Here’s an ideas for radical “transparency” in product marketing: Do an exhaustive comparison of your products and services vs. your competitors. Get down and dirty in specific areas like platform support, ease of management, need for staff retraining, and overall return on investment.
And make this an impartial comparison of the players that will establish our thought leadership – while highlighting our strengths and soft-pedaling our weak spots.
Not for the Timid
That was the assignment I recently completed, along with a publishing partner, for a top-tier software vendor. We’re nearing publication, and I’m proud of the work we did. It’s much more insightful, in-depth, comprehensive and, yes, impartial than most content marketing. This is powerful content, rich in detail, which if promoted right will be downloaded, read, and passed on throughout today’s committee-driven B2B buying process.
But it took seven long months of work, with a lot of internal agonizing over how impartial we could afford to be when the chips were down: In other words, when product managers had to swallow us describing a short-coming in their wonderful offerings, or admitting to strength in a competitor.
This is industrial-strength, high-commitment, high-reward content marketing. If I were working with another client on such a “product guide” here are four questions I’d ask before starting:
- How honest are you willing to be? Everyone knows you won’t pay a writer to trash your own product. Nor (I hope) do you expect to make this a thinly veiled ad for your own offerings. But specifically how far are you willing to go to admit when a competitor has a superior set of capabilities? In this assignment, figuring out where the fine line was took a lot of unexpected time and effort.
- Who gets to comment on the draft, and do we have their buy-in? At least a month or more of delay was the result of a new group of stakeholders who saw the draft late and had their own comments and concerns. Knowing they existed, and having them in the loop beforehand, would have gotten this finished and out the door more quickly.
- Who will referee the tough calls? I was lucky enough to be paired with a very professional, savvy and honest contact person within our client. He buffered me from the product managers who were understandably pushing hard to make their products look good. Having such a buffer made my life as a writer much easier. More importantly, it reduced internal costs and improved quality by making sure the “referee” was inside the client and had the contacts and authority to push for final answers.
- How are you going to use this before it goes stale, or refresh it so it stays useful? Annual and quarterly release cycles are so 20th Most cloud-based services, much less mobile apps, make improvements and enhancements on a continual “drip” basis. We, and our client, would have been better served with a plan to more quickly distribute and promote our work, and to keep it updated over time.
Journalism, or Marketing?
Such “buyer’s guides” were a long-term staple of the IT trade press. That’s because they saved customers time by presenting side by side comparisons of competing products. But how do they work as marketing content? How do they perform from a lead-gen perspective? Can they be honest enough to be credible while still promoting the strengths of the sponsoring vendor?
Bob Scheier is a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor. Visit Bob’s site to learn more about his writing and services.