re skimming the screen while you’re talking. They are not listening what you’re telling them.  You get them to listen by keeping the focus on yourself and telling a good story that has a beginning, middle and end.  Here’s what we advise:

1. Internalize the psychographics or temperament of the audience. Who are you addressing and why are they interested in this topic?  What are their foremost concerns?  What kinds of appeals would be most compelling to them?  What data or evidence substantiates your position? Why would this resonate? What kinds of points can you make that would cause them to mentally applaud you and be persuaded that you have their interests and issues in mind?  That you are speaking their language and addressing their issues — that you are essentially one of them. Only when all this is clear and comprehensible are your ready to create content.

2. Clarify the purpose of the pitch and be clear on its objective.  Given the audience, what do you want from them? What idea do you need to convey? Hint: you want to arouse a discussion in which you can elaborate and clarify your leave-behind message. This is the real purpose of any presentation.  You want to extend the wrap-up section of the formal pitch, in which you told them what you told them, so you can launch into a useful conversation or Q&A where you can continue telling them. And presumably encourage their buy-in or support, while getting the skeptics to further consider.

3. Storyboard the pitch.  In no more than three or four general sections outlined on a whiteboard, in sequential blocks, outline the content that tells the story: an introduction that describes what they’re going to hear, a main section or two that lays out your points and presents substantiating facts and figures, and a concluding section that re-states and summarizes the salient points and substantiation.

4. Transcribe key takeaways of each storyboarded section or “chapter” onto the slides
, but in very brief, concise points that highlight the story you are telling.  When you present, do not merely recite the content on the slide.  Let the slide underscore your narrative. Use body language and tone of voice to emphasize key points (not animation).

5. Rehearse, dry-run, and rehearse again. And again.  Screen the pitch to a preview audience of devil’s advocates.  Insist on ruthlessness. Tweak your content and delivery. You will be rewarded by the end-result.  Everyone knows about Steve Jobs’ copious hours of rehearsal. This is how and why he sounded like he was speaking contemporaneously, coolly off-the-cuff. It was also mission-critical to his success as a communicator. Jobs was prepared. And as far as holding the attention of an audience, he’s a pretty good role model.

How do you prepare for presentations?  Was your last one as effective as it could have been?  If you could do it over, what changes would you make?

(A condensed version of this post appeared today in The Write Stuff, the blog I write for at Write Angle Inc. )

Forty-Niner Head coach Jim Harbaugh is a turn-around specialist.  Prior to accepting the job in San Francisco a year ago, Harbaugh resurrected a long-struggling Stanford football program, transforming it into one of the nation’s elite teams.  Last Sunday, he had the Niners playing in their first NFC championship game since 1998.  His team lost, but it didn’t diminish the glow of a great season.

So what can Harbaugh teach about successful business leadership?  For starters he could conduct a clinic on motivation.  Then he could run a camp on how to improve returns on assets.  As for instillation of enthusiasm in the ranks, there is nothing his team would not do for him. How many CEOs can say the same?  With apologies to long-time Bay Area sports columnist Glenn Dickey, here are my business parallels to the Harbaugh Way:

1.  Naturally upbeat, indefatigable temperament. Harbaugh stays positive and vocal about the talent around him and remains outwardly unaffected by setbacks.  Players, to a man, knowing their coach is on their side, eagerly put forth the extra effort that paid off all year.  In business, it’s human nature to want to do a great job for a great boss — one that you now has your back.

2.  Strategist and tactician. Successful coaches have a knack for quickly identifying their teams’ — and their opponents’ —  strengths and weaknesses. Harbaugh is no exception.  Similarly, the best CEOs always seem to have an instinct not only for knowing what their companies can do best but making it pay off: how to “attack” their competitors in ways that leverage their companies’ strengths versus competitors’ weaknesses.  The best strategy, however, is futile in the absence of the tactical skills necessary to implement it.  In sports it’s about the X’s and O’s; in business, it’s knowledge of people, territory, customers and a visceral feel for the competitive environment and the overall business.

3.  Generous with praise. Never does Harbaugh publicly criticize a player.  Praise, on the other hand, is conspicuous and generous. Sincerely sharing the credit with the people who deserve it pays dividends.  Harbaugh makes a point of singling out his assistants and never poses, even subtly, as the lord and master.

