Archive for August, 2012

Complicated Fractal Background


Terry McDonell is right on the money when it comes to what makes good content “good”.  He just doesn’t want to use the word content, which is OK with us. Here’s McDonell, editor of Time Inc.’s Sports Group, which publishes Sports Illustrated among other properties, describing his colleague Paul Fichtenbaum, who was just named SI’s editorial director:

“One of the best things about Paul as an editor and digital leader is that he doesn’t talk too much about content, which now means so many things that it often means nothing.  And that goes double when you put either amazing or incredible in front of content…Editors should not talk like that. My point is that Paul is jargon-free, which is one of the many things that stamp him as a serious journalist.”

The emphasis on jargon-free is ours. We couldn’t have said it better or be in stronger agreement.  One of our guiding precepts at Write Angle is jargon-free marketing content, as our clients will attest. Above all, good writing is simple and clear. It’s also a daunting task, as anyone who has ever sat down and tried to make complicated concepts readable will agree. In the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Easy reading is damned hard writing.”  Or, as jazzman Charles Mingus put it, “Very few can take the complicated and make it simple.”

One of the ways we try to make it simple is to purge the jargon. Unfortunately, simple language has never been a hallmark of technology marketing and writing. On the contrary, techno-babble and gobbledygook have been the rule since long before the Internet age. Web 2.0 has not really altered this language landscape.  And so we applaud efforts by the folks at HubSpot, among others, on behalf of beleaguered technology readers, users and buyers, to make website content, especially the techie variety, easier to read.  Still, it remains damned hard writing.

Is your marketing content jargon-free?  What is your jargon-detection process?

Gigantic Solar Burst 01

To be taken seriously enough to have a fighting chance at breaking away from established competitors a new venture will always need to think of itself as an educator as much as a vendor.  This is a tried-and-true way to look larger than life.

While you may not have a lengthy track record and a long list of blue-chip customers, you must still publish web content no less compelling as what’s found on the sites of the leading players.  This is where the education factor kicks in. “Wrapping your pitch in education,” as Jess Ostroff puts it, can not only “make the medicine go down”,  it can position you as a leading light.  Consumer brands like Whole Foods uses its blog to burnish its reputation as a nutritional expert.  General Electric sponsors a variety of events to further its storied association with cutting edge innovation and technology.  You can implement the  same strategy.  Caveat: don’t push sales language.  Push information that customers can use — and remember you by.

And when it comes to the nitty-gritty content of white papers and case studies there’s no getting around the basic quality that must shine through in substance and style. In the past year, we’ve generated a variety of material for McAfee as well as lesser-known names in security like RedSeal, Sensage and Vidder.  The content standard was lofty and exacting. To compete with McAfee and Symantec (not a client), quality and credibility are inseparable. Same holds true in the red-hot category of Big Data.  Our regimen for content at EndPlay and Sumo Logic had to be as rigorous as anything associated with familiar names like IBM and EMC.  Sumo Logic rolled out its debut earlier this year as its high-profile competitor Splunk was entering its IPO’s quiet period.  Sumo had to show content that would convince customers that it, too, was a force in the Big Data world.

Early stage vendors don’t have the budget for GE-magnitude events, of course, nor do they enjoy IBM resources. But shrewd strategies and resourceful management of tactics, especially in the creation of world-class content, can still accomplish some amazing missions.

Don Draper Wiki.jpg

We’ve all seen them.  Those click-bait posts that pop up everywhere:  “What (fill in the blank) can teach us about (fill in the blank).”   Saw one today that inspires what you’re reading now. It had to do with teenagers and marketing.  This was right after seeing another one about what the “Olympics can teach about product development”, or something equally absurd.  We suppose these things must work for somebody, or else there wouldn’t be so many of them, right?  And in the interest of full disclosure we’ll admit to clicking on them from time to time.

The teenager theme, however, reminds us of something said by Don Draper, uber-cool ad exec in an early episode of “Mad Men.”  Young people, Draper observed back in the day when agencies were enthralled by the youth market (nothing’s changed!), can’t teach anybody anything for the simple that “they don’t know anything.”  Succinctly put.  We’ll go a step further and declare that no one other than your customers can teach you anything you need to know about how to use content to acquire more customers. If your web site fails to pull the visitors you’re targeting you need find out why.  If your calls to action fall short of the action you’re calling for, you need a more compelling proposition.  If the visitors you desire fail to see anything compelling and relevant, you need to ask why and find out how to improve it.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Marketing Mix

Entrepreneurs keeping a close eye on budgets put every line item under the microscope.  The marketing function is as closely scrutinized as any other, if not more.  Not always clear, however, is when to pull the trigger  — and on which kinds of projects.  From our perspective as content creators, you’re ready to push marketing and create content from day one…if:

…You believe that customer feedback beginning at the concept stage can help you understand whether a market even exists or what solutions your market is looking for.

According to Renee Warren of Social Fresh, location-based marketing start-up Geotoko hadn’t written a line of code when it pitched TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010.  CEO Adarsh Pallin credits his company’s exposure on tech blog Mashable for a big boost even before a prototype was ready. “Before we had a proper working prototype we were on Mashable mentioning we were giving out 500 beta invites. We got 2500 from that one post.”  With the beta version still a work in progress, Pallin sent screen shots of  product capabilities to the people who expressed interest.

…It’s important to get people talking about you and using your product.

Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress has compared customer usage to “oxygen of the real world” for ideas about how to improve products. The product dies if deprived of users.  The real-world feedback is critical to key features, including which ones not to include.  The benefits that may have seemed like great ideas in development may bear little connection to what people value and want to pay for.

…You want to hone your pitch AND improve the product.

Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of Buffer, a tool enabling users of Twitter and other social media to organize and time posts throughout the day, thinks of “marketing” the way a growing number of entrepreneurs do today — moreas more as a way to trigger conversations than as a broadcast channel.  We had to experiment a lot with our pitch and we had many things to fix in the product,” he said. “It was much easier to improve quickly due to the fact my co-founder Leo Widdrich was writing several articles per week about Buffer for a variety of blogs.”

The subsequent success of Buffer has convinced Gascoigne of the value of marketing early and often. “We should aim to be getting our products mentioned widely and frequently. People have a kind of tipping point where they decide ‘now I’ll give it a go’. But you have to work to get there.”