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In Tech Marketing, Timing Is Key to Success

We've all heard the old expression, “Timing is everything.” You may not buy that completely, but you'll probably agree timing is important. All that talk about hitting your time-to-market window must have had some impact. This blog is about timing promotional investments. What's ideal?

Unfortunately, the question is like asking how much it costs to make a movie. The answer: “It depends.” For our question, a fair response is, “Early.”

Never underestimate the value of being first-to-market or, perhaps even more important, being perceived as first with a new idea. Here are some important questions to keep in mind about timing:

  • What's your company's market position? Does it even have one?
  • What's your company's track record in product promotion — heavy, light, or none?
  • Are you in a crowded, highly competitive market with many noisy players?
  • When will you actually be able to deliver the product to customers versus just having fresh beta sites or a big stack of data sheets?
  • What is the sales cycle or “time-to-money” associated with your category?
  • Is your product evolutionary or a truly new and different concept requiring a learning curve before purchase?
  • Who buys your product, and what's their normal purchasing behavior?

The variables are many, but for now let's consider four basics.

Your track record: If your company is not well known or is lacking market awareness and credibility, these advantages must be earned over time. How much time? How much money? Probably more than you may have planned. Look at stretching your promotional dollars by cooperating with another marketer. (See: 5 Tips for Effective Technology Marketing.)

Even great product concepts require share-of-mind and supplier acceptance. Building a reasonable communications track record, a reputation, from scratch in the worldwide electronics market takes many months and many dollars. Getting on an editor's or market researcher's radar screen can be a full-time job for experienced public relations pros. A few ads won't usually penetrate your prospects' consciousness and inspire them to act. A sustained campaign generally will. Minds aren't persuaded digitally. Multiple inputs are required to move the needle. Start public relations well before advertising. As the news coverage or publicity fades, initiate advertising.

Consider initiating some forms of promotion at least six months before product availability if you have no track record or if it is a new market entry. Even giant companies start early when entering a new business arena. From the start, work on gaining awareness and credibility through all available media, including on- and off-line editorial and advertising, tradeshows, direct mail, and, of course, direct sales contact. Don't underestimate the challenge or under-fund the campaign. Front-loading is essential to success. A flat monthly budget may make the bean counters happy, but it won't break through the noise barrier.

Even if the company is a veteran supplier it still can and should start well in advance. Even though it was the dominant supplier, {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} introduced its RISC microprocessor over a year before it was shipped. Why? Because {complink 103|Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD)} was already shipping its RISC chip, and other competitors were revving up their versions. The train was leaving the station, so it was time for Intel to jump on board, even if the product wasn't ready. Extremely long-lead product introductions work well only when you have credibility.

No one doubted that Intel would deliver. An unknown company might not get away with such an ambitious schedule. A lesser known company needs to overcome its brand awareness problem by starting early building familiarity among industry influencers and customer prospects in advance of product awareness.

The messaging mix: Sequencing promotional efforts depends on available budget, what's worked for the company before, and what the competition is doing, among other factors. Treat the news of a significant new product like gold. It's only news once. An introduction plan that maps out all the introductory steps is essential. This may include sales training, publicity, space advertising, direct mail, and telemarketing programs.

Don't rely on only one promotional tool for the whole job. Create a mix of timed events and actions that will get the message out over an extended period. Publicity is powerful and should be used when there is legitimate product news value. Time the introduction so all media can cover it simultaneously. This means putting your story together early.

Your advertising is set to kick in following appearance of product news, not prior to editorial coverage. Direct mail and email should be timed immediately following the publicity appearance or as a kicker following the advertising appearance.

Don't start at the show: One other thing relating to promotional timing: Your product doesn't have to be introduced at a major tradeshow. Although some product marketers seem to think that's the only time to promote, in fact, attempting publicity at key tech events like ESC can be a waste for smaller companies. They'll be competing with major players for industry attention.

Promotion is an investment: The golden rule: Never stop promoting unless you want to stop selling. Maintaining promotional communication retains momentum and brand and product awareness. Varying the level or the mix makes sense; cutting it altogether does not. It's been proven for decades that marketers maintaining promotional investments during a business downturn do better through the recession and come out ahead of their non-promoting competitors when the recovery comes.

Stop investing, and your prior investment in awareness building begins to fade. As the president of a very successful client company of mine once emphatically said: “No one wins any marketing wars by saving money.” Investing the right amounts at the right times is the key to marketing success.

20 comments on “In Tech Marketing, Timing Is Key to Success

  1. tioluwa
    May 3, 2011

    I thought this was just a supply chain professionals forum, but this article is way beyond that and incredibly awesome.

