Why Hire an Outsider to Cure Your Content Conundrum?

You are experts in your own technology space. You know your customers. You are deeply involved in how your solutions are designed and delivered.

Why bring in an outsider like me to help you with marketing content?

You have a Content Conundrum.

Even if you have resources who constantly deliver marketing assets, somehow the complete set of content is never where you need it to be. Prospective customers are not using it to find your firm, nor inform themselves during the consideration process as much as you expect. Your closest competitors are not imitating your stuff, and why should they?

It’s not that your people aren’t trying. Or that they lack the discipline to produce everything that is needed. You can clear up your schedules to woodshed on a new piece or concept, yet it seems there are always one-too-many things going on to create a way out of this problem.

I’ve diagnosed Content Conundrum (CC) in spades at so many companies. Even the ones with good marketing and communication agencies on board can accumulate CC over time. Fresh, targeted content is never easy to come by.
 
Some CC symptoms you might experience include:

  1. Familiarity content disjunction. There is no shortage of expertise and tribal knowledge within your organization, just take a walk down the halls and listen in on team meetings and sales demo calls. Experts are spouting great content into the air every day, but it is not being recognized, leveraged and reused where audiences are looking for it.
  2. Customer perspective-itis. Even if your overall customer experience is excellent, you may have a very difficult time translating customer experiences into stories that can play without a reference call. Representatives of your company may be responsible for customer support as well as official business such as renewals and deal expansion, which can also create some conflict of interest when it comes to getting a good story.
  3. I’ll-know-what-I-don’t-like-when-I-see-it syndrome. It is hard to unpack all your company’s existing messages and hone in on a topic differently when everyone has become so intimately invested in it. In this situation, nobody’s a writer but everyone’s a critic. It may seem safer to stand pat with minor edits to existing content, rather than suffer the slings and arrows of disapproval by creating something.
  4. Acute industry niche. You have a high concentration of customers and practice expertise in a specific set of industries or business functions, i.e. your “wheelhouse.” How does that experience translate into content that supports the next industry or process you want to grow into? You need to be speaking to a new set of problems and goals. Staying generic or simply changing some terminology within your existing content in a Mad-Libs® kind of way is not going to attract that next customer profile to take a closer look.
  5. Meta-Frequency Misalignment. The main digital marketing reasons for publishing quality content at a higher frequency are to capture more qualified traffic and increase user engagement on your site (thus leading to more conversions/sales). You know that there is no shortcut to posting valuable content worth sharing anymore -- just spamming a bunch of keywords or overloading existing content with more linked target terms is not going to move the needle. Content needs to be produced with the queries it answers for specific audiences in mind.
Those are a few reasons why you might want to talk to me -- or someone like me -- who can be dedicated to curing your content conundrum when it flares up, then getting out of the way when it subsides.

Realize, I can’t claim to be miraculously immune to CC myself. I meant to write this particular blog when I re-started my blueFug Technology Marketing consultancy a year ago! Much easier to dive into client work than promote my own.

I’ve certainly experienced the fatigue of CC when I was managing marketing inside complex enterprise software companies, as well as seat-of-your-pants startups. When you own a role, you have so many competing responsibilities besides keeping the content fire fed. Going back to the drawing board to craft a new story or a compelling visual will not guarantee instantaneous results or revenue, so it often gets deferred behind more clearly achievable tasks until it becomes a bigger problem. That’s only natural.

At times I augmented my defense by leveraging my own extended network of influencers and outside creative resources in the same way to combat CC. Even if it gave me an additional option to not take, or use as a fringe piece of content later, at least I had the option. I prescribe you try the same with resources you can trust for a fresh perspective on content.

Want your content marketing engine to drive interest for customers and influencers, the same way your innovation engine excites your own geeks? Expand your carburetor by 480 CCs and contact blueFug Technology Marketing in the morning.



Your Smartphone is Showing: The Mobile Threat Exposure

Phones - They're What Hackers Crave

We love our phones. We stare deeply into glowing rectangles at every opportunity. We love messenger apps. We love free Wi-Fi and expect businesses to offer it. We might love a friendly P2P game, or playing Internet radio over the Bluetooth system in a rental car. We love the idea of paying for just about anything from an app rather than fumbling for money.

Don’t think this love affair has gone unnoticed. Cybercriminals increasingly want to come between us and our phones. And who can blame them? With as much as 75% of US Internet traffic coming from mobile devices, that is where the most valuable data -- and the money -- is moving. Why would they stick to hacking standard computers?

You might think your mobile device is rather secure. Indeed, it does have some design advantages over PCs and servers, where most of the security and antivirus activity has focused to date. Unlike conventional computers, smartphones have much of their operation handled at the hardware and firmware level, they have memory but not hard drives, they have a leaner OS … but they are still fully functional, powerful computing devices on their own, with enough sophistication and constant change happening to leave doors open for hackers. 

Looking at the most recent Symantec ISTR report (Dec 2016) which is rich in security stats, while most forms of email phishing and web attacks show rather stagnant growth or decline, new mobile malware variants jumped by 214%. Expect this growth trend to continue, as mobile devices have become the new cyber attack surface of choice.

MDM, EMM and BYOD

Around 2011 as smartphones were joining the mainstream, we started seeing huge investments driving a new class of vendors supporting secure mobility -- companies like Airwatch (now vmware airwatch) and MobileIron. Citrix, CA and Blackberry began expanding their corporate security and mobility initiatives to include BYOD (bring-your-own-device) management.

