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Friday, July 2, 2010

Content is King

In the past year an enormous amount of content has been generated around the topic of “content.” The web and blogosphere are full of discussions around content marketing, content creation, content optimization, content distribution, content performance, media content, corporate journalism and on and on. Here at 3Point Communications, our approach is based on the concept of content-centered public relations. Today, if you want to be successful in your marketing and communications efforts, you have to have a “content” plan; and for good reason. No longer can your company produce ad copy or press releases in isolation and then push them out to customers because there is simply too much information for customers to effectively absorb. If information comes at them unsolicited, customers either block it out intentionally, or miss it because it gets lost in the sheer volume of noise. If you want to reach your customers effectively you have to engage them in an ongoing dialogue. Your customers have to want information from you, and the only way they’re going to do that is if you provide them with a steady diet of thoughtful, entertaining and useful information. Essentially, you have to start thinking of your company as a publishing company. The good news is that your company has a wealth of content just waiting to be shared. Just think of all the PowerPoint presentations, plans, proposals, internal newsletters, sales literature, memos, videos and other materials you have inside your company. This myriad of corporate information can be turned into valuable content for your customers. But remember, you can’t just take this information, put a fresh coat of paint on it, and expect it to resonate with your customers. There are a number of factors you should consider when producing content for your customers.

Here are but a few: 1. What are your company’s business objectives? Does the content you produce align with your business objectives? Be specific because it will help you create better content. Increasing sales in Europe is too vague to be a useful business objective for content generation. Rather, try to refine it; increase sales in Germany, France and the Benelux countries by X% during the next year by selling our ABC software solution into the financial services market. The more detail you can include in your business objectives the better content you will produce, and the better you will be able to measure the success of your content-centered communications program.

2. Who, specifically, are you trying to reach with your content? While the temptation may be to say “whoever will buy my product,” if you’re going to maximize the impact of the content you generate you will need to be very specific about the people you’re trying to reach. For instance, you might narrow it to include CIOs and senior IT professionals at banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms and other financial institutions in your targeted European countries.

3. What do your customers need? If you can clearly define the needs of your customers, then you can develop content that will be meaningful to them. Your customers will respond favorably to your content, and come back to you looking for more, if you can, for example, help them identify key problems they may face in the future and how to solve them. If your content becomes a key factor in their decision making process, then your company will be viewed as a trusted business partner and not just a supplier or vendor.

4. What type of content does your target audience want? This is vitally important in the creation of customer-relevant content. If your customers want to read in-depth technical information about how you solved a problem for another company in their industry, developing a light-hearted video might not be the best choice as a delivery mechanism. Content comes in all shapes and sizes, from white papers and technical documents to video and podcasts to eBooks and online slide presentations, and covers an infinite number of topics. Therefore, it is critical to align the type of content you create, and the information it contains, with what your customers are looking for.

5. Where do your customers go to find their information? Some people love Twitter. Others are addicted to Facebook. Some are YouTube junkies. Many prefer email and web sites. Still others, believe it or not, still read newspapers and magazines. If you’re going to effectively engage your customers in a meaningful dialogue, you need to present your content where they typically look for information. Otherwise, they'll never see your brilliant content. These five factors are by no means all you need to know to develop a comprehensive content-centered communications program, but they are integral to any such plan.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cleantech Pioneers Absorb the Risks Long Before Enjoying the Profits

Eco chic auto maker Tesla Motors Inc. screeched off the line on Tuesday, it's debut as a publicly traded company.

This IPO had nearly everything going for it: it's in the ever-hopeful cleantech market; a cool, new "I have to have it" electric Roadster in its line up; a partnership with the world's largest auto maker; tons of support from VCs and industry execs who witnessed the first cleantech IPO in the U.S. since last September.  And a who's who investor group including Sergey BrinLarry Page and Elon Musk.

One has to like the seven-year-old company's chances for success.

On its first day of trading, Tesla's stock price soared even though global markets were tanking and even though the San Jose, Calif.-based company has yet to earn a dime (some analysts say the firm is years away from making any money).

Reminiscent of the dot-com IPOs of the late '90s, Tesla's stock price opened at $19 per share and jumped to more than $30 per share within the first 24 hours of trading.   Today, Tesla finished the trading day at $21.89 per share -- still above its offering price though well off the week's highs.

