Useful marketing trends in 2003

Last column we discussed the 2002 marketing year. This time, let’s look ahead to what we might expect in 2003.

To recap, here were the trends identified in 2002: 1) Branding continued to move away from glitz and emphasized substance. 2) Unfocussed trade shows that tried to be everything to everyone

lost even more popularity; vertical and niche market expositions grew in value. And 3) Public relations continued to be seen as having a better ROI than advertising.

2003 will continue those trends, without a doubt. Given that the North American tech economy is what it is, with no sign of a sudden surge (although there will be pockets of great success in some technology areas), marketing practices will have to carry even more substance, value and ROI. Fluff just won’t hack it in 2003.

The last thing that technology companies want is to have customers, investors and employees perceive them as wasting money on frivolous marketing initiatives. High value marketing investments that bring a direct, positive, and quick impact on the bottom line will be more important than ever.

There can be no doubt, also, that the threat of war — or war itself — will have a real impact on technology marketing. What am I saying? It will have great impact on everything, and even addressing the issue in a marketing article seems a bit absurd. However, business will carry on — not business as usual, but it will continue.

That being said, it’s important to anticipate the effect that war would have on technology marketing. At such times, it is important — no, it is essential — that marketing activities are serious. While we don’t expect ads to be draped in black, or all news releases to be about supporting the boys at the battlefront, it is not the time for ridiculous attention-demanding stunts, over-exuberant media events, or asinine fuzzy slippers being sent as “”teasers”” to journalists.

Effective marketing must always reflect the tone and style of the time. When fashion and spending are opulent, then glamour and money can be reasonably injected into marketing. When the world is at war and the economy on the ropes, advertising and communications must mirror an austere zeitgeist.

At times of conflict and economic challenge, environmental issues become top of mind in North America. With each major recession since the 1960s, this has occurred, and it will happen again in a major way in 2003. Technology companies will be under an intense microscope, as awareness of computer waste, missing recycling policies and laws, and so-called “”disposable”” technology will be major issues. If they haven’t already, IT organizations should start now to examine their environmental policies and programs, and be ready to discuss the matter with customers, employees and stakeholders. Smart companies will take action now, taking charge of the environmental trend and driving its agenda, rather than waiting to react to this inevitable shift in public opinion.

We humans are, in general, pretty poor at learning from our past successes and failures. The best thing to do in 2003 might be to look at the marketing trends of 1992, make a note of successes and failures, and build on them.

I am quite sure that the technology economy will improve marginally in 2003, but there are several significant, negative issues that will impact marketing. While more IT products and services might be sold overall than in 2002, these major challenges will require a deft and sensitive marketing touch.


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

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