Category Archives: content marketing

In Crisis Times, Webinars Are Great…IF Viewers Aren’t Zoning Out


As the COVID-19 crisis wears on, entire industries are working through the problem of prospecting and lead generation at a time when no one’s meeting face to face. When virtually all live marketing events were cancelled or postponed, many organizations took their messaging online, replacing meetings with webinars. It’s just logical, and for many marketers (especially B2B) it’s the only realistic option for top-of-the-funnel message delivery.

Webinars can be very effective in normal times. Done right, they can be engaging and informative. And, looking back, we know people will show up for webinars, at least in part because it provides an excuse to hole up in one’s cubicle for an hour, waving off interruptions and letting calls go to voice mail. It can be a welcome respite from incessant meetings. Realistically, though, even under normal conditions, a lot of your webinar attendees are only half-present. The temptation to multitask can be irresistible.

The attention deficit problem gets even worse when everything your prospective customer is doing is online. A webinar is no longer a respite from routine. It’s another reason to be in front of a screen.

You can still get leverage by capturing the event as a recording and getting prospects to share the link or rewatch it later. Many organizations view webinars as components of a larger library of gated marketing content. But you may be missing an important opportunity if all that you get from your event is the recorded video.

EBook generated from a recorded webinar

This eBook was built from the recording of an earlier webinar. It’s an example of Content Extension — repurposing content you already have for a new audience.

This marketer got considerable leverage by converting the webinar content — presentation materials, presenter’s pitch and comments from the audience — into this new document. The conversion process was quick and the cost was much less than it would have been to produce an original eBook from scratch.

Recorded webinars can be underutilized orphans in the libraries of marketers whose sales teams are crying for fresh contentBut every webinar is a unique content creation opportunity.

A white paper or eBook could give you leverage to reach prospects who won’t make time to attend your webinar (or who zoned out during your webinar and didn’t fully absorb your messaging).

Care to talk about it?

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The Role of Content in Plague-Year Marketing

hidingWith each passing year, more and more of the selling process for everything from vacation timeshares to enterprise software takes place online. Much of what once required face-to-face interpersonal selling to move a prospect along on his or her customer journey can be done virtually these days. But no one has ever really proven that virtual approaches are better than old-fashioned handshake selling.

It’s a moot point now, though. Handshake selling is increasingly difficult at a moment in history when people have stopped shaking hands. Every organization that relies heavily on conferences and trade events will need to revise its strategy this year as widening concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus causes major vendors to pull out of conferences. Hundreds of events have already been cancelled, costing conference organizers more than $1 billion as of early March 2020 – a figure sure to grow.

How will you close the marketing gaps these cancellations are creating? Each product marketer has his or her own answer, but one thing is certain: Your marketing content is going to have to work harder than ever to move potential buyers toward commitment to purchase. Is your content up to the challenge?

There aren’t a lot of hard metrics for content preparedness – the COVID-19 outbreak is in many respects an unprecedented challenge for companies and for entire industries. But there is a practical way for companies to gauge their content readiness in more normal times, and I believe there’s a compelling use for it now.

I’ve been suggesting for six years that Customer Journey Analysis, a methodology that marketers have borrowed from the Customer Experience (CX) discipline, can be used to identify and address the organization’s requirements for marketing content. I’ll let my previous writing on this lay out the case in detail, but here it is in brief:

Product marketers seek to understand the long, circuitous path prospects typically travel to:

  • Understand their needs,
  • Decide to address those needs,
  • Look around for solutions,
  • Recognize your product or service as a potential solution,
  • Match your solution to the problem at hand and assess the fit,
  • Convince other stakeholders of your product’s value, and
  • Buy your stuff.

A savvy organization will have drawn a Customer Journey Map, or several such maps, to describe the journey generally taken by customers who fit various personas. Along the way, each customer will have dealings with identified “touch points” in your organization — your advertising, trade show staff, industry analysts or current reference customers, your inbound marketing team and inside sales force, account executives, and post-sales support staff.

Notice how many of these touch points are people. In a quarantined world, inside sales people will continue to interact with customers by phone, more or less as always. But a lot is going to change for event staff, account execs and pre-sales technical experts. Those, typically, are frequent business travelers, and a lot of their customary meetings are going to be called off.

Now analyze what those people actually do during the various meetings that your customer journey map tells you are standard for each phase of the sales process. Each face to face encounter will be some combination of rapport-building and information delivery. It’s difficult to know how the current crisis will affect customers’ assessment of the value of vendor rapport, but in any case some of this will have to be achieved by means of phone or web conferencing. It’s hugely valuable for you to retain as much opportunity for that kind of customer contact as you can.

