Useful marketing trends in 2002

While everyone in the industry is no doubt tired of the talk of the decline in the technology industry over the last few years, the previous year saw important trends and growth in IT marketing. It’s useful to take a look at some of those shifts in the way technology companies are communicating, the

move away from typical approaches, and the increasing emphasis on getting more tech marketing bang for the reduced tech marketing buck.

Brand building in the technology sector continued to evolve. We’ve written previously about the mismanagement of brand building during the drunken spending of the dot-com phenomenon, and, thankfully, it appears that technology organizations have learned from that experience.

While building the brand is still critically important to any technology organization, there was a shift in thinking in 2002. Once making a company’s logo synonymous with hip, cool, and happenin’ was the essential objective, last year saw a marketing maturation towards substance.

Technology brands need to answer more than ever the fundamental question, “”So what?”” before they even start. Where a company’s gizmos and approaches a few years ago could promise spine tingling productivity possibilities, products and services, now they must demonstrate tangible proof of a third party — a client, a customer, a partner — actually experiencing substantial and understandable benefits.

Hardware and software are increasingly just commodities of business. Thus, the product cannot simply stand-alone. The gee-whiz factor of the latest and greatest speeds and feeds doesn’t matter. Further, the company developing, manufacturing or selling the product or service are no longer the story. The story now lies with the company’s customer, and hence the brand is built and supported by positive case studies.

A second substantial marketing trend we saw in 2002 was the continued decline of unfocussed technology trade shows. The tangible value of trade shows has always been difficult to ascertain, and, with a tighter economy, trade shows can get dropped faster than Joe Millionaire making his first cut of females.

The glory days of Comdex, PC Expo and CeBit are over. While these shows are clearly viable for some companies (i.e. organizations with a lot of cash and well-established brands), simply being there for no other reason than because the show is “”the place to be”” for “”anybody who’s anybody”” does not make sense.

A big irony of IT trade shows is that it is technology itself that is making them obsolete. Through Internet tools and improved communications, it’s far easier for prospective customers to learn and shop online than commit time and money to traveling to a nebulous trade show.

That being said, trade shows will continue to become more refined. Smaller, vertical market conferences will continue to be more attractive and viable than convention centre shows that try to be everything to everyone.

Lastly, we saw a rise in public relations and a decline in advertising. While this might not be what a trade publication wants to have stated in its own pages, it’s a fact that more technology organizations are putting incrementally more marketing funds into public relations, borrowing from deep advertising wells. Advertising budgets are still miles bigger than PR budgets, but technology companies continue to wise up to the fact that PR provides a much greater ROI than ads. Technology needs explaining, and sales are driven best by word of mouth and strong references. Public relations does that far better than advertising at a far lower cost.

Our next article will look at the technology marketing year ahead, what we can expect, and the evolving role of marketing / communications with IT organizations.

 

Andrew Berthoff is a senior vice president with Environics Communications Inc., a North American communications agency delivering solutions for the computer industry. He can be reached by e-mail at aberthoff@pr.environics.ca.

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