The Press, March 2015

Shamed former National MP Aaron Gilmore was back in the news last week for dipping his toe into the political waters again.

In 2013 he resigned after an incident where it was claimed he said to a barman "Do you know who I am?" and then threatened to have John Key sack the barman for perceived poor service.

Why this is news reflects the "gravity" of his behaviour in a New Zealand context. It is an admirable part of the Kiwi character that we don't approve of this kind of behaviour.

Unfortunately this doesn't carry over enough to the way we market products, especially in the hi-tech sector, where self-aggrandisement is the norm. Seemingly every product is "market leading", a "game-changer" or "revolutionary".

Traditional bragging marketing collateral is increasingly a waste of time and effort. Prospective customers want information that helps them evaluate and purchase products that meet a specific need.

This is because the traditional customer has changed, particularly involving purchases of large, complex products. They have a lot more power because they can access all kinds of information about you and your product. This makes them more sophisticated in their buying, and also less patient. They don't want to be "marketed at", they will do research on their own terms.

In my industry, the technology sector, companies are often built around an entrepreneur's vision about how to use technology to solve a customer's problem. They typically understand that problem very well and when in front of a customer find no trouble explaining how their technology can solve their problem.

This often gets lost as a company grows and having these direct interactions becomes impossible to scale. Companies fall back to telling customer's why their products are so good, rather than genuinely providing information that might help them.

What the annual Market Measures study of sales and marketing by hi-tech New Zealand companies shows is that reducing marketing "fluff" and producing useful, customer-focused information pays dividends.

Companies in the survey growing the fastest were more likely to be producing marketing content such as infographics, white papers, case studies, checklists and opinion articles.

They weren't producing the traditional marketing collateral of brochures, product flyers and fancy corporate videos. Think the Edmonds cookbook instead of a glossy brochure extolling the virtues of "game-changing" Edmonds baking powder.

A jargon word for this kind of marketing information is "thought leadership" - giving customers useful insights or information. In the Edmonds context, this would be how to bake a scone.

On average Kiwi firms are a long way behind their US counterparts in producing thought leadership. Less than 30 per cent of the firms in the Market Measures study produced this kind of customer-focused content, as opposed to threequarters of US software firms the study was benchmarked against.

This hurts us because thought leadership drives online marketing, especially social media channels like LinkedIn or Twitter. Seventy-four per cent of US software companies were using social media to promote thought leadership material, compared to only 28 per cent of Kiwi tech companies.

How can you move away from bragging about your product to giving prospective customers genuinely useful information?

1. Customers: clarify who buys your product, or influences that decision? And find out what information they need to complete their product research, evaluation, ROI and final decision?

2. Content schedule: agree upon a regular content schedule and stick to it! Sprinkle lighter content that is used to attract people to your website between "thought leadership" items which is used to convert people into sales leads.

3. Channels: use a range of communication channels and see what works.

It may be hard for Gilmore to rehabilitate his image, but any efforts to genuinely help others will be a good start. The same is true for marketing your products - focus on helping first, selling last.

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