    The analysis are great.

    I'm a budding design engineer looking towards manufacturing and researching seriously into it. This gives valuable tips. Thanks alot.

    I would like to ask a question:

    How do you relate this to a developing economy, where technology is just developing, and a campany is looking to penetrate the market and compete with imported products.

    Even if the price is good, and the product is good, how do you break through trying to create a presence as a local manufacturer where it doesn't exist?

  2. AnalyzeThis
    May 3, 2011

    Interesting article Ford, but I was just curious: what are your thoughts and feelings regarding viral marketing? Do you think it's a viable means of promotion or do you think it's just an overused nonsense buzzword?

    I ask because many companies with limited budgets often turn — or attempt to turn — to viral marketing in order to create awareness for products for little (or no) cost.

    Again, was just curious regarding your perspective on the subject! Thanks!

  3. Ford Kanzler
    May 3, 2011

    Hi Dennis – Sure viral is viable. There are an increasing number of successful campaigns that went beyond marketers' expectations within an interest group or segment. Attempting to create a viral campaign takes luck and/or fairly deep understanding of your community's tastes, likes and what's hot. As with many social media-based efforts, your brand can be hot one minute and not the next. I'd offer that a viral marketing push doesn't particularly sustain a strategy. Timing such a campaign should certainly be a factor and deserves just as much consideration regarding when it occurs as any other. However, counting on the promotional effort to go viral at a given time is where it gets somewhat vague. Counting on human behavior to find something overwhelmingly attractive, interesting, humorous or desireable is really rolling the dice.

    You're certainly right about companies with little budget putting their (very few) eggs in the viral marketing basket. I'd ask whoever is running the marketing, “What's your backup plan?” Here it seems appropriate citing my favorite marketing gurus, Al Reis and Jack Trout. Rule #22 of “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” states: Without adequate funding, an ideas won't get off the ground. There are a great many (some might say most) tech business formation ideas that are vastly underfunded and whose inventors believe the world will rush to them with money.

  4. Ford Kanzler
    May 3, 2011

    Hi TIOLUWA – Not exactly clear on the question since the word “developing” was used twice in it. If the technology is new, perhaps radically new, then a marketer may be in danger of being too early and have to either do some pioneering or wait until competitors appear with similar products to establish a market. Read Geoffrey Moore' “Crossing The Chasm” (1999) for plenty on this. Being first in a new category is powerful and should be used to establish the brand's preeminence. Does anyone remember Apple welcoming IBM to the personal computer market?

    Back to your question again about competing with imports. if a brand is facing foreign competitors, there may be some value within its home country, in claiming “made in…” as a differentiator if nationalism plays a role in purchasing decision-making. However, the company's products better be at least at parity with competitors'. Not sure that “where its made” is always a sustainable advantage in the tech marketplace. Porsches from Germany or Jack Daniel's from Lynchburg, TN are a different story.

    Whether a differntiation claim is perceived as valuable to customers and prospects is one of the first things a marketer should understand. As mentioned in my March blog, claiming what everyone else claims (using buzzwords), or what isn't valued by the market, is a waste of time and money. Sounding and actng like everone else gains you no attention.

  5. AnalyzeThis
    May 3, 2011

    Thanks Ford! You know, I do have to say that I nearly completely agree with you; I do agree that a successful viral campaign takes either a good deal of luck or a very, very unique understanding of your audience.

    And I do also agree that success is a bit of a gamble… and even if it is a success, it probably won't be very sustainable especially given the fickle tastes of social media: your 15 minutes of fame gets compressed down to maybe 3 minutes.

    I think you're right in that if you do pursue viral, you should have a backup plan and not depend on its success in any way.

    I believe that while viral can be a cool thing to do and occasionally lead to success on the cheap, it's really not a replacement for more traditional marketing techniques and strategies. In the end, you're still going to have to spend money… replacing your marketing budget with a Twitter account would be very foolish.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 4, 2011

    One of the frequent mistakes that the tech companies commit when marketing their leading edge products is to anounce that the product is ready when it may be actually not even a beta version. The marketing campaign creates a lot of interest among the potential buyers of such products but when they see the product demo or the product sample they realise that the product is half cooked though the concept is wonderful. These customers then shy away from the product and the whole campaign fails. When you actually have the product ready for selling the customers are no more interested.

  7. jbond
    May 4, 2011

    You are completely correct. It seems like companies want to get so much hype out of their product that they market it at full speed when the product isn't fully developed. What always seems to happen is the company is forced to release the product too soon, problems ensue and people get turned off from the product. All the marketing efforts were wasted because a product with giant expectations was released too early and consumers got scared off from problems that should have been found before release.

