Monday, June 29, 2015

If a Tree Fell in the Forest...

The first encounter with Parth, was at the 14th STC Conference.  So when I received an email from him about the meetup, I had to see what I've been missing all these years. Well, since then, he's only gotten better!

The topic was Content Marketing. The audience was varied, but everyone seemed to have 'startup' on their minds, in some form or the other. The venue was the ZapStitch office in Koramangala. ZapStitch is a cloud application integrator. They do some integration magic with Zoho, SFDC, Marketo, Shopify, Xero, etc and act like a connection between some of these giants. Kapil and team were awesome. Great follow up. Even greater hosts!

And then there was also the Jifflenow crowd as well. Jifflenow is an organization that facilitates event management and scheduling. With clients like Linkedin, Ariba, Accenture, Adobe, Dell, Cisco, etc, you'd have to think that their offering is unique, and has a lot of value to add.

Coming from a documentation background, I've always been left nursing the creative side of content. Not that there's no room for creativity. Let's just say that it's not appreciated as much. You could relate the marketing content to the outbound process of a call center while the technical content is like the inbound process. While the intended audience is different, I must say that we techncial writers have it relatively easy. We aren't convincing anyone to buy anything. They (the audience) come to us when they need information. We seldom go to them. We want our users to read the stuff we write and then get off the band wagon. Problem solved. It's not like that in Content Marketing. It's like this.

Remember the saying "If a tree fell in the forest and no one heard about it, does it make a sound?" Well, for content marketing, that tree is the product! You have a very innovative solution to an everyday problem that no one is even aware about. They just live with it. Your job is to show the user the problem first, then help them appreciate and want the solution. And finally - buy!

However, we have one problem that we share with content marketers. People don't like to read. At least not what either of us write. And that's where Parth unsheathed his weapons.

Don't create any content that does not satisfy at least one of these objectives. The content should
  • Entertain
  • Educate
  • Solve a problem 
  • Make a job easier. 
I wish the same objectives are followed by some people every time they open their mouths to talk! We'd have a lot more peace and quiet. And less mad people. Especially at 9 P.M, during a certain Newshour.

Drawing parallels to the tech writing industry might be difficult, at least for the first objective. Unless of course you want to have a really entertaining (and probably the last) discussion with your boss! But I'd say all or most documentation would address at least one or all of the other 3 points.

Some other interesting bits and tips from my notes
  • The most important thought a content marketer must have, always - Be the Buyer. Sounds familiar?
  • Before embarking on the content marketing journey, ensure that a well documented content strategy is in place
  • Don't depend too much on SEO. SEO makes sense only if your product is one that people will search for. They won't search for something they don't know about. So if a tree falls in a forest, SEO can't really help!
  • Identify marketing channels you'd want to use 
  • Identify who your competition is and the strategy they are using
  • Determine how frequently you want to publish new content.
  • Your content shouldn't be an overload to your audience. At the same time, your writer should also not run out of ideas
  • Jifflenow publishes an article every week. 
  • Your audience always has an attention deficit, and as a result articles/blogs are now just 250 words long
  • Your article does not always have to explicitly end with a pitch. Your job is done if you can create enough curiosity.
  • The tone used in your articles also matters. Are your articles about solving a problem, or does it have a 'Man Friday' attitude to it, or does it have a cocky feel (like some of the posts on this blog!)
  • Writers must know their space, know what works when it comes to content and be passionate about the cause they are selling. Take the simple task of cycling. The writer really needs to understand just a couple of things. I had a few ah-ha moments, explained in another blog I wrote - The Art of Balance while teaching my little one to ride a bycycle. (I posted the same content on the TeamBHP site and it got over 1200 views in a week.) The point I was trying to make is that the writer needs have those ah-ha moments. Only then can they really explain/market it to their customers. And this applies to both technical writers and content marketers.
  • It doesn't have to always be about your brand. The article could simply be a solution to a problem that your customers face. Jifflenow had recently run a campaign to appreciate the event marketer, their target audience. There was no sales pitch. The campaign made event marketers proud of who they were and highlighted the challenges they faced as a group. The audience were able to connect with the article. Even with the last slide that said - presented by Jifflenow!
  • Learn to critique yourself in your writing. Even laughing at yourself doesn't hurt if you can prove a point.
  • Content can make things happen. Believe.
  • Think about how you will distribute content. People need to know about that tree that fell in the forest!
  • Determine what channel. Will you use traditional marketing channels? How will you use social media? Or will it be a white paper? Or it's just an email or a newsletter that will do the trick for you.
  • And the biggest revelation by both Jifflenow and ZapStitch (sorry Zukerberg/Page!) - paid ads on social media are hopeless. It's a good way to become a millionaire. But you'll have to start out as a billionaire!
  • It's imperative that you build a community for your content/product
  • You can't expect to see your content go viral without a community
  • What goes around, comes around. Remember to share other people's blogs. Not competitors!
  • Remember to rope in influencers who can help you get to that tipping point - a little faster.
  • The other thing to do (not said here) is to find the watering holes that decision makers frequent/visit. It could just be a group on Linkedin, or a blog that is followed by your connectors. If you can make a pitch very tactfully, (right time/place/people), your bait will work. Sometime back, I reviewed a very innovative interactive tool called whatfix and I know at least 4 companies who bought the solution after reviewing the post. I simply made people aware about the tree that fell. It's doesn't always have to be a WIIFM question. The answer to the HCIH (How can I help) question is also immensely satisfying.
  • Measure meaningful metrics. Every Jifflenow employee has numbers that they are held responsible for. Including the designer. How many people scroll through a page, how much time do they spend on a blog, do they check out earlier posts, all these can be metrics.
  • Remember to reuse content by cross linking, etc. Ensures that you continue to get royalty on the value of all your earlier content
  • Your audience is at different levels of an inverted funnel and you need to learn how to write to engage them at their respective level.
  • Content marketers are expected to help an organization define the value proposition of the product, help simplify the solution/product for its users and add meaning.
  • There was some more funnel talk at the end : )
Feel free to comment below. I wasn't paying attention the whole time ;)
If you got to this point, I believe all objectives above were met. Don't ya?

