But Is Your Econtent Cool?

As I have traveled the tradeshow circuit throughout 2003, I've noticed more and more companies falling back on a classically dumb sales and marketing standby: promoting user interfaces and other tangible manifestations of econtent products and services. We're in the econtent business, people! We're not buying and selling something that can be touched and held. As vendors, we're selling ourselves (and our buyers) short when we spend too much time on the outward appearance of our information services to the detriment of the actual content and applications that we're really offering to the market.

Instead of the superficial, we've got to focus on communicating how our services facilitate people doing their jobs better. Our intangible products must be communicated to the marketplace with stories and ideas and examples and anecdotes. Quite simply, we've got to spend more energy detailing how we help our customers and, dare I say it, the things that make our products cool.

At the Securities Industry Association's annual Technology Management Conference and Exhibit, where some 200 vendors vie for the attention of thousands of information and technology buyers from global banks and securities companies, booth chatter seemed to center on who had prettier multicolored graphs or whose scrolling news, well, scrolled better. I was hard pressed to find many companies talking about why their information services were useful or how their charting applications would make people money. The prevailing sales mode at SIA was feeds and speeds. Salespeople in their company's booth typically pointed to some widget on the screen and talked excitedly about how their widget was better than the next guy's widget.

After a few moments of widget hype, I'd ask: "How will your information product make customers money?"

Pause for thought from eager, smiling salesperson.

Generic answer back: "Um, we're…[Fill in the blank with sales gobbledygook that includes at least two of the following words or phrases—cutting-edge, automatic, redundant, functionality, comprehensive, leading, solution, application]…so we, um, deliver a good ROI for our customers." Then the salesperson would attempt the classic tradeshow booth trial sales close: "Can I give you a demo?"

Same scenario at the National Investor Relations Institute's Annual Conference. Identical approach at the Search Engine Strategies 2003 Expo and the other conferences I've attended this year.

I've also found to my horror that most press releases in this business are rather, well, let's just say less than interesting. Most releases focus on—you guessed it—the tangible trivia of econtent products and services. Having authored at least a hundred of the damn things myself, I'm embarrassed for my colleagues on the PR side of the house and of the ways some of us choose to market to the media via press releases. I know, I've been there before and done that myself. But now that I'm spending more of my time on the receiving side and often find myself pouring through a wide variety of media bulletins with an eye for interesting nuggets about the econtent world, may I respectfully ask for fascinating stories about how your econtent product or service is used? What do your customers find most interesting or compelling about your offering and why? Our readers (and your potential customers) are more interested in learning about your products and services through actual customer anecdotes rather than the fact that you can deliver, say, a thousand pieces of data a second.

I know that sometimes we just forget that you can't touch this stuff. It's easy to fall into the rut of popping up a search box and describing the wonderful Boolean operators or the pretty layout of the user interface. Even though the simple approach often seems adequate, blabbing on about the outward facing bits just doesn't do econtent services justice. Rather, step back and think about how you might liven up the discussion in order to illustrate the intangible aspect. How is the econtent service or tool used? How do people make (or save) money (or time) with your econtent product? Does your tool replace something we already have? Or will it be new to my organization and our routine?

Communicating an intangible means focusing on the benefits, not the features. Selling econtent is best done with stories, not just what the user interface looks like or what the spec sheet says. In short, explain why we should spend money to buy your offering. Better yet, tell us why it's cool.