Think consumer when marketing B2B technology

Gene Carozza

Many traditional approaches to technology PR have been supplanted by newer, faster tactics, and PR pros now possess more tools and channels to elevate a brand’s visibility. What’s really changed, however, is the willingness of tech companies to think differently and empower their agency partners to bring their brand to life. It’s as if business-to-business tech marketers now need to act as if they’re promoting a consumer company.

It’s a great time to be in technology PR, and sure, these new tactics, tools and technologies are valuable, but when it comes to 99% of the tech world — the B2Bs — who face small budgets, limited resources and a dogfight to gain visibility in a crowded space, the basics appear to remain the same. Or do they?

Diverse audience and channels

Every B2B tech campaign starts with market research and data that defines the buyer or targeted audience. What appeals to a developer is different than a SysAdmin or IT Director or CIO. What is important to one line of business user might not matter to another.

What a benefit as a marketer to get very specific with buyer personas and capture the necessary insight needed to engage. This type of research has traditionally been reserved for consumer PR programs, but now we can understand the IT buyer’s purchasing habits, pain points, favorite news sources and their influencers. This information is readily available using a little bit of online digging and perhaps more social stalking than we’d like to admit. Once the buyer persona is developed, the channels for engagement can be decided and prioritized.

Influencer relations management remains a key driver in relationship-to-relationship marketing. When done successfully, these thought leaders impart insightful wisdom to their followers and network to build awareness for your organization. Additionally, community management is now an essential element of any technology marketing plan. Going direct to the targeted audience is now the norm, and it has to be managed effectively. Tech marketers need to engage. It’s a two way discussion, whereas in the past, the discussion flowed one way. For example, tech PR and marketing has seen an increase in the need to target LOB users. These decision makers wield budget and power more than the corporate CIO at times. Once identified, engaging with respective users can be an effective way to raise visibility.

Employee brand advocates are also a staple of technology PR. Employees have always been among the best advocates in defining, shaping and maintaining a brand. Now tech companies can know the value of how their employees help them brand and use social channels to further the cause. Tech marketers can encourage Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and, of course, LinkedIn among their employees to help with marketing efforts. The adage “we all work for sales” has been updated with “we are also all brand ambassadors for our company.” Marketing, or shall I say, integrated marketing, has come a long way.

Supplementing with visuals, technology

I think the term “storyteller” is overused, but it’s the truth: even B2B tech marketers are storytellers for brands. And there’s no better way to bring a story to life than using visuals. This is another traditionally consumer tactic that is steamrolling B2B tech marketers. Tech companies have realized that the heavy tech sell doesn’t help define their brand or bring the company persona to life the way it used to.

We need visuals to be effective. And we really need to demonstrate an unmatched experience across the competitive landscape. Memes, infographicsshareable visuals — are one effective method. Video can also be used at a moment’s notice and shared in real time via several channels, not only the website. One challenge that most tech B2B marketers have when it comes to incorporating creative is doing it within modest marketing budgets.

Apps are another new, required tool in marketing tech companies. The explosion of app development platforms featuring low-code to no-code capabilities also enables non-techies to build applications specifically for their needs. Almost any entrepreneurial-thinking geek or power user type has the ability to make custom apps that can foster audience engagement or be used in conjunction with a campaign. We’re seeing this now in larger budget programs, but the cost and time savings is so significant we’re sure to be seeing this play a larger part in how small to midsized agencies are marketing themselves and expanding their services. This is a natural extension of the trend currently underway for public relations agencies adding creative services to their program portfolios.

Measurement matters

Finally, the way programs are measured has also matured in a big way. Clip counts don’t come into play (or shouldn’t) as much as the measurement of impact. We’re all busy. Why spend time to tally the tactics? Remember ad equivalency? Gone – and good riddance! We’re finally able to connect program effectiveness into measureable data that sings to the C-level. In my opinion, the Barcelona Principles have done a lot to advance this way of thinking. This again stems from taking a step back and properly evaluating what matters to advancing a brand, whether it’s tech or consumer. There’s been a melding of the two, and for good reason. What’s good for one is good for the other.

Tech companies and their PR partners responsible for marketing have evolved to a more consumer-ish way of thinking strategically about how to market the brand essentials. And if they haven’t yet, they better and quickly.

The audiences have expanded, and with that, the channels. The budgets may be similar to those in the past, but the need for more has grown. The cost of producing visual elements and other content has been drastically reduced by new tools and technologies, aiding the ability to stay within budget. Measurement is more important than ever, and is no longer an afterthought or a passive report card of how busy we all are. And the technologies that are coming to market hold a promise of an even better expansion of audience engagement and services for technology marketers. Don’t miss the boat: whether you’re a vendor or part of a technology public relations agency, it’s only going to get better. I can’t wait, and am glad to be a part of it.

Authored by Gene Carozza, this article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of O'Dwyer's.

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