Serial software entrepreneur Peter Dickinson says Kiwi technology exporters need to behave like underdogs in terms of marketing. At the company he runs, business software company Greentree International, they have taken it literally.

Peter has been at the helm of Auckland-based Greentree for five years, after a career in the software business that started as a programmer in the 1970s. At the tender age of 23 he formed his first software business, and has been advising or running technology companies ever since.

Greentree is operating in what has traditionally been a fragmented market for financial and business management software. "But it is rapidly becoming consolidated as the main players acquire competitors and many of the smaller firms disappear," says Peter.

The company is now competing against a smaller number of powerful players, including some of the biggest software brands in the world. Peter says to compete they have to be smart and a little unconventional in their marketing.

"There are two keys for us with our marketing - the approach and the message."

"Our marketing approach is driven by the need to achieve 'memorability', which has several elements."

"Firstly, being well targeted, understanding that marketing to everyone is like marketing to no one."

"Second, having a clear message that is all about the customer - in my experience if a customer wouldn't say it for you, it is probably not true."

"Thirdly, using a delivery method where you can actually be noticed, not crowded out by the big brands. The big guys have to play it safe and this typically means bland. The only way they achieve memorability is by sheer volume and weight of marketing spend. If you look like them - you'll never be seen."

Message is the other key marketing leg, says Peter. Greentree have built their messaging around the concept of 'very, very responsive'. "In our market having a good product is almost a minimum requirement, so we focus very strongly on delivery."

Greentree have bought together their marketing approach and marketing message in a form that clearly contrasts the cookie cutter promotional approach of their multinational competitors. Rather than stock images of people in suits looking at computers, the Greentree message is embodied by a very eager and responsive looking green dog.

Peter says the dog has given them a platform to cut through the noise in their market and say something meaningful to their customers. He gives a recent example of a direct mail campaign to an Australasian database using 10,000 posters featuring the green dog, which has been an outstanding success. "Never before have we achieved 100% recall for a campaign"

Greentree have not simply done a one-off promotion, but have weaved the dog right through all the ways they communicate to customers and prospects.

"The dog is not a gimmick but a meaningful platform giving us good return for our marketing investment. New Zealand technology companies have to be guerrilla like, we have to take a different approach. "So don't have a 'me-to product' and definitely don't have a 'me-to' brand"."

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