And the next time a tree falls in the forest, your customers must have this reaction.

Credits- The pictures are courtesy:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Art of Balance

Or is it a science? I'll leave it to you to decide.

Of the hundreds and thousands of things that you learn in the course of your life, how many do you still remember after a certain point of time? Here’s something that you'll never forget. Even if you've never done it for many years. And it takes less than a week to learn. Maximum. Many eons ago, I learned it myself. And there was not a soul to teach me.

Last week, I helped my daughter learn and in the process, I realized that there are some simple techniques to understand the art of balance. Quickly.

Now, you could learn how to cycle without knowing any of this, just by sheer practice. Brute practice. But keep a few of the pointers discussed below, and I promise you a journey that is shorter and less painful. Besides, knowledge is BHP (power). And if you are into documentation, you’ll know that the ‘How to cycle’ question is often asked in many technical writer test papers. And it’s usually written to an alien audience. So all you hiring managers out there, here’s an answer that you could use not just to evaluate the candidate's writing skills, but also find out if that alien flew back, or did it use the cycle track back :)

What you’ll need first - The right sized bicycle. Duh! Don’t complicate things by trying to learn on the first available bicycle. You need one that is the right size – for you. There are several parameters that you need to evaluate before selecting a bicycle. And Google is your best friend to find more. But to learn, here’s one that is very important. Once you’ve managed to settle your butt on the seat, your toes should just touch the floor. Your feet were intended to be on the pedal, not on the floor, and that’s where they’ll be most of the time. 

Note to Aliens: Just two feet and two hands are needed. You'd also need a butt that can be placed on a seat, but that I'm sure we can work something out! You could also do it with one arm and leg. But you'll have to be a champ like this guy. 

Simple Rules to Understand
  • At first ignore the pedals: Don’t try to pedal as soon as you get on the bicycle. You learn cycling in stages, one step at a time. Learn the part that you need to do with your hands first, and then move to the legs. Of course, you can disregard this rule if you are this guy, and simply do both!

    Your first aim is to be able to learn how to stay upright, while moving, on two thin wheels.
    Did you know that they actually have bicycles without pedals designed just to help kids learn this part?

  • Don’t ignore the brakes: Keep your hands on the handle bar with your fingers in contact with both brake levers at all times. You might be prepared to fall. But the people in your surroundings aren’t prepared to get struck!
    Remembering to apply both brakes simultaneously, always, will minimize a few embarrassments.
  • Keep your head up: Don’t look at the floor/pedal/feet. Look up, that's where the action usually is.
  • Balance is in your hands: Yes! Not in that big thing you place on the seat! And the most important thing - Remember to swivel the handle gently in both directions, as you move, continuously, till  it becomes second nature to you. No one will tell you to do this. And this is how you will learn to master this art quickly. If you've observed a cyclist, you'll notice how often he/she twists the handle to steady themselves. By twisting the handle you are consciously doing something that will not just correct your course, but also keeps you upright. Watch this interesting experiment to understand balance.

Time to start. Divide your learning into the two parts.

  1. Find a road that is slightly inclined (and preferably deserted), sit on the bicycle, place your hands on the handle, keep your head up and look in front. 
  2. Sit on the seat with both legs on the floor. Once you are ready to move, give yourself a gentle push with your foot to allow the bicycle to begin to roll downhill. Keep twisting the handle to the left and right, in small, gentle movements, continuously, while gravity moves you forward. As the bicycle gathers momentum and starts moving faster, and you begin to feel uncomfortable, remember to clasp the brakes! 
  3. As you move forward, all the while, use your legs to prop the bicycle up, on either side. Use your feet like oars. If you are falling to the right, put your right leg down and vice versa on the other side. You’ll notice that the bicycle will ‘sail’ forward in a smooth zig-zag manner and you will also be bobbing from side to side as you place alternate feet on the ground to steady yourself. Don’t worry about who’s watching;) And it’s also alright to fall a few times. Your objective is to get the farthest distance without touching your feet on the ground.
    Remember, we are still not touching the pedals.
  1. On the return journey (uphill), you’ll need someone’s help. While your friend/dad/whoever, is holding the bicycle upright, rotate one of the pedals up to the 10 O’clock position with your preferred foot. Keep the other foot on the ground. 
  2. Now, while the bicycle is held upright, apply pressure on the foot that’s placed on the pedal. As the cycle begins to move forward, quickly bring your other foot up to the other pedal and start pedaling. 
  3. All the while, as you pedal, don’t forget to continue to move the handle to the right and left. If you feel you are going to fall in one direction, turn the handle a little more in the same direction and then quickly try to straighten yourself again. You'll get this right after a few falls:)
  4. Whoever is supporting you will need to hold the bicycle upright continuously, at least initially. But as you progress, ask him/her to let go for short durations.
Do the down-the-road / up-the-road routine  for 30 to 45 minutes every day. I can assure you that by the 5rd or 6th day, the person who was supposed to hold the bicycle upright for you will be huffing and puffing (and losing a lot of weight) behind you!

You can use these tips to teach your wife (ok, let me not be sexist here) or your husband to ride a scooter. My wife didn’t know how to cycle. But I’m mighty impressed with her that despite not knowing how to cycle, she learned how to ride a scooter. You can read about our adventures here - Teaching the Wife to Ride a Scooter.

And 'adventures', is putting it mildly!