4.  Comfort in your own skin. Harbaugh’s coordinators and many of his assistants are bound to be head coaches someday. Your key lieutenants should be of the same ilk. Surround yourself with the best people available and be secure in the presence of people smarter than you.  You will need them.

5.  How to motivate. When Harbaugh was hired, there was some question about how his exuberant, schoolboy style would translate to the NFL.  That question has been answered. As Glenn Dickey puts it, nobody outside the team knows what Harbaugh tells players before the game or on the sidelines, but whatever it is they believe it. The team played at a consistently high level throughout the entire season.  In other words, points 1-4 above had the desired effect.  In sports, as in business, always being at the top of your game is a challenge because the competition is relentless. Your team must believe in itself and teammates must have confidence in each other.

6.   Focus on the result, not the style points. Harbaugh ignores his critics who want a flashier offense.  In the same vein, knowing what your company does better than anyone else enables focus and disables distraction.  At any given time there is a long list of great things to be doing.  The best coaches — and CEOs — know which of those will generate the highest returns.   The most effective CEOs I’ve known were great listeners but they always asked great questions.  The most frequently asked: “What is it that we do better than anybody and how can we do it better?”

Mark Twain/samuel Clemens/eps


Hell, no, but declaring the death of a trend can get attention.  Doesn’t make it true, however.

We recently came across a Mark Twain-like death”of blogs and the Web. ‪The supposition is based on the belief that blogs simply get drowned out by the avalanche of data choking would-be readers’ mailboxes, browsers, and social-media pages.  There is truth to the claim of data overload, of course, but it doesn’t nullify the positive impact of well-conceived blog content that serves the interests of readers and grows the number of the visitors you want coming to your site.

There’s certainly no data we’re aware of to suggest a declining number of blogs published on corporate web sites.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It was projected last year that 43% of U.S. companies would be utilizing blogs for marketing in 2012 – compared to 16% in 2007.  Quite a jump. So, yes, reports of the death of blogging are exaggerated.

The reason for blogging’s good health is easy to understand. Keeping web sites and blog content fresh and relevant to customer readership continues to be the simplest and quickest means of sustaining and enhancing your web presence.  Your ability to get found online.

It’s also a simple, quick way to build and substantiate thought leadership in your category whenever you can hold forth on topics of educational interest to your marketplace of customers, prospects and industry followers.

Branded blogs that thrive are those that evolve right along with the web itself. Just as corporate web sites are far more interactive today than their passive ancestors, today’s business blogs and market-savvy bloggers strive for two-way conversational engagement with readers.  They invite give and take.  This is in sharp contrast to their one-way communication soapbox predecessors.

Empirical evidence ties sales productivity, in the form of lower-cost lead generation, to a vendor’s blog activity.  Another reason why intelligently out-sourced blog content development to domain experts can represent such an intelligent (and measurable) investment in business development.  As long as they remain so useful, blogs won’t be disappearing any time soon.

Did your blog generate quality leads last year? What’s your process for coming up with new ideas to write about?  Do you solicit subject matter from customers? What’s your plan for 2012?


(This post was first published last week on The Write Stuff, the blog of Write Angle Inc.)

Printing Machines

Companies that actively blog say that their posts generate a 52% lower cost-per-lead than their other marketing communications channels. And those who post something daily have a substantial number of higher quality (sales-validated) leads than less frequent publishers. So why aren’t there more hyper-active B2B blogs out there?

“We just don’t have the resources to devote to that kind of a publishing schedule,” a lot of technology folks will say.  Understandably. We hear you.  It’s a challenge.  There’s another way to think about the problem, however, than strictly as a labor-intensive issue.  And the upside is too good to dismiss out of hand, according to the observations of Jason Keath, a veteran reporter, editor and long-time social-media educator whose experience ranges from obscure start-ups to big names — think Nordstrom, Radio Shack, Pepsi and Ford.


Aside from intimate knowledge of what it is that turns on your customers/audience the most, there are three basic elements to transforming your blog into a killer content-marketing machine: contributors, content and editing:


1.  Build a bench of the right volunteer contributors because this is where all quality content begins.  Make a list of traits you’re looking for.  Product knowledge? Social networking presence? Industry authority? Customers?  Industry leaders?  Keath suggests checking out forums, other blogs, and websites where conversations happen, like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Quora. Look for people already talking/writing about the topics you’re interested in.  Yes, some bigger names will want to be compensated, but others may be quite happy with a link back to their blog and the idea of being read by your customers. If you have to come out of pocket, pay quickly. Be sure to recognize them with link-backs and Twitter follow buttons.  If you’re a big company and your contributors are employees, make sure the CEO knows who these people are and that they know the CEO knows — and cares).

