Day Two Cloud 087: Technical Marketing Messaging

When I was working as a consultant at a VAR, I started being exposed to all the roles available to an IT practitioner. I used to think it was a fairly straight path from helpdesk to sysadmin to IT director. All of the sudden, my horizon was broadened. I could become a Sales Engineer (SE), Technical Account Manager (TAM), Developer Advocate, or even a Technical Marketer. Each of these roles maintained a level of technical competency I found attractive, while branching out into new, previously untapped areas. In our most recent episode of Day Two Cloud, Ethan and I talked to Martez Reed about his recent move to become the Director of Technical Marketing at Morpheus Data. We explore what Technical Marketing is and how Martez goes about crafting content that is relatable to the IT practitioner, their boss, and the CEO of the company. The key is comprehensive storytelling that presents a consistent thread while shifting perspective.

I wanted to dig into that concept of perspective a bit more. There are some key questions to consider whenever you are creating content for an audience. Possibly the two most important questions are, “What am I trying to convey?” and “Who is my audience?”. If you don’t know the answer to those two questions, the effectiveness of your communication is severely hampered.

Instead of just throwing theory at you, let’s take a look at a real example of how I have applied this approach. While working at the aforementioned VAR, I was asked to give a talk at the company’s annual golf outing. I was Director of Cloud Solutions at the time and trying to grow that segment of the business. My audience was going to be eating lunch before heading out to tee off.

Starting with the second question first, “Who is my audience?” The answer was a group of individuals who had time to attend a golf outing on a Wednesday during the afternoon. They were going to be a mix of current and prospective customers invited by the sales team. That meant the attendees were going to be decision makers and influencers, e.g. CIOs, directors, and managers. While there might be some practitioners sprinkled into the mix, in general this was not going to be a group interested in an in-depth technical talk. They were thinking about strategy and aligning with business requirements, not the latest features available in Microsoft Exchange. If I wanted to keep their attention, I needed to hit on the things they cared about; operational efficiency, cost management, and corporate synergy. You know, the stuff that makes a practitioner cringe, if not run away screaming.

Next up was the selection of a topic. What am I trying to convey? I already knew, based on the audience, that I was going to have to appeal to the business and logistical side of things. And since I was Director of Cloud Solutions, I wanted to frame my presentation around cloud and how it could improve their business outcomes. Ultimately, I was trying to grow the cloud services side of the VAR, and my messaging needed to spark cloud conversations while the sales folks took their guests around the golf course for the next 3-4 hours.

My presentation was called “Getting Public Cloud Right” and it had six key points that I laid out in the first slide:

  1. Not all companies are technology companies
  2. Drive innovation and reduce costs
  3. Cloud adoption won’t save you money
  4. Cloud is an enabler, not a solution
  5. Security in cloud is fundamentally harder
  6. Multi-cloud is the reality

None of the primary points or the subsequent presentation were about bits and bytes, ones and zeros, or flashy new features. Some were a bit controversial, and all of them were intended to spark a reaction. I quoted Geoffrey Moore, cited Jevon’s paradox, and didn’t show a single slide with a technical diagram. My messaging was there to convince the crowd that cloud was the future, that it was difficult, and that we could help them. I had to do this at the level they were looking for and address their concerns. The audience didn’t care about how to configure Network Security Group rules in Azure, they cared about the cloud security in the abstract.

The result? The audience loved the talk. It confirmed opinions they already had while challenging some of the accepted cloud wisdom and approaches. At the cocktail hour after the golf outing, I had many attendees come up to thank me for the talk and engage in further conversation about my main points. In the weeks that followed, I got multiple emails from the sales folks about new leads, and ended up in a lot of sales meetings. In other words, the talk was a resounding success! I knew my audience and I had crafted the messaging in a way that resonated with them.

Of course, not every talk I have delivered had this kind of impact. There was this terrible talk I gave about automation at a cloud conference. Wrong audience and wrong messaging. I tried to stay abstract and should have gone into the weeds. But that’s a story for another time.

What strikes me about the golf outing talk, and others like it, is how little I would have to change to deliver the same talk today. A highly technical talk would be out of date within weeks or months. This presentation is three years old and continues to be valid. Details change, concepts endure.

When you are planning out content for a meeting, talk, video, or even blog post. Ask yourself the same two questions: “What am I trying to convey?” and “Who is my audience?” Doing so will increase your impact and spark a conversation.

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