After years of writing about technology, hearing vendor pitches, and interviewing for marketing jobs, I’ve come to see that there’s a problem with product messaging in the IT industry. The roots of it seem to run quite deep in the industry.
Here are five reasons why companies have problems with messaging:
1. The seduction and safe space of the marketing bubble
There’s a whole awards industry by marketers for marketers. Beyond that, there’s an entire outsourcing ecosystem catering to marketing departments. All of this contributes to a bubble. That bubble is at the heart of corporate messaging challenges that vendors experience today. Marketers can be a cloistered lot if their employers aren’t careful. If they aren’t careful, marketers can stay trapped in this bubble because they exist in a world where marketers market to other marketers. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
While yes, industry analyst firms have their place in sales and marketing, especially with CxO level deals because it gives the customer an out if the project turns terrible because they can say “it’s not my fault, [insert analyst firm name here] said we should adopt this technology.” Another sign of a marketing bubble is the marketing VP, who speaks of industry analyst firms in a hushed tone of reverence. I came to see an industry analyst firm or two as predatory in the past few years because they take advantage of these misguided executives with dubious advice that only expands the bubble.
Don’t get me wrong, some marketers thrive outside the bubble. They are active in the industry. Read widely. They have a circle of professional associates beyond other marketers. They get input from other employees on the customer-facing side and not just sales: customer success, solution architects, and technical support as sources for vetting ideas and messaging.
2. They know everything about everything in the industry
Marketing executives floating on the bubble I described above can fall into the trap of thinking they know everything about the technology and customers. While they may have had the opportunity to pull booth duty at a trade show, the valid pain points of delivering technology solutions are beyond them.
We’re at a point in the IT industry where technology is advancing at a pace leaving some executives and decision-makers behind. There are those executives smart enough to know what they don’t know. They build collaborative teams of experts with complementary skills. Insecure and know it all marketing executives bend messaging to suit their lack of understanding of the industry and the market. Then again, those marketing executives become dismissive of things they don’t understand.
Customer intelligence remains gold for creating messaging that resonates with the market. Cloud solutions are a tapestry of pain points and solutions, or so it seems.
The rapid pace of technology advancement requires a diversity of thought to create messaging. By the diversity of thought, you want to craft a story and messaging with input from more people than just themselves, an outsourced provider that trails them from job to job, or their marketing team.
Rote thinking is another culprit behind no diversity of thought in marketing and messaging. Think of the marketing executive who’s been doing their job the same way from position to job. They pull along the same menagerie of freelancers and agencies with them regardless of the firm of where they land next. There’s no critical thinking involved.
Staff outside this menagerie who try to show them a different way often face ex-communication from the team.
3. There are services providers and services brokers in marketing
One element of marketing culture that fascinates me is that marketing executives and teams can often be divided into services providers and brokers. Granted, skills such as search engine optimization (SEO) and graphic design make sense for small to mid-sized organizations to outsource. However, when you have a marketing department that outsources nearly everything especially messaging, the working model only perpetuates the marketing bubble behind messaging that doesn’t resonate.
4. Personas must live beyond a PowerPoint slide
The concept of customer personas is entirely valid. Personas go off the rails because they don’t live beyond the PowerPoint slide. While the slide describes “Sam the Solution Architect,” it misses the nuances of their job and the challenges they face to deliver projects to customers.
Unprecedented technology advancements, evolving threat landscapes, and Black Swan events such as the pandemic mean you must revisit personas often to ensure your message is dialing into the pain points they face. You can’t necessarily do this if you’ve outsourced your personas and messaging to a third-party consultancy that has been following your marketing VP through their last three gigs at failed startups.
Working in a marketing bubble, creating PowerPoint slides of personas, then filing them away only leads to the path of irrelevance for your corporate messaging.
Messaging challenges are a consistent theme across the technology industry. It doesn’t have to be that way. By no means can marketing be expected to carry messaging on their own. The companies who get past messaging challenges are those open to broader collaboration and iteration than those who won’t get outside their comfort zone.