2.  Make it simple: suggest the subject matter or request that they come up with something they already care about and give them a clear deadline.  Get a firm commitment.  And make your editorial guidelines simple — no more than one page.  Spell out the most important things they need to know and point to your blog-post examples as models to emulate. Create an easy process based on editorial flow happening on your intranet, via email, or through your blog software.  Include this in your guidelines and make sure its understandable.

3.  Set high standards. As a content creator, you’ll be judged by the content you create.  No way around it. 

Have you made more frequent blogging a new year’s resolution?  If so, how do you intend to keep it?  What are your editorial plans in 2012?

Website Sales Funnel

The good folks over at Marketo published some stunning numbers this week that should be a wake-up call for anybody running marketing today.  Boiled down, the findings revealed that most marketing leaders have little or no confidence in their ability to drive revenue. Nine out of ten senior marketers surveyed “do not feel confident in their ability to impact the sales forecast of their programs”.  And 20 percent of them don’t measure what they do at all.

Isn’t driving sales one of the fundamental purposes of the marketing function? There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for closing deals and making the quarterly numbers.  But this much is known for certain about today’s in-bound marketing world: those companies who keep their web site content fresher and publish it more frequently draw the most sales-validated leads.  They consistently realize the highest conversion rates and apply measurement tools to clearly demonstrate the results of programs that contribute to closing deals.  Can’t blame them.

Marketo is in the business of measurement software, of course, but the connection of quality traffic volume to SEO rankings is driven by nothing more or less than the content sought by customers constantly on the lookout for fresh information relative to their specific needs.  Recognizing these needs and publishing relevant and engaging content is what separates the “10-percenters”, who are successfully driving revenue,  from the other 90 percent who aren’t.  Those in the tip-of-the-pyramid, ten percent club have figured out the connection between the regularity and frequency of publishing engaging content  and a robust revenue line.

Are you in the 10-percent? What are you doing to stay there, or get there?  How do you keep your marketing content fresh and relevant?

Angry Businessman


We were talking to a friend of ours at a mid-size technology firm the other day and the conversation turned to the  subject of web sites, content generation and writing.

“The stuff on our site is really stale,” she said. “We need a complete makeover, but there’s so much else going on right now we keep putting it off”.

I suggested she bring in an outside writer. “We’ve tried that”, she said. “It’s a pain. And not cheap.  Learning curve’s too steep.  Besides, we have the resources inside.  We’ll get it done.”

“So what’s the problem?” I asked.

“Procrastination, probably. And I hate to write. And we’re interrupt-driven to some extent”.

And there you have it. Vicious circle of allowing busy-ness to interfere with the business of generating fresh content. Combine this with a natural aversion to the keyboard, and procrastination prevails. Anecdotal evidence around the Valley suggests that many managers not only don’t like to write, they don’t like to even initiate writing projects that call for (gasp) coming face-to-face with new content that must be set in stone. Or, at least, put up on the web site.  Which is problematic in today’s in-bound marketing world where “content is king”.

Fact: writing is hard work but so is most of the worthwhile stuff we do everyday.  That’s why they call it “work”.
Fact: there are domain experts out there in all tech sectors for whom your learning curve should not be an issue. We won’t say they’re a dime a dozen, but they are available.
Fact: you know that marketing today is “in-bound”.  This means that the people you want coming to your site and lingering long enough to fill out a form can’t be pushed-in anymore. They find out who’s hot on their own by talking to peers and searching online. In that order.
Fact: this means that the buzz you build is the gift that keeps on giving.
Fact: fresh and frequently re-freshed content draws search engines which propel your rank upwards which increases the chances that you’ll be found.
Fact: if your content is compelling it will be shared and the buzz machine will kick in.

Is getting that writing project off your back your New Year’s resolution?

There’s a surprisingly small difference between the companies who really get it when it comes to in-bound marketing, especially when it comes to content, and the ones who muddle along with low-traffic web sites and so-called leads that are merely a collection of fast-aging business cards. Which camp are you in?


(This post first appeared December 23, 2011 on The Write Stuff, the blog published by Write Angle, the writing and content-generation service where I am creative director.)