The main thrust of these MDM (Mobile Device Management) or EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management) solutions was the ability to manage multiple employee devices and the apps on them to improve compliance with corporate standards, which should lead to safer usage behaviors and lower mobile data costs.

For instance, the MDM system can require you to set or reset a phone password before you can access company email. It might put all of the required “corporate” apps in a controlled folder, and prevent a user from installing non-approved apps, playing huge media files over the air, or pop up a warning if they connect to an unknown network. It could remotely wipe the data from a phone if it gets compromised, lost or stolen.

Not all control and security functions are available to MDM software, especially in a BYOD scenario. Several countries have regulations against companies accessing private data on an employee’s personal device. Even if a privacy mandate doesn’t apply in your region, you run the risk of ticking off your entire workforce if the corporate HQ imposes heavy-handed demands on their phones. More than half of employees surveyed by Bitglass said they would refuse a corporate MDM install on their personal devices because of privacy concerns. (Kind of easy to say if your current job isn’t riding on such a requirement though!)

Through the glass: The mobile attack surface

Note that while all of the above capabilities contribute to device security, they are not specifically addressing all of the exploits that can happen on smartphones at a device, network and application layer. 

These exploits can be stupidly simple - sending an email or text message with a bad link to ask the user to enter their password or account number -- yes, it still works occasionally. Or quite beautifully sophisticated, for instance loading an SMS image in the preview window that executes remote code and quietly establishes root control of the device without alerting the user in any way -- see the infamous Stagefright exploit discovered on Android (now patched but the hole is still there on many phones).

Some adware and malware providers have taken to creating realistic, but unsanctioned third-party app stores outside of Google Play and Apple App Store. Popular game titles like Pokemon Go and retail apps on these sites look like the real thing, but they might be sending more of your personal data to unknown locations than you’d like.  

The quantity of new threats to mobile devices is increasing at a rate of more than 2x every six months. If you read the latest TrendLabs 2016 Mobile Threat Report, you get an immediate picture of how fast-moving these exploits can be. Once hackers have used a novel Day 0 exploit and it is identified and patched, they are moving on to the next one. Right now, ransomware is one of the hottest growth areas -- attackers remotely encrypt or “lock up” the data on your device, then demand a payment to restore it. Hopefully you backed it up! No guarantees you’ll ever see your data again if you do pay.

Exploits delivered to your door by MTD

You need to have something on the device that can protect against these advanced new threats, and that’s where a new class of Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) tools come in. Some of the bigger players in security such as Symantec, Trend Micro and Intel have recently bought or delivered new solutions geared for endpoint security, but a lot of the excitement in this space is around newer, more MTD-specialized firms such as Zimperium, Lookout and Skycure.

Basically an MTD solution has three components: 

1. Some kind of app running on the device that should detect a possible threat.

2. Some kind of cloud-based service for gathering alerts and threat data for reporting, and updating devices with the latest exploit definitions. 

3. Some way of taking action to remediate the threat and reduce its impact.

For threat detection, some tools employ a technique called “sandboxing” which is basically a way to maintain surveillance of the device from a cloud based service, then have the application step in if an offending message or potential malware is detected to remediate the threat.  Another way is to have an on-device detection and self-service remediation app installed, which uses the cloud service only for reporting and updates of threat definitions back to the phone. This approach offers some user data privacy advantages and still works without an Internet connection.

You know how a Trojan horse or worm can “weaponize” a computer or device and use it to spread itself across a network? What’s cool about today’s MTD solutions is how the detection capability can turn millions of immunized devices into early warning defense beacons and sources of data on mobile attack vectors. If a known or unknown cyber attack starts becoming detected in a certain region or exploiting a specific device/OS/app/network combination, that gets filtered back to the lab, where security researchers can define the exploit, determine workarounds, and even alert OS and device manufacturers and the global security community, if necessary.

You can’t patch mobile security complacency

Despite software innovation and collaboration among mobile network operators (MNOs), device manufacturers and international standards groups, don’t get your hopes up that we’re about to become threat-free anytime soon. A recent Ponemon Institute study on mobile cyberattacks says 60% of respondents have already experienced some kind of security breach due to mobile attacks. Enterprises know they are vulnerable to mobile attacks, but many seem to lack the wherewithal to do much to prevent them.

To make the problem more confounding, that recent Symantec report mentions that as many as 85 percent of corporate data breaches go unreported, a rapid increase from just 2014 when more than half were reported. Less costly to sweep embarrassing security lapses under the rug and hope they aren’t noticed for a couple quarters?

You would think CIOs and CISOs would be looking beyond the standard network security perimeter, firewalls, anti-virus and email filtering stuff and investing to get ahead of this attack vector, but no: the latest Gartner Predicts 2017 report on Endpoint Mobile Security estimated that by 2019, only 25% of mobile-ready enterprises will deploy mobile threat defense capabilities on enterprise-issued mobile devices. That's company equipment, not bring-your-own.

Clearly, complacency is the greatest threat to mobile security, and it will likely require a few more high profile mobile attacks in the headlines to change that. Until then, watch your phones.

What Worked: Make the CTO a Marketing Asset

People sometimes ask me “what worked?” What made our little startup ITKO go from 3 guys in an attic in 2004, aiming for a product space that did not yet exist, to a scrappy Series A company in 2006, to a global enterprise software solution sold into most of the leading banks and Telcos that was successfully acquired by CA Technologies in 2011?

