I have another guest post on Content Marketing Institute's blog. Many thanks to Michelle Linn and Jodi Harris whose editorial skills refined and dressed this up quite a bit.
A few weeks ago, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) relaunched its online platform for thought leadership content, bcgperspectives.com. Content marketers can learn a lot from how the company handled its launch efforts:
Read more at contentmarketinginstitute.com.
In case you missed my most recent guest post on Content Marketing Institute's blog.
Even if you’ve never been a reporter for your campus newspaper or have never edited copy and page proofs late into the night on a deadline, you can appreciate the intensity and focus (and coffee consumption) instilled by a press deadline. Longshot magazine harnesses that same intensity: crowdsourcing content to produce an entire 60+ page magazine and related podcasts, from topic announcement to final pages, in two days (in both digital and print editions).
Longshot was co-founded by Gizmodo’s Mat Honan, The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal, and GOOD magazine’s Sarah Rich. Their first effort that followed this “48-hour” model (which was produced under a since-redacted title that provoked the ire of CBS’s attorneys) won a 2010 Knight-Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism.
Before getting to any elements of this approach that have relevance to content marketing, here are a few highlights about how the Longshot team produced their most recent issue....
Keep reading at contentmarketinginstitute.com.
It's right here. I have it in my hand. I considered posting it but I'm not mean by nature and it's not necessary to make my point. Trust me. It's bad. Let me explain why.
The press release in question is essentially about a company's recertification to the latest version of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 quality standard. If this seems arcane to you, for manufacturers ISO 9000 describes a quality system that companies can choose to follow and be audited against. It is developed and updated by a global standards organization based in Switzerland. Being ISO 9000-registered indicates: a) that a company does in fact have some kind of quality system, and b) that their system conforms to a recognized global standard.
ISO 9000 certification is rarely mandatory. It is however sometimes "strongly encouraged" by a manufacturer's customers. While it can be reassuring to purchasing folks, certification is no guarantee that they will always receive a quality product. Quality, in the case of ISO 9000, is mostly about conformance to process specifications.
Likewise, at first glance, this press release conforms to specifications. It has an all-caps headline, a subhead, contact info at the top, dateline, quote, and the obligatory about paragraph (including company URL) at the bottom. So at least the template is there.
The biggest problem is the "news" itself. After receiving the ISO 9000 certificate from their registrar, I can just hear the quality manager or the CEO saying, "We need to put out a press release." And the junior marketing manager nodding his head, "No problem. We'll send it out this afternoon."
But it's not news. In the manufacturing industry promoting ISO renewal is almost like promoting the fact that you've renewed your factory's occupancy permit with the local fire department. It's like McDonald's or Burger King proclaiming, "We have French fries!"
Second, the marketing writer doesn't understand what ISO certification means. That's clear in the second sentence where the release states that ISO monitors manufacturers for adherence to the standards . ISO does nothing of the sort. It develops the standards. What registrars and companies do with the standards is up to them.
Third, the marketing writer doesn't understand what ISO certification means. Yes, I'm repeating the previous point. That's because there's no bigger potential cause for utter failure than not knowing what you're writing about. Slapping words together into an uninformed press release that goes out on the wires can be embarrassing at best. It's the opposite of thought leadership. Let's call it "dumb leadership."
Fourth, the third paragraph goes into more erroneous detail about the ISO 9000 standard itself, and says nothing more about the company or product. The release could have gotten a little better at this point. It could have linked high quality to the company's products or related market issues. It could have offered some advice on the benefits of a superior quality product. Or even promoted a quality-oriented, lifetime value-based quote service. But it didn't.
The fifth problem: clichés. "The world's leading…," "the highest quality," "the industry's largest selection," "state-of-the-art," "today's competitive manufacturing environment," "the company is the leader…." None of these phrases ever makes the cut if a story is picked up by any halfway-decent media outlet. Why include them in the first place? In this case, if you remove the clichés, there's virtually nothing left.
Finally, there's no real call to action. Sure, it includes, "For more information, visit" their website. But there's no urgency. Nothing of value is promised. The company could at least have offered a catalog, preferably electronic. Something. Anything.
I understand that small companies often struggle to come up with worthwhile "news." But sometimes, as in this case, no news would have been good news.
Do you have any more poor examples or advice for putting out newsworthy press releases?
case study -- n. a) A detailed intensive study of a unit, such as a corporation or a corporate division, that stresses factors contributing to its success or failure. b) An exemplary or cautionary model; an instructive example.(The American Heritage Dictionary)
A business case study tells a chronological story that starts with a pivotal decision, challenge or obstacle. Your service or product provides a solution that delivers clear benefits and measurable improvements.
From an educational marketing perspective, the objective is for the potential client or customer to identify themselves or their situation in the story, to understand how your products or services could help them, to recognize your company as a product, technology, service and market leader, and to pick up the phone or engage in some other way with your organization.
1. Identify the Subject and the Story
In addition to the promotional value for your company, case studies should strengthen relationships with satisfied customers and promote their businesses and brands. Target high-potential growth areas and market segments. It’s never too early to start thinking about highlights that would grab reader attention in the subject line of an e-mail blast; this includes brand names, hot topic/issue areas, big dollar cost savings, and dramatic turnarounds.
Before moving forward very far, get explicit permission from the client or customer to write and publish the case study. And make sure you have approval from the right person. Don’t assume that it will be approved or you could end up wasting a lot of time and effort on developing a story that cannot be shared.
Be prepared. Make the reporting process as painless as possible for your customer. Don’t waste interview time on basic information that can be pulled off of a website. Gather as many insights and details as possible from both your customers and your employees who led or supported the project/solution.
