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.

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.

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.

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"

    Marketers: Take the Ultimate Survey of All Surveys Ever

    In digital marketing, the good old market survey (or, MkSurvey™) remains one of the staples of our business. While surveys can become very useful research assets that add value for you and your customers, they can also be unproductive or a minor nuisance when overdone or improperly conducted. A survey on surveys? Let's do this.

    Take the quick 10-question survey yourself, and invite your marketing colleagues (or any peer involved in surveys like these) to join our study group.

    Take the survey survey now.

    As it turns out, I know a lot of technology marketers. And I hope you share the survey with your friends to make the results even better. By the end of the month, let's get enough response to have a useful study on surveys that answers the question:

    Are surveys useful tools for technology marketing, or have they seen better days?

    “When in doubt, run a survey.” - Fake Ben Franklin

    [Image from wikicommons: http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/brush/ben.htm {{PD-US}}]

    The Reverse Iceberg of Technology Marketing Part 1: Extreme Forces

    Marketing in support of any complex technology is an inherently unstable proposition. Competition relentlessly drives innovation, and that need for innovation will drive change in how you position and sell your solution.

    As your company evolves and adjusts to market pressures and growing expectations, it is a safe bet that your marketing strategy and message will be revisited early and often. Here’s a simple model for negotiating this level of change. 

    I’m sure you’ve seen the “tip of the iceberg” metaphor used to represent how the part you can see above the surface (i.e. your personal appearance, or the company image), is dwarfed by the underlying chunk of ice that carries a lot more weight (examples here).

    While this metaphor is fine for many purposes, I’d like to propose a reverse iceberg platform for technology marketing that is inherently unstable. In an environment where you are often only as good as your last release, marketing loses much of the inertia underpinning the business itself. Even well-established brands are subject to being “flipped” out of the market – half of the S&P 500 Index companies are likely to be replaced in the next 10 years, if estimates hold up.

    Basic Reverse Iceberg of technology marketing concept. 

    Let’s say your marketing message is a cute seal, riding on a fresh chunk of ice, broken off of the permanent shelf it once frolicked upon. If you are that seal, you should not lean your ice sheet too far forward (speculation), nor attempt to inhibit change by leaning too far back (convention).

    To survive on this platform, your message must not only be differentiated and fit your brand, it must continuously avoid the two extremes of speculation and convention as it moves forward on the current, to avoid being toppled.

    I liked comparing the surface to ice, rather than a surfboard or boat, because it takes into account the “slippery slope” effect of not being able to reverse course if you get too far out of balance. 

    How do these extreme forces play out in messaging your technology?

    Speculation. This is commonly referred to as “getting ahead of yourself” or “being out over your skis,” and chances are you’ve already seen enough high-profile examples of this in action. It is natural to want to aggressively go to market in response to perceived threats or opportunities, but leaning too far forward can accelerate a problem for a company that cannot meet demand.

    For instance, let’s say you are running a massive ad campaign to announce a product launch, without the necessary support on your site or service to handle the increase in traffic. Or, your sales teams are delivering a message – invented in PowerPoint – around product features that are not yet delivered or proven by customers.

    • Problems: High inconsistency of message, high risk of failure, poor customer experience, loss of credibility, inability to capitalize on interest or demand, fast customer churn
    • Solutions: Try evolutionary vs. revolutionary changes, soft launch or graduated release, be more selective about target customers, run advance beta or survey programs, recruit customer or expert validation, track customer value as a success metric, go deeper

    Convention. The risk in this conservative approach to messaging is often much harder to detect until it is too late, as it happens over a period of time. Even very large companies can scarcely afford to stand still, as dominant players can suffer the “death of a thousand bites” of nimbler companies that are not only doing specific work better, but targeting messages to specific customer needs more accurately.

    Overly conventional marketing focuses on message parity – what industry peers, analysts and competitors are already talking about, rather than expressing a unique point of view and direction. While it is counterproductive to attempt to forge a totally unique message every time, your message does need to demonstrate that you are evolving, thinking, and actively participating in the exchange that drives your market. 

    Don’t be jealous about allowing your experts to evangelize innovative ideas, either – if the topics are worth discussing, they are not as proprietary or as permanent as you may think. Remember that if you don’t express market-leading ideas, chances are someone else will.

    • Problems: Becoming irrelevant to the market, slow content production, undifferentiated or boring messaging, teams and customers do not resonate with the message, competition appears to be more advanced
    • Solutions: Commit to a thought leadership perspective, encourage customers and peers to join the conversation, participate in communities, focus on openness, avoid jealousy, go higher

    You might say all of the above should be common sense advice, but it is surprisingly easy for companies to fall prey to the extreme forces of speculation and convention, given the competitive nature and high rate of change inherent in marketing technology. Fortunately, these extreme forces have gentler counterparts you can use to keep your messaging in equilibrium: experimentation and evaluation. We will take a look at these balancing forces in a future installment on the reverse iceberg messaging topic.

    Guest Post: On-Demand SV Breakfast in the Cloud

    Here's a fun complete breakfast I prepared, photographed, ate and then wrote for the ServiceVirtualization.com community site sponsored by CA, ran Dec. 16, 2015. (See original post at http://servicevirtualization.com/247-complete-devtest-breakfasts-service-virtualization-in-cloud-environments/) - JE

    It’s been a while since Service Virtualization (and this SV.com site, for that matter) came out, both as a practice and a technology. Since this site was launched back in 2010, it seems like another trend has occurred: fast food restaurants selling breakfast food 24/7. I don’t know about you, but breakfast is still by far my favorite meal. If everything you want is there, no meal beats breakfast. So why not have a complete breakfast there whenever you want it?

