LanaiThe Press, February 2015

Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be snorkelling at the Molokini Island marine sanctuary near Maui, escaping the normal Christmas camping routine.

As well as observing the abundant marine life, our snorkel boat passed by Lanai, sixth largest of the eight Hawaiian Islands (and roughly half the physical size of Christchurch city), bought several years ago by technology entrepreneur Larry Ellison.

Ellison, founder of software company Oracle, and owner of the Oracle America's Cup team, bought the beautiful island, well 97 per cent of it at least, in 2012 for a reported $300 million. In doing so he succeeded in a bidding war against his technology industry nemesis, Bill Gates of Microsoft. Gates had married there in 1994, booking out the whole island.

To me this story was a reminder that Ellison and Gates represent a bygone era, where the US multinationals could simply dominate everything and everyone with their financial muscle, and little old New Zealand could do the best they can.

No matter how good our technology the tyranny of distance hampered our efforts to build large, globally competitive technology businesses.

Now is probably the best time in history to be selling hi-tech from New Zealand.

A new generation of technology companies, such as Orion Health, Xero, Vend and SLI Systems, are leading this new era where one could become a true global leader in their field.

There are many reasons for this, not least being the entrepreneurial guts, technical brilliance and commercial savvy of those firms and their leaders, but it is also the growth of the internet, a virtual bridge across the sea to our distant export markets, has been is a huge factor.

Not only have companies like Xero and SLI Systems been able to build whole new business models around it, the internet has opened enormous opportunities to market and to sell our technology wares.

In my days in marketing at Jade Software in the late 1990s and early 2000s, traditional promotional channels like computer magazines were incredibly expensive. The cost of a single page advert in a United Kingdom computer magazine was equal to our whole worldwide budget for the month, so it was something that we simply couldn't do.

Only the giants like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft could really afford to use these channels effectively.

Today, online technology can be employed to find, reach and nurture customers in all sorts of geographic and industry markets. This opportunity is available for the giants and minnows alike, requiring more than anything a shift in mind-set about the way you market technology products.

The mind shift is articulated perfectly by US technology writer Joe Chernov, in that "Good marketing makes the company look smart, great marketing makes the customer feel smart."

Employing online channels successfully requires shifting your marketing from an effort to dazzle potential customers with your brilliance, to undertaking a genuine effort to help them understand and address their specific needs or problems.

Hopefully a profitable proportion of these will choose your product as part of the solution.

Are you ready to attack marketing in this way in 2015? Here's five signs of readiness.

First is being web ready. That is, having a simple, clear website that can be easily and regularly updated, with the ability to capture visitor information through landing pages.

Second is being knowledge ready, with modern online marketing being focused on sharing useful knowledge with your customers, not marketing fluff. That knowledge will exist in your organisation, it's just a matter of organising it and publishing it in a useful way.

Channel-ready is the third sign: you have a good website, and strong content, but you still need someone to actually visit your website and engage. Email databases; social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, Pinterest; a publicity plan and advertising channels are all worth trying.

Fourth is being measurement ready. Today there is no excuse to not track all of your marketing efforts all of the time, from when a prospect first makes contact through to becoming a loyal customer.

Finally, it's about being attitude ready. Are you willing to consistently execute? You send one email and it doesn't sell 100 units so you give up. You have to be focused on building relentlessly, accepting that this online marketing approach is about steadily creating momentum, not finding some miracle marketing tactic.

Today the internet is levelling the playing field to such an extent that our hi-tech heroes have real opportunities to build globally competitive businesses.

I'm not sure how many of our tech entrepreneurs will buy tropical islands, but perhaps one will finance a campaign to return the America's Cup to its rightful home.

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