I believe that all technologists should have a basic understanding of strategic marketing, no matter what their role. One of the complaints we are hearing about CTOs is that they are great at the technology part, but don’t take time to consider the needs of the business or what the customer is demanding. So, it’s not the technology part that’s tough for them – it’s listening to and translating the customer requirements to derive the technology solution – not the other way around.
When you become a solution looking for a problem – that’s when you become irrelevant to the C suite. And unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen all too often, and I’ve seen the C Suite “tune out” – and in the process, cause irreparable damage to good people’s careers – because the technologists failed to understand how to respond to sales and operations departments requirements, and because they were unable to articulate their value proposition to senior leadership.
My parents immigrated here to the United States in the 1960s, and they taught me that education above all was the key to success. If we worked hard, we would be able to achieve all our professional goals. Yes, they were right. I studied hard, I got into the “right” schools, I got into the “top” consulting firms, and I worked like crazy without coming up for air. And while I received some recognition, what I also experienced was stagnation, while those around me, who were less technically qualified, were promoted before me. And to be honest, that really bothered me and seemed unfair.
It took me a while to figure out the importance of relationships and executive sponsorship to achieve professional and personal goals. I’m not blaming my parents at all, because they did the best they could raising me with the resources they had. I’m also not minimizing the very important role of education and technical prowess. But I think we enter the world thinking that it’s a level playing field, and the truth is that it’s not. Promotion decisions and resources are allocated by human beings, who by nature are emotional and inherently biased.
So, what’s my point? While competence is obviously important in business, it’s the use of strategic marketing and communication techniques, which will allow you to achieve your full potential.
Although I wish that life was fair and resources were allocated fairly in business, the truth is that sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Resources, both time and money, are limited. Using appropriate marketing techniques can allow you to get the resources that you need and deserve. Always remember that decision makers are humans and can be influenced accordingly.
Strategic Marketing Use Cases
So when would the use of marketing techniques be appropriate? Well, you may want to run your own technology start-up company someday. You will need marketing skills to brand and position your company’s product or service, to achieve financial success.
Or, suppose you get promoted and asked to run an entire business unit by your boss. You will need to market your department and develop alliances to make sure your business unit is receiving its adequate share of limited company resources. You may also need to advocate for your team to receive long overdue raises and promotions, or receive additional time and attention from key executives.
Or, perhaps you want to receive executive buy-in to offer or develop a new technology product or service, which would require your company to make a substantial investment. You will need to adequately communicate – in other words, market – your business case to key stakeholders.
Or, you could develop a new technology product and need to consider branding and positioning in addition to the user experience. Your technology might be awesome, but your product can’t be successful without the use of proper marketing techniques.
Before you can begin working on your marketing campaign, you will need to determine your strategic posture. You can do this by doing the classic SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. If you sell multiple products or services, you will need to conduct this analysis for each of your products or services individually.
When examining your product or service, ask yourself:
What are the strengths or discriminators about my service? What do we offer that no one else can offer? Do you compete on price (i.e. do you have the lowest price)? Do you compete on value (i.e. you are not the cheapest, but you offer an exceptional return policy or superior customer service?
What are my weaknesses? Look all through the value chain, including both suppliers and distributors. Could you tighten up either time or market or reduce the cost to market? Is your product expensive? Does it have a high patch rate? You can get feedback using customer surveys or other methods.
What are the opportunities? This is another way or saying, examine the customer requirements. Look at your competitive landscape. Is it commoditized? Is it nascent? Are you a first mover? Do you have something unique or offer a combination of factors in your service that meet multiple needs?
What are the threats? Can people easily copy your service? Remember, lack of discriminators makes copycatting easy. Are you too dependent on a supplier or distributor? Is globalization a problem? Is there a cheaper substitute product for your product? Threats can also be internal, such as employees stealing IP.
Remember to think outside the box. Uber is a totally different model than the traditional taxi service. AirBnB is a totally different business model than Marriott – so threats can come from anywhere, not just mainstream competitors with the same business model.
Looking at threats also provides you an opportunity to do a risk assessment. You have identified the threats, or risks. Now consider how you will respond or mitigate the risks? Risk mitigation requires thinking about where you play.
Where Do You Play?
Going through this analysis can help you figure out where you should play – in other words, your strategic posture. No company can be everything to everyone, all at the same time.
Here are some key questions:
What are your core values?What is your mission?
You will need to define your core values and mission first, and the strategy and marketing plan will fall in line accordingly. What makes you get up in the morning? What motivates you? It has to be more than money. Why should others care? What’s most important to you?
Who is your customer?Are you B2B or B2C?
If you market to other businesses, you may prefer LinkedIn as a social media platform, conference sponsorships, or the use of advertisements in trade journals. If you market directly to individuals, you will probably want to use Facebook, and Twitter and maybe Pinterest as desired social media platforms. You may want to use billboard ads or online or mailer coupons.
Who are your stakeholders?
Stakeholders are those who play an important part in your strategy and mission. We have internal stakeholders (within your company) and external stakeholders (outside your company). They can include: your boss, employees, shareholders, peers, other departments (business development, sales, operations, procurement, human resources, etc), venture capitalists, partners with complementary goods or services, vendors, academic institutions, venture capitalists, conference organizers, suppliers and distributors.
Don’t ever, ever underestimate the role of stakeholders. I’ve seen too many companies get burned by negative feedback from employees or other stakeholder groups that have influence with the end customer.
What is your discriminator?
Do you compete on price, value, customer service, social values, or something else? Remember: it’s not an advantage if others have it. If you can’t name your discriminator or discriminators easily, then you may not have one and that may not be unusual. Most companies don’t have one and can still manage to run a profitable business, but having a discriminator will sometimes insulate or even bulletproof your business in case there are major disruptions, or if the business cycle tightens.
The marketing field has evolved quite a bit from the traditional “Mad Men” advertising model to something that’s highly technology focused. I am an Accountant, so although I took a marketing course in college as part of my standard business curriculum, I had always been intimidated by the marketing field, because I never considered myself to be creative. When I moved from an Operations to a Sales role at my company, I decided to take some online courses on marketing, and found that there is a place for quantitative folks like us in the field – and in fact, our skills are becoming really coveted as traditional marketing evolves into what’s known as a new field called MarTech. Chief Marketing Officers, known as CMOs, are really expected to have substantial technology skills and be comfortable with analyzing things like marketing analytics. So that offers a really great opportunity for you as a technologist to contribute to the field of marketing and learn some new skills in the process.
Marketing is an incredibly broad concept and can mean a lot of things to a lot of people; and it can be a little overwhelming, so let’s discuss the different channels.
So. Many. Channels!
So many channel's!
Traditional media channels
o TV Commercials
o Direct mail
o Direct e-mail
o Radio Commercials (could be traditional or subscription radio)
o Sponsored booths at conferences
o Public Relations Campaigns
o Press releases
New / social media channels (digital)
o Company website
o Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest
o Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
o Google AdWords
o YouTube Videos
Influencer Marketing (Inbound lead generation)
o Speaking Engagements, Panel Discussions
o Brand Ambassadors
o Sponsoring Cause Events
Hopefully, this blog post has helped get your juices flowing for ways that you can utilize marketing to achieve your goals. Remember, all resourceful individuals always keep a variety of tools in their tool-belts, so don’t hesitate to make marketing and communications one of the tools you can pull out when you need it.
Sonia Mundra is the President of Chenega Analytic Business Solutions (Chenega Analytics), an Alaska Native Corporation (ANC), which specializes in records management and IT solutions for its federal customers. Connect with her at