Some years ago a business acquaintance told me of her time as an expat product marketer in the newly established Tokyo office of an IT networking hardware company.
The branch grew like crazy, employees worked all hours (leaving at 11:30 pm to catch the last train connection home was not uncommon for the Japanese staff) and business flourished.
Two memories remain very clear for her.
The first was in response to a customer from the academic world who signed up as an early adopter of the firm’s ethernet NIC products. After some software driver incompatibility problems had been identified as the likely cause of a number of outages, the university’s IT engineering manager wanted it fixed, along with answers.
To cut a long story short, the US-based tech support specialists eventually had to bring their R&D software engineers into the conversation with the Japanese staff. Not only did they want detailed, written explanations of what my friend’s research boffins had found, they also (politely) demanded to see the driver source code changes, albeit under a signed NDA.
The R&D team had never experienced such a sustained thirst for proprietary detail from any US or European customers, and they were often stretched to provide appropriate failure analysis and correction reports.
The lesson my friend learned? Attention to detail and communication of same, is a natural cultural business trait between many Japanese businesses and their customers. (In 18 years of living here, I agree with her assessment.)
The second memory is of the time, effort and money expended in localizing the marketing collateral coming out of corporate HQ. At first, my friend and her team attempted to translate and self-publish data sheets, case studies and press releases by themselves. However, content was changing so rapidly that they could not keep up and were in danger of burning out.
Also, many Japanese customers (and some prospects) would complain that the translations were ‘rough’ and showed a lack of attention to detail! Even outsourcing the work to native Japanese-speaking translators was hit-and-miss because the assigned translator often didn’t have the specialized vocabulary and experience to satisfy locals that this foreign company was “serious about doing business in Japan.”
My friend understood how these two lessons explained why corporate org charts often had Asia divided into ‘North’, ‘South’ and ‘Japan’. For cultural, language and business reasons, the ‘Japan market’ was not only financially important but also uniquely different.
And what does this have to do with IT content marketing in Asia-Pacific?
For one thing, you need deep pockets if you are to succeed in Asia. The geographic scale means it takes the best part of a day to fly between countries here. There are multiple languages and cultures. Between India at one end and New Zealand at the other, there’s a 7.5 hour time difference!
These factors all translate into the almost Confucian-like mantra of “time, patience and money” as the traits most necessary for business success in much of Asia. (Australia and New Zealand being the ‘Pacific’ tag in the label, ‘Asia-Pacific’.)
For IT content marketers who were hoping to quickly and cheaply port existing white papers, case studies and other collateral aimed at English-speaking Western markets to the Asian equivalents, I’ve some bad news.
At best, it’s unlikely to work. At worst, it can damage your reputation as a self-styled, committed partner to Asian countries and customers.
There is some evidence of the above issues in an eleven page IDG Connect 2011 Global IT content survey. It’s well worth downloading their free report and pulling out the Asia-Pacific details. However, on second thoughts, you don’t even need to do that because Andrea Edwards, from the Singapore-based SAJE Communications, has already done so with this informative post: IDG Connect Survey – Local Vs Global Content in Asia Pacific.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, if you are an IT marketer with Asia-Pacific responsibilities, I encourage you to read Andrea’s post and then answer these three questions:
1) What type of white papers do your potential buyers want to see in Asia-Pacific countries of greatest profit potential for your company?
2) Where will you get the type of data that will satisfy these readers?
3) How many of your customer success stories feature Asian customers and how are you going to source more of them?
Finally, I’d like to wish all readers a successful and prosperous 2012, in this “year of the dragon”.
– Mark McClure
IT Case Study Writer to the Computer Networking Industry
Today’s post is about major content marketing mistakes, as revealed by 29 individuals who are experts from the worlds of b2b marketing, public relations, professional speaking, writing and communications.
These folks were interviewed by internet entrepreneur, Eugene Farber, who then summarized their answers to the question below in a post on his content strategy hub blog.
Here are five of the major mistakes I identified from the post:
1) Joe Pulizzi is right on the money when he states that: “we love talking about ourselves.” Joe goes on to say that aiming for expert status in your prospect’s mind by using a content strategy that’s big on educational marketing is going to win trust and therefore buyers, when the time’s right.
2) Forgetting that content can be re-purposed and published a number of times. This is Robert Rose’s assertion and it’s a good one. For example, not every new visitor will read (or even find) that ace blog post you wrote from two months ago.
But they might be an iTunes podcast subscriber.
They could be following you on Twitter, FaceBook or Google+.
You’ve therefore a marketing duty to circulate your content widely and frequently so that target audiences have a chance to read it.
