Understanding High-Tech Marketing
Before we understand high-tech marketing, we first must understand what ‘marketing’ means. According to Geoffrey A. Moore, marketing means taking actions to create, grow, maintain, or defend markets. Marketing aims to develop and shape something genuine, not something people imagine. That being said, high-tech marketing is:
- A set of actual or prospective customers.
- A set of products or services.
- A set of customers who have common needs or wants.
- A set of customers who reference each other when making a buying decision.
Most people understand the first three points of high content marketing but do not understand the last point. Making references to each other when making a buying decision is extremely important to successful high-tech marketing. For example, if two women buy the same cooking book for the same reason but have no way they could reference each other simply because they don’t know each other, they are not in the same market. Similarly, if I sell a cookery book to a cook and a cookery book to an engineer who wants to cook, they are not in the same market. The reason why these individuals are in different markets is that they couldn’t have referenced each other. Thus, it’s essential to identify the true meaning of a ‘market’.
Many marketers need to break the category into separate “market segments”. Many marketing professionals prefer market segmentation as they know that no marketing program can be exercised across a set of individuals who don’t reference each other for a product. The reason is because of leverage, as no company can fund every marketing contact, and every marketing program should rely on word-of-mouth marketing. The more word-of-mouth marketing takes place and the closer the communication channels are, the more significant the opportunity to sell a product to common market segments. We will explore them in detail now.
The first customers for whom a technology product is made are for innovators and early adopters. Innovators are famously known as technology enthusiasts or techies in the high-tech industry. On the other hand, the early adopters are known as the visionaries. The visionaries dominate the buying decisions in the early market. Still, the techies are the first set of customers to realize the new product’s potential, which is why high-tech marketing begins with the techies.
We have come across many techies in our lives. They are the ones who purchase HDTVs, home networking solutions and digital cameras where of course, these items cost a good fortune. These individuals are interested in voice synthesis, voice recognition, interactive multimedia systems and neural networks etc. Usually, techies become famous after inventing a lucrative product. Examples of such techies are Bill Gates, Mark Andreessen, Larry Wall, Brian Behlendorf and so on. In business, these individuals are the gatekeepers of any new technology. They are interested in learning about technology, and everyone considers them competent enough to conduct an early evaluation of a tech product.
As the leading influencers, techies have few requirements than any other group. However, it doesn’t mean you should ignore requirements that matter to them! Firstly and most importantly, they want the truth without any lies. Secondly, whenever they have a technical problem, they want to approach the most technically knowledgeable person to sort it. Thirdly, they want to be the first to get their hands on the new products and finally, they want all the products to be cheap. This is a real problem as they believe technology should be free to access or readily available at a cost. The main consequence to note here is that if it’s their money they’re spending on your tech product, it should be cheap. If not, you have to ensure that price is not their concern.
In large companies, techies are primarily found in the advanced technology group or in a congregation hired to keep the company on track with the latest high-tech developments. These individuals are then given the power to buy any product to explore its features and examine its usefulness to the company. In smaller companies with not many resources and funding, techies may be the designated techie in the IT group or an employee from the product design team who will specify your product to be included in the whole system or give it to the rest of the product design team as a technology aid or tool.
To approach techies, you need to approach them through the internet undoubtedly. You can approach them through direct response advertising, and they like a free demo or webinar offerings from your company. You don’t need to waste all your money on fancy image advertising as they don’t like that. Email is another way of approaching them, provided the information is new and genuine.
In summary, techies are easy to conduct business with if you:
- Have the latest technology.
- You don’t need to make much money from them.
It should be noted that for any innovation, there will always be a small set of techies who want to explore it to see if it works. These individuals are not powerful to dictate the buying power of others, and they don’t represent a significant market. They instead represent themselves as advisors for the initial product or its features and modify the product or service until it’s free from bugs. You should therefore work with techies for these reasons. Another reason for working with them for a successful marketing campaign is that some have access to the big boss. Big bosses are individuals who dictate the buying power and are a significant market. The big boss we are looking for is the early adopters/ visionaries.
