The technology space has exploded over the last 20 years. From AI and machine learning to cloud storage and cyber security, thousands of enterprise technology companies have emerged addressing an ever growing range of needs and opportunities.

This trend is only set to continue, and it’s going to be more important than ever in the 2020’s that brands have a clear sense not only if their position in the market, but also the content, influencer and channel strategies that will enable them to cut through the noise and deliver a compelling message to an audience already saturated with information.

This guide is designed to help provide a framework for that process.

Getting to know your market

There is a temptation with any digital campaign to launch into the strategy, but too often companies do so without a clear sense of the landscape in which they’re operating. There is no faster way to achieve mediocrity and disappointment.

Instead, tech companies need to slow down and invest significant time in building a picture of their market. It may eat up time and resources in the short term, but it’s going to make everything that follows so much more impactful.

This process can be broken down into 4 areas.

The business itself

First of all, we have the business itself. Important questions to ask at this stage include:

  • What is the backstory of the company? How did it come to be? Who were the founders and what problem were they seeking to solve? Most importantly, why should anyone care?
  • Are there clear organisational values and are they well understood?
  • What are the organisations greatest strengths? Where are the weaknesses?
  • What’s the long term vision of the company? What about 12 month and two year goals?

This information should be captured via a series of interviews, not only with the senior management team, but with every level of the organisation and, more importantly, with current and past customers.

Digging into the audience

The second stage involves digging into the audience:

  • Who are they?
  • What’s their job title, sector and seniority?
  • Where are they active online and what kind of content do they engage with?
  • What do these people care most about? If they are one specific group, the answer may be straight forward, but if the tech company is appealing to a variety of disparate audience, then you need to identify the common threads that tie them together.
  • And what about their influencers? If you were to attend an industry event, who might be on the panel talking to these people, shaping their views and behaviour?

Competitor analysis

Stage three is competitor analysis:

  • Who are they? List the top 20-30 by turnover.
  • Where are they positioned in the market? Where are the gaps that your own brand might fill?
  • Where are they generating their traffic from? Where are they spending their money from an advertising perspective?
  • Who has the strongest search engine presence?
  • What content are they publishing? How well is it being received by the target market?
  • What about broader competitors that might be selling a different product/service but are targeting the same market with similar messaging? Often this is where the best ideas can be found.

Broader analysis of the landscape

The final component to your research is broader analysis of the landscape:

  • From a technology perspective, what else, beyond your own products and services, is on the horizon that might disrupt the way that your market operates in the next 5 years? If you’re not in AI, then how might AI affect you? If you’re not in cyber security, how might cyber security affect you? If you’re not in robotics, how might robotics affect you?
  • From a social and cultural point of view, is there anything you should be aware of? Do your employees expect a brand that offers them flexibility? Do your customers expect a brand that invests in the community? Are there more global questions that need considering, such as the impact of the next Covid 19?
  • And what about politics? Is Brexit going to radically impact your market in the years to come? How about potential trade relations with the US and Asia?

Building your brand

As all parts of the technology space becomes increasingly saturated, it’s more important than ever that companies have a clear and rich sense of identity that not only assists them in building ties with their audience, but also differentiates them from the competition.

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1. Core Competence

“Every great brand in the tech space is built on a world class product.”

Every great brand in the tech space is built on a world class product. The rest of it will count for nothing without this reputation for product excellence, which comes first and foremost from a thorough understanding of what you do, and what you don’t do.

For some tech companies this will be a straight forward question. They will have set out to be the best in the world at one thing and will commit all resources towards achieving that end.

In other markets, particularly more mature parts of the tech space, there will simply be too many direct competitors to define themselves this way. Instead, they may have to marry several different core competencies, the intersection of which will provide them with a unique proposition.

For example, there are thousands of companies specialising in enterprise information security, so simply trying to be the best in the world at infosec is unlikely to be much of a strategy (unless they simply have deeper pockets than everyone else). Instead, they may need to merge this expertise with another skill. Perhaps they have a background in training and can merge their consultancy expertise to create a unique proposition, or perhaps they have talent acquisition experience, and can offer some kind of recruitment proposition.

The alternative is that they position themselves as leaders within a very specific business function or sector, but we’ll come back to positioning shortly.

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2. Vision

“Employees are far more motivated by purpose than they are by pay checks.”

The next step is to create a vision that articulates why the work you’re doing matters. What is it that’s broken with your particular part of the technology world, how are you going to fix it, and why should people care?

This vision for the brand has perhaps its greatest implications internally. Employees are far more motivated by purpose than they are by pay checks, so developing a vision that pulls everyone together towards a common goal is the most important act a leader will ever be responsible for.

This vision will also provide direction for your content strategy and headline performance metrics, which we’ll explore in more detail below.

3. Position

“It’s not what you do, but who you do it for.”

