A surprising number of marketing managers in vendor firms, reseller businesses and systems houses seem to think that there is little or no difference between the task facing them and that facing marketing managers working in other industries.
Nick Parsons, general manager of strategic alliances with Computer Associates, is typical. He says: ?Just like cornflakes, it?s all about position in the market, position in the store, design of the packaging and availability of products.? According to Parsons, and many IT company marketing managers, it is all about price and availability and the four Ps.
Not so, says Suzy Frith, managing director of Citigate Technologies, a specialist PR and marketing agency focused on the IT industry, who echoes a call from IT marketing experts. ?Most user companies these days are looking for a long-term partnership with their IT supplier, and that means they need a good companion, not just a quick thrill,? she says. ?The classic techniques focused on price and product are just not good enough anymore.?
One problem, according to Frith, and a view which is strongly backed by Mark Cavender of the Chasm Group, is that until recently you had to be pretty bad not to be able to sell IT. ?There was a ready-made demand out there,? says Frith. Cavender, speaking at a recent software marketing conference says. ?Now the market is moving from specialist to mass and it requires more than casual marketing.?
One problem is that marketing in the IT industry is not taken as seriously as it is in other sectors. Many marketing managers have little or no formal marketing training. Frith says: ?Take Robert Ayling and Richard Branson. They are marketing men, but where is the equivalent in the IT industry? In other industries if you become marketing director you can anticipate that your next career step will be CEO, but not in IT.?
The result of this lack of respect for the marketing function within IT firms is that many people in the marketing role are lightweights who try to apply standard marketing techniques.
Cavender says: ?Too many IT marketing people think that IT marketing is just like any other kind and it is not. Unless they change, the companies that they work for are not going to keep up in the market.?
Nick Barley, Oracle director of marketing, agrees. ?Broad IT marketing has been successful by default, but now the market is changing and many companies are going to be left behind. IT marketing is often boring, predictable, and managed by people without specific marketing training,? he says.
Because the marketing function is under-rated and under-valued, many people in marketing jobs come from a sales background and follow a sales- led approach, he adds. ?It is a professional and specialist job, but few people in the IT industry recognise that.?
Barley and Frith agree there is a section of the IT marketing business which does relate to simple, shrink-wrapped consumer software, like Microsoft, or to straight retailed PCs, and for those areas then classic FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) marketing applies. ?But,? says Barley, ?many IT companies are either selling services or some obscure product which cannot easily be marketed on the product itself because it is so technical and, to a user, boring.?
Frith says that in services marketing, brand development, and development of the company as a brand, is crucial. ?Yet few companies take it seriously,? she says. ?Companies that ignore the importance of the corporate brand and the perceived personality of the company do so at their peril.?
Neither novelty value, keen prices or time to market with the fastest, smallest or neatest will matter to user enterprises which recognise that their own success is linked to the IT supplier they choose, says Frith.
?The things that matter to the board director in the customer companies is whether the supplier is reliable and can do its job properly. Marketing cannot be technology led. And it is not just a matter of money,? she adds. Although it does cost a significant amount to build a corporate brand image, it is just as important to have the right attitude, she says.
The big difference with IT marketing is that it has to focus on what customers want, and that often means suggesting a need to them that they do not know exists. Oracle?s Barley says that 95 per cent of IT marketing budgets are wasted because they either appeal to the converted or are over the heads of the audience because they are too technical.
?I?m not saying we get it right all the time,? says Barley. ?We have some campaigns which are better than others, but we are thinking about building the Oracle brand and changing it to something broader than just a database company.?
In a recent Wall Street Journal unprompted brand awareness survey, the Oracle name recorded 30 per cent recognition, compared with just two per cent two years ago.
Barley says: ?The time when we needed to be seen as offering the best, most reliable technology is moving on to the time when we need first and foremost to be seen as a trusted company which is easy to do business with.?
The marketing strategy to which Barley subscribes is also expounded by Frith, who is working with systems houses and services company CMG. She says: ?The company recognises that it needs to be proposition-oriented not technology led. Companies have to develop personalities which appeal to customers as much as the solution they offer.?
