When people outside the industry ask me what I do, I usually start at a high level -- “I’m in public relations.” This leads to further discussion about how their brother also works in advertising, at which time I usually go to this:
“Advertising is telling the story, PR is selling the story.”
I learned this handy couplet at a job interview twenty years ago (a quick Googling just now yielded no primary source for it). Today, the delineation isn’t nearly as neat (and nothing really rhymes with “earned content”).
I help enterprise technology companies -- businesses that sell technology to other businesses -- create stories (those of substance, rather than laden with buzzwords) that appeal to their key audiences. These audiences are split evenly between executives (C-level) and end users (IT managers, specialists, etc.).
It can be a challenge, sharing stories about technology developed by engineering-driven companies for whom “speeds and feeds” -- essentially performance metrics -- is most familiar and comfortable.
To date, our job has been straightforward: to elevate the message, from “what the product is” and “what it does” to “why this is important.” And now we enter an exciting--yet challenging--phase: “How does it make you feel?” And this is critical -- as we move from a rational discussion to an emotional one, we create longer-term, positive associations and loyalty.
(Consumer practitioners: I realize you’ve been doing this for a century; give me my moment, this is exciting).
Does This Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) Make Me Handsome? Yes. Yes It Does.
A recent Harvard Business Review column outlined the challenges:
“The chief marketing officer at a major technology provider recently voiced concerns that I’ve heard from several other CMOs: ‘Our customers have gotten way ahead of our sales efforts. Too often, we’re not even getting invited to the dance.’ This tech company’s website, like many others, overflows with information about product features but offers few perspectives about how the products truly solve customers’ problems.”
Are business decision makers and the technologists who work for them unable to feel emotion? Are they wired only to make predictive, rational decisions? With few exceptions, no.
A recent Forrester study, as covered in the Wall Street Journal, showcased an opportunity:
“IT groups … will add more value to the overall company because they’ll be free to work on technologies to grow revenue and projects that will result in competitive advantages (emphasis added) …”
When in doubt, B2B marketers have relied on messages that are calculated, pragmatically (or cynically) built on bottom-line benefits. Or worse, we’ve defaulted back to speeds and feeds, unable to make a meaningful emotional connection with our audiences, distracted by “platforms,” “solutions” and shiny lights.
As IT’s role evolves -- from “keeping the trains running on time, ensuring the Clinton-era file server isn’t corrupted and ultimately, working to avoid getting angry phone calls when the network goes down” to “building those revenue models the CFO liked” or “working with the UX team on those ideas I had” -- so does ours. To break through and connect, we must craft and tell stories that appeal to them, their ambitions, their desire to be seen as important, smart and relevant.
No amount of speeds and feeds can do that.