In our tech-driven culture, you might think that technology brands should have it easy when it comes to marketing their products and services.
From self-driving cars to customer-service chatbots and smart refrigerators that place grocery orders to cloud apps that enable global teams to collaborate in real time, technology is the ultimate driver of beneficial change. It pushes the boundaries of what humans can achieve while simultaneously becoming more deeply entrenched in everything we do in our daily lives. In terms of both its potential and its current value, few industries offer a more universal appeal.
Not to mention that today’s consumers seem to have a boundless desire to stave off their FOMO by gobbling up the latest gadgets and gizmos the minute they come to market. This is the kind of demand “problem” that marketers in most industries can only dream of.
But along with the benefits of fueling our cultural evolution come some significant marketing challenges, including high industry competition, steep audience-learning curves, implementation-related privacy and security issues, and a lot of unpredictability at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
Creating informative, engaging content marketing is a great step in the right direction, but only if it is properly positioned to reach the right audience at the right time to influence their decision-making process. And, compounding all these challenges, the buyers themselves are also changing – how they search for product advice, whom they trust to provide reliable recommendations, and how they filter and weigh the constant influx of data available to inform their decisions.
All of this puts the onus on marketers to provide the useful, valuable content the buyers need at the right time to drive a purchase, and to continually support customers’ needs after those purchases are made – a goal that is often easier said than done.
Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that impact tech marketers in more detail:
Different buyers mean different priorities and processes
One factor that heavily impacts tech marketing is that today’s buyer’s journey is less predictable than ever.
Technology products and services aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all; naturally, each buyer has unique priorities and challenges that impact his or her selection criteria, as well as research method. All this variability makes it difficult for marketers to anticipate an individual buyer’s needs and deliver helpful content that will drive each one toward a purchase – even when those consumers access information on the brand’s owned media channels.
Behavioral trends also indicate that millennials travel another type of buyer journey. For example, Centerline Digital’s John Lane says millennials in the marketplace aren’t searching for “XYZ Company” as much as they’re directly searching for products or solutions. Not only do you need to create quality content that will draw their attention and provide the insights and information they seek, you also need a strong promotional strategy to make sure that content surfaces at the precise time and on the precise platforms they prefer at any given stage of their buyer’s journey.
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An abundance of information channels complicates communication
Of course, getting audiences to discover your content at all – let alone at the right time and place – is no small task when you consider the sheer number of communication outlets they can use to find helpful, trustworthy tech advice.
Today, buyers can tap dozens of competing information sources with the touch of a finger – from posts in social media news feeds to third-party product reviews and advice from fellow consumers shared on YouTube channels, personal blogs, and more. And, the messages delivered on many of these media outlets often are beyond the brand’s control, making it difficult for businesses to overcome any negative perceptions audiences might encounter in their search.
Adding complexity is that buyers’ media preferences are often highly time- and situation-dependent – i.e., they may favor a certain platform for one part of their research process, then abandon it once they move to the next step.
Furthermore, a lot of variability happens on the platforms themselves. As Centerline’s Executive Creative Director David Baeumler points out, different channels (particularly social channels) have different conventions and interaction styles; and the popularity of each platform, as well as its rules of engagement, can shift quickly – and without much notice. Since messaging on every possible platform at once isn’t feasible for most businesses, he cautions marketers to make sure their content marketing strategy centers on the channels that align most strongly with their brand’s voice and values, and to pay close attention to the trends and behavior patterns shaping current conversations.Center #contentmarketing strategy on channels aligned most strongly w/ brand voice & values. @sosundays Click To Tweet
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Influencers are everywhere – and they are taking over
Just because consumers may connect with your business on social media; willingly engage with your video, blog, or email content; or even share your messages with their own friends and followers doesn’t mean you’ve earned their undivided attention, their trust, or their interest in purchasing from you.
Tech has become a highly commoditized industry; it can often be difficult for vendors to distinguish their benefits from other vendors – especially if the brand can’t compete on price. And even if you are able to convincingly communicate your brand advantages, it may not translate to an initial sale, let alone ongoing loyalty. For instance, if a consumer happens to experience any friction or unforeseen delays on the path from consuming your content to converting into a customer, the consumer will likely move on to the next vendor on the consideration list without a second thought.
While conversion-ready moments can be triggered – or interrupted – at any time and place, John and David also point out that those moments are increasingly being driven by trusted influencers rather than the brands themselves. As they see it, this means influencer marketing should play an essential role in the overall marketing mix. They advise tech marketers to look for like-minded influencers in the space and engage them in the content creation process: “Find people who already have a large network and are well respected amongst your target audience, and build a relationship with them that will be mutually beneficial,” John says.#Influencermarketing should play essential role in the overall marketing mix, says @johnvlane @sosundays. #tech Click To Tweet
David reminds marketers in this space that many of the most-accessed online channels are built on conversations rather than canned content. He recommends preparing your internal subject matter experts and content team to deliver ad hoc content on the fly when relevant opportunities arise. Doing so is an important step to becoming a proactive part of the influencer equation – rather than a silent witness to it. “The more prolific your internal experts become in participating in these conversations, the more they will elevate their personal brands – and your company’s – as a result,” he says.
