Monday, 22 April 2013

Nine Reasons Why Tech Companies Need to Watch More TV Adverts

I don’t know about you but I do find it very difficult to find many tech companies who can explain their core market value proposition in 30 seconds or less. Yet every day there are literally hundreds of hours of 30 second television ads that are masterclasses in how to sell a product or service to mass audiences.

As a society we have been advertising things to each other through value propositions (you need this, you want this or you desire that) for millennia and have evolved our advertising media in the last century in ways our forefathers could never have believed. Today’s audiences are switched on, sophisticated and advertising savvy and consciously or sub consciously we know what works and what does not when it comes to purchasing decisions.

In the main we tend not to like the overt, hard sell but we do enjoy being sold to in soft, subtle ways that allow us to feel entertained whilst we come to desire items and services and which allows us to make the final purchase decision based on the information we have been shown and that which we have gathered of our own volition. One of the ways we have seen marketing evolve most recently is in the aptly pleasurable research we perform on detail and price using search engines and the internet for items we have seen in the shopping mall stores, now known as ‘showrooming’.   

You may have noticed that to date, unless you are IBM are occasionally Microsoft (remember the old strapline ‘where would you like to go today?’), a phone provider or an internet ISP you will not have seen tech advertising on the TV which if you think about it is quite incredible. Due to the lack of engagement between TV advertising and the tech community, the tech partner companies have largely relied on magazine and trade journals for advertising together with published documents, articles, whitepapers and their internet presence. This has had an effect; it means that tech firms have never learned how to pitch their value propositions in the highly-effective ways that we see with TV ad products.

Why do TV ads matter? TV ads demonstrate how to get to the point in a clear, differentiated and concise way. It is quite incredible how often a tech firm finds it very difficult to explain their offering to market, their product, their services, as if there is something innately complex or impossibly obtuse regarding their value proposition. One could argue that if one tried to describe the relative technical merits of a BMW then one would find the same issue but car manufacturers long since discovered that you do not need to describe the mechanics of a 5 litre V10 to establish a value proposition.

In other words tech companies have long since floundered in translating their technical merits into business value propositions and it is for this very reason that all tech organisations should spend some time sitting down and watching a wide range of TV ads and working out how to describe what they offer in relation to the established techniques of a TV ad.  Our speciality expertise is in SharePoint strategy and we designed the Salem™ framework to describe a highly complex technical software platform in terms of simple business value, quickly. We know it can be done very successfully and that’s why it works.

Consider the following nine traits of a typical TV advert and then apply them to your own technical value proposition. If at the end you can create a successful TV ad in your mind for your own product then you are on the right track.

 1. TV Ads are Time Limited & Concise

Most TV ads appear to span no more than 15 to 30 seconds. People have very short attention spans and these are getting shorter year on year. TV ads have mastered the art of telling an engaging story in seconds that gains interest and holds the attention. The most successful ads engage, inform and  inevitably lead to a call to action.

Most tech firms do not have time limits imposed upon them through the media they generally use to express a pitch. This inhibits any mechanism for being concise and conversely promotes verbosity unnecessarily.  Inevitably this means that most tech partners are unable to describe any meaningful value proposition in less than 30 seconds, thus potentially risking switching off their audiences. Try describing your product or service value proposition in a 30 second elevator pitch and keep tuning it until you have it down to a tee.

2. TV Ads are Direct and To the Point

Most TV ads have a specific message, value proposition or point to make. This is relayed with relevancy and meaning within the short times ace of point 1. TV ads that fail leave the viewer mystified, confused or uncertain. Successful TV ads make the viewer feel good, informed, like they have discovered something of value themselves and clear of the value to be gained.

What TV ads do not do generally is try and mislead, use smoke and mirrors or fool you as they are typically covered by strict advertiser codes, ethics and legal requirements.

Most tech firms are not direct and to the point, particularly when describing services and value propositions. They instead focus on why they are supposedly the best but without spelling it out, using generic phrases, oblique statements and confusing descriptions that are anything but clear and sound like everyone else in the same field. Due to unlimited amounts of web, webinar, event and publication collateral they are anything other than contained or to the point.

3. TV Ads Include Everything in One Package

Most TV ads will include information on multiple levels, include terms and conditions, small print, limited discounts and highlight anything and everything that will assist you in engaging with the service or product quickly. In other words TV ads tend to be comprehensive. This means that between 15 and 30 seconds you will know the website to visit, the number to call, the timespan of the sale, the location to visit, the founder of the company and anything else relevant.

Those longer night-time infomercials selling gym equipment tend to be repeating the same messages and information again and again from different angles until you cannot resist.