Stan Woods, a director with A Plus, an IT specialist marketing communications company, says that the IT industry is fundamentally different to other industries and that successful marketeers have to recognise this. He explains: ?In the car industry the leading players have been more or less the same for 40 years, and in toothpaste or washing powder the competing players do not change much. But in the IT industry a company can come from nothing to market leader in three years.?
This rate of change, not just in vendor companies but with the technology, not only affects those within the industry but also the users. It makes them nervous. Nick Constable, head of marketing with QAS Systems says that a large part of the marketing effort has to be focused on reassuring customers and explaining the technology and what it can do, which is not something that has to be done with washing-up liquid.
?Anyone who thinks IT marketing is the same as any other should not be in the job,? he says. ?The messages and the techniques used for gett-ing them across really are completely different.? Constable explains that ease of use is an important factor. ?You have to reassure the customer that they are going to get plenty of handholding and they are not going to get product compatibility problems,? he says. That means IT-driven marketing techniques have to be used, like demo disks and online demonstrations, and you have to actually explain to people what the products can do. You don?t have to do that with a car or with cornflakes.
Constable says that although it would be reasonable to expect users to be concerned about rapid product updates and quick product lifecycles, users are more concerned if there is no product development. ?They like updates and upgrades? he says. ?They look for fast product replacement as a sign that the company is innovative and a market leader.?
Woods of A Plus says that the rapid rate of change within the IT industry means that its marketing professionals need to be a special breed. ?They have to be very flexible and adaptable,? he says. ? They have to be visionary, and able to anticipate the next swerve of technology.? Woods points out that even Microsoft misjudged the impact and effect of the Net, but once it recognised its mistake it changed tactics very rapidly.
Many companies in the IT business are still being led by the technology, says Woods, and unless they change they will join the pile of business failures. ?There are two critical times when the marketing, particularly, has to be good. That is when the company is in a period of growth and there is plenty of demand, and also when sales are slowing down and the company has to reposition itself.
?These are not things that happen, at least to the same degree, in confectionery or toothpaste sales. These are times when the company is having a white-knuckle ride, and unless the marketing is right the company will not survive,? he says.
There are basically two types of IT company, says Woods. ?The first is the company that owns the technology, such as Microsoft. Their marketing can follow the classic marketing techniques more closely.?
But most IT companies belong to the second group, which requires a different kind of marketing strategy and expertise. ?These are the IT companies which aim to own the customers,? explains Woods, ?like IBM or other services companies which pull together different technologies.?
Cavender says: ?These companies have to develop their services marketing techniques which are quite different from product marketing techniques. They are brand-focused, and the company name is the brand. The central issue is the positioning of the brand.?
IT marketing consultant Mike Briercliffe says: ?Positioning is concerned with the identification, development and communication of a differentiated advantage which makes the IT company perceived as superior in the minds of its target customers. It is less about demonstrating what the product does as building the value to the customer of dealing with that supplier.?
Briercliffe says that differentiation is the key to successful IT marketing, but that differential is centred on people, partnerships and service rather than technology, and that is where many IT marketeers go wrong.
?Customers make buying decisions on services based on superior delivered value in terms of a balance between cost, value and quality. Positioning gives the opportunity to differentiate any service,? he says.
The trick, says Briercliffe, is to define your target market, establish exactly what they are looking for and then deliver it with panache and confidence. ?There is no such thing as a standard service, especially in areas like training or support. Every service has the potential to be perceived as different by the customer. It is up to the marketing person to both establish and convey that differential.?
Infrastructure provider says international sales now make up 51 per cent of its revenue
Suzanne Chappell of TMS plans sailing venture after selling Oxfordshire-based TMS to acquisitive Chess
Withdrawal of credit insurance by some providers a 'reflection' of current challenge facing IT sector, according to MD Steve Soper
SMART's UK managing director joins Lenovo to boost SMB business