It's pretty much impossible for an organization to exist today without technology -- be it to make a product, sell a service, market a solution or liaise with a customer. Just ask J.Crew's famed CEO Mickey Drexler who stepped down just this week because he was 'unprepared' for the changes wrought on his business by technology, despite being an Apple Board member and mentor to Steve Jobs.
In addition to these swathing cross-industry changes, things are afoot within the traditional tech sector too. In fact, as we head into London Tech Week, you could ask, what is a tech company in 2017? Is Amazon an online retailer, a logistics company or a tech company? Is Airbnb a Silicon Valley tech disrupter or a hospitality brand? Is GM a tech company as its CEO Mary Barra has stated, or is it a car manufacturer? The lines have blurred massively.
All of this leads to a critical question for any tech business leader. In a rapidly changing world, where technology permeates everything, where every company is becoming a tech company, and where competition now comes from every sector, country and time-zone, how can your business stand out, compete, demonstrate its competitive advantage and win?
A good place to start is by having a clear, simple, understandable and relatable story and message to tell. Then work out who you need to tell that story to. And then focus your efforts and budget relentlessly on the places where your audience will see those messages.
It sounds simple, but it's amazing how many of your competitors won't have this part of their business strategy nailed.
Here are some simple tips on getting it right:
1. What category are you breaking into? As noted above, it's not completely obvious what 'sector' many new tech companies are competing in or are wanting to address. Giving this some consideration will help guide the message you want to convey to your audience. The answer might not always be black and white (nor should it be) but it will definitely help you…
2. Work out who your audience is. Most companies actually have a large number of potential audiences -- their customers or clients, their staff, their suppliers, investors, shareholders and then all the other influencers that can either drive buying decisions or impact the market. This means that identifying your audience(s) is crucial for a number of reasons. First, because you need to know WHO you're talking to in order to communicate with them effectively. Second, because different audiences will want to hear very different things. For example, an investor will want to know that your business is well run and what return they'll get from it, where as a consumer will want to know about the product specs and design. Third, because you simply won't have the time, resources and budget to reach all your potential audiences. You need to prioritise to succeed.
3. Work out what you're going to say to your audience. What is the message your business needs to convey to the people you've identified as key to its success? That message needs to be simple, relatable, and easy to understand. My tip is that you need to strip back the incredibly clever, complex, innovative, intelligent technology you're bringing to market so much that it feels almost insulting. Facebook talks about 'making the world more open and connected,' Salesforce is 'The Customer Success Platform.' These core messages are incredibly simplistic when you think about the outstanding technology innovation happening inside these businesses… and yet they're two of the most successful tech brands out there. Simplifying the message doesn't mean you are simplifying the business – you're just making it more understandable to your audience.
4. Work out WHERE your audience is. Many companies still think that PR means media relations. In many instances it still does, especially when integrated with other channels too. However the media, like all channels, are NOT the audience, they're just an (effective) way to reach those people. This means you need to do some proper data-driven research to determine where your audience actually is and how they can be reached. This will enable you to pull together a highly targeted communications plan -- that might leverage 3-4 channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and traditional media, or only one channel, one that has a very high chance of reaching the people you need to communicate with.
5. Provide your audience with compelling content. If I had £1 for every time a client asks for 'some viral content,' I'd be a rich lady. Content gets shared widely if it's fun, interesting, informative, enthralling or exciting. You can put paid behind content, but if it's not useful, interesting or easy to understand, no one will engage with it. Which makes it useless. Simples – and yet this is a hurdle so many businesses fall at. The messaging in step 3 is a core component in getting this part right, but great creative is imperative too.
6. Measure success from the get-go. If you have a clear strategy and plan that's been determined through a well-defined category and audience, and you have some really interesting content to share, the likelihood is that you'll be onto a winner. But communications is still much more art than science (at least until AI takes over!). This means measuring the performance of your communications programme and fine-tuning it as you progress will massively enhance its overall performance. There are a whole host of free and cost-effective measurement tools available on the market. Unfortunately, counting Likes on Facebook probably won't cut it anymore.
Clearly, we're at a time of massive disruption. In Machine, Platform, Crowd, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee compare what's happening now to when electric power displaced steam. Companies like J. Crew are clearly bearing the brunt of these huge, swathing changes. But many of the companies attending London Tech Week are benefiting too, and are clearly 'electric' in more ways than one. They're leading the charge and driving seismic changes in their industries, markets and society at large. I just urge them to ensure the rest of the world understands what makes them 'electrifying' too.
If you want to find out How to do World Class PR during London Tech Week, please come to our event on Thursday 15th June, 8.30am at The Tropical Library, where we'll discuss the impact of social, how to capture the media's attention and how to make your story work across borders. Not only that, Salesforce's UK head of PR will share how the company used communications to become a huge Silicon Valley success story. See you there!