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The Changing Face of Corporate, Pruduct/Service
Communications or Hitting a Moving Target

 

More than 40 years ago, a now long-forgotten member of Bell Labs said that, to make the telephone a success, the company would have to make everyone a telephone operator. Today, everyone is a telephone operator. Even a three-year-old can reach out and touch someone.

Change came slowly. Promotion changed slowly. With the breakup of AT&T, change has been dramatic and often disruptive. The rules of the game regarding promotion have changed just as dramatically.

It has been more than 20 years since the Altaire computer first appeared on the cover of Popular Mechanix, and hundreds of people wrote in for blueprints, kits and assistance in making their first microcomputer. Programming and use of the toy were difficult at best.

Advertising and promotion, at the time, was relatively simple. All you had to do was reach the techie underground that wore white socks, shirts pocket protectors and taped glasses. The techies got together in offices and homes in Boston, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Anaheim and other communities across the country on a weekly basis to share their "latest advance."

To bring the industry out of the closets, dining rooms and kitchens of the nation, we had to turn people into computer operators.

Advances in hardware, software and firmware came in rapid succession. When the first COMDEX opened its doors nearly 20 years ago, it was still techies talking to techies who were selling to techies.

 

A Change in Focus

We've seen fewer and fewer state-of-the-art advances and breakthroughs.

We've been through a period of change in the tone and timber of our marketing and promotion. Today, it is not uncommon to see, what many term, high-tech companies advertising in Fortune, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, Inc., and other business/consumer publications, as well as on "60 minutes", 20/20", "The Super Bowl" an other television and radio programs across the country. Their goal is to reach the often elusive, highly affluent and very influential business leaders of today and tomorrow.

The need to simultaneously broaden and narrow the scope of marketing, advertising and promotion is becoming increasingly critical. Winners have to identify and reach all of the buying influences in the "business community." Unfortunately, we're talking about a market that is made up of thousands of firms with diverse interests in 50 states.

To make management's task even more difficult, suppliers of products and services are trying to reach, inform, influence and persuade a growing number of buying influences in these firms.

 

The Promotional Investment

On more than one occasion, management had "tried" different approaches and found that they don't work. The problem has been two-fold. First is the fact that, in a great many instances, management does not understand the role of promotion. Second, it looks at the money it is spending on advertising, sales support and public relations as an expense ...rather than an investment.

To put well-directed promotion it its proper context, let's look at how business products and services are bought and sold in the marketplace.

It is important to understand that the market is growing extensively as well as intensively. Firms who are basically unfamiliar with information technology are now using it throughout their organization. In addition, traditional customers are finding new ways to use these high-tech products and services in record-breaking volumes.

The competitive pressures for this lucrative market have never been greater and will not decrease in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that suppliers begin developing and using marketing-sensitive promotion.

Marketing sensitivity simply means a clear, concise understanding of the buying process.

 

Player Successes, Losses

As the Big Blue Rhino lumbers through the jungle, everyone watches to see where it will stop to rest. Through sheer size and power, as well as a commitment to aggressive marketing, IBM has aided itself and the industry.

John Scully, formerly with Apple, added new words to the industry's promotional vocabulary as he strategized, developed and beautifully executed his event marketing activities.

Mitch Kapor made bold, aggressive moves when he announced Lotus 1-2-3 with a $1,000,000, three-month promotional campaign aimed at the ultimate consumer and user.

On the other side of the coin, however, we've had:

- A poor grasp of what the consumer really wants and needs

- Totally misguided advise from communications, counsel, advertising and public relations.

 

Improve Understanding

Corporate managers have come to realize that they are no longer simply buying products and services. Instead, they are buying the suppliers' total capabilities, which certainly include technical aspects, but also encompass their reputation in business and marketing matters.

As a result, the buying decisions made by new and old customers alike go far beyond technical persuasions. People high in the organization and outside the technical areas have become the key decisions-makers.

Success is no longer assured by simply having a technically good or better product.

The marketplace is so competitive that alternative sources for technically comparable products and services are readily available.

It is becoming increasingly important that every aspect of communications promotes the business and marketing objectives of the firm behind the product or service, as well as the technical features of the product or service. Even in poor economic times, the wise organizations realize and appreciate that speaking out not only helps establish corporate identity, but really is good business.

 

Niche Marketing

Too many people looked at the research numbers and saw no reason why their success wouldn't parallel that of the industry. When the computer industry was growing at an annual rate of 40 percent, all too many firms forecasted a similar or even greater sales increase almost automatically.

Even with all of that optimism, product and service firms still struggled to survive. These organizations failed to understand that the new breed of corporate manager, as well as the small to medium-sized business buyer, doesn't understand, and doesn't want to understand, technology. They think only in terms of the problems that they want to solve not of specific hardware or software.