A great product, at the right time for the market, grown by smart leadership, supported and sold through the huge effort of very talented people are par for the course in any startup success story. There are other pieces of the story I can comment about -- those that involve marketing strategy and decisions -- and for the first of these I’ll talk about The Marketing CTO

For most large firms, the CEO is considered the face of the company. But in a disruptive software startup, the CTO (or perhaps, a Chief Product/Solution Officer) may be the cult celebrity you need to develop as a marketing asset, as practitioners of the craft will closely identify with them. In a small software company, I recommend that at least one-third of the CTO’s job should be marketing related.

A software CTO who doesn’t want to be involved with marketing should probably stick to development, services or operations instead.

We were lucky to have a co-founder and CTO in John Michelsen who had the kind of technical/business mind that would cause customers to perk up in meetings and ask if they could keep him around for longer. John was great at holding court in any company’s project room – he was well-informed, genuinely listened and cared about the success of the people he talked to, and always had insightful answers.

[John Michelsen at SOAworld 2007, NYC. Photo: me]

Be a Booking Agency

Despite his track record as the smartest guy in the room, John was not naturally inclined to promoting himself. So the best use of my time as a marketer was getting John’s passion for better software quality and automation out to the market as his booking agent for events, and as a personal scribe for translating his customer anecdotes and advice into blogs and articles in publications.

What worked best for event placements? Primarily, our best successes were for topics that clearly answer the question: “If I attend, will I learn something new that will help me do my job?” If we proposed a topic that focused on our "LISA 4.x product roadmap," it would never get selected. In the early days, John was the only presenter attempting to talk about testing the service layer and back-ends of highly distributed apps, rather than testing solely at the UI later. It was a new skill everyone wanted to learn at the time, and they could get it from an inventor in the space. This made him a hit with engineers at testing conferences as well as the big development and integration vendor shows.

The kicker for getting sessions – and butts in seats at them – is making sure that the current challenges in that audience’s realm are listed, and that real customer examples will be included in the session abstract you send. Customize it per conference. At the very start we didn’t have that many customers, so John could draw on the experiences of development and testing projects in many previous gigs that went well, or went awry, to clarify.

Have a Point-of-View

Early customers of any growing tech company must be able to confidently bet that they are aligned with that CTO’s vision of not only their own product, but where the industry as a whole is going. Without a point of view, customers would basically be signing off on a list of features and praying that future development continues in their direction.

We’d meet at least once a week to talk about blog or whitepaper topics, but much of John’s best POV stuff appeared in the form of reactions to current events –  for instance when software failures that made the headlines. In a 2005 AP story about a massive crash across multiple airport systems, John was a source for the reporter and kicked in a quote about developer “nerds who don’t get it” that sure created some angry rebuttals.

“Mistakes hurt, but misunderstandings kill … Developers are least qualified to validate a business requirement. They’re either nerds and don’t get it, or they’re people in another culture altogether,” said Michelsen, referring to cases where development takes place offshore.
from 2005 MSNBC.com/Associated Press story 

This “nerds” controversy gave us a great opportunity to follow up by placing our own guest column with an explanation on why John would make a statement like that, as well as side responses to rebuttals on our own blog. It’s not enough to express a point of view in some comment or tweet – some other expert could easily assume credit for it. If your CTO is challenging the status quo, you must own it by distributing and elaborating on that message.

Paint a Picture

A CTO who is good in meetings and has a point of view about where technology is going should be able to paint a picture. A technical concept without illustration is like a complex assembly manual without a diagram. It is difficult for the viewer to gain context for their own situation with terminology alone. There are two ways the CTO must do this �� literal (via whiteboard, usually) and figurative (metaphorically).

Good whiteboarding is perhaps the most essential marketing tool in the CTO’s kit, as it in essence becomes the story everyone else in the company should learn to articulate themselves once they get past the elevator pitch. Don’t worry about making these look like Picasso, in fact, the more simply executed and repeated they are, the better. Your customer champions should be able to evangelize the message within their own company. Slick animated versions of whiteboards might be cool for a high-production brand video, or a general session of an event, but they are not as believable in person or online.

See this multi-tier architecture picture [a source from our book, “Service Virtualization: Reality is Overrated” 2012, Michelsen, English, CA Press]. It is unnecessary to even draw icons, just boxes will do. John would start from the web or mobile application UI and move down the stack, and fill in the boxes with whatever flavors of application, middleware and back end systems the customer is working with, and then start pointing out where the constraints or disconnects are occurring in testing and development. (These would likely look more complex today with the proliferation of cloud, new integration platforms, microservices, etc.)

An effective and simple whiteboard is the Minimum Viable Product of CTO marketing – just enough to get the challenges and solution across. Work it out live, record it, and make sure everyone in your organization can deliver it in its shortest form. The order in which the boxes are drawn and the way they are described is as important as the picture itself.

Speaking Metaphorically …

On the figurative side, the CTO also needs good metaphors in the bag. We started out with “a test harness for applications,” which borrowed the idea of plugging in a device to instrument it for testing from the field of electronics. Pretty good, but not for everyone. Years later John started talking about “a wind tunnel for applications” like the aerospace and automotive industries use, which really unlocked the concept of design/test/build in a controlled virtual environment for everyone. [NASA Wind tunnel image source: WikiCommons.]

You can never capture too many ideas for explaining abstract concepts to specific audiences in relatable terms: diagnostics/imaging for a healthcare audience, etc. Even if they don’t work as your main selling message, metaphors become the headlines for great article bylines and blogs. Snag every one you hear.

