You talkin’ to me? Then speak my language.

October 4th, 2017 | No Comments

You’re the expert.

You’re the one who knows how to position the product.

You know how to tell the story.

You know the buttons to push: benefits, benefits, benefits.

But what’s that language you’re speaking? Is it marketese? Is it generalism? Is it how you would explain it to your family and friends? Is that a Facebook hook or an Anandtech hook?

If you are talking to people like yourself, you’re likely speaking a foreign language to the engineers, developers or R&D people with whom you want to engage.

To communicate in the same language as those you want to reach, you need to reach out yourself. Interview people from the target audience. Immerse yourself in their culture. Find out their pain points and what they consider their victories. Put yourself in their position and feel what they feel.

Most of all, get technical. If you don’t understand the concept or terminology, get someone to explain it to you. Be the person who makes the technical understandable, without patronizing anyone.

It’s hard work, but it has immense value. We need people who can bridge marketing, engineering and upper management. You can be one of those rare people.

 

Let’s hear it for the humans!

September 28th, 2017 | No Comments

Isn’t it time that we celebrate the people behind the technological success stories?

If you’ve been a part of a marketing, PR or news organization involved with technology, you’ve dealt with press releases, case studies, technical articles and white papers that purport to show how a product makes a breakthrough in solving a vexing problem.

I’ve been on both sides of the desk, as a journalist and a content provider for technology companies. Beyond the task of convincing marketing managers that superlatives and hyperbole  simply don’t work for jaded engineers, developers, researchers and others on the front lines, there’s the challenge of injecting the human element into corporate content.


We get it that technology is the great enabler, but sometimes technology stories are the equivalent of giving credit to Aaron Judge’s bat, Serena Williams’ racket, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar or J.K. Rowling’s word processor. 


I’m not talking about praise for the achievements of the CEO, but recognition for how people are applying technology to solve day-to-day problems: The people who are discovering new ways to adapt technology-driven processes to make their organizations more creative, productive and cost-effective.

For some reason, the victories of these people — the unsung heroes of technological revolution — are largely missing from case studies, blogs, websites and other corporate communication channels.  We get it that technology is the great enabler, but sometimes technology stories are the equivalent of giving credit to Aaron Judge’s bat, Serena Williams’ racket, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar or J.K. Rowling’s word processor.

The logical question, of course, is this: What’s in it for the organization to shine a light on its innovative users or best technological minds? There are many benefits, but here are a few:

  • It creates a story-line for which everyone can identify, but especially your current and potential customers.
  • It positions your company as an organization that has a culture of sharing credit for achievements.
  • It brings the rare element of emotion into the story; something sorely lacking in most technology company content.
  • It allows the story recipient to share his or her achievements with families, friends and others who might not understand what she or he does.
  • At the most commercially crass level, it makes your organization stand out from your competitors.

So, hooray for technologically innovative humans. Now give them their due.

Is your company content-driven or content-obligated?

August 31st, 2017 | 2 Comments

There are two types of companies: those who care about the quality of their content and those who simply follow a PR or communications template.

The former develop content based on the need of their customers for information that will help them do their jobs better. The latter do it because they feel obligated to check off a box in their marketing/PR to-do list.

First option or distant runner-up?

It’s difficult to directly prove the benefits of great content. But it’s like great design: you know it when you see it. Or more importantly, your customers know it. And it will be reflected in the incoming traffic to your website and your website’s stickiness — how long your target audience lingers on your site.

A well-researched, well-written and cogently stated case study, technical article or white paper might not directly translate to sales leads, but it builds trust, confidence and a sense of identity. It can be the difference between positioning your company as the first option when a potential customer is making a buying decision or being considered a distant runner-up.

A matter of choice

Who do you get to generate compelling content? Again this separates the committed from the window dressers. Almost always the best choice is to have content generated by an internal engineer or developer — a peer of your target audience — and then have a skilled editor mold it into shape.

Another choice is to hire an outside consultant with proven writing skills and deep knowledge of your industry. That person will cost you a lot more than a generic writer who might only dabble in your particular field.

When hiring a writer, think of hidden costs. The writer who has both skills and industry knowledge will likely get it mostly right in the first draft, and completely right by the second draft, sparing review and rewriting time from your highly paid technical and marketing people. Although more expensive initially, that person will save a lot of money in the long run and give you something likely to resonate with your target audience.

What’s your company?

How you communicate says a lot about your company and its culture. Are you a leader or follower? Are you a partner or exploiter? Are you distinctive or generic? Are your customers worth the extra effort and expense or not? Do you want a relationship with your target audience or a one-night stand?