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Find the humanity in your technology
Content marketing success often boils down to how well your business demonstrates its understanding of the audience’s needs and how well it convinces them that you offer the best solution. When it comes to the tech industry, the ability to translate highly technical concepts and complex details into clear, compelling storytelling is often critical to this mission. Marketing success in this industry may just hinge on your brand’s ability to frame its products and services in terms of how they impact consumers’ lives – or enable them to further their goals and dreams. Use their aspirations as your inspiration to focus on creating a relatable experience through your content.Use your audience’s aspirations as inspirations to create relatable content experiences. @johnvlane @sosundays Click To Tweet
For example, John and David point to the way GE has used multiple channels to tell a connected story of “Imagination at Work” without letting the story overwhelm the strategy – or vice versa. “They’ve found ways to explore new channels in powerful ways … But regardless of channel, medium, and style of communication, they’re constantly focused on stories of value,” John says.
Example: GE’s Millie Dresselhaus video – Women’s issues are at the forefront in the media these days, making it the perfect time for GE to share this video-based vision of a world in which women scientists, like Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Millie Dresselhaus, are as revered and respected as today’s rock musicians and reality stars. It’s an engaging “what if” story, yet it’s also a meaningful one, as the message directly ties to the brand’s pledge to increase its ranks of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) roles.
If you can’t originate, differentiate
While tech brands may be leading the charge when it comes to innovation – on both the business and societal landscapes – not every product or service can be the first of its kind in this industry. Fortunately, there’s plenty of room in the market for solutions looking to one-up the competition by offering benefits like advanced features, unique functionality, greater user-friendliness, or increased cost-efficiency. But to rise to the top, your content needs to make it clear how your offerings differ from those of your competitors.Your #content needs to make it clear how your offerings differ from your competitors, says @joderama. #tech Click To Tweet
Example: Lenovo’s Think Progress – In the crowded B2B tech space, PC vendor Lenovo recognized it needed to move beyond price-based messaging to compete for a share of IT buyers’ attention. Its agency, King Content, developed an “always-on” integrated approach to creating and sharing original branded content – doing so in seven languages – on topics of interest to IT decision-makers. The content was hosted on a series of B2B sites called Think Progress, and was designed to engage the target audience on an emotional level, entertaining them and enabling them to explore the latest technology trends, while simultaneously demonstrating Lenovo’s unique understanding of their pain points.
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Use context – and exercise caution – in customization efforts
According to CMI’s 2017 Technology Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, tech marketers are high adopters of marketing automation tools – with 74% using them in their organizations. Among the benefits these solutions provide is an increased ability to customize the content distributed to leads and prospects. But just because consumers are becoming more accustomed to the presence of personalized ads and information in their news feeds doesn’t mean they want to feel like automation is overshadowing their individuality or getting a little too personal.#Tech marketers are high adopters of marketing automation tools – w/ 74% using them in their orgs. @cmicontent Click To Tweet
For example, research indicates that buyers want content to be relevant to their jobs and roles, but they aren’t necessarily interested in — or susceptible to — being marketed to by the perceived stage in the buying process. Only 17% of respondents said they like that type of targeting.
John Lane takes this to mean that buyers are looking for more ad hoc, context-driven communication (via social channels, forums, and the like) rather than carefully planned content around queries that come up at particular stages of the buyer’s journey. “Pay attention to the conversations going on and create content to be a part of it, rather than trying to presuppose all the answers,” he says.Pay attention to conversations and create #content to be a part of it, says @johnvlane. #tech Click To Tweet
Example: Autodesk’s Redshift blog – After the software company’s original standalone blog, Line//Shape//Space, grew too successful to continue to scale, Dusty DiMercurio, the company’s head of content marketing and strategy, recognized the need to evolve the original vision and expand its scope. Relaunched as Redshift, the blog now reflects a more modern editorial vision, which includes providing innovative ways for customers to shape the content experience to their current interests. For example, registered visitors can choose to follow particular authors and content categories, and they receive customized content selections based on the actions they take on the site during their visit.
Don’t confuse content visibility with marketing victory
While a wildly viral content piece can rocket a tech company to the front of consumers’ minds, it doesn’t necessarily convince them to give their attention beyond that single moment of interaction, let alone offer up their hard-earned tech budget or discretionary income. To turn initial awareness into true conversions, brands need to focus on establishing a trusted, enduring customer relationship by delivering a consistent stream of quality content. As John and David remind us, winning at modern marketing is about continuity of engagement rather than pieces or campaigns.Winning at modern marketing is about continuity of engagement rather than campaigns. @johnvlane @sosundays Click To Tweet
Example: SquareSpace’s Side Hustle Stories – Website tech company SquareSpace partnered with The Guardian to produce an ongoing content series that shines a light on non-traditional career opportunities in today’s gig economy. By informing the DIY set about ways to forge their own paths in pursuit of their passions, SquareSpace encourages the audience to follow their dreams while solidifying its own role in helping them come true.
Want more insights, ideas, and examples on how your tech company can leverage content marketing to its best advantage? Register to attend the Technology Lab at Content Marketing World 2017. Use promo code BLOG100 to get $100 off registration.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute