Head of Marketing and Communications, IQM Quantum Computers – European Leader in Building Superconducting Quantum Computers.
Marketing leadership is failing many of today’s technology brands. Or rather, it’s a lack of marketing leadership that is failing tech brands.
Understanding how and why this is happening requires first understanding the evolved role of the modern marketer, which encompasses all of the major pillars of a technology company: product innovation, user experience, customer service, technology development and, of course, marketing itself. If it’s a startup we’re talking about, add business development and pivots, investor marketing, analyst relations and market research to the list. Yes, marketing is complex. But it’s also quite simple.
Regardless of how marketers’ roles have evolved, every successful CEO will attribute their success in part to strong marketing leadership. It’s an underappreciated fact, however, that building a global technology brand is a whole different ball game than marketing a traditional product or service.
One unique aspect is the constant innovation that is innate to a successful tech company. Every change to a digitally-based product or service requires deep customer understanding, marketing realignment and optimization. By contrast, for a fast-moving consumer goods company like PepsiCo, product innovation is typically iterative and subtle, allowing the business to operate based on a core brand position that remains stable over time.
The resulting challenge for new-age tech startups and their marketing teams is to overcome a tendency to focus on the short term and, particularly, on shiny buzzwords like growth hacking, data platforms and automation. There’s nothing wrong with those tools, of course — unless they’re emphasized to the point of neglecting marketing fundamentals.
Today’s marketers need to be able to strike a balance between short-term execution and long-term strategy, but few are investing in the requisite marketing specialization. This isn’t said to disparage them, but to add to the point — building a technology brand is not easy by any measure.
Difficult or not, it’s a crucial task. Effective marketing is the key to building a brand that lasts, which is integral to several external growth drivers, including fundraising, customer acquisition and maximizing customer lifetime value (CLV), as well as internal growth drivers like employee engagement and attracting talent. Ultimately, marketing is the main contributor to sales and overall brand value.
Difference between a good marketer and a great marketer
A firm grasp of the fundamentals is every marketer’s foundation, but top-level CMOs need much more in their toolbox. They need an intimate understanding of the customer and the company, from product to financial. They need to measure and contribute to those goals, tie in with data at beneficial junctures and be equally focused on long-term strategy and short-term outcomes.
In the gradual shift from driving transactional value to maximizing CLV, some amount of “grit” has disappeared from the marketing game, with an increasing number of executives getting lost in the weeds of adopting the newest digital tools. Tech marketers need to reestablish that grit, tie it to a cohesive strategy and be able to communicate that strategy with great granularity to all members of their organizations.
That said, it’s the management team that will collectively be responsible for a business’s success. Marketing has to act as the voice of the customer internally and influence every arm of an enterprise, but those arms have to communicate back to marketing with an equal level of transparency and trust. Successful CMOs make strategic decisions and have a central seat at the innermost table while being supported on all sides.
I hope I haven’t painted a picture of technology marketers running around like a brood of headless hens. That certainly isn’t the case. Today’s top marketers — and the organizations they work for — are painfully aware of the challenges that building a global technology brand entails. And tellingly, they are overcoming them in order to build and support brands we all know today, from Apple and Google to Amazon and Airbnb.
They are also creating a legacy of what it means to build and market successful brands like these and showing their peers and successors what is required of elite marketers who want to compete in the center of the tech arena. While marketing leadership may not be going extinct, it is certainly endangered. And the CMOs behind today’s most successful technology brands provide examples of what the future of marketing looks like.
If you are a marketer who’s transitioning to a marketing leadership role, then the bottom line is simple: There is more to marketing than digital. There’s customer understanding, market research, marketing strategy, brand strategy, analyst relations, product marketing and the list goes on.
Technology companies that successfully build a global brand treat brand strategy and business strategy as inseparable. And behind these successful brands, whether they belong to startups or Fortune 100 companies, is a well-rounded CMO.