What you say and how you say it means more than you might realize.

 

Authentic can’t be manufactured. It just is.

August 23rd, 2017 | No Comments

A recent article in the New York Times documented attempts at Yoplait to imbue its yogurt with authenticity to ward off competitors such as Chobani and Fage. After experimentation, focus groups and name changes, corporate researchers uncovered a story about Yoplait making yogurt in small batches, just like French farmers did for centuries. Voila, instant authenticity!

“Instead of culturing the ingredients in large batches and then filling individual cups,” the company’s news release reads, “Oui by Yoplait is made by pouring ingredients into each individual pot, and allowing each glass pot to culture for eight hours, resulting in a uniquely thick, delicious yogurt.”

So, you can reverse-engineer authenticity. Brands for years have traded on nostalgia and history to become hip even when they never were in their heyday (PBR, anyone?). But do people really believe the stories?

Authentic doesn’t necessarily cleave to history, of course. Something new can be authentic. That’s what I think about American Giant, a company that makes honest, high-quality t-shirts, sweats, jackets and hoodies. They don’t exaggerate who they are. They stand for good things: quality, durability, fit. Their story is well-told and free of hyperbole. It feels genuine.

My life was marked by skepticism at an early age. Perhaps that’s why I gravitated toward journalism as my first career choice. It’s a trade where you need to be suspicious; lies are everywhere and your mission is to uncover truth. I don’t think I’m alone in bringing a similar attitude to my life as a consumer. There’s a lot of fake stuff out there and we’ve learned not to be taken as suckers (at least not repeatedly).

I think we all have finely tuned shit detectors. Fabricated stories — like lip-syncing, synthesized horns or butter substitutes — might pass muster for some, but for the rest of us they will always make the needle jump into the red.

Try all you want, but you cannot manufacture authentic. You can build it into your company’s culture, but you can’t retroactively bend a suspect culture to resemble authentic. It’s either there or it’s not. And we know the difference.

The simple question that should drive all your marketing and communications

August 14th, 2017 | No Comments

“Can we talk?”

It was a signature phrase for the late comedian Joan Rivers; a way to establish intimacy with her audience.

A song with that title was an R&B hit for Tevin Campbell in the early 90s, communicating the desire to get closer to a woman he loves.

It’s even the title of this mindfulness article.

But it’s a question rarely asked by companies to their customers.

In corporate marketing and PR, we hear often about customer-centric communications. But, sadly, most of the time it’s literally lip service. More often, companies talk at or to their customers.

There are many reasons companies don’t talk with their customers. Perhaps the most self-empowering reason of all is pure corporate hubris: Marketers believe customers really don’t know what they want until it is presented to them. You could call that the Mad Men Justification.

So, companies just move ahead blindly, not really knowing what motivates their most important customers; developing products based on what coders or designers in a back room think is important.

Marketers believe customers really don’t know what they want until it is presented to them. You could call that the Mad Men Justification.

It’s easy to avoid the ignorance is bliss syndrome once you develop a handful of questions that push key buttons linked to customer wishes, desires and anxieties.

“What gives you the most satisfaction in your job”?

“What are the biggest obstacles to implementing new technology within your organization”?

“What are the problems that keep you awake at night”?

“What would best help you do your job more effectively or make it more pleasant”?

“Who are the people that influence purchasing and what must you do to justify purchases”?

You probably could think of others that are relevant to your industry or business, but you get the idea.

So how do you engage customers to answer these questions? That’s an easy one based on my experience, because people want to talk about themselves and their jobs. And a token gift of company swag never hurts. Here are some ways to engage:

  • By making appointments (ask for 10 minutes tops) at trade shows or randomly engaging people on the show floor.
  • By conducting focus groups at lunch or dinner at user-group meetings, trade shows or customer visits.
  • By asking customers questions over the phone.
  • By setting aside a few minutes during company visits.

Who should ask these questions and compile the answers in a report? It could be account executives, but in my experience they are sometimes too defensive. Better that it’s someone not directly connected to sales. It could be an internal marketing or PR person, or better yet a third-party who knows the industry, but is only connected to the company through this type of work.

After tabulating the answers and documenting trends, you have a qualitative overview of what a representative portion of your customers want or need from you. Not a profile, but a true representation from actual customers.

There might be surprises. There might not be surprises, which is a gift in itself. Whatever the results, it all starts with that three-word question: “Can we talk”?

When it comes to communications, everything’s external

August 4th, 2017 | Comments Off on When it comes to communications, everything’s external

I was talking with a friend this morning who is selling his company on the idea of internal branding. It seems everybody in this fast-growing company has a different story on who the company is and what it does.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing. After all, if it’s internal, who cares? Let everyone make up their own stories about their employer.

Only problem is that there’s no such thing as internal when it comes to communications, especially now when everyone has personal broadcasting channels and the enterprise might be spread throughout the world. So, as controlling as it might sound, spreading the brand identity internally is just as important — perhaps even more so — than what a company says externally.

Given this environment, companies have to ask themselves: Do our major shareholders, our employees, really know our story, and are they invested enough in it to spread the word?

Look back in wonder: CG 27 years ago

August 6th, 2013 | Comments Off on Look back in wonder: CG 27 years ago

Anaheim brought back memories.cgt-ncga86

I was there two weeks ago to write about SIGGRAPH 2013 for Develop3D, but my mind drifted back more than a quarter of a century.

My memories are of computer graphics shows — first the National Computer Graphics Association (NCGA) in the late 1980s and 1990, then Siggraph in 1987 and 1993.

My first show in Anaheim was NCGA ’86, attended by 35,000 people with nearly 300 exhibitors taking up every bit of space in the convention center, then one of the largest in America.

“West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys was sitting on top of the Billboard charts, “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise would be released later that week and become the world’s number-one movie of 1986, and a standalone CAD station from Computervision cost $65,000.

Not yet ready for prime time

I was editor-in-chief of a tabloid called Computer Graphics Today that year and the CAD products I was writing about were from companies such as Intergraph, Applicon, SDRC, PC Productivity Systems, MCS, Tasvir and Cordata.  Autodesk was around and held 41-percent of the PC CAD market, but AutoCAD was considered not suitable for serious design and engineering work.

One of the more unique products at NCGA ’86 was Softplot 2122 (forward thinking!) by Greyhawk Systems.  As I reported at the time, it “displays a full-color D-size drawing with the image quality of a pen plotter and the speed of an electrostatic printer.” Basically, it was a big-ass 400-dpi display. Price: $46,176.  In the same issue was a new HP laser printer that output eight pages a minute in 300-dpi resolution for $4,995.

From industry to critical tools

Computer graphics was considered an industry then, although folks such as the late Carl Machover were already predicting that these products would soon become everyday tools. Proprietary systems ruled and information exchange was problematic, as exchange standards such as IGES were still in their infancy. Solid modeling was relatively new; images were flat and without shading. Even on the fastest systems, a rotating 3D image looked like a spastic robot dance.

NCGA ’86 and Siggraph ’87 the following year in Anaheim were in many ways the apex of computer graphics as an industry, with attendance and exhibitors decreasing in subsequent years.  As computer graphics technologies progressed through the 1990s, they migrated from the hands of specialists to the desktops of design and engineering professionals of every type.

Nostalgia need not apply

While there are many things one can be nostalgic about, the state of computer graphics is not one of them.  Where we might not see progress measured in large leaps like in the early 80s, there is a steady, inexorable march toward better, cheaper and faster.  The net result, when measured over time, is astounding.

###

For the curious, here are my blog postings from SIGGRAPH 2013:

http://www.develop3d.com/blog/2013/07/siggraph-2013-3-immersive-heads-to-the-mainstream

http://www.develop3d.com/blog/2013/07/siggraph-2013-5-rendering-star-power

The Greyhawk Systems Softplot 2122

The Greyhawk Systems Softplot 2122

Sniff out fresh content

October 30th, 2012 | Comments Off on Sniff out fresh content

The PR mill can be a hoary thing: If you can’t find something significant to talk about, make it up: new foosball game in the office, CEO’s charitable activities, the company dog, a change in corporate titles — anything that can be press released, tweeted, blogged, Facebooked or Pinterested.  Most of these things have the shelf-life and nutrition of a potato chip left out on the counter.

For those willing to search, there are abundant story hooks that can lead to stories with immediate and long-lasting value.

What cool things are your customers doing?  Translate that into case studies for trade publications and new content for your website.

What are customers saying and thinking? Take a few hours to talk with customers about how they use your products and the value they get from them. I guarantee you’ll gain insight that can be translated into an editorial or trend piece.

What burning technical issue is addressed by your product or technology, yet under-exposed in the media or among your customer base?

What new markets are emerging and how can you become a knowledge leader by writing intelligent stories and/or blog posts that have value to customers and potential customers?

What is trending in the news or on social media that has relevance to your industry?

How can you contribute to a publication or website to build editorial credibility, even if it has little to do with your clients’ products or services?

Here are some things I’ve worked on recently as the result of looking into story hooks. I bet you can find a lot more for your company:

  • A cogent reply to the big boys — Karalit responds in Develop3D to the big boys of CFD and scores.
  • The fight for a perfect fit — Design News article on shortening design time for personally fitted mouthguards from a day to an hour.
  • Automated error reporting: the beginning of a beautiful relationship — ghost-written blog post on the connection between technology and customer relationships.
  • Statue without limitations — Computer Graphics World feature article on recreating an 8-foot iconic Canadian statue.
  • Develop3D Siggraph blogs — Reports from the Siggraph show floor, none related to current clients.
  • Automated error reporting: gateway to better quality — Ghost-written story for InfoQ website connecting technology to software quality improvements.
  • A new approach to CFD — Article in Develop3D outlining a fresh approach to an existing industry.
  • Think of these hooks as truffles.  They are there, but you need to train yourself to sniff them out.

    Feet-to-the-street high-tech marketing

    January 5th, 2012 | Comments Off on Feet-to-the-street high-tech marketing

    We see them and marginalize them: Those street vendors offering phone cards, knock-offs and overtly fake fashion accessories.  But, as Robert Neuwirth points out in an interview in this month’s issue of Wired magazine, these unregulated economies have a collective GDP of $10 trillion a year.

    It got me to thinking about how most high-tech companies do marketing and PR: It’s almost always about people coming to them, not the other way around.  And, it often involves the grand gesture.  The big advertising and PR campaign. 

    What if, like street vendors, we went to the places people hang out.  No, not the big trade shows, but to home-town markets around the globe, inviting people to see our wares and spend some time with us.

    OK, I know what you’re thinking: big bucks.  But it doesn’t have to be.  It can be one man or woman and a laptop (or whatever other equipment your technology requires) on a tour of underserved, but significant markets.

    This isn’t about the New Yorks, San Franciscos, LAs, Londons, Parises, Hong Kongs and Berlins of the world — those cities are already served by major conferences and waves of sales troops.  It’s about having feet on the street in cities that don’t get a lot of high-tech suitors.

    In the U.S., that could include places like Boise, Idaho; Wichita, Kansas; Durham, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and others a bit off the usual high-tech conference circuit.

    Recruit locals from your customer base, find out the cool places where customers and potential customers hang out, book the hottest local band or DJ and have a workshop followed by a party.  Give out swag. Buy beer. Make friends. Be personable.  Generate fun. Tweet and facebook about it.

    People will love the fact that you came to them and delivered an experience that reflects their needs and culture.  And, it sets up a foundation for that most important business-builder: a relationship.

    While not everyone appreciates a Gucci knock-off, most people will approve of a company that brings a good product and a good time to their fair city.

    Peer pressure and leaving no fingerprints

    November 1st, 2010 | Comments Off on Peer pressure and leaving no fingerprints

    You might have thought that the pressure to say the right thing, wear the right thing, do the right thing, left you in high school, but you’re likely wrong.

    Studies cited in yesterday’s New York Times magazine (“Nudge the Vote” by Sasha Issenberg) show that peer pressure is the biggest single generator of higher voter turnout.  The article also punctures the myths of celebrity endorsements, four-color glossy mailings and robo calls (or almost any call for that matter).

    Leave fingerprints behind

    The findings are interesting for all marketers.  How can we use subtle (or maybe not so subtle) peer pressure to help sell products? Beauty and exercise products have used this forever, of course, but couldn’t it be applied to technology or informational products?

    A finding that I found aligns closely with the sensibilities of engineers and other buyers of technology is that voters don’t want marketing dazzle, according to political consultant Hal Malchow.  His primary findings:

    • E-mail and text messages from unexciting senders (such as “Election Center”) often do better than those with livelier “from” lines.
    • Voters pay less attention to glossy four-color brochures than they do to spare envelopes containing simple letters like ones received from government officials.

    “People want information, they don’t want advertising,” Malchow says. “When they see our fingerprints on this stuff, they believe it less.”

    Voters are a lot like your audience

    Other interesting snippets from the article:

    • People are more likely to perform an action if they have already visualized doing it.
    • In-person canvassing outperformed all other voter promotions by a wide margin.
    • The most effective way to find what works is testing different messages with small samples and then sending the most influential ones to a much larger target audience.

    If you think of the audience for your products — especially if you are in high-technology — chances are they are a close fit with voters: skeptical, disillusioned with marketing, and not convinced by displays of force or flash.