We tend to think – even as we say ‘there’s no business as usual any more’ – of static and dynamic markets, and the two being different. But in a fluid business environment (and social, cultural, economic, cultural…) there are no ‘knowns’. All markets are emerging; constantly redefining orders, needs and priorities, reimagining advantage. There is no rest. There are no laurels. No sector sees this affecting them (whether it wants it to or not) more directly than the cutting edge: the high-tech world. High-tech must realise that innovation is not enough to keep them ahead and they must still get to market. As Drucker said so brilliantly, the only thing in business is marketing and innovation – both are one. High-tech businesses must all try to become brand and marketing leaders as well as being innovators.
A blend of factors makes the tensions between stability and dynamism, between freedom and constraint, particularly knotty and intertwined in high-tech:
- High levels of innovation investment and requirement
- Extreme expectation from the sector
- Humans are addicted to technology at every level
- Intense and increasingly global competition
- Extraordinary pace of change
- Hyper-proliferation of providers at enterprise and niche level
- Massive cross pollination of types of technology provider
- Hidden nature of the final product
- High likelihood of being leapfrogged.
This all combines to make high-tech businesses uniquely vulnerable to sudden shifts. A good recent example is the huge dip in the stock of ARM Holdings last week. This was, to put it mildly, unexpected – as ARM provides the brains of many of the world’s smart phones brands, all of whom are doing pretty darn well (note comic understatement). What was the problem? Why hadn’t it experienced a ‘halo’ benefit from the success of Apple, Android, etc? Because of all the factors above – because ARM had not, unlike the true leaders of the sector, borne in mind some marketing and brand rules that can make a material difference to their performance, longevity, control – and innovation.
(1) Remember all markets are emerging. Everything is in fluctuation and you’re only as valued as your latest innovation and most recent, up to the minute, relevance.
(2) Remember to be in their face. All your user groups are different and all of them need to know about you. The business buyer needs to be emotionally convinced as well as rationally; but the true value of your contribution needs to be communicated to wider audiences. Strive to straddle B2B and B2C in the way you talk to the world.
(3) Remember innovation is not enough. Innovation is vital. But it’s only part of what you need to do. Marketing is not fluff. It’s how you tell your story to the people who want to buy. It’s the other half, as Drucker said, of everything. By joining marketing and innovation, you give mission and vision to the innovation, and make it ‘what you are’ not just ‘what you do’. This is the difference between a technology provider and a technology giant: the story.
(4) Remember to lead, not be led. Many high-tech innovators, the true innovators in the industry, are totally unknown – and they look to the big boys for leadership and to bask in their glory and benefit from their success. You can’t do that any more. You must master your own destiny. That means creating a brand that’s more than ‘shiny things’; it means creating a brand buyers can’t do without.
(5) Remember you must be more than a promise. Your innovation is in the past, the moment it’s done. The innovation in the future is a promise and sometimes, promises fail. You must have structures of communication and engagement that reach out into the world and continue to demonstrate your relevance – while you innovate in the background and prepare to wow the world. And you have to be able to weather the storms if your innovation isn’t quite enough next time. Otherwise the bubble will burst, and you won’t survive it.
The leaders in the high-tech sector achieve growth, even when economies suffer. This is partly because they are truly innovative; but it’s also because they are geniuses at manipulating and communicating their brand, internally (so everyone is pointing the same way, believing passionately in the same things) and externally (so their legions of buyers become believers as well).
It is no longer enough to be a brilliant, innovative producer of ‘things’. To be a high-tech business you must learn what others are learning: that relevance, audience, story, leadership and constant communication are everything. You must become brand and marketing innovators, as well as product innovators, in order to triumph.