But what about the information delivery component of the interaction? Your prospect will be experiencing certain “Moments of Truth” at which he or she faces complex, crucial decisions. Assuming your organization understands its customer journey well, you already know how your sales reps handle each of these predictable moments, and how they answer the questions you know will arise at these critical moments. You also know roughly when they will occur.

what doesGranted, many of these questions are best answered face to face by a rep who has become a trusted expert for the customer. But if you are going to get fewer opportunities to have those meetings, an alternative is to push content that answers those questions to the customer, just at the moment your journey map and your rep’s instinct tell you that customer is going to need those answers. If that content arrives in the customer’s inbox just before he or she thinks to ask for it, so much the better.

Of course, if the content you need at these moments is intended to fill a gap created by this year’s pattern of meeting cancellations, odds are it doesn’t exist yet.

2020 would be a good year to budget for that content to be created – by someone you’re confident will understand not only the information to be conveyed but what’s taking place between you and your customer at the moment that content will be deployed.

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My Fifth Anniversary


December marks five years that I’ve been operating as Peter Dorfman Creative Services.

Five years is longer than the median number of years (4.2) that an American wage and salary earner has been with his or her current employer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since I’m my own boss, I’d count myself as a reasonably successful hire.

If I’d interviewed myself five years ago and asked myself, “Where do you see yourself in five years,” I’d have said “Right here.” I’d have been right.

Although I’ve been generating increasingly diverse kinds of content, I continue to be grateful that, in this supposedly “post-literate” age we live and do business in, there’s still a place for long-form content that informs and persuades. It’s what I do best.

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A Writer’s Portfolio in Hyperbolic Form

What Peter Dorfman Writes AboutAs one who spent 25 years as a Knowledge Management advocate, marketer and implementer, I have long been interested in knowledge representation. By that I mean the tools and methods for capturing, codifying and sharing knowledge — generally in software. Knowledge is not the same thing as documents. Documents (or web pages) are great media to convey information. Knowledge has the additional dimension of context — information delivered to the individual who needs it, when and where it is needed in order to accomplish something. That comes much closer to a practical definition of Knowledge.

I spent almost a decade as the head of marketing for a software company that had a very original take on knowledge representation, based on a connectionist model inspired by artificial neural networks. While the system captured facts and advice in text-based media files, we explained the model by asserting that the knowledge was not in those files — it was in the connections between those files.

Knowledge is not in files — it’s in the connections between those files.

That was in the 1990s. Both Knowledge Management and I have moved on, but I’ve never quite shaken my fascination with knowledge representation and that connectionist idea. One of the most enjoyable web gadgets that I’ve found over the years is a playful little thing called TheBrain* — a beautiful and easily accessible embodiment of the connectionist concept.

I’ve been playing around with TheBrain on and off for many years. It’s an elegant instance of what’s called a hyperbolic tree. It’s designed to capture a domain of knowledge — ANY domain of knowledge — by inviting the user to name and document various concepts and then show, graphically, what’s associated with what. You don’t read content in TheBrain — you navigate through it, as in a labyrinth. One with walls that move.

I’ve used the gadget for a number of purposes, practical and whimsical. We used to raise Nigerian Dwarf goats when we had our farm in New Jersey; TheBrain turned out to be a very cool way to manage our breeding records. I’m currently using the tool to organize my thoughts and notes about the very complex topic of a magazine feature story I’m working on.

And I’ve used TheBrain in presentations before audiences. People who have glazed over in an after-lunch conference session come back to life when they see content in the form of a concept tree that MOVES as I navigate through it.

Lately, I have found a new use for TheBrain, in answering the inevitable question anyone hears once he’s introduced himself as a writer: What do you write about?

ExploreI’ve taken a stab at organizing a professional portfolio in hyperbolic tree form. You can get to it by clicking the astrolabe icon labeled “Explore My World” on the right-hand navigation bar on my web site — or just click here.

Have a look around. Click a concept in the tree to see where it takes you. These are the ideas and topics that have preoccupied me as a writer and content creator since I started Peter Dorfman Creative Services in 2013 — and stretching back through my career. Notice that some elements have little icons next to them; those are links to actual content that has found its way onto the web. (On some devices, you may have to scroll down and click a larger link.) Not all elements have these links. I ghost-write a lot; a little secret between me and the individual whose name appears on the material.

Let me know what you think. See a topic that interests you? Recognize something that’s an aspect of your content marketing program? Or just want to talk about hyperbolic trees? Let’s talk about it.

* Full disclosure: I have no business relationship of any kind with TheBrain Technologies.

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The Collapse of Trust

distrustI caught a BBC interview this morning with Richard Edelman, Chairman of Edelman Worldwide. He was speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, about the often-cited Edelman Trust Barometer, his company’s annual global survey on the trust and credibility of key institutions. Edelman himself looked shaken by the results of the 2018 Barometer. Here’s a link to the Executive Summary. I felt it was worth sharing.