The CTO’s point of view also needs to take an expositional form as a paper that outlines the strategic product vision in better detail. We called our short paper the “Magna Carta” or I’ve heard it known as the “North Star” elsewhere.

Don’t be shy. It may be tempting to keep this document internal – as a trade secret, but you need to have a public-facing version of it ready for evaluation. The pace of competitive and open source change is so fast these days that customers need to know where you are going in order to shortlist your solution, and an advantage kept secret might not remain your advantage for long.

You’re Deputized, Podner

There is a very good reason why your CTO should specifically dedicate time to marketing, and not confuse it with the necessity of sales support, because there only so many places a CTO can be at once outside of product and management duties. While there are always some critical deals and partnerships the CTO should help lock down in face-to-face meetings, you need to consider the value of time spent on marketing as a force multiplier for that critical person. Time spent increasing awareness, attracting customers with the right needs, and educating new and existing customers to deepen their relationships with your company pays ever-increasing dividends over time.

Once strategy I’ve seen employed, especially by bigger firms like Oracle and IBM where the product suite is vast, is to employ a Deputy CTO to cover many of the marketing demands on the “Sheriff” titled CTO, such as public speaking appearances, position pieces and partner marketing work. That is by no means a total answer, but it is a great way to extend the reach of the CTO office when it is over-extended on work.

The same could be said for encouraging marketing help from other technical leaders within your company, and its partners. If your CTO is setting a vision for where the company is going, that should inspire other leads and engineers who are passionate about that vision to come forward, and possibly flesh out much more specialized detail for a specific user group, product or vertical.

If you are in a growing company, seek to develop and fully utilize the marketing capabilities of your CTO and other technical leaders who are ready and willing to be thought leaders for your audience. 

Seeking mentoring and assistance in developing the technical leaders in your organization into powerful marketing evangelists and thought leaders? Contact blueFug Ventures today for a consultation.



Digital Discrimination Automation: Avoiding Legal and Ethical Barriers

Today we are seeing virtually every industry being transformed by new digital business models, but in some instances this transformation can include an unwelcome side effect: digital discrimination

It’s just targeted advertising… 

A former colleague recently shared a Slashdot article that caught my attention about targeted advertising on Facebook that allows advertisements to be filtered based on “race preference.” The sheer volume and volatility of comments on this post attest to how controversial this topic is.

From the point of view of a marketer, of course, I always want any advertisement I pay for to reach the ideal audience with maximum efficiency. There is not an inherent problem with advertising a product tailored to meet the needs of a specific ethnicity, or religion, or gender or sexual preference. Nor is it a problem to advertise in a publication or site that caters to a niche audience.

This practice breaks down when you are targeting ads across a broader public network (i.e. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and you somehow exclude individuals based on the above demographics for things like mortgages, housing or jobs that would likely have very strong equal access protections in these United States and elsewhere.

The Atlanta Black Star news site did a great job demonstrating how Facebook advertisements targeting on race can create a clear path for discrimination in practice. Can the consequences for inappropriate advertisement targeting be left up to the ad buyer alone? Maybe for specific business categories where equal opportunity laws are in place, Facebook should put in the guard rails and disallow some of these advertising controls.

Update as of Nov 11: Facebook will disable race-based targeting for specific industries - housing, employment, credit (via the Verge).

We’re just focusing on selecting the right customers …

A practice known as “redlining” is not uncommon in the financial and insurance business. Basically, an institution can assess the suitability of a customer for a loan by looking at the location of current and past residences, job and credit references, and other factors. Though the applicants that don't make the cut may not specifically defined by race, a level of discrimination can result.

The increased prevalence of social media and public data sources is a two-edged sword for redlining practices. Powerful big data analytics tools can be applied to better monitor and guard against discriminatory practices, but they can also encourage discrimination through certain types of filtering. 

In a 2013 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), “Private Traits and Attributes Are Predictable from Digital Records of Human Behavior,” scientists from the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research were able to combine data on Facebook “Likes” and limited survey information to determine the following: They could accurately predict a user’s sexual orientation 88% of the time for men and 75% for women; predict a user’s ethnic origin (95%) and gender (93%) with a high degree of accuracy; and predict whether a user was Christian or Muslim (82%), a Democrat or Republican (85%), or used alcohol, drugs or cigarettes (between 65% and 75%), or was in a relationship (67%).

If I’m selling a big-ticket item like jumbo jets, that’s handled by sales professionals who directly call on a handful of named, qualified buyers out there. The customer selection process is still 99% manual, and deals are closed face-to-face.

Now look at any digital marketing model worth its salt and you will find it includes a much higher degree of targeted advertising, personalization and 1-on-1 nurturing to cultivate exactly the right customers.  Especially when it comes to B2C business models, a laser focus is too expensive to sustain on a personal basis – you need the assistance of a lot of data and automation at every step of the customer journey to capture and service demand at scale. Advanced marketing and sales systems are a frontier where the ethical and legal aspects of discrimination will be debated.

The Sharing Economy, or the Selfish one?

When it comes to the economy of ride-sharing and home-sharing, the presence of personal bias can get played out on a platform-wide level.

Big city taxi drivers have long been famous for not picking up riders based on race (the Lenny Kravitz tune “Mister Cab Driver”  comes to mind here). With ride sharing systems like Uber or Lyft, a driver can either refuse or cancel a ride – perhaps based on the rider’s profile picture, or name. Even if the platform does not promote discrimination, it can make it a lot easier for a seller or sharer to do so.

A recent study of 1,500 rides in Boston and Seattle on the services showed that African American males were three times as likely to have their rides canceled, and on average wait for rides 30% longer than white males. 

