Part 1: Let's be honest. How do you really feel about marketing?
Effective marketing in any industry is difficult, but high-tech, B2B comes with its own unique set of challenges. This, the first in a series of marketing articles to be featured in The WaveGuide, tackles the root causes of several of them. Whether you sell components, systems, or software, the most effective marketing begins with taking a good long look in the mirror and asking some pointed questions.
Question #1: Do you believe in marketing or are you just pretending?
Many engineering-driven companies don’t have truly effective marketing programs in place because they consciously or sub-consciously don’t believe in it.
Here’s a clue that your company doesn’t really understand or respect the power of marketing: Your Director of Sales and your Director of Marketing are the same person.
Meeting this month’s sales quotas will always take precedence over developing and executing a cohesive marcomm strategy. Unless you treat marketing as a distinct, business-critical component of growth and success, and validate it with a comparable budget, metrics and a senior staff member who can sponsor key initiatives in the Executive Suite, marketing will be nothing more than a handmaiden to Sales.
Habit: Treat marketing as the business-critical tool of success that it is, develop an annual marcomm program and fuel it! If you’re too small to merit a senior level marketing director, rent a consultant for a few months or outsource to a smart agency.
Question #2: Do you think your customers and prospects pay no attention to branding?
Really? Do they drive cars, buy gadgets and go out to eat? There is a common falsehood in the B2B, high-tech space that engineers are impervious to creative branding. The truth is, engineers and other high-tech professionals are human beings driven by the same needs — both emotional and practical — as everyone else. And like the rest of us mere mortals, they decide what to invest in — at home and on the job — based on impressions they receive via similar media channels and outlets. What they are impervious to is pointless headlines and recycled claims that do little to appeal to their real needs or intelligence. Oh, wait, that’s not true. They do take notice of them and “file” them accordingly.
Habit: Don’t just create marketing materials or a website. Build a brand. This starts not with what your products do, but by figuring out what you want your name to stand for in the minds of your customers and prospects.
Question #3: How do you really feel about trade shows and event marketing?
Love it, hate it, you still have to do it. Tradeshows are your friend and an opportunity to make impressions on prospects in various ways. The beauty of shows is prospects are actively looking to be impressed. But to be effective, your promo and PR ideas have to be deployed before, during, and after the event. For example, you might buy toy helicopters and mail the remotes out to key prospects – telling them you’ll give them the chopper that goes with it if they visit your booth for a product demo.
Once at the booth, make it (to borrow an Internet term) sticky. That means creating an experiential, entertaining display. For example, hold skills contests relevant to your business to get prospects excited and eager to beat their colleagues out for Starbucks gift certificates or gas cards. Take pictures of contestants and winners and get them out on show-related channels for extra industry-wide PR during the show. And send your leads a thank you email with an offer to stay informed and download additional information one week after the show. And don’t forget to have a press kit handy for when the journalists come around wondering what all the fuss is about. Better yet, send them a remote, too.
Habit: Invest in an annual trade show calendar of selective events, create an engaging display and then pre-sell it to the attendees. Make it financially and practically efficient by brainstorming an experience that will have legs before, during, and after the show.
Question #4: Are you possessed by the “new media”?
Every marketer these days is feeling the pressure to leverage social media. While there’s no question it’s caused a viral messaging revolution, recent stats on Facebook reveal that only 3 percent of consumer audiences visit company fan pages and typically you have to entice them there with discounts and coupons. Not exactly a common tactic in high-technology sales.
If you have plenty of time, go ahead and build a Facebook page and do some tweeting. You may not get much out of them but they can’t hurt. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of time or extra money, do a little research first. Send out an email to customers and distributors, asking if they use social media before you invest an hour or a dollar in them.
Two exceptions are LinkedIn and YouTube. Build your company profile on LinkedIn – more and more B2B companies, vendors and customers use it to network, find qualified employees and share business issues and strategies. And embedding your own YouTube channel in your website is an easy way to upload customer testimonials and product demos.
Habit: Build relationships with niche media. Today’s publishers are still a critical ally in connecting with prospects and customers. No longer just a print advertising solution, a good brand manager knows how to work with a publisher and connect with their readers in various on and offline ways. Many look at the print magazine as an extension of their direct marketing strategy, mixing both brand and inquiry driven print creative - and then connect the creative in their online media.
Up next, QR codes and mobile apps. (Aren’t they cute.)
David Strand is Principal and Brand Director at Strand Marketing in Newburyport, MA. For more than 18 years, Strand Marketing has specialized in helping business-to-business and engineer-to-engineer clients build strategic and creative brands across all forms of media and communications outlets. To find out more and to view Strand’s portfolio, visit strandmarketing.com.