“Every company is a technology company,” declared Gartner’s research chief in 2013. The premise has since become accepted wisdom for learned academics and business reporters.
So how can you communicate effectively about it?
Things are especially challenging if you’re at an established business, which means you have to navigate a complex dance between marcom’s routines for communicating product details with customers, and a need to note the themes that matter to everyone else. Working within the constraints imposed on public companies makes it even harder.
The objective outcome of such circumstances can be hard to see sometimes. It’s easy to stare only at the beautiful and expensive content that announces your company’s “digitization,” or reveals that you, too, are pondering the Internet of Things. Lots of smart consultants are more than happy to take your money in exchange for delivering it, and telling you everything’s peachy.
Unfortunately, the result is that much of what big companies say about technology is similar, if not identical. Awareness is tenuous, and almost wholly dependent on a continuous expenditure of cash (i.e. ideas have no “currency” of their own).
Thought leadership content isn’t particularly thoughtful, and it doesn’t really lead. Stories glow on websites for the enjoyment of few visitors. Social sharing is confined to employees and others who have vested reasons to care, along with the attention of poseurs and bots.
The ultimate outcome? Tech startups say the stuff that seems to matter, and thereby steal the limelight. It’s they who’re inventing the future. Businesses like yours are only bystanders.
Or dinosaurs waiting to become extinct.
Here are 3 things you should know about getting more from your communications on technology:
First, it’s about the why, not the what.
It’s all but impossible to differentiate on the particulars of technology: Whatever the innovation, there are usually multiple tech paths to achieve the same benefits (or better ones). Technology has been the great leveler of business ever since the first rush for Gutenberg printing presses.
Some companies use tech better than others, but any first mover advantage for suppliers or customers is doomed to be short-lived; like the social status of owning the first luxury car on your block, it lasts only until your neighbor buys a competing brand.
In fact, contrary to the firm convictions of your marcom people, new technology has no inherent meaning, let alone value. No catchy topical references will change it.
What you can own is a discrete and unique purpose for your technology (the stuff you make and/or the things you use). Every bit of content you produce should be about this why, and thereby build value.
Second, it's important to see your audience as consumers, not a hodgepodge of stakeholders.
I’m not sure how the way things used to be got ruined. There was a time when audiences could be neatly segmented, especially in the B2B sphere, and each get told things that mattered to them, but to nobody else.
One person’s inspiring insights were another’s irrelevant details.
Maybe it was the ubiquity of Internet search, or Steve Jobs’ reimagining of tech products, but nowadays there are no walls between audiences, or the content you serve up to them.
Inspiring insights + irrelevant details = pedestrian gibberish.
So the why of your embrace of technology has to make sense both to your most informed customer and disinterested observer. It needs to explain your relevance to deep, shared needs and aspirations of every “buyer” of your content.
Third, achieving clear and ownable awareness requires continuity of messaging.
Technology is nothing more than the tool that you use, ideally in novel and proprietary ways, to make things happen that matter to your consumers, and not refer back to some internal strategy or purpose.
It’s not about enabling Industry 4.0, and all bets are off if you think it’s about the cloud. If it isn’t nearly self-evident that your technology news will have a meaningful impact on your consumers, maybe it isn’t news.
Successfully delivering the why requires you to continually look outside your business, and help your consumers see where, when, and yes, how your tech impacts their lives. Every announcement is a prompt to show them how you’ve helped move them closer to realizing whatever purpose you’ve set out to accomplish.
You need think outside the box. Literally.
If every company is a technology company, then none of them are, which means you should consider changing the way you talk about it.
Communicating a compelling why that’s meaningful to all consumers, and doing so consistently over time, could be the way to use tech to build ownable and sustainable awareness.
3 Things is a bi-weekly series of insights from my firm, Arcadia Communication Lab, which is a global collaborative solely focused on helping established businesses get value from communicating about innovation. You can download our .pdfs on Executive Quotes, Owned Media, TV Advertising, Crises, Thought Leadership, and Reputation.
We also recently launched Innovation Communicator, a news site dedicated to sharing stories about public company innovation with journalists, analysts, and fellow innovators. Let us know what you think via editor (at) innovationcommunicator (dot) com.
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