Mass High Tech

Getting the message out: Steps to technology marketing

By Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson

Tech startups have great ideas, boundless energy and capped resources. Focus is key to exploiting resources for the maximum marketing impact. Here are seven strategies to get the best return on a marketing investment:

1. Identify and specify your target market. Identify your target market early. You can use up a lot of time, energy and dollars trying to be all things to all people. Pick one audience to focus on and then marshal your resources to pursue it. This group may be those customers that are most profitable, those that are easiest to acquire, or those that are the easiest to serve.

Narrow your target market so that you can concentrate your firepower, optimize your resources, and create buzz about your company and product. Follow through and maintain that focus by consistently speaking to that target market’s needs.

2. Understand where your market is in its life cycle. In “Crossing the Chasm,” Geoffrey Moore illustrated that companies at different stages have different buying criteria and behaviors. He pointed out that the innovator market wants new technology right away and will “forgive ludicrous omissions in functionality.” The early majority market, in contrast, is risk-averse.

Therefore, savvy marketers will approach these customer groups differently. When targeting innovators, marketers will get to market as soon as possible. When focusing on the early majority, they will delay until they can deliver well-developed products and testimonials from brand-name customers.

3. Recruit the right team. Marketing requires many skills — setting product strategy, creating compelling communications programs and often selling or supporting sales of early accounts. It can be difficult to find all of these qualities in one person, so focus on hiring the marketing team that best meets the unique needs of your target market.

Although companies often choose to hire full-time marketing executives, a better solution for many startups is hiring consultants with marketing expertise in specific areas. While venture-backed firms often require a seasoned professional just to attract funding, bootstrapped firms may be better off using a portfolio of people until they determine which skill set is most needed to gain traction.

Again, consider the needs of your target market. For example, your best hire when serving innovators may be a strategic marketer who can determine which features are essential because this group wants exciting technology as soon as possible. On the other hand, when targeting the risk-averse, recruit a professional with strong marketing communications expertise who can widely promote your “tried-and-true” product.

4. Erect barriers to entry.

Look for a strategic advantage that will cement your place and erect barriers to entry. The first-mover advantage is a myth. In most markets, it is possible for a well-funded competitor to swoop in, capitalize on your idea and crowd out the market leader. Therefore, the only way to keep competitors at bay is to create barriers to entry. Some ways that you can do this include developing and filing patents; locking up exclusive rights with distribution channels; negotiating long-term contracts with major customers; and maintaining learning-curve advantages.

5. Select the appropriate market entry strategy.

The very nature of the product can determine the best market entry strategy. Some products, such as applications software, can be modified fairly easily. A winning strategy is to get to market as soon as possible after some initial market research, obtain user feedback, refine the product, and quickly move down the learning curve.

Other products, such as hardware and biotechnology, can be very expensive and unprofitable if you don’t do the market research first. Even minor modifications insisted upon by customers after the product launch could involve costly redesign and jeopardize product schedules.

6. Promote business impact, not features.

When promoting your product, speak about benefits to the customer rather than product features. Especially in a tight economy, businesses must justify every dollar they spend.

To win over decision-makers, you’ll want to describe how your product will increase their revenues, cut costs or improve competitive advantage. A winning strategy is to create case studies and gather testimonials that emphasize how your product solved customers’ issues, using information on features and functionality only as supporting information.

7. Create marketing systems to track and measure progress.

How can you assess whether your marketing programs are working and whether you are optimizing your resources? Creating marketing systems to track and measure outcomes is key to determining:

  • Which marketing tactics delivered the best results at the lowest costs
  • Which promotions drove sales
  • The response rates and costs for direct mail, telemarketing, trade shows and webcasts.

Once your systems help you identify which marketing approaches work best, you can replicate them with new prospects and have the satisfaction of knowing that you are spending your marketing budget wisely.

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