At the end of any interviews, assure the client that they will have the opportunity to review the text and their quotes. Be sure to ask for photos or illustrations, or make arrangements for professional photography.
Business is not boring. Just like any other facet of life, the business world is full of characters, drama and good stories. But it is chock full of bland and boring prose. Be clear, be direct. Be wary of excess modifiers and over-qualified statements. Avoid gobbledygook words, marketing-speak and businessese.
Case studies are already formulaic: 1) problem, 2) solution, and 3) results. Use that framework but build a sense of urgency and convey why your solution is essential now. To speed the narrative flow, put non-essential details (such as annual sales, product lines, brands, locations, employees, etc.) in a separate sidebar or box.
Include the client’s perspective everywhere you can; their quotes should read as a trustworthy third-party referral to the reader/potential customer. Respect readers’ intelligence and time. The typical case study won’t run longer than 1 to 3 pages, (600-1,500 words).
4. Editing and Revising
Send the draft text to appropriate customer and client representatives and internal staff who have a stake in the final result. Be as firm as possible with the deadline for changes and revisions. Use the weeks that it can often take to receive feedback for internal review and fact checking. After all changes have been reconciled, have the final text reviewed by a professional proofreader.
For layout (electronic or print), clearly identify titles, headlines, subheadings, pull quotes and boxes. Include high-resolution images, brand logos, charts, tables and anything else the graphic designer can use to grab a passing eye.
Case studies often follow a common page template that prominently features company logos, background details and where to go to get more information. Repeat the review and proofreading cycle with the final layout. Pay particular attention to headlines, chart captions and illustration callouts.
6. Distribution and promotion
We're getting beyond the content creation phase at this point, but depending on the quality and sources, good case studies can be of interest to top-tier trade magazines and business journals if offered on an exclusive basis. The trade-off for such third-party endorsement and exposure is that–after the case study has already taken months to develop–the lead time from submission to publication can take several more months. Copyright ownership can become an issue as well; you may be required to pay for branded reprints of the article that you already paid to develop.
Other typical uses for case studies include customer newsletters, association news, blog posts, and permanent website collateral. Utilize every social media vehicle available to promote the case study. And keep on promoting it. A tweet on Twitter, for example, has a half life of a few hours. Keep dribbling out key value statements over several weeks.
What have I missed? Are there any other key factors for creating high quality business case studies?
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) launched a new consulting service last week. Knowing some of the folks behind CMI, I'm sure it will be a bang-up service for connecting with knowledgeable people who can help marketers develop a content strategy that delivers results. Check it out.
Much has been written about how to find the right consultant for a typical project. Standard qualifications include the right expertise, referrals and references, availability, and fee structure. But what are the unique qualifications and attributes that you should look for in a content marketing partner? Here are four:
Someone who listens first, talks later
Any initial consulting session should begin with a thorough exploration of your markets, your customers, your products, your services, and your company. Judge your consultant's listening ability by the caliber of his or her questions. Beware of anyone bearing solutions, especially of the social media variety, before understanding your audience and specific objectives.
Content marketing expert, teacher and coach
Strategy development will be a relatively short-term engagement, hopefully with periodic follow-up meetings to assess progress and make course corrections. Your consultant should provide specialized knowledge that will guide decision-making and execution on an every-day level after they are gone.
For example, the technical aspects of social media, e-marketing and SEO are rapidly evolving. Not unlike your IT staff or IT service providers, your content marketing advisor will keep up with the latest crazes, sort out what's relevant so you don't have to, and pass on appropriate guidance.
The biggest challenge for content marketers today is creating engaging content, as noted in this fairly rigorous study B2B Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends by Junta42 and Marketing Profs. (Much more on this issue another day.) Engaging content has many facets, from topic selection to presentation style. At heart, it comes down to quality.
Your advisor should be an uncompromising proponent for quality. He or she should be able to articulate all of the reasons and research that connect high quality content and audience engagement with marketing results. You need someone who can help you stand up for the importance of quality content when your sales manager pushes to turn your white paper into a sales pitch.
Your advisor should challenge your team to break out of ruts, reshuffle resources, and take some risks. The exact nature and style of this role will vary. People who specialize in brainstorming tend to be good at it. The trick is to build on an idea, or a glimmer of an idea, or simply what you've always done, and flip it around, look at it from a radically different perspective, or simply give it another twist, so that it appears fresh and new. As demonstrated by the output of the best marketing agencies, creative thinking is a habit that can be cultivated.
A final thought. There's no substitute for experience. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't engage an advisor who doesn't have specific experience in your market or industry. Many product and service and marketing innovations result from the cross-pollination and adaptation of ideas from unrelated markets.
This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. What have I missed? What are some of the key attributes of the best content marketers, developers, writers and designers that you have worked with?
Feedback and constructive criticism, gently delivered—what Patrick Lencioni calls the "kind truth" in a slightly different context in his recent book—are like magic. It shouldn't be personal, or taken personally. The objective that you and your team of reviewers are working toward is to make whatever you're doing better. Be it a product design, a business plan, or content marketing copy.
Here's a non-client example. Our minister recently asked me to take a look at one of our church brochures. I looked it over and noted some redundancies and inconsistencies, pointed out some opportunities to simplify and make stronger statements, and marked some stylistic and copyediting issues. She thanked me profusely for my feedback, before pushing back with some other ideas. We went back and forth over several days until we arrived at words and a structure and a design that were much clearer and potentially more effective than either one of us would have come up with on our own. That's the magic. That's how it's supposed to work.
This post falls deeply in the execution category. Execution is where many content marketing efforts fail, or fail to achieve 80% (to throw out a number that's probably on the optimistic side) of their potential.