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Marketing VS. Technology in Today's Marketplace

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Every day, three or four engineers hide in the company restroom, huddle in the back booth of the local sandwich shop, or gather around the most recently divorced individual's kitchen table to plan the next major new product advance and start their company. 

The most technically competent individual is appointed VP of engineering; the one with the most gray hair (or least amount
of hair) is appointed president; and the most outgoing individual is named VP of marketing. Suddenly, another Seagate, Compaq, Network Associates, Cisco or Ascend is born, and the founders begin their quest for "the big bucks" and the next quantum leap in technology.

Enough Technology

The problem is, we really don't need more technology. What we do need is better application of the technology that we have
today.

In fact, it would be fair to say that we probably have enough sound technology available to last us for the next five years, if people would only concentrate on making the techno logy usable for the rest of us.

It takes a long time for technology to trickle down to the point where it is sold in volume. For example, what is the biggest selling microprocessor today?

It's still the 4-bit micro. It is sold like popcorn and is used in every electronic game in the world.

At the same time, 8-bit microcomputers are more than adequate for over 80 percent of the work for which micros are purchased ... word processing. Machines like 16-, 32- and 64-bit systems for these applications are akin to using a Porsche or Ferrari to drive to and from the grocery store. It's overkill for the job.

Technology is important, but what is needed even more is sound marketing understanding, ability and practice.

Hard-Learned Lessons

People like Adam Osborne (the developer of the first lugable "portable" computer) showed the industry and business world that you don't have to know technology to be successful. He showed us that good promotion is necessary. But you get in trouble when you start believing your own PR.

He also provided business schools with a case study that illustrated that strong management is also vital, as he drove the
company through one of business' steepest and shortest growth curves. He also showed what happens when you start to believe your own press clippings, pre-announce the next generation product and hit one of the industry's inevitable "snags." The blood bath was merciless. Yet every year companies in the systems and services industries show they can make the same mistake.

What he, and so many others, fail to realize is that perhaps the most important person in the organization is a strong marketeer. A person who can give leadership and direction to the company on what market segments it should attack, how it should attack them, and the products/services needed by the users in those markets. A good marketing person listens to and knows how to tap into what the ultimate buyer/user wants, needs and desires.

Rather than listening to engineering or production services on "what the marketplace really needs," the marketeer goes out and talks with customers and prospects. Then he tells engineering and production services to develop the systems and services that meet those criteria within a predetermined price category.

Rare Mixture

There have been some excellent (but rare) heads of marketing who understand finance, economics, selling, R&D as well as how to determine the market's next-generation product and service requirements.

Certainly, they want new, additional products and capabilities to sell; but they also want products, services and capabilities that will fit specific market segment/niche requirements. They understand the importance of packaging and presenting these products/services so that they appeal to their target markets.

They understand the value of good marketing research and promotion. A number of firms, having bought talent from the consumer service marketplace, have found that market research and customer understanding should come before engineering research.

Smart management doesn't make a decision to introduce a new product or service without the facts in front of them--facts that tell them their chances of success with the ultimate consumer. For example, rewritable optical data storage has been available for nearly nine years and each year, forecasts for success were rosy but have never materialized.

Finally, the courts ruled that optically stored documents could be considered as legal documents. The federal government's optical standards committee determined that optical media (MO and CD) can provide adequate audit trails of documentation; can be annotated, if necessary; will more than meet their document "life" and permanent storage requirements; can provide a substantial savings in the space required for filing and storage; and will provide staff members with the ability to locate specific documents more quickly.

At the same time, the document scanners and laser printers used with these storage systems became very economical and have been proven to be highly reliable.

These organizations were unable to be aggressive until the key legal ruling was made. However, once they had the ruling and all of the components in place, they were on their way. Armed with their new credibility, they began focused marketing and sales activities aimed at specific high-volume paper consumers/users.

They used their research to hone their promotional messages to tap into the wants and needs of their buying publics.
Now people are awaiting the new storage solution...DVD. Despite the fact that rewritable DVD is only just becoming available and it is presently best for very large storage requirements; the noise has overshadowed reality. Especially in light of the "resurgence" of interest in CD-RW and CD-R as an ultra cheap solution.

Creative Discomfort

Successful marketing people realize the importance of promotion that makes their customers feel a little uncomfortable. They understand that people need to be dissatisfied before they'll make a change from status quo. Marketing must provide the catalyst for change in order to stimulate the purchase of their products, systems and services.

Going back to our optical example, the use of paper is comfortable, familiar ... and paper is status quo. How well the optically-based document storage and retrieval system service firms succeed depends, to a large degree, on how uncomfortable they can make target customers with the volumes of paper they are retaining.

Experienced, professional marketing people are also aware that they need assistance and a fresh look from outside the company.

Bell Labs did an excellent job of developing UNIX over 25 years ago. The academic community developed a series of superb products known as artificial intelligence, decision support systems and/or expert systems.

Unfortunately, technical people were so busy talking to other technical people that they forgot about the real people who would eventually use the products ... that is, if they were going to sell thousands, and millions, of them.

These products languished for years, until someone came to the realization that it was necessary to find ways for lay people to use them.

The marketplace slowly began to accept and use these products. To them, they are brand new, even though both have been around for more than a dozen years. Now we are seeing a dramatic increased level of interest in an improved UNIX based solution called LINUX.

Battlelines Drawn

When Robert Duval muttered those immortal words in Apocalypse Now, "God, but I love the smell of napalm in the morning," he wasn't talking of death and destruction. He was talking about the excitement and challenge of battle.

While the battles of one-upsmanship between engineers, designers, integrators and solutions developers will probably go on forever, those small skirmishes don't win the big, bottomline battle.

And, although engineers and designers may mutter under their breath that marketing is squelching their superior advances, they also admit that their efforts are not driven by profit motives. Steve Wozniak was perfectly happy developing what have now become known as computer motherboards, but it took Steve Jobs' marketing savvy and profit orientation to bring together a team that made Apple Computer a factor in the industry. Now Steve's doing the same at Pixel and attempting to rekindle the candle of success again at Apple.

Likewise, the team that started Compaq had Rod Canion head the firm--not because he was the most technically strong, but because he had a greater "feel" for marketing and the market. Then, they very fortunately connected with Ben Rosen, not only as a source of funding, but for his management and marketing expertise ... and they listened to him.

To stay in business, any imaging solutions provider or company has to be pushed, pulled and dragged to make a profit.

The only people who are in a position to accomplish this are the rare--very rare--marketing people who can rally the organization and its outside sources to do more than simply sell some product and service. Instead, they sell the products and services to a market segment again ... and again ... and again.

Rather than taking potshots at one another, marketing people should help their organizations to focus all of their efforts on capturing market share. At the same time, the engineering, design and services groups should be figuring out how to give the company the tools and support they need to get their firm's unfair share of the market before the competition realizes what is going on.

A cooperative effort is needed, with marketing providing the leadership and direction to the engineering, integration and service teams.

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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