• IT Marketing is All About Adapters

    I have this IBM-branded promotional Gizmolio. I’ve had it for years. I don’t know what it’s called—I couldn’t find an image of it, or its cousin, or its great aunt, anywhere. I’ll describe it. It’s a black, solid pentagon about 2 inches across and ¼ inch thick. From each side protrudes a different type of USB connector: Standard A, Standard B, Mini A, Mini B. The fifth is likely not a USB connector at all but some proprietary port.

    It’s an adapter for connecting devices with different USB ports. Comes in handy once in a while.

    According to over 60 responses to a LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing Community discussion, my Gizmolio is a perfect metaphor for Marketing. The tech marketers that responded look at themselves as just this kind of gadget. As an adapter, continually resolving disconnects of all kinds. Continually connecting technology to markets, stakeholders to marketing, messages to sales cycles, features to benefits. They open great insights and ideas, and I thought I’d share highlights here.

    Our first adapter is between Technologist and Marketplace. The Marketers that responded saw themselves as translators between the bits- and bitstreams-driven technologists and the benefits- and behavior-driven marketplace. Here’s one of many quotations on the topic:

    … one of the major challenges in tech marketing is managing internal stakeholders, and their perceptions of how the ‘thing’ they’ve created should be perceived in the market.

    Some things never change, do they?  Technologists, and tech company leadership, continue to be focused on the nuts and bells, bolts and whistles, of their technology. The idea of “our product sells itself,” first discovered as cave drawings on the sides of mainframes, still permeates the mindset of technologists and the culture of tech companies. The challenge then is to convince leadership and stakeholders that addressing the market with a non technological approach is the way to the bottom of the sales funnel.

    Critical to that, in our Marketer’s opinion, is understanding the technology. (Some things do change.) That’s our second adapter: technology to Marketing. Absent were any signs of the old dazed approach to tech marketing of even 15 years ago (‘hey, who the hell knows what they make, I just say what they tell me”).  There was a constant hum throughout of the importance of marketers wrapping their minds around the technologies they marketed. Not down to the source code, but certainly down to the functionalit.   Today, Marketers understand that they need to understand.

    And—more good news—it’s not just the technology that marketers see a need to connect with. Let’s listen to another participant:

    It is imperative for the marketer to understand the customer’s business and their customers.

    That’s a welcome shift from the old days when so much tech marketing focused on simply top of the funnel noise-making. Now the emphasis is on not just getting people to raise their hands, but on understanding why they raise them, and what Marketing can make happen next.

    Our third adapter is the one most often mentioned, in the discussion thread and elsewhere. Technology to marketplace.

    There is a need to translate high tech jargon into customer benefits without losing the passion

    The strong underlying theme to the comments was that the marketplace was interested in benefits, not features. In value propositions not variable parameters. No surprises there—tech marketers have always fought the “sell holes, not drill bits” battle, and we still do. Also not surprising is that this features/benefits disconnect came primarily in the context of early phases of the cycle, where value propositions and USPs hold the day.

    But what happens after the lead turns warm? Marketing, in its fullest sense, isn’t just about attracting attention: it’s about supporting and strengthening the selling process throughout the long cycle. That’s our fourth adapter: Message to Cycle. There was significant recognition of the need to deliver messages that help Sales make progress at specific points in the cycle. It’s not just about making noise, it’s about closing deals as well. Here, the notions of ride alongs, and fly-on-the-wall booth duty appeared . . . both good ways to help Marketing understand and connect with the cycle.

    And the fifth adapter? That’s the proprietary one. That one I’ve saved for my own opinions, which are not entirely aligned with the group. The sense I got—through all this talk about translating and so on—is that the Marketing perception of the tech market phrenology is too closely modeled on their own. By that I mean, we as Marketers wrap our minds around product value: the what it does not the how it does it. And we think that markets are the same. It’s true that some members of the Buying community—the end users of technology being top of mind—just want to know what it does, many—very technical– members of that community have to know how it does it . . . and they play an important role in any Buying decision.

    So the fifth adapter is Technology to Technologists. We have to work to make sure that technical information is delivered with the same level of branding, care, passion and attention that we put into our most creative work. That gives Sales a strong message to deliver at just the right time, to just the right people, in just the right way.

    There are, very likely, others—technology to customers being one—that weren’t touched on in the discussion. But the basic pattern is there, and I think it’s a good one. The role of technology marketers is one of making connections. That’s not news. But how widespread and diverse those connections have become: that’s news. It’s good news for the companies that see Marketing better understand what they do. It’s good for Marketing organizations looking to increase its credibility and influence within the company. And it’s good for us too—the individual marketing practitioners—as we try to create more meaningful and effective contributions to the business.

    Mike Fischler has been marketing technology and creating technology marketing content for 30 years, as both a marketing executive and as a consultant. His work has taken him to fourteen countries on four continents—from Finland to Fiji. He has consulted with nearly 200 companies, some internationally recognized and others known primarily to their own markets. Mike has written dozen of articles on Marketing, which have been published on over 50 web sites.

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