Success can only come by providing solutions for particular industries or professions and targeting advertising and public relations efforts to hit those vertical segments.

At the same time, management has to gain a solid understanding of who is making the buying decisions within these market segments, professions and corporate departments.

 

Hidden Buying Influences

A number of years ago, Vance Packard coined the phrase "hidden persuaders." Companies now have new factors to consider in the marketplace hidden buying influences.

They exist in every organization. They cooperate, interrelate and influence the specifier prior to the buying decision. Their titles and functions vary within every organization, but they all have something in common. They're more concerned with the business and marketing nature of the decision rather than the technical practicality/viability of the decision.

As a result, marketing and communications (advertising and public relations) have to address these hidden buying influences. Manufacturers and marketers must fully understand these individuals' buying considerations and needs.

 

The Benevolent Dictator

In addition to promoting the technical aspects and reaching the business decision-making team, we cannot lose sight of the most important target within the prospect's organization the benevolent dictator.

We may note for national, state and local leaders, but we don't vote for the people we work for. We don't get to vote for the management team for raises for promotions for the size of our office.

The benevolent dictator decides all of these items and more.

When you observe the benevolent dictator at work, you'll note that he or she allows others to do the basic research and make the preliminary judgments. They reserve the final say for themselves.

This individual, or small group of individuals, holds the majority of one vote.

This means that our marketing, advertising, public relations and selling efforts should be designed to build advocacy within the prospect's organization. An advocate is anyone who really wants to buy from you. If your advocate is low on the organizational chart, his or her suggestion to buy from you is sent up through the channels as a recommendation.

However, a highly placed advocate, with an identically worded idea, passes the information down the organizational chart as a directive.

As a result, it is apparent that we must reach the key benevolent dictators. They don't make all the decisions just the ones that count.

 

Hitting the New Target

To successfully reach the new target, marketing and communications efforts have to be both broader and narrower. You can no longer limit your approach to the technical aspects of the product or service. You have to reach management as well.

Most suppliers spend their time developing their technical strategy with little or no time spent on their marketing and communications strategy despite the fact that marketing, advertising and public relations are becoming vital aspects of success.

As suppliers take the expanded approach to marketing, advertising and public relations activities have to have two objectives. First, they must sell the concept. Second, they must sell the proprietary benefits of the advertiser.

As most professional marketing and advertising executives will tell you, once you have convinced the key influences of the advantages of your products/services, your sales become infinitely easier.

Easier, but not easy.

 

Key Contacts

In his book High Output Management, Andrew Groves, president of Intel, speaks of leveraging as it relates to management. Simply stated, it means contacting those who are most influential in a given situation and having them pass the word along to others who are responsible for decisions and actions.

This enables you to reach the entire organization through a few contacts, with a minimum of time and effort. Successful marketing and advertising/public relations campaign have a high degree of leverage within them because astute marketers and communicators address and reach the benevolent dictators.

 

Quality, Not Quantity

Someone long ago (and long forgotten) thought that quantity could replace quality in the eyes of management. Lo and behold, the fabulous bingo card emerged as "the proof of advertising value."

Advertising is meant to formulate opinions and create impressions in the prospective customers' minds. Therefore, it is up to the sales force (salesperson, rep, distributor or dealer) to sell that customer successfully and effectively.

Bingo cards can bring forth a few of the hot prospects, but, for the most part, the big sales don't result from someone following up on a bingo request.

 

Advertising's True Mission

As mentioned earlier, most managers in business today don't really understand the true mission of advertising. This is probably an understatement.

Some don't understand the myriad of buying considerations, including the mission of advertising that goes beyond product specifications, but they are learning. Marketing expertise is being grafted into top management teams. In addition, in order to survive in the marketplace, marketing people are taking crash courses in corporate marketing and communications strategy. In addition, they are asking their agencies to do more than "manage" the advertising/PR budgets and create ads and news releases.

Agencies are being asked to help pinpoint the specific groups that are most likely to use the companies' products or services the early adapters. Then, they develop communications programs advertising, literature, seminars, direct mail and publicity that efficiently and effectively reach, inform and persuade these adapters.

After the people who most imminently need the product and can obtain immediate benefits from it are reached, the job of expanding sales horizontally and vertically becomes significantly easier. Solid marketing and communications activities must drive our increasingly sophisticated and heavily competitive industry.

Until information industry suppliers, manufacturers, VARS, dealers and others understand and believe this fundamental rule, they will continue to be part of the deadly game of survivor and shakeout. The real targets managers and decision-makers have to be hit right between the eyes because they don't have the time or inclination to sit by the waterhole waiting for you to waste a quiver of arrows while you get the range. Instead, you need to use heat-seeking missiles that hit the first time with deadly accuracy.

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01MAR31.ART

 

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