Globally — but most especially in the US — there has been an unprecedented crash in trust in institutions, particularly media and government, and in information. People have no faith in the information they have been receiving, and in their own ability to distinguish real information from fake news. Nowhere is this collapse of trust more evident than in the US, where media are under attack from government as never before.

There is an interesting nuance to the fall of trust in media, however: Respondents view “media” as including the non-traditional online platforms, including social media, from which many people get most of their news and insights. But trust has fallen sharply both in social media as sources of truth and (tellingly) in the veracity of information gathered from “people like me” —  peers in social networks. There is a substantial uptick in trust for experts, especially technical experts, and a downgrading of information populism. This reverses a several year trend of cynicism toward expertise, and distrust of the motives and credibility of experts. If accurate and sustained, this reversal could suggest a renewed interest in institutions like science and academia — in my opinion, a welcome and overdue development. Oh, and this includes journalists — respondents say they distrust media, but trust in journalists rose, year-on-year, more sharply than for any other group.

The 2018 Trust Barometer also measured a significant uptick in trust for business leaders, CEOs and brands. That’s the main reason I’m blogging about this.

One of the main forms of work product I generate for corporate clients is Thought Leadership content — bylined articles, white papers, eBooks, guest blog posts and the like. There is great demand for this kind of content because corporate-affiliated thought leaders have important ideas to convey, but little time to devote to writing. I help people who have this quandary to get their ideas out of their heads and into erudite prose.

Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer forces us to confront some dark realities about the global economy. But it also presents us with an opportunity: Globally, people are hungry for ideas, and increasingly are looking to thought leaders from the business community to provide them — including ideas that have little direct connection to your company’s commercial offerings, but for which you nonetheless have genuine authority by virtue of your institutional leadership.

The world is listening. You have knowledge to contribute. Your thought leadership content — already a key component of a realistic Content Marketing program — will find an increasingly receptive audience this year, and that can help increase Awareness and Audience Engagement with your brand. If I can help you to get your ideas out there, please let me know.

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My debut article in Autodesk’s RedShift

slavemasterMy first article in RedShift, the online magazine sponsored by the software powerhouse Autodesk, has just gone live.

“Dancing With Robots Shows the Real Power Dynamic Between Humans and Machines” (September 20, 2017)



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Send me your weird stuff

chameleonLike any marketing professional, I try to keep abreast of the key concepts and terminology in my field. I read and digest a lot of literature on Content Marketing. It has occurred to me that, while I’m a freelancer and don’t have the baggage associated with a fully burdened creative firm, I’m not exempt from the normal expectations that other pros have to live up to.

I have a brand. It’s not Coca Cola or Microsoft or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s a brand nonetheless. With it comes a set of attributes, including a Brand Promise. It has occurred to me that I have never been explicit about the brand promise for Peter Dorfman Creative Services.

I like to think the core of my brand promise is this: I’m a generalist…but unlike a lot of writers who focus on marketing content, I come up to speed quickly, with minimal hand-holding, on the really esoteric subjects — the weird stuff marketers typically keep in house because they worry it will take too much time and effort to familiarize a freelancer with the basics. If you have those sorts of projects, try me.

My recent writing projects have included content on:

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Bidding automation in Search Engine Marketing
  • Intelligent Digital Workspace technology
  • Korean classical music
  • E-Discovery
  • DevOps and Continuous Delivery in software development
  • Software testing
  • Virtual Reality
  • Payroll best practices in Canada
  • Adaptive clinical trials in drug development
  • Mobile device adoption in K-12 classrooms
  • Omnichannel marketing strategy
  • Archaeology and human evolution
  • Climate science
  • Legal Process Outsourcing
  • Data Center Infrastructure Management
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Aerial geospatial photomapping
  • Temperature-controlled shipping of drugs
  • “Social Engineering” as a hacking strategy
  • Travel tips for Yosemite National Park

Got something equally obscure to add to my repertoire? I love that kind of challenge. Let’s talk it over.

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Customer Journeys and Content Planning — This is Now a Thing

mappingContent strategists are buying into the concept of Customer Journey Mapping as a tool for planning content authoring. Martha Reifer Johnston’s article, published this morning, is only the most recent example of this — and it’s a good read.

I approve and concur. I’ve been saying this for more than two years:

My intent, though, is not to position myself as a pundit or a digital marketing strategist — as much fun as those conversations are.

The long and short of it for me is this: No matter what new forms content takes; no matter how marketers slice, dice and personalize content; regardless of how you assess the future viability of long-form content…

…at the end of the day, somebody has to write words. That’s my craft. If Journey Mapping helps marketers decide what they need crafted and get those projects on the calendar, that’s a win for everybody.

Let’s talk about it.