No, tech companies certainly do not place everything in one digestible package often simply due to the wealth and breadth of so many services that it looks like an extensive restaurant menu. Consultancy is separate from the product which is separate to delivery which in turn is entirely separate to maintenance, support and upgrades. The situation is only exacerbated by the absolute insistence by so many delivery partners to use T&M pricing models which are to be fair in many client circumstances, completely unmanageable.  No wonder the client audience is confused.

 4. TV Ads Establish Both the Problem & the Solution

Do you want white shirts, do you need a new sofa, do you have problems washing your car; do you need to clean the boat fast? That’s the point with TV ads, because they are expensive and time limited so they get to the point then explain the problem and why they resolve it. It is extremely important for any TV ad to set out the issue they are solving and this is why they are so clear and concise and therefore understandable. If you understand the issue, the resolution and the value proposition then the only thing that would stop you buying is the need and the price. By establishing the problem TV ads are often offering solutions to issues that you will personally encounter therefore they will establish the need.

Tech firms are frequently guilty of describing neither the problem not the solution, they will simply ask the question “what do you want?” and then they will build it in response. This market approach is starting to die with the advent of both the pre-built cloud environment, Software as a Service and the commoditized app market but many solution integrators remain trying to cling to this model whilst it starts to sink.

 5. TV Ads Evolve their Campaign & Your Learning

TV ads are often not single adverts in isolation and are frequently form part of an evolving campaign where each advert builds upon the others. Some ads follow a theme whilst reinforcing brand identity (actor, music, style, colour etc.) whilst others follow a story and build upon it whilst educating the viewer through elements of visual entertainment. By reinforcing and building the campaign and storyline so the viewer may take on other value elements of a larger proposition. For example a phone company may be selling the value propositions of a combined package of fast internet, home phone and TV channels, each being reinforced within a different version of the same advertising campaign.

Tech firms in comparison have rarely if ever built a complete, consistent cohesive campaign and therefore messaging tends to be distinct, isolated and rather random. This is why so few tech firms build strong brands and so easily distracted in their marketing by the best and latest new thing – one only needs to consider Office 365 or ‘social’ to find clear evidence of this.

Another thing that haunts the tech industry is its repeated tripping up over historical value messages. For example, Microsoft SharePoint SPS 2003 was absolutely the very best thing ever, and then MOSS 2007 blew 2003 out of the water but hang on, 2010 made 2007 look like a beginners toy whilst oh yes SharePoint 2013 really is the real deal. Can you see why those who bought into 2003 or 2007 would have long since felt somewhat cheated?! Partner messaging failed to build on the value proposition but simply all too often shocked, shamed or scared clients to move to the next version. Try getting that value proposition over in a 30 second TV ad!

 6. TV Ads are Dynamic & Entertaining

If TV ads were boring, people would not watch and may turn over but a great deal of time and effort is taken to equate the ad with entertainment. Some of our greatest TV viewing moments are often listed as amusing or engaging TV ads and a few live with us for years as if they are part of our historical viewing psyche. Many TV brand advertisers whether washing powder manufacturers or household product retailers have been advertising to us for decades and continue to find new ways to engage with us to sell new versions of old products. Whilst I fully understand the value proposition of a washing detergent I will still find new versions with the latest scent to entice my money from my pocket.

Most tech company ads are really not dynamic or entertaining, they are static and lifeless and look like everyone else’s all too often and that is if you can find them outside of the tech company websites. The tech industry is typically poor at advertising across channels and tends to keep things very contained. Similarly tech firms have found it hard to translate their value proposition into graphical terms which is why the best you may find is a YouTube video or a colourful stand at a tradeshow. Of course these are generalisations and occasionally one does encounter creative thinking or indeed marketing risk taking, but these instances are very much in the minority.

7. TV Ads are Repeated Regularly to Make the Point

TV ads don’t only appear once they may appear five or ten times every day or in every other commercial break for the primary weeks that they run. This is to ensure that the message is repeated enough times that everyone gets to see the ad and to ensure that the message is driven home. It is the reinforcing of a message until it is accepted that is critical.

Tech firms do repeat their messaging but the issue is that it sounds too often like everyone else’s messaging and therefore remains without distinct identity. Due to the lack of overt advertising there are very few firms that clearly repeat their messaging to a wider audience to make the point as to who they are and what they offer. The few that do tend to sit alone with a unique or highly distinct offering to market.