Your core competence defines what you do, but it’s your position that defines who you do it for. This is particularly important in competitive markets where you may be up against thousands of other tech companies with very similar propositions.

Examples may include targeting a particular sector or business function, so you may be an AI company looking to own the accountancy market, or a robotics firm aiming to concentrate on HR departments across any sector. Alternatively the focus could be demographic.

Once defined, your goal is to minimise distractions with other markets, so that you can set about becoming famous among this priority audience. That’s how world class positioning is achieved.

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4. Broader Brand Identity

“We need to take things a step further…”

Strategically, understanding your core competencies, vision and position is the most important thing for any tech company, but that alone may still not be enough to ensure a compelling brand identity or protection against competitors that may wish to enter your space. For that, we need to take things a step further…

5. Organisational Values

“Obsess over values and culture.”

One of the most common features of the giants to have emerged from Silicon Valley in the last 10 years is their obsession over values and culture.  Whether it’s the ruthless focus of Netflix in building world class teams or the more accommodating culture of Zappos, these tech mammoths have placed values at the heart of their strategy.

The implications for the brand both externally with customers and internally with staff are profound, and this is just as true for enterprise technology companies selling into large corporations.

Nowadays the vast majority of technology companies have a set of values, but in most cases they are tucked away in a drawer gathering dust. Indeed, the power of values is not in their existence or in how beautifully they’re articulated on the company About Us page, but in the mechanisms that embed them into the organisation’s DNA.

These mechanisms vary hugely from company to company. If one is Communication, for example, then it may manifest itself in the way the office is set up. The Apple HQ was famously designed to maximise interactions between staff. On the other hand if a core value is Ownership, then there may be an emphasis on flexible working conditions so that people are empowered to work the way that they know will help them to get the best out of themselves. Values can also feed into performance reviews, team meetings and, most importantly of all, the recruitment process.

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6. Brand as Product

“A clear sense of its product features and benefits is essential to constructing its value proposition.”

For any business, a clear sense of its product features and benefits is essential to constructing its value proposition. These benefits can be separated into the following groups:

Emotional

How does the product make the user feel? What are the underlying emotional drivers that the product is tapping into? No matter what the purchase, these are always the most powerful forces.

Sometimes the emotional nature of a purchase is clear, such as someone making an impulse donation to a charity, but usually they’re kept under the surface. For example, a senior manager in a large enterprise selecting their technology vendor may appear on the surface entirely detached from emotion, and simply buying based on available data. However, in reality he or she will be a bundle of emotions. Most likely, they will be experiencing an overwhelming sense of pain. Pain from the status quo, in which they’re currently using sub par technology to solve complex problems, and the trouble that’s causing their team every day in carrying out their responsibilities. And pain from the buying process. They are overwhelmed with information, bored of asking the same questions and desperate for the process to be over. Tapping into this pain and offering hope of a relief is how the seller will achieve the desired outcome.

Self-Expressive

What does the purchase say about the user? This is most apparent when we buy something that we “wear” – a t-shirt, a car, a cigarette or a house. But almost every spending decision says something about the buyer.

If a B2B decision maker looking to switch to a new technology supplier chooses to go with a dynamic start-up, that says that she herself is dynamic, but possibly also a little careless. Whereas if she opts for the huge consultancy, she is safe, sensible, but perhaps a little unimaginative. This stuff is subliminally really important. As the saying goes, “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM”.

Rational

In enterprise technology, this is what we obsess over. It’s the seemingly features and data that comprise the value proposition from a seemingly logical perspective. What’s the spec? How much will it cost? What will the ROI be? How long will it take to implement? These are important on two levels. They are important in their own right, as they will each tap into the pains described above. And secondly, they are important because they help the decision maker to justify their decision, so if things go wrong they can still demonstrate that they did all the necessary due diligence.

7. Brand Personality

“Personality and tone of voice need to flow through every part of the customer experience.”

No matter how compelling your features and benefits, people will ultimately need to buy into your brand on a more personal level. This is why it’s so important that brands are clear on the type of personality they are representing. The classic example from within the world of technology is the contrast between Apple and Microsoft, as illustrated by the famous Apple ads in the 2000’s, in which they would portray the PC personality as your stereotypical IT nerd, while the Mac personality was creative and laid back. Effectively the ads were saying to the audience – “Which group do you want to be part of?”

This personality and tone of voice needs to flow through not only copy and imagery within advertising, but through every part of the customer experience. In fact, for many enterprise technology companies the most important decisions they’ll make concern who answers the phone and greets customers upon arrival at the office. These real life interactions are some of the most authentic and powerful manifestations of the brand.

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8. Brand Symbology

“The visual identity should be a mere window into the substance beneath.”

Finally, we have the visual stuff. Naturally, this is what we think of first when we consider a brand, and consequently it’s what most people think of first when they consider the branding process, but in truth it’s the thing that comes last. Or at least it should be. The visual identity should be a mere window into the substance beneath.