For their part, Uber has responded by saying they are always looking for ways to improve their performance and implement features to reduce it. In the long run, there could be less discrimination than the analog version of having a taxi pass someone by on the street, because the platform can monitor usage patterns to discipline the “bad actors” who unfairly drop rides.

On the house-sharing side, Airbnb has made strides to get ahead of selection bias issues. Their response to fair housing complaints, even if considered a little late by some, was well thought out and sent to all users. They are putting more training and agreements in place for hosts, encouraging more instant booking units, and proactively following up on guest discrimination complaints with assistance finding alternative accommodations.

“…  We are all committed to doing everything we can to help eliminate all forms of unlawful bias, discrimination, and intolerance from our platform. We want to promote a culture within the Airbnb community—hosts, guests and people just considering whether to use our platform—that goes above and beyond mere compliance."
 -- Excerpt from Airbnb’s Non-Discrimination Policy as of November 2016 

I travel a lot, and especially on family trips, I probably use peer-based rentals slightly more than conventional hotels by now. I have noticed far fewer Airbnb properties in less populated or remote areas, where the demand for temporary quarters is much less elastic. Since a vacation destination is usually booked well in advance, most of these guys stick to systems like VRBO/HomeAway. While these sites also have policies, your booking request is often just that: a request, waiting for seller approval – and the property owner may have stricter cancellation policies, and settle an advance prepayment off-system.

An off-site approval and transaction process seems to push the liability for discrimination out to the property owner rather than having selection bias played out in the platform itself. I can’t say that this approach is any less discriminatory, in fact it also forgoes the instant gratification everyone expects of a digital customer experience.

blueFug Net: What should you do about it?

I believe the issue of digital discrimination is just starting to get the attention it deserves, and it will likely grow in importance for any business that sells or brokers goods and services to the public. Here’s three ways to get ahead of it for starters:

  1. Conduct a discriminatory audit. Examine the end-to-end customer journey in your company. Where are you left open to discrimination issues? Are you in compliance for the communities/countries you do business in? If such a group exists, make this a regular part of a risk management or security group’s purview. Consult a civil rights oriented attorney for advice if you do not have such a specialist on retainer.
  2. Look for biased usage patterns in your solution, and address potential discrimination issues at both the platform and the execution level. Simply changing some wording or selection buttons in a user interface will not eliminate discrimination in practice. Examine the outcomes of customer interactions over time to ensure they are not trending in a direction that suggests discrimination.
  3. Align your digital transformation toward inclusion, not exclusion. Everyone in your organization, as well as your business partners and vendors, has the potential to be a model citizen, or a bad actor as a representative of your company. Get broad agreement to this alignment, perhaps conduct anti-bias training. Everyone can make an impact on bringing diversity and fairness to the overall digital customer experience, even if they operate behind the scenes.

Communities and governments develop and enact laws to limit discrimination for good reason. Just because a Silicon Valley-style industry disruption is under way in your neck of the woods doesn’t mean you can ignore the scrutiny a conventional business would face in the communities it operates in.

Indeed, the posted sign saying “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” you might see in a restaurant or bar won’t take you far in the digital realm, especially if you leverage a platform that automates or facilitates discrimination at scale. Outrage travels fast – and bad publicity, legal problems, lost business and forced resignations can quickly follow. Best to get ahead of digital discrimination before it gets ahead of you.


Need on-point technology marketing strategy and messaging that clarifies value and cuts through the fog of competitor claims? Contact blueFug Ventures today and find out how we can partner with you.


Play it Forward, Sales: Give Marketing Access for Customer Case Studies

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Owen Farrell passes the ball before the tackle by Quentin Etienne Lecoq

The most frustrating part of being a marketer, at least in companies with high-touch sales cycles, occurs when sales gates access to current customers.

We’re all on the same team here. Sales is on the hook to act on qualified leads and close deals, and continue to grow existing business. Marketing, while having its own external-facing awareness role, is also on the hook as an internal supplier for sales at every stage of the customer journey.

Together, we always want to play it forward, generate more quality leads, resulting in more qualified meetings and more customers. We build sales messaging that is on target, ROI tools, competitive intel, and educational content to share and leave behind. Especially customer case studies – when they are relevant, they are the gold standard of marketing assets for decisionmaking.

There is, however, one sales phrase that always sucks air out of the balloon when it comes to getting case studies:

“It’s not a good time.”

Maybe there are some very tight negotiations going on for a renewal. Maybe the customer is dealing with a severe support issue. Sometimes, it is truly “not a good time” to propose that marketing has a chat with your customer. But what if it is simply “not the perfect time” to talk?

If everyone waited for the “perfect time” to have children, we might go extinct.

If you wait for that perfect time to appear, it almost never will. Customers will always have new projects, critical deadlines, mistakes to correct, and changes in their business and team makeup. The best time to gather stories from customers, even if it is not 100% positive, even if all the results aren’t in, is right now. Why the urgency?

A customer champion won’t be there forever

Our customer champion is interested in exploring and evangelizing new solutions. They act as a change agent within their own company. This person is always looking for ways to improve their business, and improve their own career trajectory at the same time.

Great salespeople interact with customer champions as trusted advisors, however the dynamics of even the best sales/customer relationships tend to lean toward goals, or where the company is going, rather than stopping to review and gather customer stories while they are happening.

Since we all love football metaphors, let’s say you are selling a predictive play-calling tool to one of the assistant coaches of a team. Obviously, this coach wants to contribute to a winning season, and that’s why they are evangelizing your innovative solution within the team. If they are successful, they might get promoted to Defensive Coordinator next season and no longer be as concerned with your tool. Or, they may take a leadership role that opens up at another team. It’s not personal, it is just how top performers tend to progress in their careers. If you wait until the end of a great season to gather their experiences, what if they’ve already moved on to other responsibilities?

Off-the-record is better than no record

Publicly available case studies will always be the gold standard of marketing assets. Engaged prospects at all levels of an organization will look for relevant case studies at some point in their solution research, especially at decision time. What happens if the customer says they are unable or unwilling to do a case study due to company policy or internal politics? 

Lennon FBI Files Before NY-19p1

Most customers are more than willing to talk “off the record” to marketing. Even if it is not going into a public case study, hearing these stories provides a valuable back channel and contributes to a “generic” or "names/specifics redacted" case study for that person’s role and industry that can inform the dialogue at every stage of the customer journey.

Simply by being a good listener who is not directly involved in the sales cycle or service of the product, a marketer can be a sounding board for customer issues and improve customer experience. We can learn how they learned about us, or some of the challenges and successes of adopting the solution, or some product features or fixes they want to request that they feel aren’t being heard. Having an open channel for feedback means we all need to hear and share customer concerns.

Whatever you can capture off the record, you should collapse for your own internal knowledge base – a matrix of “generic” customer stories (By industry, role, solution, partner, company size, geography). You can also prepare and play back a written story. Send it to the customer for validation to make sure you got their impressions right. You never know, they might see that the resulting case study is much better than they anticipated, and be willing to go forward with an approval for broader use. If it makes them look good, and makes their company look good, where’s the harm in that?

Save your customer some reference hassles

If you have a customer that is referenceable, but has not captured a story about their journey, they might as well get ready for a lot of calls from other prospects. As an account manager you can try to shield your customers, but that becomes harder to do when important deals are on the line across sales territories.

Don’t burn out a great customer champion with too many referral calls from peers at other companies. At the very least, reduce the amount of time needed per reference. If the customer already has a great success story on record, there is no longer a need to waste as much time with one-on-one reference calls covering the same ground, as the fundamentals of the story are already there and can be shared with the prospect.

It takes a customer to know one

As a buyer of vendors and services in a marketing function, some part of my own success depends on my buying decisions, unless the service is basically a commodity. I am most put off by companies that don’t seem to understand my situation when communicating with me, since as a marketer I don’t get a pass on that. 

While Marketing seldom reaches the level of customer interaction reached by sales or consulting teams, we do need to walk a mile in their shoes. Meaningful contact with customers helps marketing get the message right, build the most valuable sales tools, and keep personalization and outreach efforts on target.

So Sales, play it forward to Marketing. Make a habit of encouraging your customers to take a little time with marketing to capture their story. And Marketing, play it back to sales with stories that engage customers at every step of their journey. Pledge not to waste one iota of each customer’s time, and make the process one more part of a great customer relationship that will build success and positive referrals far into the future.


Seeking a strategic and creative boost for your technology marketing efforts? Contact blueFug Ventures today and find out how we can partner with you.

Podcast: How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy

You can now say you knew me when I appeared in the first season of @thescottking's "The Scott King Show" which is a podcast for CMOs and technology marketers. Scott and I had a great run at ITKO LISA for 5 years before we were acquired by CA in 2011 where we became part of the Service Virtualization/Application Delivery group. Largely operating as a two-man attack team, we had to find ways to create awareness and leads with very limited resources and budget in those days. I believe we executed phenomenally and took down some seemingly indestructible giant robots.

Take a listen here on Scott's site, or play the feed below, it won't cost you anything:

The Scott King Show - How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy - Jason English


If there's one thing I forgot to mention in here, it was "Use Every Part of the Content Buffalo" to paraphrase a Native American saying about not being wasteful. I kind of touched on this idea, but one of the best practices of content marketing is writing down impressions and observations before, during and after any kind of campaign, program, event or news.  I guess I'll write my own separate blog on that aspect, now that I think of it.

Any case this series must be a great idea, because I kind of wish I did it first. Scott's show has an all-star lineup of technology marketing thought leaders lined up for his episodes -- and a few more interesting guests from other fields.

Scott's podcast is also a subscription on Apple Podcasts so that means I'm really big time now for being a featured guest. 


What I Learned From My Survey About Surveys

You might have seen my very serious invitation about taking a marketing survey about marketing surveys recently. Since I have a lot of connections and friends involved in some form of technology marketing or analysis, I figured the results might be of interest to my audience. Here’s what I learned.

Most people are sick and tired of surveys. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful.

I shared the survey invite ONLY through social media – if you average out my number of friends on Facebook, contacts on LinkedIn, and followers of @bluefug on Twitter, removing duplicates that’s about 1600 unique individuals. I didn’t want to trouble my immediate contacts with the survey with an email in this case, though it would be the best practice for a survey if it served a business or research purpose.

Out of all that social media I got … drumroll … 10 survey responses. 

That said, on Twitter I saw 25 retweets and likes, and dozens more likes and shares on LinkedIn and Facebook, just because a Survey of Surveys is kind of funny. I even heard from voke analyst and proper research survey guru Theresa Lanowitz that this idea was “very Seinfeldesque, like a coffee table book about coffee table books.”