These individuals are the early adopters of high-tech products. Early adopters are new entrants to executive ranks who are highly motivated and are pursuing a dream. The dream’s core is based on a business goal, not a technology goal. It involves a significant degree of self-recognition and reward. You need to, therefore, understand their dream, and you will then understand how to market to them. Technology plays a part in achieving their dream. When you contrast techies with early adopters, early adopters focus on value from the strategic leap forward that such a technology can enable. Early adopters drive the high-tech industry as there is a potential for an “order of magnitude” return on investment, and they readily take significant risks to pursue their goals. Since early adopters see a possibility for the technology they have in mind, they are least concerned about the price of any segment of the technology adoption profile. They usually have budgets to allocate a generous amount towards implementing a strategic initiative. This means that they can provide an up-front payment to cause more development to support their project, which shows their importance as a source of high-tech development capital.
Moreover, early adopters are good at alerting the business community to continuous technological development. These individuals are more than willing to serve as highly recognized references and thus gain attention from the business press and additional customers.
Early adopters are easy to sell but very hard to convince us they are buying a dream that will always be a dream to some degree. According to Geoffrey A. Moore, early adopters like project orientation. They want to begin with a practical pilot project. After this, more project work takes place, conducted with phases and milestones and so on. The early adopters are trying to stay close to development to ensure it’s going on the right track and deviate from it if it’s not going on the path they thought. While this project orientation might seem reasonable from the customer’s point of view, it usually goes against the entrepreneurial vendor’s intentions who are trying to produce a more universally applicable product around which they can build a multi-customer base. This could be a lose-lose situation which threatens the quality of the vendor’s work and the fabric of the relationship. It moreover needs careful account management, including continuous contact at the executive level. Early adopters are also in a hurry. They view the future as windows of opportunity and see how they close. Therefore, they seem to set deadlines to make the project run faster. Account management and executive restraint are thus important here. The goal is to package each phase to ensure that each phase:
- Can be achieved by people.
- Provides the vendor with a product that can be marketable.
- Provides the customer with a solid return on investment which can be acknowledged as a significant step forward.
It should be noted that getting closure with visionaries is difficult. What’s important to learn here is the importance of managing expectations. As controlling expectations is essential, the practical way to do business with early adopters is with a small but excellent sales force. At the front end of the sales cycle, this sales force should understand the early adopters’ goals and make them confident that your company can meet their goals. In the middle of the sales cycle, the company should be very flexible about commitments as the early adopter’s agenda begins to be adapted. Finally, at the end of the sales cycle, you must be careful in negotiations and keep the hype of the vision going without doing unachievable tasks within the given timeframe.
Early adopters are unlikely to have a specific job title. However, they must have achieved at least a senior vice-presidential position to have the power to fund their visions. In terms of communication, they usually find you, but you don’t find them. Instead, they find you by having relationships with techies, which is why it’s essential to have relationships with the techies.
The dynamics of early markets
To start an early market, an entrepreneurial company is required to have a breakthrough technology product that allows a new and captivating product application, a techie who can study and acknowledge the excellence of the product over present alternatives and a wealthy early adopter who can predict a measurable improvement from implementing the new product application. When the market starts developing, the entrepreneurial company seeds the techies with early copies of the product while sharing its vision with the early adopters. After that, it invites the early adopters to check up with a techie of their choice to verify that the vision can be achieved. These conversations involve negotiations where a large sum of money is concerned. The company modifies the product and system integration services it never intended, and the early adopter has a viable project written down on paper but is unlikely to happen. This is when the market develops. This is good because although there are problems taking place, these problems will be solved somehow, and some degree of value will be achieved.