That’s not to say it’s not important, however. A great visual identity does not guarantee a strong brand, but a poor visual identity does guarantee a weak brand. We can categorise the elements of the visual identity into the following groups:

  • Typeface – we need to consider both the message/personality it conveys, but also its readability.
  • User imagery – what do we feature in the imagery? Do we show people? If so, should they be looking at the camera or engaged in action? How do we feature the product? Is the messaging literal or abstract?
  • Colour palette – colours communicate powerful messages on both a scientific (how the eye reacts) and cultural level. These considerations need to be balanced against the sheer aesthetic design of the combination you choose.
  • And from all of the above, we can then build our logo, the ultimate symbolic representation of the brand.

9. Value Proposition and Credibility

“It’s important to also engage with the prospect on a deeper level.”

Now that our brand architecture is fully developed, we need to turn it into a compelling value proposition. If there are multiple distinct audiences, then each one may be tweaked in accordance with the various segments.

The value proposition needs to make use of the benefits and features that have been identified during the branding process. For most enterprise technology companies the emphasis will be on the rational benefits, but it’s important to also engage with the prospect on a deeper level, so the emotional and self expressive benefits should also be highlighted.

As part of this process, it’s also really important to consider why people should believe the value proposition. You may be an AI and robotics specialist looking to sell into the finance sector, so where does your credibility come from? Have you worked with other recognised brands in the finance sector? Do you have relevant testimonials? Have you won an award for innovation in the finance world?

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10. Content & Influencer Strategy for Technology Companies

“Ambition needn’t equate to expenses.”

The technology space is so crowded, that for companies to cut through the noise they need to either:

  • Be highly targeted in their content strategy
  • Or aim for something so ambitious that people can’t help but take notice

Ambition needn’t equate to expenses. In fact, the more generic a campaign, the more that will have to be spent on media and promotion if it’s to have any real impact.

This is why at Boss we always advocate a Big Idea. It should do three things:

  • Help the brand get that little bit closer towards fulfilling its vision statement.
  • Be sufficiently compelling as to grab the attention and interest of influencers.
  • Build a tangible asset that can be leveraged to accumulate revenue for the business (such as email capture)

For example, if you’re a big data company providing consultancy services to CIO’s of global companies, it may be that your big idea is to build a community of the world’s leading CIO’s, to interview them for great insight that you then share online, and bring them together in offline events or online webinars. Maybe one day you will gather all this world class insight and turn it into a book that you sell on Amazon?

By reaching this high, you will open a hundred fascinating (and commercially exciting) doors, and your day to day content and channel activity will all but take care of itself.

11. Content Framework

“It’s important to also engage with the prospect on a deeper level.”

From an organisational perspective, technology companies need to ensure that their content development teams have a clear framework within which to operate.

This begins with the development of “content pillars”, that define the subjects the content will cover. Typically there will be 4 or 5 different pillars, and they should begin on the terms of the customer. For example, if the business is seeking to sell enterprise cloud solutions into the CIO’s of global retailers, they would need to think about the kind of content that’s going to resonate with someone of that world. Naturally the company will be eager to talk about their products and services, but if they introduce these into the conversation too quickly then they won’t have the attention of their audience.

It’s also important that the content team has a structure for their content and media planning, which is usually housed within a content calendar. This document can be structured in a variety of ways but will usually define:

  • The copy
  • Any accompanying imagery, audio or visual assets
  • The channel on which it’s being published
  • The budget that’s promoting the content
  • How success will be measured

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12. Channel Activity

“Be ambitious enough to cut through the noise.”

Most technology companies will build their marketing plans with one or two channels in mind. That’s a mistake as your content strategy should be ambitious enough to cut through the noise on a broad range of channels, and as for which will have the greatest impact on your audience – that will evolve from one year to the next.

That said, for the majority of enterprise technology companies, there are certain channels that are likely to be of particular priority.

13. SEO

“Create content that mirrors customer intent.”

Whether you’re selling big ticket cyber security consultancy or video encoders for £300 each, your future customers are likely beginning their journey with a search into Google. Your ability to capture this traffic is going to be one of the single most important factors in determining your pipeline.

There are a couple of categories these prospects fall into:

  • Research stage – we tend to call these people Marketing Qualified Leads. We know that they fall broadly into our customer universe as they’ve landed on a page that’s built for a very specific array of keywords. However, at this point they are not yet ready to speak to a sales person. They are in an exploration stage, so our goal should be to offer them lots of insight and value in return for their email address, so that we then have a channel (email) through which we can continue to add value, thereby building the relationship until they’re ready for a conversation.
  • Enquiry stage – we tend to call these Sales Qualified Leads. They’re people who’ve either done all their research, or they’re just not interested in that and would rather jump straight to having a chat. These people will have landed on a page that corresponds to search query with a much greater purchase intent.

