July 22, 2013

Some principles of editing and content development

I edit a lot. In particular:

Editing and writing of course are based on similar principles, even though the processes are different. So let’s discuss what some of those principles might be.

*Actually, not everything Linda writes fits into the “romance” category. But the first books she’s (re)issuing do. And the biggest awards she’s won — a RITA, some RITA runners-up, and so on — are romance-specific.

My two core principles of writing or editing, almost irrespective of content type, are:

That first principle breaks down to:  Read more

May 10, 2013

Faith, hope, and clarity

Some principles of enterprise IT messaging.

0. Decision makers are motivated by two emotions above all — fear and greed. In the case of enterprise IT, that equates roughly to saying they want to buy stuff that:

1. For a marketing message to succeed, whatever its goals are, the “confer benefits” part of the story needs to be:

2. The “safe” part needs to be believed too. Rational belief in the safety of doing business with you is good. Blind faith is even better, but usually is enjoyed only by the most established of vendors.

In some cases, that may be the greatest competitive strength they have.

3. To be believed, enterprise IT messaging generally needs to be:

A certain amount of exaggeration is expected, and easily shrugged off. It’s also possible to get away with a certain amount of vagueness, whether in a fear/safety story or when pitching something as new/innovative/exciting. But don’t overdo either.

One common way to overdo your exaggeration — make an obviously false claim of uniqueness.

4. Please note: Deficiencies in the consistency of your messages can undermine credibility and clarity alike.

5. Messaging can become distorted in many ways, both accidental and deliberate. For example: Read more

April 7, 2013

Messaging and positioning

To a first approximation, messaging is the expression of positioning; and the way you know whether positioning is good is whether good messaging naturally flows from it. So it’s natural to conflate the two. But let’s focus for once on positioning itself.

I think positioning boils down to:

When positioning is framed that way, we can say that the primary goals of messaging are to communicate, emphasize or try to change aspects of your positioning.

*I used to say “dimensions” instead of “attributes” — but most likely the attributes aren’t all orthogonal to each other and also aren’t each measured on a continuous scale.

The modern concept of “positioning” was formulated and popularized by Jack Trout, starting in the 1960s, and can be stated as (filling) a “location in the customer’s mind”. In practice, a Trout positioning combines a product category with a single-attribute orientation such as “safe”, “powerful”, or “fun”. But I think that’s too simple for B2B or technology contexts.

I like the Geoffrey Moore formulation better, in which he offers a positioning template:

For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability).
Unlike (reference competition)
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)

But while those are all good questions — compare them to my own strategy worksheet — Moore’s version is flawed too; in conflating positioning and messaging, he oversimplifies them both.  Read more

December 9, 2012

Marketing communication tips

I review many press releases, websites, slide decks, and complete marketing strategies. Inevitably, there are certain marketing communications tips I keep repeating. Some of them are:

  1. Pitch at a suitable level of detail.
  2. Treat your top influencers as individuals.
  3. For every news item, ask yourself — who cares?
  4. Don’t pigeonhole your company or product.
  5. Use a proofreader or copy editor.
  6. Use short(er) sentences.
  7. Blog.

I shall explain.   Read more

July 3, 2012

Marketing communication essentials

I’m often asked how early-stage IT vendors should prioritize their marketing communications, and specifically their investment in collateral. They don’t have nearly the budget or management bandwidth to do everything; so what should they do first?

Most commonly, my answer is a variant on:

Beyond that, I’d say:

Where, by way of contrast, do I favor being frugal? Read more

June 5, 2012

Sizzle vs. smoke

All marketing communications attempt to cast their subject in a favorable light. I get that. But when your claim is obvious nonsense, you’re just doing yourself harm.

My best example this week (it’s only Tuesday morning) is an email from Vitria, which reads in part:

The world’s first Operational Intelligence (OI) app …

While it seems like everyone is jumping on the big data bandwagon, only OI can claim to be purposely built for tackling big data in motion …

That’s utter nonsense. We’ve had a CEP/stream processing industry for years. We’ve had stock-quote and network-monitoring systems for decades. Maybe Vitria has a good story, but the core claims in their email are obviously false. If you think I’m overreacting, it’s only because so many other companies also pitch blatantly untrue claims.

So do I want to talk with them? Well, their email suggests that if I do, they’re likely to start out by emphatically saying untrue things. Blech. I think most serious reporters, bloggers and analysts would feel much as I do on the matter. Even the ones who do take a briefing are likely to go in with a more negative attitude than they might if the pitch email had been more closely based on reality.

And if I do ever talk with Vitria anyway, they’ll need to start by climbing out of a credibility hole.

January 30, 2012

Execution for IT vendors: a worksheet

It seems that my IT vendor strategy worksheet was well-received, by companies at different stages of development, clients and non-clients alike.* So here’s the promised sequel — a similar worksheet with more of an execution orientation. If your answers to these questions don’t dovetail well with your strategy responses, you have some serious rethinking to do.

*Those who’ve worked it through include a multi-billion dollar powerhouse, a two-person lifestyle business, and some pre-revenue start-ups.

For the strategy worksheet, I took the extreme position that every employee of every IT vendor should have at least some idea of the answers. In this case, I won’t go quite that far. But I will say that most IT vendors will find most of these questions to be of great importance. So no matter what your role in the organization, you might find it helpful to see how much of this stuff you actually know.

And if you’re the CEO, you should score 100%.

Once again, for reasons of length, I’ll summarize up top and comment on each question below.
Read more

July 26, 2011

Company metrics you have to disclose

IT buyers and other industry observers like to know about a company’s or product’s financial heft, for at least two reasons:

People further like to know how much success a product has had — both for social proof and also as a clue to the product’s financial status.

Indeed, such social proof is a key aspect of one version of the layered messaging model.

And if you don’t disclose information in line with people’s minimum expectations, they:

Read more

June 21, 2011

No, companies are NOT entitled to manage news about themselves

Michael Arrington is in another flap, this time for asserting TechCrunch’s right to blindside companies with news. To disagree with him, you almost have to take the stance that companies have some sort of right to manage news about themselves, which I see as pretty ridiculous.

Recently, I got into a flap with EMC Greenplum. I blindsided them on a story; they retaliated for the story by, among other things, screwing me over business-wise. Why did I blindside them in the first place? Because I believed that if I didn’t, they’d put me under intense pressure not to publicize news I’d obtained. (Given the punishment they dished out for my running it, I imagine my belief was quite correct.)

Meanwhile, here are excerpts from a post I drafted last year, but never ran:  Read more

April 13, 2011

Quotees should be briefed before quoters

I just blogged about a company pre-launch because the news wasn’t actually embargoed (their website was up) and the press was asking me for comment. Those details are unusual, but I’d guess that the majority of quotes I give to the press are about news I haven’t been briefed on.

When news is minor enough, that’s unavoidable. But in this case and others I would have willingly been briefed (scheduling just got a bit awkward this time). The two lessons here are:

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