It should be noted that there are various situations where the early market doesn’t get a good start:
- Situation 1 – the company has no expertise in introducing a new product. It raises insufficient capital, hires incompetent sales and marketing teams, sells the product through an unsuitable distribution channel, promotes the product in the wrong places and manners and messes everything up. Remedying this situation isn’t difficult if the participants in the company are still communicating, cooperating and are ready to try again. The lesson here is that you should target a small market if you’re a small company. To find an actual market, the individuals in that market should be aware of themselves as a group, it should form itself as a self-referencing market segment to ensure that when you create a leadership position with some of its members in that market, they will get the word out quickly and greatly to everyone else. It’s no doubt that ruling a particular market in the short term is large enough to produce a continuing market in the long run. Eventually, you’ll have to expand into the adjacent markets.
- Situation 2- the company sells the product to the early adopters before it has it. This is a mistake as the company is trying to pre-market a product with important development hurdles to overcome. To a certain extent, the company achieves a few pilot projects. Still, as schedules continue to fall, the early adopter’s position in the company weakens, and they withdraw their support from the project. However, there has been a lot of customized work with no valuable customer references. The company will have to end its marketing efforts, acknowledge its mistakes to investors and pay a lot of attention to turning its pilot projects into something valuable, firstly in terms of a deliverable to a customer and then a complete product.
- Situation 3- marketing gets caught between the techies and early adopters by failing to discover or articulate the captivating application that provides the order-of-magnitude leap in benefits. Many companies buy the product to test it, but it isn’t implemented into a powerful system as the rewards hardly measure up to the risks. The resulting lack of revenue leads to shutting down the marketing efforts entirely or selling for the technology assets to another company. The remedial response begins with reexamining what we have. It will never create an early market if it’s not a breakthrough product. Still, it could be a supplementary product in an existing mainstream market which can produce the product in its existing channels.
The mainstream markets are dominated by the early majority, who in high tech is better understood to be pragmatists who are accepted as leaders by the late majority, best considered as conservatives and rejected as leaders by the laggards or skeptics.
In the history of high tech, the early majority have always represented the bulk of the market for any tech product. It’s hard to define the early majority as they don’t have the visionary’s passion for drawing attention to themselves. One doesn’t have to be one to market successfully to the early majority, as it’s enough to understand their values and work to serve these individuals. In terms of values, if the goal of early adopters is to progress, the goal of the early majority is to make a degree of incremental, measurable and predictable improvement. If they introduce a new product, they want to know how others have progressed. The word ‘risk’ is a negative sign for them as it wastes money and time. They will take risks if needed, but they will first take safety measures and carefully manage them.
If the early majority are hard to please, they are loyal if you win them once. Pragmatists care about the company they are buying the product from, the quality of the product, the infrastructure of supporting products and system interfaces and the genuineness of the service they will receive. As the early majority are willing to commit in the long run and they control the bulk of money in the market, earning their trust is worth the effort.
The early majority are vertically oriented, meaning they communicate with others more like themselves within their industry compared to the techies and early adopters who are more likely to communicate across industry boundaries in search of friends horizontally. This means that it’s difficult to break into a new industry to sell to the early majority. References and relationships are essential; they won’t buy your product until you are recognized. However, you won’t be identified until they buy from you. Thus, if a startup wins over the early majority in a vertical market, they will be loyal and go out of their way to help the company grow and succeed.
The early majority don’t prefer a specific distribution channel, but they want to minimize the distribution channel. This allows them to increase their buying leverage and secure a few clear points of control if anything goes wrong. Early majorities like it if a smaller entrepreneurial vendor can develop a relationship with one of the existing vendors or if it can create a value-added-reseller (VAR) sales base. If VARs specialize in the particular industry of an early majority and if they are well known to deliver quality work on time and within the budget, they represent a suitable solution for the early majority. What the early majority likes more about VARs is that they represent a single checkpoint and a single company if anything goes wrong.
The early majority like to see competition for many reasons:
- To reduce costs.
- To depend on more than one alternative if anything goes wrong.