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Bring on the Robots

I suppose it’s time to comment on Content Commoditization.

Several prospective clients have commented recently that they urgently “need lots of content.” This isn’t surprising as Content Marketing matures as a discipline. It’s now broadly accepted that marketers can attract a lot of promising leads by dangling Thought Leadership content for prospects to download from gated sites.

robot3A lot of CMOs evidently are feeling that they’re getting a late start in the inbound marketing game. Our conversation may begin with a very specific need for an eBook or case study, but lately it’s often ended with a rueful admission: “We’ve got a lot of holes to fill in our content – we’ve got nothing.”

That’s both gratifying and troubling to hear. When multiple marketing execs express a need to populate a content library in a hurry, it’s natural to worry about the quality of the material and what’s likely to pass muster these days.

Machined Content

What started me thinking about this was Ann Rockley’s post from a year ago on “machined content,” which resurfaced this morning in an email from the Content Marketing Institute. I’ve been seeing a variety of references lately to robotically-constructed content – articles concatenated from raw data by algorithms. Wise guy friends who know I make a living as a writer share these things with me – they can’t help themselves.

In fairness, that’s not what Rockley is talking about. She’s suggesting that original content can be repurposed for use in multiple forms and media, with the aid of software. Which is fair enough, assuming the original source content is well thought out and well crafted – generally meaning, at least for now, that the content was written by a human.

Rockley’s original post was half of a point-counterpoint with Jay Acunzo, another content marketing pundit, who shoved back hard at the suggestion that robots will ever be literate enough to replace human authors. Both posts are worth reading for anyone with a professional interest in content.

I’ve seen some of the results of automated writing. My sense is that, if an algorithm can convert a box score into a short, pedestrian recap of a ball game, that’s probably a reasonable expedient for some media. On the other hand, I’ve seen attempts to teach artificially intelligent agents to write creatively, and come away with the sense that I’m likely to be in a comfortable retirement before a robot can replace a literate meat puppet.

Homogenized Content

I think automation is a side issue, but something worrisome is afoot. That something is commoditization of marketing content – a more general homogenizing of content into prosaic, plain vanilla, placeholder prose that fills a gap in the content arsenal, but only just.

I see evidence of commoditization every day. Content practitioners wind up on a lot of email lists, and we’re constantly getting each other’s stuff. And of course I notice – I have a professional interest in what passes for marketing content these days.

Apologies in advance if this sounds arrogant, but I invest a lot of myself in what I do, and a lot of the marketing content I read is crap.

I take it on faith that it’s written by carbon life forms. It’s search engine optimized to the nines – finding it certainly isn’t a problem. But it’s dull, weighted down with past-peak business jargon, and each piece is practically indistinguishable from what the sponsoring company’s competitors are tweeting this week.

Not all of it, of course. Content marketing is maturing but it hasn’t become decadent yet. Plenty of creatives are producing outstanding stuff that speaks to real customer needs, makes an elegant case for a product, answers serious questions and casts a flattering light on a brand.

But demand for content is increasingly universal, and the creative talent pool, like anything else, is defined by a bell curve. A lot of what I see seems to be sourced from the big hump in the middle of the curve.

My point is not to gripe about bush-league writing, but to caution against the “more is better” approach to content development, which might lead to a dumbing down of quality standards.

Quality Counts

Automation, to return to my original point, is unlikely to be an important driver for this. There are other ways to source cheap, commodity content. There are plenty of low-end content mills farming out authoring to amateurs looking to break in to the writing game. If creative quality is a secondary concern and the need is simply to generate lots of verbiage in a hurry, that can look like an attractive option.

The problem, though, is that content quality actually matters. This is not just something content pros tell themselves to continue feeling relevant. It’s been an article of faith ever since content marketing became a thing, and there are pragmatic reasons for this. Bad quality content will frustrate your SEO efforts – Google degrades the position of lousy content in its search results, on purpose.

Net: I doubt that humans who create original content for a living have much to worry about from robotic competition. Ann Rockley probably has a point about using algorithms to aid in repackaging content for reuse. In a market where CMOs are trying to get caught up quickly, we mere mortals can use the help.

Content repurposing is something I’ve done on many occasions; if that sounds like a good way to extend the reach of your content efforts, let’s talk about it.

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Kudos to Nuix

Re: My previous post regarding the Panama Papers and my offer to write a case study on the eDiscovery technology being used to analyze the content:

nuixIt’s Nuix, and there’s already a press release out. The vendor is to be commended in the strongest possible terms for being willing to do the right thing regardless of the impact it might have on wealthy and connected individuals and corporations — some of whom could be potential users of Nuix’s tools. The vendor,  in fact, donated its system to the reporters led by Süddeutsche Zeitung for this vital project.

I am officially an admirer.

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