3) Forget, “this will do. I’ll tidy it up later.” Ann Handley is one great writer and her admonition is to produce great content, even if it requires more work. People do notice the great from the merely average or downright mediocre.
4) And yet, even with great content, there’s no guarantee that people will show up to see it. There’s just too much competition and great content for visitors to find yours because of search engine optimization wizardry alone. Instead, you need to go where your audience is already hanging out. Let them see you on their terms and, in time, they’ll come visit your digital home.
5) A real simple one from Francisco Rosales. Create a content strategy editorial calendar and stick to it.
I can’t tell you how much ‘creative freedom’ a calendar can give a b2b blogger to get on with the tasks necessary to research, write and publish excellent content. It just works.
What did you get from Eugene’s post?
– Mark McClure
Is there a place for humor when marketing IT solutions to technically-savvy prospects and customers?
I ask, because many b2b technology sales teams know that ‘geeks’ can be very antagonistic to traditional marketing materials. Many interpret these as “marketing BS” or as poorly disguised “sales fluff”. (That’s why experienced account managers will often bring along a pre-sales SE to customer meetings and conference calls.)
Having been in the network infrastructure world I can understand their unease when a vendor’s sales folks arrive to “nurture the account”. What I think most interests the network operations staff are tools that:
1) Help them find potential problems before users ever notice anything is up.
2) Quickly pinpoint operational issues while providing the metrics and status info to keep managers and busybodies off their backs during problem resolution.
Now, if your company had a product in this area, how would you get the attention of those in a position to purchase and use it?
Clearly, CIOs and IT Directors are very motivated to reduce the business impact of application and network infrastructure problem. Their career paths depend on it! And that’s why some white papers, webinars, trade show appearances and peer company case studies will get their attention early on in the research stage of the buying cycle.
However, because the IT operations staff (and their managers) are ‘fighting fires’ daily just to keep the existing IT investment up and running, they often have little time, and even less patience, to think about alternatives to the status quo.
Oh, they’re interested in making improvements but swapping out an existing solution, even if it is less than ideal, is low down on their task priority list because of the risk, uncertainty and thankless work in doing so.
One way to get their attention is by poking a little fun at the often surreal reasons behind network and application outages. The idea is not to belittle them or their users (who after all fund IT budgets) but to communicate a kind of shared Dilbert-esque world-weariness with the ups and downs of keeping an enterprise networking humming along.
And that’s what I think ExtraHop Networks have done with their ‘IT Blame Game‘ microsite. It’s ‘amusing’ in ways that only a network operations department can relate to, with end-users probably finding it condescending or trite. Then again, few end-users would ever check it out…
Here’s a screenshot from the home page.
Notice the subservient, apologetic posture of the poor IT staffer, who has to suck up a plethora of excuses for what might be behind the reported ‘network outage’.
And here’s what shows after clicking the ‘Go’ button to the right of the figure.
Notice the multiple options for visitor participation:
1) Play Again:
Click through the existing contributions – it’s fun to read how outlandish some of the submitted ‘Blame game’ answers can be.
2) Tell Us Your Story:
Here’s an opportunity to grow user-generated content, providing additional reasons for people to visit the site again.
3) Like or Dislike:
You can like or dislike each ‘IT Blame” answer.
And along the bottom of the page you can click through to ExtraHop Networks’ home page, which is a subtle mix of marketing and technical content.
For those curious about what they’re ‘selling’, there’s also a link to a short video on application performance management. But, alas, you have to register to view it. (If this was my campaign, I’d test out making the video free to watch (ungated) and include an offer to register for (say) trial demo software or a newsletter.)
Of course, this site by itself won’t change minds and get a purchase order signed any faster. What it might do, however, is to raise awareness of ExtraHop networks amongst IT operations frontline staff and their managers.
And why is that important?
Well, people talk. They do so at the start and finish of meetings, beside the water cooler, over lunch, even in the restrooms. It’s not that hard to imagine some of these conversations including an aside about that goofy ‘IT Blame’ game and how many (or few..) of those submitted stories are relevant in their workplace.
Think ‘mindshare’. Because in its own small way that’s what this microsite is about. ExtraHop Networks are taking a pain point in the daily existence of an IT professional and, in a light-hearted but still respectful manner, encouraging visitors to link the relief of that pain and embarrassment with their solution offering.
Another way to view this strategy is to imagine an external applicant with probably the best job resume of all candidates (including internal ones), but yet with no firm interview appointment. If only they had a way to clearly flag their accomplishments and value in an indirect yet memorable way…
The purpose of the IT Blame Game microsite, in my humble opinion, is to be that ‘flag'; one which can help ExtraHop Networks get a few steps closer to the ‘prize’ – be that a demo, an invite to tender, perhaps even a trial purchase.
