The Press, July 2015

According to media reports, the government of Tonga recently paid $US130,000 for an ‘advertorial’ in a magazine produced by US publisher Forbes. An opposition MP was quoted as saying it was like “throwing public money out the window.”

Investing a quarter of the country’s tourism marketing budget in this manner might seem foolhardy, but what Tonga’s government has in common with many Kiwi businesses, particularly those from the hi-tech sector I work in, is that they have to make marketing decisions every day but don’t always have access to help by skilled people.

What sort of marketing person or team do you need to help your company grow?

The answer depends on a firm’s size and stage of growth. In the New Zealand tech sector we tend to have a few large companies and a long, long tail of small entities.

According to the annual Market Measures study of hi-tech sales and marketing 73% of companies had revenue of less than $5 million per annum, with only 4% above the $50 million mark.

Only 16% have turnover above $10 million per annum, a supposed rule of thumb in the US venture capital community at which a tech company can justify a senior marketing manager.

Smaller firms do get stuck in a difficult situation, where they can afford a junior marketing person with energy and enthusiasm but not enough experience to understand the right things to do, whereas the cost of a more senior marketing person who can determine the strategy can’t be justified.

The answer? Forget about specific people and think about what sort of skills and attributes are needed to market a technology business. Where gaps exist, you can hire or contract in the specific capabilities needed.

Here are six marketing capabilities most tech companies need, remembering the primary function of marketing in your business is to make your sales team more efficient by generating quality leads.

First, and most important, is the ability to build a marketing ‘foundation’ for the business. A clear definition of who you are selling to, what their core needs are and why your product meets that need in a unique way helps drive all other marketing activity.

It needs to be ‘owned’ by the managers of the business, but it is where you can plug in external expertise to help if needed. The outcome is a framework for answering any marketing question, from product roadmaps to pricing strategies to how you can partner for best effect.

Tonga tourism would be able to answer the question of whether their Forbes investment was marketing brilliance or a waste of money if they had this in place.

Second, is the facility to produce ‘content’ i.e. information that helps prospective customers understand and buy your solution. Valuable content, not jargon-ridden brochures, is what drives today’s marketing.

A marketer won’t necessarily be able to develop the content, unless they have specific domain knowledge in your areas of business, but they should be able to extract it from the experts in your business, package it and use it to drive promotional campaigns.

If you don’t believe this can be done, just look at your typical business journalist, who spends their days extracting information about often complex issues and presenting them as understandable stories for their audience.

Third, is understanding the channels that drive modern marketing programmes, especially online. For example, social media is a powerful medium, or a powerful waste of time, depending on how it is used.

You need a marketing capability that understands how social media works to produce leads for your sales force, not celebrates the latest Onesie dress up day at work.

Fourth, building an efficient marketing capability increasingly requires knowledge and skills of the software tools available. A practical content management system for your website, a well-structured but simple sales database (often called a customer relationship management system – CRM), and linking them together, a marketing automation tool to drive promotional activity like email marketing and social media campaigns.

Fifth, modern marketing requires skills in measurement. What metrics to gather, how to collect them and understanding what they mean all support an effective programme. Today it is easy to collect a lot of data, the challenge more becomes making sense of it for your marketing.

Sixth, and last, is having a marketing capability that ‘fits’. As US tech entrepreneur Jason Cohen writes: “Branding is irrelevant. ‘Branding’ cannot be measured, so it has no place for you. A marketer who ascribes value to branding isn't spending time on what's important to you.”

Marketing shouldn’t be shrouded in mystery or complexity. Like building any good technology product, marketing for your technology business should involve some creativity, but also operate within a logical, structured process aimed at defined outcomes.

That’s what you need from the marketing capability in your business. It will help you grow, and to avoid advertising investments becoming a political football like they are in Tonga.

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