By some accounts, the Tesla IPO is breathing new hope into the cleantech sector, which is benefiting from the more than $2B (worldwide) that the VC community pumped into it in Q2 -- an investment level nearly 43% higher than the same quarter a year ago.  

Despite its status as hot area of venture funding, the cleantech market does have a few speeds bumps in the road ahead.

Take for example A123 Systems,  a Mass.-based maker of rechargeable lithium ion batteries for the electric car market.   A123 went public nearly a year ago, and like Tesla's IPO, the Massachusetts battery maker and its investors enjoyed an enviable start as a newly public company. 

A123 opened at $13.50 and soared to more than $20/share.

But today a share of A123 will cost you a smidgen over $9.  

The electric car market is still in its early stages.  I could count on one hand how many people I know even own a hybrid.  

For Tesla, A123 and other pioneers of the electric car segment and other cleantech areas, it will be several years -- at least -- before anyone can call these businesses successful.

But without the pioneering, albeit risky efforts from companies such as Tesla, A123 and others, the cleantech sector would be just another vaporware market.

Instead, we are seeing real products that solve real problems.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

CAFL and the Uber Cloud

I think high schools and colleges should consider offering a new course called CAFL -- an acronym we invented for Cloud as a Foreign Language.  In it, students would learn words like IaaS (infrastructure as a service), SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), Virtualization, Virtual Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, Public Cloud, Private Cloud and many more dynamic new additions to the language of the cloud that combine to make Ms. Connevey's high school French class all those years ago seem like un morceau de g√Ęteau by comparison.
My suggestion for the final exam of CAFL would be to ask students to define the Inter-cloud.  

Oh yes, you marketers of the abstract, obtuse and occasionally ridiculous, the nascent cloud lexicon is already moving to the next level. 

Just for starters, here is how Wikipedia defines Inter-cloud idea: The Intercloud is an interconnected global "cloud of clouds" and an extension of the Internet "network of networks" on which it is based. 

Now, I could stop here, because I'm sure most of you completely appreciate the value of such a succinct definition.  Doesn't it stand to reason that the Inter-cloud would mean "cloud of clouds," "network of networks."   

But for those of you, like me, who might require just a smidgen more, let's push on to Lesson Two. 

In an April 2009 blog, this is how Cisco defined the Inter-Cloud:
  • At some point in the not horribly distant future, some service providers will offer “virtual private cloud” services to allow “private clouds” to consume resources in the service provider infrastructure, while maintaining the illusion of being a part of the customer’s private cloud. This is simply extending “intranets” to consume services over the Internet without exposing the content to the general public–kind of like VPN? (Not a perfect analogy, to be sure.)
  • In the meantime the set of public cloud services evolves, standardizes, and becomes a more open market. Not all will be virtual private clouds services; there will be other forms of interoperability. These sets of interoperable, interchangable clouds could be thought of as “open clouds”.
  • In the early stages, however, there will be relatively tight coupling between the enterprise and any individual public cloud offering chosen; not necessarily lock-in, but the time taken to make a change is still somewhat onerous and involves direct agreements between the customer and the vendors involved. So “open clouds” are not yet the most elastic markets they could be.
  • The network technology to enable the linkage of enterprises to all forms of public cloud offerings (not just virtual private clouds) in a way that takes the unique nature of cloud computing and running IT workloads in mind is called “cloud internetworking”.
  • The final phase–many years from now–includes the introduction of publicly shared core services–very much like DNS and peering–into the carrier networks that enable a more loosely coupled relationship between customer and cloud vendors. This serves to greatly increase the elasticity of the cloud market, and creates a single public open cloud internetwork–the Inter-Cloud.
By now, I'm sure you have it.  But just to wrap this one, let's take one more crack at it just to prep for finals.

The Intercloud is really a futuristic concept of an uber cloud -- one all-encompassing cloud made up of the combination of all clouds -- thus a "cloud of clouds." It will incorporate the power and storage of all its member clouds. When one member cloud reaches capacity, it can use the combined processing and storage of the rest of the Intercloud (presumably for a fee). 

If I have this wrong, please let me know. I'm bucking for an A in CAFL and there are no Cliff Notes!