 8. TV Ads Do Not Presume Anything

Most TV ads do not presume that you understand what they are talking about and spell out the message and entire value proposition using common language that most people can comprehend. This is extremely important because it is amazing the wide range of misinterpretation within any message and therefore the repetition in point 7 goes hand in hand with the lack of presumption you know what they are talking about here. It is for this reason that many TV ads appear to be speaking some kind of marketing baby language, but it works and you do not need to think hard.

For all too many tech firms, presumption is widespread with jargon in overdrive, the latest and greatest phrases sprinkled across marketing materials like fairy dust and an assumption that jargon makes the firm appear current. Usually it doesn’t. The problem with the technology industry is that it presumes far too much and the buyer is almost left to make a purchase out of shame or stupidity as if they should have known but they clearly don’t so we better help put them out of their abject misery. Again, can you spot the problem?

What is wrong with vocalising technology using business language from a business perspective in a way that anyone can understand? Trying to be exclusive using exclusive, exclusionary language is perhaps part of the reason why the tech industry lacks respect from its wiser, more mature and rather more engaging business cousin.

 9. TV Ads Do Not Criticize the Competition

It is rare, though not entirely unknown, for TV ads to criticize competition because in the short  screen time available, they prefer to focus on the positive benefits of their own products. This is beneficial because no one likes or appreciates an attack on another vendor, manufacturer or product without specific reason as it is making an assumption on your behalf without reasonably informing you. In other words people like to make their own minds up and be the selector. Political parties tend to sell their own manifestos by criticizing the competition but this does not translate well into other markets.   

Criticism in the tech industry is unfortunately rife. There are very few products that are so similar that they need to go head to head and yet the advertising line all too often appears to be a direct feature comparison chart, a service comparison chart and a pricing comparison chart. Services however are a completely different matter with general solution integrator services being so similar that it is all too often the case that the client audience has nothing but price, location and availability on which to select the partner. What criticism does do is it makes the tech industry look petty, unprofessional and unattractive to outsiders and it is those outsiders who own the budget.

The inevitability is that rather than selecting a service from a squabbling mass of undistinguishable partner organisations, I’d rather buy an app and download it myself and try a few until I like one and without ever talking to anyone.

One of the reasons why the mobile apps market is becoming largely successful is because it fulfils elements of a product sale that occur in the frame of a TV ad. For example when considering a downloadable app the process tends to be fast, informative and relatively risk free whilst the value proposition is concise and to the point. I could try ten new apps in an hour in a way that the tech market has never offered me before.

The purpose of this article is of course to seek to redress the issue that many tech companies and partners have today when marketing their own activities, services and products and that is that they are failing to engage with new clients in terms of value proposition, unclear of their messages, using tired outmoded sales techniques, slogans and value statements that disenfranchise the audience they aim to sell to and leaving their markets to dry up.

It matters because when we are inter-dependent on a global partner ecosystem to sell the underlying value proposition of a small number of critical software platforms on top of which many other services and peripheral products sit, then the future of such platforms relies on an unequivocal message to market. Where the message does not get through or is sufficiently diluted, clouded or based on the wrong value propositions then everyone suffers including the buying audience.

As we are a specialist SharePoint strategy organisation I cannot leave the article without asking that the SharePoint-literate reader applies the nine points above to the SharePoint platform itself and you will quickly see why we have a problem and why TV ads can assist. Can you explain what SharePoint is in less than 30 seconds? Can you explain yourr entire value proposition concisely using a narrative that makes sense to a wide audience using language that is business orientated, dynamic, engaging and  empathetic? If you can’t do so then watch a few TV soap ads to see how it is done.

Looking at Microsoft SharePoint and the SharePoint industry, Microsoft has never advertised it in a major way or indeed found a way of describing it to business audiences and this issue continues with Office 365. People find it extremely difficult to describe the concise and ubiquitous value proposition of SharePoint and what it is used for whilst the SharePoint service industry is in disagreement as to how the product/platform should be approached and the benefits proposition is so fragmented than the general audience is left utterly bewildered. This is largely why those who seek to sell products on top of the SharePoint platform have such a tough time summarizing their own value propositions because the product itself first needs a TV ad to establish the baseline.  

It is more essential than ever for the future that the tech industry learns lessons from decades of TV advertisers and understands how to turn technology propositions into business value propositions that are conveyed simply, succinctly, clearly, timely, learnedly, engagingly, repetitively and without presumption or criticism of competitive products. There is also a lot to be said for software houses trying to work together and complimenting each other’s propositions rather than spending the next few decades trying to take each other’s market. If the noise from our own TV ad industry is disjointed, argumentative misleading and confused, don’t blame the viewer for switching over, or worse still, switching off.

No comments:

Post a Comment