This is great content marketing for a technical audience, with the added benefit of user-generated content and a chance to therefore go viral via social media sharing.
In my book, that makes the IT Blame Game a winner, and a funny one too.
“Content marketing” is a topic of interest to many b2b technology marketers.
It’s incredible to think there’s almost no limit to how much digital information can be released online. But information only becomes useful to your prospects and customers when it’s organized into formats such as white papers, case studies, technology guides, FAQs, email newsletters etc.
Having then made it available online doesn’t mean that people will easily find it. You need to take steps, many of them automated, to help market that content 24 x 7.
Of course, a percentage of your audience will hear about it by way of a conversation or referral. This could be offline or online. Someone forwards your email newsletter to a colleague, and they sign up. Or your company’s name is mentioned on Twitter and followers take note.
But don’t forget that there are many others using online search to help solve a business problem… and who don’t know your solutions even exist!
You can increase their probability of discovering you online by:
a) Buying online ads (such as Google Adwords) and targeting people searching for specific keyword phrases or brands (yours!).
b) Implementing search engine optimization (SEO) procedures that help content rank highly for specific phrases likely to be of interest to these prospects.
In this post I’m highlighting the importance of b) to your content marketing strategy, so that when search engine spiders come visiting, your online content is more easily indexed and ranked.
And how to do that? Isn’t this the preserve of SEO consultants and gurus?
Well, yes, sometimes that is the case.
But there is a free and very valuable alternative way of gaining a good, working knowledge of SEO… and that’s to learn from Google’s own content marketing efforts.
Just visit Google.com and search for “Google Webmaster Central”, where you should find a section title ‘Webmaster Links’. Click on ‘Webmaster Guidelines’ and read that page for some good background information.
In the right hand column of that page you should find a section called ‘Help resources’. Click the ‘Search Engine Optimization’ link and you’ll be able to download (or just read online) Google’s 32 page pdf document, search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf. (File size 4 MB.)
Alternatively, if Google moves their content around and these links no longer work, just search for the pdf file.
This document is a great backgrounder for getting to grips with ‘on-page’ SEO and does not focus much on the ‘off-page’ aspects of link building. I found it useful to skim the sub-heads before reading the details. Here is the table of contents from the version I downloaded:
– SEO Basics
– Create unique, accurate page titles
– Make use of the “description” meta tag
– Improving Site Structure
– Improve the structure of your URLs
– Make your site easier to navigate
– Optimizing Content
– Offer quality content and services
– Write better anchor text
– Optimize your use of images
– Use heading tags appropriately
– Dealing with Crawlers
– Make effective use of robots.txt
– Be aware of rel=”nofollow” for links
– SEO for Mobile Phones
– Notify Google of mobile sites
– Guide mobile users accurately
– Promotions and Analysis
– Promote your website in the right ways
– Make use of free webmaster tools
There is a wealth of free SEO information available at Google Webmaster central and I’d encourage b2b tech marketers to become more familiar with their content.
The title quote’s taken from ‘CK’ Kerley’s wonderful thought leadership white paper on “The Mobile Revolution & B2B“. Go get it now – a free 17-page pdf download, with great graphic design, and well worth reading.
I’ve been following Ms. Kerley for a while now and am very impressed by her knowledge of marketing in an increasingly mobile business world. Having finally made time to read her positioning paper on the mobile revolution & b2b, I suspect her key message will have profound implications for the how, where and why of white papers in a b2b marketing environment.
White papers will (probably) still have a significant role to play in b2b marketing efforts but the way in which people consume that information may change quite radically.
For example, with the rise of smart phones and more recently, of tablet computers, it’s both a virtual and physical revolution in many corporations. Fast disappearing is a world where the desktop PC and a desk bound executive are together most of the day.
Why? People are mobile because wireless technologies and devices allow them to be so. And with always-on Internet mobile devices by their side, for many of these folks their first digital contact with a b2b marketer’s message will be via tablet or smart phone.
What a sobering thought!
CK’s paper also contains some links to short video clips of her explaining the impact around this evolving mobile revolution. I recommend you watch them. They certainly made me think about how key decision makers might interact with an IT vendor’s white paper series.
