Beyond bits and bytes: Making technology marketing more meaningful

Do you know your camera by its megapixel features? Do you care about the contrast ratio on your TV? Often technology companies use tech jargon as part of the spin to lure and impress new markets around the new features and capabilities of a product. But do audiences  understand this messaging and do they really care?

According to the Y&R insight report My Brain Hurts, a more consumer-centric approach to marketing technology is needed to enable to progress of today’s digital economy. Technology products are now not only the domain of technology companies, but also the organisations that are increasingly using digital media technologies and services through systems like apps and social media customer service to engage, connect and promote their wares to current and prospective customers.

“Our jobs, house prices, pensions, the future of our nations all depend on the economic growth that digitization is bringing. Helping consumers to grasp technology is thus the defining issue of our time” (Y&R, My Brain Hurts, p1)

Typical, dramatic ad industry tone, but there a core point of tension and truth to the statement – Who will take responsibility for the technical and digital literacy required to survive in today’s push-button world? Whilst marketing has its core role in enticing consumers towards the tech industry’s products and services, it also has a role in educating audiences in plain and simple terms as to the product’s function and relevant features. The report argues that currently, for a product like a TV, users understand about 20% of its possible functions and features, leaving the significant investments in product development and design redundant to the average user. It goes on to ask, is it in fact innovators or users that are holding back the progress of digital innovation? The latter it seems, as users young and old become increasingly confused by the complexity and abundance of digital services and products available in the modern age.

Over fifty pages in length, we’ve condensed the key findings from the report in bite sized pieces for you below:

  1. Keep it simple – A device or service that does one thing really well is memorable and useful. Simplicity is memorable, sharable and technologies that take this straight-forward approach to making their products understood, better solve complex problems.
  2. Things that don’t work, don’t work – Technology marketers need to ensure that innovative service or feature launches fit in with the user’s existing lifestyle or technology ecosystem. Equally, features or technologies that are incomplete and released before reaching their potential become redundant quickly given the user frustration in trying to make the tech work or fit it within their lifestyle. Essentially, ensure the product is worthy of the promotion 😉
  3. What works no longer matters – When features are easy understood and used, then go on to become a normal part of consumers lifestyles, which in turn makes them harder to market. When services like mobile phones and mobile web have become everyday, how can you make these products and services stand out from the crowd?
  4. Beware the counsel of nerds – “Winning technologies are those that appeal to ordinary people, not just geeks”. Great technology marketing needs to inspire the average person to feel that they can use and benefit from a product, without being overwhelmed by excessive features and chatter about bits and bytes. As markets develop, technology competency does not necessarily rise, so communications should cater to a more vast audience, rather than just the early-adopters.
  5. Think infection – “The most successful technologies spread virally from person to person”. With broader research pieces like Edelman’s Trust Barometer speaking of the power of a recommendation from “someone like me”, the power of peer to peer recommendation in new technologies is strong. Make your product fashionable (e.g. iPod’s white earbuds), or find a way to help users share the news of their product or service with friends (e.g. “Sent from my iPhone” on mobile emails).
  6. Buying is only the beginning – Getting a consumer to buy a product is only half the battle. Getting them to integrate it into their lives is where the battle is truly won. This is where PR is well suited to step in and start telling the stories around user scenarios and benefits of products, beyond the feature-set and inspiring others to make the most of their new devices.
  7. The second generation uses differently – Remember that old adage that “the street finds its own uses for things”? Users are as much part of a technology’s evolution as the tech and features behind it. Different markets and generations will find different uses for technologies, so watching and listening needs to become as much a part of tech marketing as broadcasting a defined and decided story around a product/service, when considering both product development and marketing communications.
  8. Consumers learn only through doing – Both the gaming and tech industries use this marketing tactic well, frequently offering strong “plug and play” trials in store, with simple guides around how to use a product or service. Without this initial trial, the trust or understanding of a product would be significantly reduced. Find ways to put the product in the hands of consumers and influencers to help them understand the practical benefits and user features of a tech product/service.
  9. Price dictates perception – One of the most misunderstood of marketing’s four P’s, pricing plays a major role in defining the prestige and quality of a product. Whilst we’ve seen products like flat-screen TV’s decrease rapidly in price as its technology has become standardised, the challenge is been set for marketers working to retain premium positioning for bargain-priced items. Consider the perception implication of communicating “free” bonuses, and their effects on product perception.
  10. The visible wins – “Consumers place little value on things they can’t see”. Given the report was written in 2006, does this statement still remain true in an age where on-demand entertainment and data rule the roost? Customers see value in services like Netflix, Spotify and Hulu without seeing physically, so have audiences evolved further to accept virtual services, rather than physical technology products? I believe so!
  11. Converge with care – The catch-cry of Samsung marketing I worked through years back, the idea of a product ecosystem working together for a greater purpose has often been seen as the technology holy-grail. Fundamentally, innovation and convergence strategies need to be lead by consumer benefit, rather than technological progress.
  12. Consumers don’t always want version 2.0 –  ‘The assumption is that because tech companies live for change, their customers should do also.’ Many tech companies’ sales depend on there being a version 2.0. The consumer is often happy with version 1.0. Make product upgrades necessary and memorable, rather than just a indiscernible spec and colour upgrades.
  13. Everything needs a killer app – Where app means function, technological innovation at its core needs purpose. Progress needs a reason for being. This ultimate lifestyle benefit or consumer use is what’s going to be your hot point for marketing the benefit of the product/service and making the consumer care.
  14. Consumers have their own agenda – Consumers use technology in the ways they want to use it, rather than the way technology companies may have intended them to use it.
  15. The awesome power of video games – The games industry is increasingly cutting into the discretionary entertainment spend of young and old alike, with the tools of gaming increasingly being used as a communications mechanism to motivate and communicate messages to target audiences through strategies known as “gamification”.
  16. To communicate is female – “Observational research shows that women also like to communicate in media-rich ways, using their eyes and hands. This means that long term, women are likely to be better customers for all technologies driven by communications”. The report supposes that women adopt later than men, but due to their inherently social nature, they adopt in crowds.
  17. The future lies in emerging markets – “Go to any poor, remote village anywhere in the world, and the one piece of modern equipment they are guaranteed to have is a TV connected to a satellite dish”. With the increasing importance of China and India as not only producers but consumers of technology, it becomes increasingly evident that poorer nations have the same hunger as their first-world brothers and sisters for the practical features and benefits of communications and entertainment technologies.

Fundamentally, the report puts its focus back on the consumer, asking us as marketeers how we can best communicate the features and benefits of new technologies without getting caught up in the bits and bytes! An interesting perspective on the challenges of technology marketing from the time it was written, right through to today in 2013.

See below for the full report on SlideShare, or download the full report from Y&R.

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