The problem with tech marketing - and how to cure it!

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer May 13, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
A personal take on tech marketing, its issues and some thoughts on how to improve matters. Get a cup of coffee - it's tough love time.

question

Are the millions being spent on technology marketing doing any good? From where I'm sitting, it doesn’t look that way. Here’s a look at the waste and my suggestions on what needs to be done to get better results for vendors and for their customers.

Problem 1 - repetitive, unoriginal, undifferentiated copy

Never one to miss a trend or hot buzzword, all-too-many tech marketers have really been pouring on the trite, undifferentiated messaging of late.

Pre-pandemic, tech marketers were overdoing the words simple and fast in describing the implementations of their solutions. Those characteristics were rarely true or were true only in a tightly defined use case. Either way, those words got so overused (e.g., who doesn’t have a fast/rapid implementation methodology these days?), that they became meaningless.

But since the pandemic, solutions must now be (choose one or more):

  • Adaptable
  • Digital
  • Scalable
  • Smart
  • Resilient
  • Future-proof
  • Intelligent, and/or
  • Transformative

When companies must go to such lengths to tell us about these new-found product characteristics, I suspect a number of prospects or customers are wondering: “Well, it’s about time” or “Why wasn’t this there all along?”  I know I am.

Firms have been stating the product characteristics of their offerings for decades and doing a miserable job of it. In the fast-food world, I remember my marketing professors in college telling us that descriptors like “Value” and “Quality” have been so over-used that consumers don’t 'hear' them anymore. That was decades ago and marketers are still doing it.

But technology buyers don’t exist in a vacuum either – banks are using the S-word (Scale). In the post-pandemic world, businesses of all kinds are touting their resiliency, adaptability, etc.  Like the “Value” and “Quality” descriptors of yore, I’m hearing a lot of the new descriptors being over-used today in more than just technology marketing copy.  And, while this is obvious, if every kind of firm in multiple industries is using the same marketing nomenclature, then these words have lost their meaning and impact.

It doesn’t take a lot of skill or thought to put trending words into marketing copy, logos and taglines. What’s harder is to find something unique, compelling and differentiating. I think tech marketers are definitely in a rut and need to refocus their energies, messaging and efforts.

Tech marketing must evolve, not blindly emulate, to be effective.

Problem 2 - cynical marketers

There is a subset of technology marketers who know their solutions can’t deliver value, aren’t differentiated, etc. So, what do they do? They market against type. If their solutions are perceived to be quite costly, they say they are “value-focused” or “Low TCO” or some other descriptor that is the opposite of the product’s reality.

As a result, I’ve seen on-premises products hyped as:

  • A gateway to the cloud
  • Digital-ready
  • True cloud componentry
  • Modern technology
  • State of the Art
  • Etc.

The gap between reality and this marketing hyperbole is Grand Canyon-esque in proportion.

Marketers put this out there hoping to fool a number of unsophisticated buyers. They hope that if they repeat these terms frequently enough, you’ll believe the message and forget about the reality. And vendors wonder why industry analysts roll our eyes at this hogwash.

This disingenuous marketing, combined with overused jingo terms, is doing no one any favors. It needs to change if marketing is to be effective.

Problem 3 - too many buzzwords, not enough outcomes

Technology buyers want solutions that solve their problems. So, why don’t marketers tout this?  The short answer: they really don’t know what their prospects’ business problems and opportunities are. And, moreover, if you don’t know the problem, you can’t talk effectively about solutions, value, etc.

Buyers today don’t want another re-automation of the same old tired process. Trust me, technology buyers already have software that prints payables checks, calculates payrolls and prints out a balance sheet. What buyers struggle with is a lack of knowledge of the art of the possible. Buyers would love to engage with vendors and partner firms to learn what new, amazing ways they can reimagine and reengineer their business processes. They want to know how some RPA (robotic process automation) tech with built-in workflow, controls and exception handling will dramatically lower transaction process costs and reduce fraud. Buyers want to hear about that and not how to allocate a balance in the general ledger.  To put a fine point on this, buyers want to focus on desired outcomes and the solutions that can elegantly deliver these.

Desired customer outcomes are NOT static. A software buyer isn’t going to use the 20-year-old RFP from the last time they bought ERP software to choose a new ERP solution. If they did, they’d get the same old thing again. No, buyer expectations are always growing and smart vendors bring new concepts, ideas, business methods, processes, etc. to the table.  Likewise, the language that technology marketers use must change/evolve to align with modern buyer wants and needs.

Tech vendors seem to fall into an old habit - they love tech and talking about it, too. Unfortunately, they think everyone else does, too. My wife doesn’t want to hear me talk about tech and neither do a number of business people. Businesses (and their executives) are multi-faceted. They aren’t a one-note group of techies. They want you to talk about their problems, their goals, etc. The marketer who talks about the tech, to the exclusion of the prospect’s business needs, is a bore.

Buyers also want full, complete solutions and not a bunch of random or out-of-date tools and technologies. Few of us want a driveway full of car parts and tools. We want a gassed-up, running Porsche in that driveway instead. And yet, technology marketers can’t help themselves gushing about arcane technical terms and disjointed tools with little or no insight as to how someone is supposed to cobble this together to get some still unspecified value out of it. Business people have companies to run – they don’t have time for puzzles.

The best marketers, right now, might be in a few systems implementation or partner firms that have actually taken the time to create reimagined process flows, new ways to support changing business models and new technologies that dramatically shift the focus of a firm’s workforce. These firms have the intellectual property and insights to describe the art of the possible and bring it to life for a prospect. A tools vendor can’t do that.

Tools vendors have technology that’s looking for a problem to solve. That’s backwards. Vendors should figure out the problems that prospects are having and devise solutions to mitigate these. Here’s how that difference plays out:

  • Bad tech approach – A vendor approaches a prospect and talks endlessly about their chatbot technology, their cloud computing stack, etc. The prospect, though, gets glassy-eyed because they can’t see how they’d use any of this to solve their (largely) unaddressed business issues. There’s a good chance the prospect doesn’t think the vendor could provide a solution as they lack imagination, innovative new processes or business model ideas, etc.
  • Better approach – A vendor approaches a prospect with the request to share with the prospect what they’ve learned about the prospect’s industry and how they’ve reimagined how business processes could work in the prospect’s world. Does this approach have to be 100% on-target? No, it just needs to illustrate what the solution could do. If it illuminates a path forward for the prospect, then a deal gets more likely.

My take

Many vendors are shoving the responsibility to ideate new process designs and insights to third-parties. As a result, prospects are frustrated and not convinced that vendors can help them dramatically improve their firm.  You can tell this is happening as 99% of what a vendor wants to communicate is all about the technology.

Even partner firms can be fighting this as some want to sell unoriginal, repetitive fast installs, hosting, integration or maintenance services. Worse, they’ll offer to convert old data and map it into the new system without changing anything re: processes, reports, analytics, etc.  These firms sell change without changing much of anything at all.

Buyers want firms with a Point of View (POV). They want someone to have done original research, developed templates or other IP, and have available a team that can deploy this. They want a business partner that will stretch their thinking and make them uncomfortable with staying in the past.  In other words, they want a firm that will push them into the future (and renew their competitiveness).

Next time you hear a vendor say their solutions are adaptable or some other jingoistic term, dig into that. Get them to show you the reimagined business models and templates. Have them produce case studies of other firms that have used this IP. And, if the vendor balks and says it should be the work of a third-party, then seriously consider a different tech provider (Why deal with a firm that can’t move your company forward?).

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