Time to Adjust to Marketing Sameness

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The approaches used by technology companies to market their wares to businesses and consumers used to be very different. Not any more.


In an age when the 500-channel television is an increasing reality and special interest magazine/newsletter/Internet outlets increase exponentially each year, it's no surprise traditional approaches are changing.


Typically, the consumer technology buyer was reached at home, predominantly through daily newspapers and limited television exposure. Messages to the business technology buyer were primarily delivered through a multitude of business-to-business trade magazines and direct mail campaigns that arrived at the office. Today, lines are blurring between these audiences, and as a result, there is a crossover occurring in the techniques used to reach them.


For example, a number of technology companies, including Oracle and Sybase, are starting to reach business buyers out of their office environment. This is achieved by delivering very focused business-to-business messages to the buyer at home through consumer-oriented media outlets. And these companies are not alone. Just take a look at business-related shows on television (PBS' "Nightly Business Report," CNBC's "Market Wrap"), national daily newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times) and business magazines (Fortune, Business Week) for other examples.


The consumer technology buyer also is being reached in new ways - primarily with bits and bytes-focused direct mail that supports a broader campaign - as well as through television advertisements on mainstream shows such as "Friends" and "ER," in-flight magazines and signage at sports events.


With many more media vehicles available, the importance of branding and consistent messaging is vital. As brand stewards for our clients, agencies must ensure consistency across all mediums, whether the prospective buyer is being reached by broadcast or print advertising, collateral, direct mail, public relations or the Internet. This is where integrated marketing plays such a vital role, ensuring a consistent brand identity and common brand experience.


However, while messages need to be consistent, they don't have to be the same. Different media outlets lend themselves to different approaches, presentations and levels of information. And with its ability to deliver a targeted message at low cost, direct mail has a vital role to play.


Of course, the challenges of using media vehicles creatively to reach a target audience are numerous. Juggling more media outlets and multiple messages certainly increases complexity. On the business-to-business side, reaching and positively influencing buyers outside of their business environment is not easy. As such, it's no longer enough to use traditional trade magazines or direct mail exclusively. Success today requires creativity be reflected in more than promotional materials alone.


The biggest challenge of using nontraditional media vehicles exists with the clients themselves and the issues of waste. No one can argue against the efficiency of direct mail; and its effectiveness can easily be measured. But what happens when a technology company attempts to reach a business-to-business audience using consumer media such as an outdoor billboard or an in-flight magazine for example?


The target audience will be reached, along with vacationers, retirees, soccer moms and many other groups who have no interest in the technology being advertised. Clients must have an open mind for this approach to work, and agencies must provide adequate counsel to maintain a good client-agency relationship.


So where does direct fit into this changing landscape? The answer is squarely in the middle - as part of an integrated marketing campaign. In addition to its ability to deliver more detailed information than a billboard or advertisement, for example, direct mail redresses the balance when using unconventional approaches that deliver a lower return on investment because of higher wastage.


Today, business-to-business technology marketers are increasingly using more consumer-oriented outlets to reach their audience and vice versa. Let's not forget consumer technology firms face many business-to-business issues, such as channel distribution and private labeling. At a time when lines are blurring between audiences and the techniques used to reach them, agencies and their technology clients need to adjust accordingly.


Sean Bisceglia is CEO of TFA/Leo Burnett Technology Group, Chicago.
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