- To assure themselves that they are buying from an established market leader. This is important as early majorities know that third parties will build supporting products around a market-leading product.
The early majority are also price sensitive. They are ready to pay a fair price for high-quality or special services, but if there are no unique differences in a product, they want the best price. It would help if you were patient when dealing with early adopters and conserving towards the issues that dominate their business. You need to attend the industry-specific conferences and trade shows that they follow, you need to be mentioned in the articles, newsletters and blogs that they read, you need to be a part of the companies in their industry, you need to develop applications for your product that are particular to their industry, you need to have partners and agreements with other companies in their industry, and you need to be well known for quality and service.
The late majority represents nearly one-third of the total available customers in any technology adoption life cycle. The late majority are against discontinuous innovations. They like to stick with something that works for them. Therefore, they use Macs while everyone uses Windows, they email instead of texting and call each other from time to time. They don’t tweet or post, and they are fine with their newspaper reaching their doorstep. This indicates that they are traditional rather than progressive people. However, the late majority succumb to development to keep up with the rest of the world. But merely because the late majority uses high-tech products doesn’t necessarily mean that they like them, which is why they invest at the end of the technology life cycle when products are mature, and when the market share competition is driving low prices. The products can be treated as commodities. Since they are engaging with the low margin end of the market where the seller is less encouraged to build a high integrity relationship with the buyer, the late majority always get cheated. This strengthens their disappointment with high tech and resets the buying cycle to a more distrustful level. If high-tech companies want to be successful in the long run, they should break this vicious cycle and create a reason for the late majority to do business with them. They should understand that the late majority don’t have great aspirations for their high-tech investments and won’t support high price margins.
The late majority like to buy preassembled packages with everything bundled at a significant discount. The products they like and understand most can perform a single function like music, video, email and games. The thought that a single device can do all four functions gives them a headache and doesn’t excite them. Thus, the importance is to focus on convenience instead of performance and user experience instead of features.
The dynamics of the mainstream market
Just like the early adopters drive the development of the early market, the early majority drive the development of the mainstream market. Winning their support is the key to dominating the mainstream market in the long run. However, by doing this, you shouldn’t take the market for granted. To secure dominance, you should keep pace with the competition. At this point, you don’t have to be a technology leader or have the best product, but the product should be good enough, and if a competitor makes a huge breakthrough product, you need to make a catch-up response at least.
The importance of transitioning from the early majority to the late majority market segment is to maintain a strong bond with the early majority by always giving them an open the door to enter the new paradigm while keeping the late majority happy by adding value to the old infrastructure. Based on this, we can see an exciting technology adoption life cycle trend. The importance of ancillary services is at its highest with the techies and lowest with the late majority. This is unsurprising because one’s degree of involvement and capability with a high-tech product is essential to when one will enter the technology adoption life cycle. The main lesson here is that the longer your product is on the market, it becomes more mature, and the service element becomes more important to customers. The late majority are highly service-oriented.
In the last decade, high tech has tackled this scenario by actively reconfiguring its product offers as services. Software as a service (SaaS), data center infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and development and deployment platform software as a service (PaaS) are all establishing a new stack in the cloud that virtualized space to which more computing is transferring. To get here, two things need to happen:
- Vendors should design as much as possible, which the service requires from installing and exercising the products successfully. While this has created a lot of income for system integrators, it hasn’t been pleasing; thus, the less of this, the better.
- When vendors consider the second goal of making the service grant an improved user experience, then everyone is happy. For example, the apple iPad appeals to every market segment in the technology adoption life cycle.
We will move to the next segment, the skeptics, who will always be disappointed with high tech.
Laggards – the skeptics
High-tech marketing aims to neutralize its influence on skeptics. For example, sceptics raise one of the arguments that disruptive innovation of any type hardly satisfies their promises and almost comes up with unpredictable consequences. If high-tech marketing companies don’t take responsibility for ensuring the full product is delivered, they will allow the skeptic to block the sale.