The big risk is that the white paper itself, the landing page or related micro site aren’t optimized for a mobile user. Imagine the ‘marketing car crash’ when the visitor accesses this content via a hand held device…
For some of my white paper IT clients I suspect it will be a shock to realize they have to adapt their white paper content not only to suit different ‘buyer persona’, but they also have to deliver that content in ways best suited to how the prospect likes to consume said content. This means taking existing content and making it smarter and snappier for a mobile audience.
Five Quotes On The Mobile Revolution & B2B Marketing
I’ll end this post with what I think are five eye-opening quotes from CK Kerley’s paper that should make anyone marketing to executives in a b2b environment pay attention.
1) “Folks need things in a bite-sized way.”
2) “Can you wait until after the presentation to tweet?”
3) “Real-time is the only speed.”
4) We live in a “… multitasking, multichannel society.”
5) “Instead of a society that looks ahead, we are now a culture that constantly (and literally) looks down.”
One very important take-away for me was CK’s recommendation to include more video aimed at mobile b2b users. For example, this post would probably make a decent 5 minute clip that someone could watch (or just listen to) on their mobile when they have a few minutes to spare.
What are the chances of these “few minutes” occurring on a desktop PC when they’re in an office full of colleagues and crises!
Vive the b2b mobile revolution!
– Mark ‘white paper writer’ McClure
Robust economic growth in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries is good news for IT networking companies, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region (think, India and China).
However commercial success has meant that many IT marketing departments are under increasing strain as they struggle to operate across multiple time zones, languages and cultures.
Marketers new to this part of the world assume that because English is the de facto language of international commerce in Asia-Pac, it’s also an effective language of communication.
That’s not necessarily how it works… and appearances can indeed be deceptive.
It’s easy to forget that those representatives of partners and resellers you met on that last whirlwind business trip were chosen to meet you partly because of their English abilities.
Therefore, don’t be surprised to discover that few of these talented people are truly bilingual (holding a business conversation in English does not imply fluency), and even fewer are bi cultural. Remember, you are dealing with English as Second Language (ESL) speakers.
This can mean that content marketing to an ESL audience usually works best with a “simpler is better” approach, as long as you are careful not to confuse simpler with easier, and unintentionally insult your audience.
Of course, those fortunate marketing departments with budget for localization projects may see things differently. If they’re real lucky and pay well enough, a translator with the ideal combination of experience, technical understanding and business nuance might just be available to turn the original content into a local language replica that passes muster.
Alas, such people are difficult to find and their services are at a premium.
One workable compromise is to create short versions of your content.
a) A four-page customer case study becomes three PowerPoint slides.
b) A white paper is reduced to one page executive summary, with a call to action.
c) Create info graphics that convey the message using imagery and limited text.
The most important takeaway is that you can’t be all things to all peoples. Since a high level of business English often helps to increase their career opportunities, ESL speakers with a marketing role will mostly be pleased to act as conduits and ambassadors for your marketing messages from English to a local language. So, make it easy for all parties to succeed!
This could be fictional. Then again…
It took months to get ideal customers in a target market to sign up for a customer referral program, but at long last the project began to make measurable progress.
Writers were hired, customer interviews completed and the arduous job of review and sign off among multiple parties was finished in record time.
Everyone from the CEO to the Marketing Interns was excited that real customers were telling their stories, and with your products as center stage. Here are big dollops of credibility and social proof that no amount of data sheets and brochures could ever amount to.
Now fast forward a couple of weeks…
… and imagine your prospects’ surprise, (or more likely, shock and disappointment), when they’re confronted with six mandatory registration fields on your case study landing page.
Are they going to willingly give up so many contact details just to get a look at these stories?
You see, while it may make sense to build a contactable list of prospects, there’s a time and a place to do so. People looking for IT customer success stories to validate and compare ‘your’ claims against similar stories from your competitors, may not take kindly to the psychological resistance you’ve just created with the glitzy sign up form.
Both you and they know that in return for opening themselves up to your sales machinery, some information will come their way.
And that sooner or later, the Sales calls will begin.
The question is: shouldn’t your best success stories be freely shared and made accessible to anyone who wants to read them? And without any obligation to become part of a vendor’s prospect database?
Just a few years ago that approach (of giving away info in return for nothing… but goodwill) might have seemed like a ridiculous waste of time and money. But in an online world where b2b prospects, customers, and vendors are able to communicate, share and (yes!) critique 24 x 7, the marketing rules are being rewritten.
Perhaps you should freely give your customer success stories away online but include within them an invitation to stay in touch via Twitter, FaceBook, your Blog, email … and see what happens?
The days of making prospects jump through hoops to discover why others do business with you may be numbered…
– Mark McClure
Freelance Case Study and White Paper writer to the Computer Networking Industry.