The Press, October 2013

Before the Yellow Pages became all hip and cool (simply called ‘‘Yellow’’ in New Zealand these days), they used the tagline ‘‘let your fingers do the walking’’. Ad Age Magazine in the United States named it one of the top 10 advertising slogans of the 20th century.

The results of the 2013 Market Measures study hold a similar promise of efficiency. The latest edition of the annual benchmarking study of sales and marketing by New Zealand hi-tech firms could be summarised as ‘‘let your brand do the selling’’.

A key finding of the study was companies that create a strong ‘‘brand’’ were the most effective at selling their innovations.

This is not simply the visual elements of a company’s communications – name, logo, signs, the colours you use, advertisements and so on. While these elements are not irrelevant to your marketing, they are only the tip of the brand ‘‘iceberg’’.

A brand is best understood as the sum of all the experiences, positive or negative, a customer has with you and your product. It is your brand, or this sum of experiences, that helps a customer choose your product over another.

The stronger this picture in the prospective customer’s mind the more efficient your sales process.

Any customer goes through a buying process, from first learning of your product (‘‘awareness’’) right through to becoming a loyal fan (‘‘attachment’’). If your brand is already strong in the customer’s minds, the job of a sales person becomes a lot easier. Instead of having to drag a prospective customer right through the buying process, explaining what a product is and its benefits, the job is focused on converting them.

Would you rather sell products from Apple or Bob’s budget electronics?

The fastest-growing firms in the Market Measures study build strong brands by having a series of basic strategies in place. They focus on distinct markets, work to understand these markets very well and undertake aggressive promotional programmes.

As one survey respondent noted the key is to ‘‘become very focused on a couple of areas and learn to differentiate within these segments. Over time you will learn what area is best for you and develop your platform to deliver better than anyone else. Have the budget then double it.’’

High-performing companies also measured their marketing activity carefully. ‘‘Plan, test, validate. Repeat over and over. And then invest. Your initial assumptions will be wrong. And it will cost both in time and money’’, was the advice of another respondent.

What these fast-growing firms did was let their brand do at least some of the selling, resulting in shorter lead times, less sales effort overall and ability to attract premium pricing.

The study also identified other areas where Kiwi firms could increase the efficiency of their export marketing. For example, despite spending almost a third of their annual income on sales and marketing, less than 4 per cent were using specialist software to automate their marketing efforts.

Most firms are marketing through social media channels, but their efforts are often inconsistent. Effective use of social media requires constant measurement, refinement and commitment. Companies who use social media in a planned way do see results, the survey identified.

These are symptoms of a deeper problem in the way we market our technology products offshore – tending to equip sales people to go out and sell customer by customer, but not back them with marketing programmes that communicate to a target market en-masse, which increases brand awareness and makes the sales person’s job easier.

The 2013 survey was completed by 346 New Zealand technology companies.

Mainly based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the survey showed tech firms on average grew their turnover by 39 per cent and spent almost a third of their annual income on sales and marketing.

Our hi-tech sector can become more efficient at acquiring customers by letting their brands do more of the selling.

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