Why technology marketing needs a hard reset in 2021

Technology marketers need to achieve bigger results with less, but Senior Content Strategist Tom Watts says they should see opportunity in adversity

“Mate, tech marketers are ****ing ****ed!” is the response one might expect if showing our new research report to any first-year business studies student in South London. 

To be fair, while they wouldn’t be far wrong, if we dig a little deeper then we can find a few reasons for tech marketers to be a little more optimistic when looking ahead to 2021. Besides, you know, the rollout of a viable vaccine.

For many tech marketers, 2021 looks set to be as challenging as passing off a bar snack as a substantial meal amid Tier 2 restrictions. 

Teams have been cut down in terms of size, with nearly 1-in-2 experiencing a reduced headcount. This deprives businesses of critical skills, experience and resources. It’s no surprise 75 per cent of tech marketers emphatically believe they are having to do more with less.

This will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect all the way up the value chain: fewer marketers means fewer campaigns getting executed, which limits brand and product awareness, reducing sales, shrinking revenues and ultimately costing jobs. It’s essentially a cycle of diminishing returns, a sort of self-destructing economy if you will. 

As such, the actions that tech marketers are planning for 2021 are ones that could be generously grouped under the heading “shout as loud as we can into the void and hope we get heard”. Top priorities include: growing brand awareness and share of voice, building an audience and generating leads. In normal times, these are solid, aspirational goals. 

Unfortunately these are “new normal” times where the best way to test your eyesight is to drive 25 miles to the nearest castle, and the best way to fund national healthcare is to rely on a 99-year-old man walking around his garden. 

Although somewhat ironically — and unintentionally — the organic marketing that evolved around Captain Tom Moore could teach marketing teams a thing or two!

Not only was the idea of the project lean and concise (walk the marathon to raise money), it was built upon messaging that was aimed to resonate with a large audience (raise money to fund the NHS). 

This message was doubly impactful due to the wider social implications (the NHS is struggling due to Covid-19) and so benefited from spreading quickly and virally. Add to this a compelling and inspirational element (it’s a 99 year-old man that’s walking the marathon during lockdown) and it’s no surprise that this campaign had incredible stickiness with the audience.

You’ll find the same core elements in nearly all of the most memorable marketing campaigns: a clear message that people can relate to, that is inherently sticky and reaches a diverse audience. 

We see these principles in B2C marketing with John Lewis’ annual Christmas adverts and we see it in B2B marketing too, for example in IBM’s cybersecurity campaign “Every Second Counts”

However, to conceive and execute a campaign with this degree of clarity requires leadership, or a least a hand to steer and refine the project. 

Unfortunately, this is exactly what appears to be absent among many marketing teams and more so among tech marketers than in other verticals. 1-in-3 tech marketers see their current team structure and reporting line as a deficiency, while 28 per cent say they lack leadership from their CMO. 

Without clear leadership to guide teams that are already reeling from reduced headcounts and increased pressures, campaigns are likely to struggle.

Yet, despite this, two-thirds of senior tech marketers say being able to prove the ROI of campaigns is critical to the function. It sounds like a no-win situation. 

But just like VAR, what may seem frustrating now is likely to only generate positives in the long-term. The disruption caused by Covid-19 is acting as a foil for innovation and there is no reason why tech marketers can’t also embrace it. 

Having to do more with less is the ideal incubator for reinvention, presenting an opportunity to reset and embrace bolder, more creative solutions. If we’re lucky we might even see the PDF white paper disappear!

What do tech marketers need to do next?

Going into 2021 then, we have technology marketers in need of both leadership and leads. To satisfy the demands of the business, those at the top of the function need to ask themselves a serious question: “can we, and should we, do this alone?”. 

The answer to both is no. If you can achieve your marketing goals internally, that is an enviable position to be in. But for many, this will not be the case. 

Our research findings highlight the value of third-party input, with 1-in-2 marketers grateful for the creative input of agency partners.

With this in mind, marketing leaders need to assess the capabilities and capacity at their disposal and then act decisively. 

If the business needs external expertise to ideate and execute campaigns that will generate leads, then so be it. It’s better to invest and see a return than hold onto your budget and fall short - otherwise known as the George Osbourne approach. 

As agency partners, we exist to be leant upon when needed. We should be seen as an extension of your own marketing team, able to plug in the creativity and project leadership gaps that may otherwise stymie great work. 

In short, if you are looking to step up your marketing efforts in 2021, we’re waiting with cupped hands to give you a boost. 

Tom Watts

Senior Content Strategist, alan.

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