    The invention of Service Virtualization in 2007 was huge for resolving dependencies in development and testing, so those teams could move forward without the “complete breakfast” available. At the same time, SV inadvertently resolved some of the primary constraints to serious enterprise adoption of public dev/test cloud environments. We used to describe this phenomenon of constrained components that you can’t simply import as “wires hanging out of your cloud.”

    Take any system that you need to have ready for testing, but is not readily available. It could be a heavy mainframe that is too bulky to image as a VM, or a third party service you don’t have the access permission to copy. It would be much easier if you could realistically simulate just the behavior and data you need to run tests with those components.

    So SV gave us a lightweight way to eliminate these constraints by replacing them with Virtual Services. This new technology is now a standard practice in large enterprises, with several major vendors offering solutions in the space. SV is proven to “cut the wires” of dependencies in dev/test environments.

    That’s great for traditional on-premise environments, but it is especially useful in cloud dev/test scenarios, where dynamic availability – anywhere, anytime — is of the essence. Cloud infrastructure has come a long way in the last few years as well – offering increased capacity and performance at decreasing cost. We're seeing some huge environments running in cloud labs now at every phase of the lifecycle, including CA applications, SAP test regions, Oracle RAC servers, the list goes on. You can even invoke and specify these environments via API with a host of new IaC (Infrastructure as Code) and automated deployment solutions like CA’s Release Automation and CI/CD tools like Jenkins and many others. Containers have also now become a new, happy meal player in this complete SLDC breakfast.

    Having the real thing in a 24/7 cloud is great, but who really wants a Coke with breakfast? In many cases, even if you could get the whole production-style application architecture imported, you may not always want the real thing in your dev/test cloud. Production systems may respond and perform unpredictably. If you are developing an application that will talk to production systems, you will likely need to suss out all the boundary conditions in your battery of tests. For instance, what if the mainframe responds in 30 seconds instead of 3 seconds, or .3 seconds? What if my partner’s service returns my form request with an unknown error, or a bunch of SQL hack statements? 

    It takes too much work and coordination to try and make every other team’s system respond exactly as you want. But you can easily make a virtual service learn the behavior, and get Test Data Management (TDM) to supply the exact right data, so that you can have it all dynamically provisioned in a cloud environment that does exactly what you want, on-demand. And other teams can get that same level of customization and on-demand environments that are separate so they can work in parallel, without having to become experts in how the whole application infrastructure and network is set up. Better to focus on the aspects of development testing, integration and performance testing that are in the scope of your requirements, and simulate the rest with SV. 

    The same concern applies to virtualizing test data. Unless you are getting close to production phases of your SDLC, you shouldn’t have to deal with extracting and loading huge volumes of production data into dev/test environments. When policy demands test data be scrubbed of sensitive info before being loaded, TDM provides another lightweight asset that can provide valid “virtual test data” and be spun up in a public dev/test cloud.

    What’s cool is that all of these modern development and test technologies can be loaded into an environment in Skytap, along with all the pre-configured servers, network and domain settings, and management controls needed. Then you can instantly stamp out clones of the exact environments needed to advance development, test and release activities faster than we ever imagined.

    Yes, SV and Environments-as-a-Service in cloud infrastructure are great technologies separately, but when pulled together, and given automation, they make up a complete breakfast of dev/test champions that is available 24/7. Don’t just settle for serial, or cereal breakfast just because it is late. Customers won’t wait for it. So why should you?

    Go Frack Yourself for Content

    I may have a right to call myself a storyteller in business terms. I've written a mountain of blogs, white papers, brochures and ads, as well as producing them in some online, interactive, video or print form. That seldom means a one-man effort.

    I've encountered a lot of peers in my time who are brilliant developers, wickedly effective field engineers, or very creative designers, but for some reason they don't seem to think they are able to write or create useful content. Maybe they don't think they are good writers -- or maybe they don't think they have the time -- but get them in front of customers or a team of peers and they sound quite passionate and articulate.

    Realize that every time we talk to a customer to offer a solution, or talk to a peer to solve a problem, we're all actually generating great content that could be "fracked" and captured.

    If you know me, you know I'm not a huge fan of actual fracking, or the environmental impacts resulting from pumping chemicals into the earth (seen the Gasland documentaries anyone?). But I do think the metaphor applies quite nicely for getting story angles from subject matter experts who are reluctant to make material we can publish and use for content marketing purposes.

    Finding time to go into your cave, perhaps sniff a brandy and write a well-worded piece, while managing customers/projects/budgets at the same time seems impossible. To resolve this, an expert might try passing on the task to a writer, but that won't solve the ongoing content crisis if the writer is left to their own devices to figure out what your real conversations are like.

    I'm constantly trying to get experts to self-contribute something to the process. More often than not, I have to corner them and "frack" that wisdom out of them. Don't worry, it's not as painful as it sounds. In fact, we're just having the same real-world conversation you would have in a client visit or project meeting. If a writer like me is forced to do this on his own, it may take a while before the content meets your need if there's no spirit of collaboration going on.

    Content fracking is not a big-bang one-time event. Like software development, it is far more agile and likely to be effective if you do it on an iterative, ongoing basis. The temptation to say everything perfectly, and cover a 360-degree view of your business is the primary reason why companies fail to publish interesting messages on a regular basis. It's far more plausible and interesting if your messages tell a smaller piece of a bitter story that evolves over time.

    So even if you're not a content-oriented professional accustomed to writing, let me encourage you to at least capture your thoughts and conversations. For instance, try keeping a running log of any conversation topics of the day, and categorize them later. Or carry a voice recorder around and articulate what you are working on, or post-mortem the task you just finished. Even if the stories you frack out of yourself aren't ready for prime time and require plenty of wordsmithing down the road, they're a perfect start.