Archive for February, 2013


If lame marketing content is such a serious disadvantage why is there so much of it on so many high-tech websites? No early-stage company thinks of itself as a sub-par marketer.  But this is what’s conveyed by many high-tech websites with vague or overblown claims and unclear messages indistinguishable from the competition.

And it makes no difference if it’s a mature brand or an upstart in an established category or an early-stage outfit struggling to establish leadership in a new one. In each case, content that clearly communicates who you are and why you’re significant does three things, all of them good:

  • It sets you apart from those who are less articulate and creates an air of accessibility.
  • It facilitates understanding of your industry, especially a new one.
  • In a new space it cements your standing as a leading exponent of the “new, new thing” whatever that happens to be.  Industry watchers and sales prospects will naturally gravitate towards you.

We were again reminded of the dearth of writing that sells in this post by New York Times best-selling author Dave Kerpen ( Likeable Business and Likeable Social Media). Self-evident and relevant as his principles may be, especially to B2B brands in technology, they are no less elusive. Clear and compelling written content will positively differentiate your messages and give you a leg up. People who write well are taken seriously more readily, he says.  Likewise for young companies striving to seriously impress prospects and opinion leaders.

In mercurial marketplaces, expressing your brand with precision and speed can represent a key competitive advantage — but only for those marketers who can see the writing on the wall. What’s your written content saying about you?

When he’s not ranting on this site, Stan DeVaughn can be found holding forth on The Write Stuff, the blog of Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere content creation and writing agency for I.T. and other technology categories.

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This post originally appeared on The Write Stuff where Stan DeVaughn blogs on behalf of Write Angle, Silicon Valley’s premiere technology writing agency.

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.

 

What can the Grammys teach B2B marketers? That if you’re promising something, you’d better deliver it. There’s a simple lesson that content creators and all marketing-communicators (listen up, PR people) can learn from the way  last week’s Grammy Awards, ostensibly a tribute to Bob Marley, fell short.  And then heard about it.  We understand that engineers don’t report to marketing but the fact is that whatever is pushed and touted in the mediasphere today must be realized in the marketplace.  The penalty for failure is swift and severe as never before.

You take a certain amount of ownership when you create the content that customers and prospects consume. There’s a social contract here. And never underestimate the enforcement power of the digital culture in which those customers/prospects live. In other words, don’t get “Grammy’d”. Or, engineered. Get on the delivery track to fulfill your content’s promises — insisting on real proof points and testimony from satisfied users/beta-testers willing to speak up on your behalf. Even if they’re not in a position to testify, you’ve done diligence just by verifying.

When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn can be read on The Write Stuff, along with Peter Davé. Write Angle is Silicon Valley’s premiere agency for technology writing and content creation and where the unofficial motto is Trust But Verify. At least when it comes to product claims.

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Not exactly the image an exec wants to project

 

I love the whole idea of sleek, powerful electric cars. And I was impressed as hell one evening last month when I heard Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, hold forth at the Computer History Museum. One smart guy, to say the least. But “smart” is rarely the problem when it comes to CEOs, especially the media-savvy ones. Sometimes they can’t help stubbing their toes. Over the years I’ve seen a clear pattern. Big shots who’ve basked in the glow of an adoring press hit a rough patch for one reason or another and the Valentines stop coming. Reaction? They insist that they’ve been bamboozled by the media. Which is basically Musk’s complaint today over John Broder’s thumbs-down review of the new Musk-mobile, the Model S.  Good Morning Silicon Valley spotlighted it today, along with Musk’s astonishing attack on Broder’s integrity, going so far as to insist that the NYT conduct an investigation.  Such grievances made in public usually get rich and famous executives nothing but more grief.  Take it from this media-relations veteran. Far better to work the issue privately, behind the boardroom doors in mid-town Manhattan.  Musk, who has led a charmed life when it comes to PR, and who should know better, has the juice (pun intended) to do exactly that. He’d be well advised to put it to work.  Public excoriations of the press make you look and sound like the antithesis of what you need to project.

 

(When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn creates non-controversial content at Write Angle writing agency for early-stage technology companies who want more quality leads and higher conversion rates.)

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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.

(When he’s not ranting on this site, Stan DeVaughn holds forth on The Write Stuff, the blog of Write Angle where this post was also published today. WA, a Silicon Valley-based technology writing service, preaches the Five Commandments above.)

 

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Watching “Silicon Valley” on PBS last night, the riveting American Experience documentary, reminded us of the way the Cold War — specifically America’s response to a belligerent Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev — was seminal to America’s high-tech industry and the rise of the Valley.

Think about the advances prompted by DARPA (or its creation in the first place), the formation of NASA in the wake of the Sputnik launch, or the guidance systems for ICBMs just for starters. In fact, the government contracts awarded to upstarts like Fairchild Semiconductor helped fund the key technological advances that created the Valley we know today long before big checks were written on Sand Hill Road.

While the brilliant vision of Fairchild’s Bob Noyce, who went on to co-found Intel, saw high-tech applications far beyond NASA and DoD, the mother’s milk of innovation would come from a sense of urgency about national security. “Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”, in the words of JFK, wouldn’t just be the crowning achievement of the era but also the necessity that became the mother of invention that would culminate in today’s smartphones (more computer power than Apollo 11). Here’s to more inventors, breakthroughs and inventions — and the hope that it won’t require another Soviet Union-style threat to finance them.

(When he’s not ranting on this blog, Stan DeVaughn ensures that new ventures in Silicon Valley live up to the standards set by guys like Bob Noyce.  Well, at least when it comes to the written content of their marketing.)