The Press, May 2013

The best advice to New Zealand’s growing group of technology exporters being celebrated this week might be to inject a bit of “Gilmore” into their marketing.

A bit of the former politician’s now legendary self-confidence might go a long way for the brilliant but modest technologists that dominate our innovation sector.

Aaron “Do you know who I am” Gilmore has achieved infamy for his drunken antics at a Hanmer Springs hotel, reportedly threatening a waiter that the prime minister would sack him unless he served a bottle of wine.

Perhaps if the waiter was trying to serve cheap Australian wine a sacking from our nation’s leader could have been justified, but otherwise it was senseless bluster.

Gilmore’s antics ignited a firestorm as the political media have seized on in his bumbling efforts at downplaying and blame shifting, The Civilian satire website asserting that Gilmore would 'Use his political position to end his own career.'

Through it all you have to admire the boldness of the man. Kiwi tech companies are too often guilty of opposite – being too modest and retiring when they have so much to offer customers.

It is the right time to contemplate this as we go into “Technology Innovation Week 2013” a major event organised by industry body NZ-ICT, in cooperation with New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation.

It consists of a conference seeking to educate “business owners, entrepreneurs, and anyone who has an interest in promoting the success of a New Zealand technology company, on how to navigate the pathway to success.

The week culminates in the NZ Hi-tech Awards, which recognises some of our most successful, “confident” technology companies.

Confidence is “a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective”, according to Wikipedia.

New Zealand has some truly ‘confident’ tech companies, established players like Orion, Xero, Tait, F&P Healthcare, Rakon, Weta Digital and Dynamic Controls, and emerging stars like SLI Systems and Serko who are both listing on the sharemarket this year.

Unfortunately we tend to have a few large tech companies and long tail of firms locked into perpetual start-up mode. In the 2012 Market Measures study of 275 hi-tech companies in New Zealand 74% of companies were turning over less than$5 million per annum, with only 5% earning in excess of $50 million.

These companies are creating outstanding technical products, often breath-taking in their cleverness, but not enough of them are out there beating the drums, or if they are, they tend to talk too much about themselves and too little about the customer benefits they can deliver.

I have found the ‘business card test’ is the most effective way to establish the assurance of a typical technology company. There is an inverse relationship between how much information someone has on their business card and how confident the company is.

This goes through three stages of evolution. At stage one, business cards are covered with information about their products and its features, including detailed bullet points on the reverse side.

The business card is simpler at stage two, but still has a tagline or some other descriptor of what they do. The ultimate confidence is the business card from an organisation like IBM or Apple that simply has the company’s logo and the person’s details.

So how do you put a bit of ‘Gilmore’ into your tech marketing? It is not about screaming hyperbole as loudly as possible, but being smart about the way you find and exploit markets offshore.

Focus: if you clearly define the ‘sandpit’ in which you are playing it becomes a lot easier to understand and have the courage to dominate it. The challenge is finding as small a niche as economically possible to start with, then go as hard as you possibly can at that segment.

Confidence also means investment. If you are assured about the target market you should be assertive about investing heavily in developing that market, raising awareness of your product and generating demand.

Building it and expecting them to come is not a confident approach. If you know who you are selling to, and that you can deliver value, then you should be resolute about telling people, loudly, about it.

Finally, confidence means charging enough for your product. If you have a tightly targeted niche and an aggressive promotional programme, you should have a strong brand. That means being able to attract a premium over your competitor, if you are confident enough.

The companies who win this Friday’s Hi-tech Awards will display these characteristics. They understand their market well, promote themselves aggressively and can secure premium pricing.

While the Aaron Gilmore story has been more hubris than real confidence, a bit of that attitude could rub off onto our growing army of tech innovators.

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