When building these pages, we need to ask ourselves one simple question – what is it that the person is hoping to find when they make the search query in question?

For example, if a CIO is trying to learn about the possible applications of robotic process automation for their organisation that happens to operate in the retail sector, they may search for something like “robotic use cases in retail”. If we want to rank for that, we would need a page that captures a lot of this use case information and presents it in a really user friendly way, ideally with some kind of accompanying download so we can capture their data.

If, on the other hand, they were a little further along in their journey and wished to speak with someone, they may search for something like “RPA company retail”, in which case we’ll need a page that contains keywords like this along with lots of really useful information, such as:

  • Technical details about the solution
  • Features and benefits
  • Case studies from other retail companies
  • Testimonials from people with similar job titles
  • Pricing information

Our ability to create content that mirrors their intent is going to be the number one factor in determining our ability to capture this search traffic, particularly if we want to punch above our weight in a market packed with big brands.

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14. Email

“A valuable asset that’s entirely your own.”

Another really important channel for technology companies is email. There are several reasons for this:

  • Your email database is one of only a couple of digital assets you own. Building it over time should be one of your biggest objectives as unlike social media, where you’re essentially investing in building someone else’s platform/audience, your email list is entirely your own.
  • Email is a powerful nurturing and selling tool, particularly with the increased importance of adding value to your prospects world. You can create email cadences that deliver high quality insight and guidance on a  range of related topics that fall under your content framework, to ensure you are constantly building rapport with your audience.
  • For tech companies selling subscription services, early adoption and “stickiness” is key. Email can play a key role in this regard as it helps to educate and inform new customers about features and benefits of which they may not be aware. Employing email in this way to ensure daily engagement by customers is key to ensuring recurring revenue.

15. Webinars

“A key component of the conversion process.”

For any B2B technology company, webinars can form a key part of the conversion process, particularly if the audience is at all technical or hands on, as it provides an opportunity to communicate a far more extensive level of detail.

The key to a successful technology webinar is to ensure:

  • Credibility is established right at the beginning – why should the listener believe what you have to say?
  • A hook is given right at the beginning to encourage the user to stay on the webinar all the way through
  • Real life case studies to help give context to the technology and applications
  • A big reveal at the end, leading into a call to action

Most webinars are delivered live, but depending on the nature of the audience, it may be sensible to have it conclude an automated email sequence.

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16. Social Media

“Forming part of the strategy for the right reasons.”

Social media forms a really important part of the overall mix, but often not for the right reasons. Technology companies throw themselves into Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn without any clear sense of why they’re doing so or how they’ll measure success.

There are several very specific reasons why social should form part of the overall strategy, and corresponding KPI’s:

  • To generate leads – depending on the audience, social media, particularly LinkedIn, can be tremendously powerful for capturing data from the target audience that can then fill the sales funnel.
  • To build the email list – even if the data does not represent direct leads, building your email database is always a strategic priority as this is the one digital asset you actually own.
  • To aid SEO – this is a speculative point but it’s our belief that given the overall role of social in the technology space, Google will likely lend a degree of weight to social activity for brands competing for technology related terms.

There are of course brand reach and positioning benefits to social media, but to justify significant investment it needs to be

17. KPIs and reporting

“Ensure analysis paralysis is avoided and smart decisions are made.”

One of the major innovations to have emerged from the technology space over the last decade has been how to measure performance. As data becomes ever more prolific and accessible, there is a growing challenge around what to track and, more importantly, what to ignore, in order to ensure analysis paralysis is avoided and smart decisions are made.

It’s now become the norm, and for good reason, for all technology companies to identify their North Star. That is, the metric that sits above all others and serves as a guiding light for all strategic decision making. The North Star should satisfy the following criteria:

  • It should be a strong indicator of current and future revenues
  • It should reflect the quality of the customer/user experience
  • And it should be aligned to the values and vision of the organisation

Identifying this singular metric is far more challenging than it sounds, and requires a great deal of strategic thinking and corporate soul searching. However, once identified, it provides a clarity and focus that few technology companies will ever acquire.

It should be distributed among senior leadership weekly, if not daily.

Secondary metrics do of course still play an important role, but are likely to be investigated and circulated less frequently. They are likely to include:

  • Brand metrics – total reach via social media, PR citations, total website traffic, etc
  • Engagement metrics – email opens and click throughs, social engagements, etc
  • Conversion metrics – Cost Per Acquisition (CPA), conversion rate, etc
  • Lifetime value metrics – average customer lifetime, average customer lifetime spend, etc

These metrics will sit across a range of channels – whatever are most pertinent to the company in question – and be interrogated in far greater detail but with less frequency, probably on a monthly or quarterly basis.

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or email us at hello@boss-digital.co.uk