The service that skeptics offer to high-tech marketers is to continuously show them that the problems between the sales claims and the delivered product aren’t what was promised. These unfulfilled promises, therefore, spread through word of mouth, and the company will lose its market share. Thus, you need to take this as an opportunity to see where you’re going wrong and ensure your product delivers what was promised.
The problem with the technology adoption life cycle, as we discussed before, is that it shows smooth and continuous progress across segments of the product’s life. Still, the experience is the total opposite, as we have explored. It’s no doubt that transitioning marketing and communications between two segments is weird, as you should adopt new strategies soon after you become most comfortable with the old strategy.
The main problem with the transition is the lack of references when transitioning to a new segment. When you look at the technology adoption life cycle, the spaces between each segment show the credibility gap that comes from using the group on the left side as a reference base to penetrate the segment on the right side.
However, in some cases, the market keeps the different segments close. For example, the early adopters stay in touch with techies and respect their views as they need techies to serve as a reality check on the technical use of their vision and to help them examine certain products. On the other hand, the late majority look up to pragmatists to help them in their technology purchases. Both groups consider themselves members of a particular industry first, secondly, as businesspeople and thirdly as technology purchasers. However, pragmatists have more confidence in technology as a potential advantage and in their capabilities to make good technology purchases. The late majority are more scared of both. They are willing to cooperate with pragmatists to a certain extent, but they are a little afraid of pragmatists’ complete self-confidence. Thus, once again, reference has half value in transitioning between the segments.
The importance of the reference system being weakened goes back to what we learned earlier about high-tech markets comprising people who reference each other during their buying decision. As we go from segment to segment, there will be references, but they might not be the right type. This is seen between the early adopters and pragmatists. If, to an extent, there are minor gaps between the other groups, there is a greatly ignored chasm between the early adopters and pragmatists. If you look deep into that chasm, there are four essential characteristics of early adopters that separate pragmatists:
- The early adopters don’t respect the value of their colleagues’ experiences. Early adopters are the first individuals in their industry to see the potential of technology. Therefore, they’re pretty brighter than their opposite numbers in competitive companies. Their potential to see things first gives them a competitive advantage, and this advantage can only be successful if no one else has discovered it. Pragmatists, however, deeply respect the experience of their colleagues in other companies. Therefore, they expect a lot of references when they buy, and they want a fair amount to come from companies in their industry segment. Although, as we saw, this establishes a catch-22 situation as there are at least two early adopters per industry segment, how can we collect the number of references that a pragmatist needs when practically everyone is turned to for reference is a pragmatist?
- Early adopters have a great interest in technology. You can quickly start a conversation with them; they understand and value what high-tech companies and high-tech products are doing. They want to discuss ideas with smart people and think high-tech. On the other hand, pragmatists are not interested in technology as they consider themselves present-day people devoted to aiding their industry to develop. Thus, they dedicate their time to talking about industry-related issues.
- The early adopters don’t accept the importance of existing product infrastructure. They are building systems from the beginning and proving their vision. They don’t expect established standards as they plan to develop new standards alone. They don’t expect support groups, established procedures or third parties to share their workload and responsibilities. However, pragmatists hope for all these. They have positioned their career for such connections.
- Early adopters have less self-awareness of the impact of their uncooperativeness. Pragmatists think that early adopters just come and take all the budget for their pet projects. They take all the credit if the project is a success, and pragmatists must end up maintaining a system so complicated that no one is sure how to maintain it. If the project fails, early adopters seem ahead of the problem and leave the pragmatists to clean their mess. Whether the project is successful, early adopters don’t intend to stay for long in their career and want to climb the corporate ladder. Pragmatists are, however, committed to their company and career for the long run.
Understanding what high-tech marketing means and the market segments in the technology adoption life cycle is essential to exploring how a high-tech product is sold to common market segments.