So it wasn't taken seriously, but from an attention perspective, not bad. Let’s get into the results…

Go ahead and thumb through the slides above. Here's some of my takeaways from this exercise:

  1. Marketers large and small are still running a lot of surveys. I was surprised that 80% of the subjects reported running 2 or more surveys in a given year. Now, about half of these might be customer satisfaction surveys, which is a little more indirect but still an outcome often supported by marketing.
  2. We are cheapskates. We prefer free promotion of a survey over paid advertising and rewards. The leading methods of inviting people to take surveys are a simple blog post (70%), followed by social media and direct emails from the company's reps at (60%). And the leading incentive  to participate is a free copy of the report (at 60%). Also 70% of the audience said they had zero budget set aside for these activities.
  3. By far, the number one challenge with surveys is that you never seem to get enough responses (70%). I'm right there with all of you on that! You could pay for more responses rather than being a cheapskate about the survey, but what value would paid responses add in some cases? In previous gigs, if I could get sales, customer support and our own email list working, I would push for at least 100, ideally 200 responses to get a statistically relevant field.
  4. Reported response rate to invitations and especially survey completion rates are a little higher than I expected, with 80% of marketers saying they get a 5% or higher rate of response. And 60% say they get 25% or better click-to-completion. Both of those questions, I assumed they would be rated on the low side.

Maybe this is a positive note for the good old marketing survey -- it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. If you can craft it carefully enough to be valuable research, and promote it personally and directly to a larger sample, you can still get a lot out of it. No matter what tools and methods you use for surveys, use them right, respect everyone's time in participating, and make sure to use every part of the awareness, data and conclusions you can draw from peer and customer input throughout your campaigns.

Question #6. This result was perhaps the most accurate one of the day.

Guest Blog: Bimodal IT Defends Itself

An Opinion Piece, by Sir Bimodal IT

Hi there. I’m Sir Bimodal IT. Since I was knighted by Gartner a couple years ago, I’ve been taking a lot of flak from a bunch of so-called “IT experts” who say that I’m not only flawed, but dangerous to the enterprise. It’s gotten really fashionable to diss me these days. Jason Bloomberg is practically making a hobby out of it.

What does Neil Degrasse Tyson say about science? “Science doesn’t care if you believe in it.” Well, I’m like that. I don’t care whether or not you believe in me, because Bimodal IT is the reality for many of you out there.

Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed. Bimodal IT is the only sustainable solution for businesses in an increasingly disruptive digital world.
-       What it says on the Internet when I Googled myself

One CEO said that getting rid of me was critical for employee morale, because nobody wants to work in slow-mode-1 and play “whack-a-mole” on the mainframe anymore. Hogwash, I say. Have you seen the innards of a lot of these huge companies? There are hundreds of people still managing long-running migrations, and doing things like reading through stacks of COBOL records for errors. That’s the only life many of my friends know, and they’d rather hold down that fort until they retire.

Learning to be disruptive is scary, and it is frankly quite hard to recruit people with the particular set of skills necessary to both invent in a responsive way to business needs, while doing the heavy lifting of transforming stodgy old systems into paragons of innovation. Those people are either in startups, or lining up to join the Googles, Amazons and Netflixes of the world, not come work in the IT shop of your big old company, right?

Don't waste your time listening to some guru like Jez Humble when he mentions that high-performing companies are even finding agile ways to implement continuous delivery atop their existing mainframes and embedded systems that would exist in Mode 1. Seems like tilting at idealistic windmills to me.

That divide from traditional systems is where my fast-mode-2 comes in! Set up a “Center for Innovation” IT function, and put all the cool modern technologies and people over there. That enables you to recruit an agile team to invent things, without messing up any critical systems of record. Pay no attention to warnings from Bernard Golden about creating conflict between teams at the border of Mode 1 and Mode 2. Everyone should be able to get more done by sticking to what they are best at. 

Too much agility can be dangerous, especially as releases near production. If you are a development lead at a major company, making a change that negatively impacts live customer systems will get you banished, even if you can roll it back fast. Best to keep that activity safely cordoned off until fully tested. 

I did like Michael Coté’s take on me: Relax. While some pundits and west-coast Agile devotees may tell you to “move everyone faster and break things” that’s easier said than done. You see, I am simply a representation of the way change has to work outside of startup land. Bimodal may be the only way forward for many established companies who have one foot in quicksand and the other on a banana peel.

You pundits like Mark Campbell, you aren’t going to be saying “Goodbye to Buy-Mo’-Dull-IT” anytime soon. It takes serious planning, retraining, and a concerted effort to start encapsulating traditional applications in a more service-oriented, cloud-ready, DevOps-ey kind of way. Good luck with that if you expect you can do it all at one speed. The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

After all I’ve done for you, the least you could do is show me a little respect. So, that’s Sir Bimodal IT to you. Hey, wait, where are you going?


Checking in on CA’s Continuous Transformation

When I heard about the CA DevOps and Cloud Forum regional event here in Seattle, I decided this would be a great opportunity to stop by the EMP museum and hear about the state of continuous delivery from CA Technologies, their customers and Forrester analysts, and maybe catch a little of the Star Trek exhibit.

CA is continuing with its brand mantra of Digital Transformation, and advancing that on June 15 they recently announced an Open Ecosystem for Continuous Delivery that incorporates their product suite, along with containerization (Docker), CI (Jenkins, etc.) other common tools (JIRA, git, etc.), as well as cloud service providers that can host elements of the solution.

