The Press, May 2007

Technology marketing hit rock bottom at the height of the 'dot-com' craze. Newly hatched dot-coms and established technology companies went silly buying up advertising space to promote their wares to people who either didn't understand or weren't interested in the products. Silicon Valley stalwart Sun Microsystems' recent decision to 'give away' computer hardware shows that the pendulum has thankfully swung firmly back to marketing basics.

They are likely to follow in the footsteps of Jade Software, Tait, Eaton, Aucom Electronics and others as local companies leading the way in exporting technology. Their story is proof not only that we are good innovators, but getting these great ideas to a global market is much harder than it looks.

According to US marketing magazine Brandweek, Sun spent more than $US 30 million on advertising back in 2000. The company used broadcast television to get their message across about their computer software and hardware. Problem was, most of the people that enjoyed the campaign weren't ever likely to buy their products.

Sun wasn't alone at that time, dot-com marketing madness was everywhere. Salon.com classically skewered a hapless company called Computer.com after they blew 60% of their entire $US 5.8 million of start-up capital on 90 seconds of TV advertising at the halftime of the Superbowl. They calculated Computer.com, a website designed to help beginner computer users, spent $38,889 per second.

The online magazine put Computer.com ". . . in the running for the hotly contested title of Fastest Dot-Com to Piss Away the Greatest Percentage of Its Funding." Return on investment was hard to come by for any of the advertisers, concluded Salon.com. "Few of the sites enjoyed a demonstrable growth in traffic, or can point to any big deals that were nudged into the end zone by Super Bowl advertising."

This bizarre behaviour is being replaced by a more focussed, back-to-basics approach, exemplified by Sun. The company has moved most of their promotional spend online, getting their message across with a combination of 4,000 Sun employees who are bloggers and a raft of other online tactics.

"We're looking at advertising from a different standpoint," Sun marketing executive Ingrid Van Den Hoogen was quoted in Brandweek. "A lot of our audience is sitting online. We're doing a lot of online advertising and quite a bit of keyword searches and everything we can to reach audiences that way. But the other way is through our non-traditional or viral techniques of using blogs andpodcasts to get our message out. We're kind of pioneering in the tech space a lot of ways to reach our audience."

The shift to online promotion may not be as radical as Van Den Hoogen suggests, but it does show a clearer understanding of how their audience evaluates their products.

Where Sun have been innovative in their market is their recently unveiled 'try and buy' campaign. It allows interested businesses to install a Sun computer for 60 days before deciding whether or not to buy it.

Businesses, extremely reliant on reliable computing systems, are often conservative about switching away from a hardware vendor they trust. It is worth paying a premium if you can remove the risk of failure. Sun understand this confidence issue and have offered an innovative solution to it.

Reportedly an unprecedented move in the computer industry, it has paid dividends for Sun. 60% of the many companies taking up the offer have not previously purchased Sun gear.

Sun's insight is based on a classic marketing approach - looking at your business from a customer's point of view.

Sun looked at how a corporate buys a computer and worked out how to make it easier. Any technology company can do this by taking the 'EARS' approach to assessing their market opportunity:

  • Evaluating - before purchasing a customer will want to evaluate their options, including doing nothing. What can you do to help make this process simpler.
  • Adopting - once the customer has recognised a need that your product could solve, how can you help them overcome any obstacles to adopting it. Help with return on investment calculations, addressing compliance problems.
  • Readiness - a customer has evaluated and made a decision to adopt, what can you do to help them become ready. What training needs to be put in place, what ongoing support, what complimentary products should be purchased?
  • Succeed - to ensure your product stays at the customer site, what can you do to help them prosper with it. Refresher training, product updates, pricing changes.

Much to the frustration of their sellers, technology products can often lose in a contest when they are functionally superior. That is because from the customer's perspective the broader process of finding out, evaluating, deciding, buying, implementing, learning and so on, is too complex and difficult.

By using your 'EARS' you are better equipped to make it easier for your customers to buy your product, and less likely to make a fool of yourself blowing cash on promotion. So be Sun smart and use your EARS.

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