“DevOps is the new factory driving business transformation” said Kieran Taylor, CA’s product marketing head for the division. Rather than focus on known disruptors like AirBnB and Uber, Taylor presented several customer examples of more established companies like GE, Nike and Bosch that are building innovative practices such as deep analytics and IoT devices through better automation and more nimble release timelines.

The solutions map is quite broad now – encompassing their well-established CA Release Automation (formerly Nolio), Service Virtualization (ITKO LISA from my alma mater), API management (formerly Layer7) and Application Performance Management solutions, as well as the more recently named solutions of CA Test Data Manager (formerly Grid-Tools TDM), CA Agile Requirements Designer and Agile Management (formerly Rally), and a Mobile Cloud for building/testing mobile apps.

Stephen Feloney, CA’s product management VP for the unit, described how the new Continuous Delivery toolchain is not just about deploying faster, but automating testing with test data and services across every phase of the SDLC to avoid risk. “94% of executives face pressure to release faster, but you can’t claim ‘Assume the Risk’ as a badge of courage if automated testing is not built into every release.”

Forrester analyst Milan Hanson framed the current market for more agile development. “Simply driving IT costs down is no longer the top priority – 68% of companies now rate customer experience (CX) highly.” Success in CX is measured not just by satisfying customers with business technology, but through growth delivered by delighting customers.

The need for speed in delivering applications customers want can negatively impact customer experience.  “Many companies are basically doing faster releases, with QA in production, atop constantly changing environments that are hard to replicate.” Even if faster releases are done as quick canary deployments with rollback capability, that can lead to costly customer losses, and demoralizing extended-hour break-fix exercises and war room scenarios for IT teams.

Then Forrester presented some TEI (Total Economic Impact) studies they conducted with a sampling of several large deployed customers using CA’s TDM, service virtualization and release automation solutions. [Reports available lower on the release page here.]

The payback on these ranged from 3-6 months from implementation, with 3-year ROIs ranging from 292% to 389% per solution. Release automation reduced deployment times by as much as 20X, and the use of service virtualization and test data management created some equally astounding results – saving 640 developer hours per release, finding more than 150 defects in earlier phases…

Man, I have been either marketing or writing about software for a long time, and have never seen a major analyst present those kinds of numbers for me. The results make sense though, when you visit the customers who have fully embraced and championed the value of these solutions for their SDLC.

My favorite part of the program was a customer Q&A which could have used more time on the agenda, in my opinion. Practitioners from a major state healthcare payer, and the online automotive service AutoTrader.com fielded questions from CA and the audience.

Adam Mills of AutoTrader said they used to spend 2 weeks out of every 6 week test cycle waiting for environments to be ready, and now they are not only out of that game, they are doing some cool what-if testing scenarios, including something like NetFlix’s famous “Chaos Monkey” project.

“We Set up ‘Chaos as a Service’ to simulate the behavior of systems working improperly in our testing – slow performance, no response, multiple responses, garbled data,” said Mills. “We immediately found we were breaking things like error handling that you can’t test without generating that kind of data. We get a lot of benefit from testing what third parties might do. Now that we can simulate whatever we want – it’s a lot of fun.”

A post-session reception was perched in the fantastic little Blue Lounge atop the EMP theater room. Looking at some APM demos and talking to some of their current and potential customers there, I definitely felt the presence of a “chicken or the egg” dilemma for established IT shops in prioritizing which aspects of their software delivery toolchain to modernize first.

One thing is for sure. All established companies are struggling with test environments, and the time it takes to get them provisioned well at each phase. Should they start with a move to cloud-based labs or containers, or by making the assets themselves leaner and more repeatable with test data management and virtual services? Should more performance and test insight be embedded into the software itself so real-time feedback occurs and problems are found earlier? All I can say is yes – start somewhere! 


blueFug Announces 10,000X Growth in Q2 2016

Garners New Clients in Launching Technology Marketing Advisory Business

SEATTLE, Wash. – Despite an unpredictable environment for technology-related startups and venture capital, Seattle-area technology marketing advisory firm blueFug Ventures managed to increase revenues ten-thousand-fold in the second quarter of 2016.

“At this unprecedented growth rate, we are poised to dominate the market for IT services by the year 2020,” said a spokesperson for the company. The estimated global budget for IT-related services is $2.5 trillion, according to estimates1.

“10,000X? What does that even mean?” said Jason English, CXO of blueFug Ventures. “We have just removed the above spokesperson, as that kind of hyperbole is not what we are about here at blueFug.”

Seriously, however, blueFug offers software and technology companies three targeted services to augment their existing marketing efforts:

  • Thought Leadership, which promotes the client’s expertise in their own domain.
  • Customer Marketing, which promotes knowledge sharing and advances made by the client’s customers.
  • Media Awareness, which enhances the public relations and social media campaigns of the company with rich content.
  • “Technology companies with great products and smart people in place can still use a fresh perspective in getting their message simplified, targeted and heard in today’s crowded marketplace,” said English. “Our primary goal is to help clients find their voice so that marketing messages are reaching impact with the right potential customers.”

    Capacity for more select clients is still available. Due to having only one employee at this time, bottom-line expenses remain low, allowing blueFug to fly under the radar of VC and PE interest in the space and avoid IPO rumors.

    “I did pay $30 to park in downtown Seattle to visit a client, paid $8 for a special cold-brew nitro coffee, then got a $45 parking ticket just for coming back to my car 2 minutes too late,” said English. “That made a dent.”

    “You do not have permission to use a quote from us in your press release,” said someone at a leading analyst firm.

    1. IDC “Worldwide Small and Medium-Sized Business 2014–2018 Forecast"