  8. Anand
    May 4, 2011

    “No one wins any marketing wars by saving money.” Investing the right amounts at the right times is the key to marketing success.”

    @Ford,

      Thanks for the article. I totally agree with your point that No one wins any marketing wars by saving money. But the big question is what is the right amount and what is the right time ? Is there a thumb rule which says for a company x% of its revenue should be spent on marketing ?

  9. Ariella
    May 4, 2011

    prabhakar_deosthali  points out another key aspect of timing.  A company cannot jump the gun on announcing a product until they are certain when it will be fully ready, tested, and ready to hit the market. Many are overly optimistic and don't allow sufficient time to work through everything they should to assure the product will be ready for prime time.

  10. mfbertozzi
    May 4, 2011

    Generally speaking, I trust the editorial, anyway I believe it should be important also keeping a more prudent position. Timing is a key, but no splits or distinctions have been made with regard to tech product we are speaking about. Are we telling about consumers products? Business products? Solutions for Vendors? Based on final users, timing could feel in different way and give bad or good perceptions.
    I will appreciate your thoughts, just to keep alive the discussion.
    – Thx

  11. tioluwa
    May 4, 2011

    Thanks for your reply Ford, it was really helpful and informative.

    as for the whole issue of promotions coming too soon, i think the market is just too competitive, everyone is on everyone's neck, causing manufactures to do anything just to draw the attention of customers to themselves, the trick just backfires sometimes.

    I think quality is one of the greatest marketting tools, and to ensure that, some companies while promoting an unfinished product give a timeframe for its completion, this could help prevent the product being release too soon. 

    Ariella  states this point very well. again, pressure from competitors could be killing.

  12. tioluwa
    May 4, 2011

    mfbertozzi's  are very interesting, distinguising what kind of product does matter. however, i believe the question of timing does affect all kinds of products, but in varying degree and in different ways.

    timing for business solutions is a matter of relevance to business trends within the market as well as flunctuations. a flunctuation in business trends could create an opportunity for a particular business model to fit in, if that opening is not maximized, then the model becomes useless afterwards.

    Solution for vendors is also dependent on market trends which change, and usually continue to advance, without going back. we looked at the issue of solution based products from electronics suppliers in the past on this blog, rather than mear sales of components. this was a trend in the market that started some time back and is still on.

    so timing is critical everywhere, but again to varying degree.

  13. mfbertozzi
    May 4, 2011

    It is right Tioluwa, in effect one dimension of phenomenon I have forgot to mention is exactly market's power to “absorb” products and promotional mix of messages. For example timing to launch one specific tech product can be very aligned to end users needs, but external factors could influence the success in one sense or in the opposite. Just to be pragmatic: tech products in the area of photovoltaic are mapping exactly the strategy to reduce CO2 emissions and create alternatives to oil, unfortunately fund from Govs are gone due to current financial crisis and political events in Northen Africa and Middle East. As consequence the process has been stopped and products are not achieving targets.

  14. tioluwa
    May 5, 2011

    so mfbertozzi's point is definately bringing in market trend as a key decision maker in Tech marketing as well. Does market trend in any way rival timing in the tech industry?

    the industry is going mobile now, which is more an issue of trend than timing.

    Which is really more important, timing or trend?

  15. Ford Kanzler
    May 5, 2011

    Anandvy – Your question is at the core of nearly every marketer's dilema. The challenge is not only when to invest in marketing but how much. The list of questions (see bullets) in my original post provides some direction. There are certainly additional variables worth including in the decision process. There is no pat formula for the “correct” amount. This is decision that must be based on a wide range of market conditions. Establishing a level of marketing spend on a certain percentage of sales is a vague guideline and may or may not be adequate. From my fairly long experience, tech marketers' error is often investing too little too late. They underestimate what it takes to drive and maintain awareness, credibility and demand against relentless competition. There tends to be an inherent belief that products should stand on their own merits and that promotion is, or should be, unnecessary. I have theories on why that happens but it would be way off topic.

    To the other replies around jumping the gun with products or services that aren't customer-ready (introducing too early), I addressed that in the original post. I'd add that the whole customer experience (often referred to using the buzzword “solution”) must be in place for optimal success. Its not just about the device. Claiming a “complete solution” will come back to bite tech marketers nearly every time because customers will nearly always find something that is lacking and that can be added. If, as marketer, you think you're done innovating or inventing a product, you're mistaken.

    On TIOLUWA's comment regarding quality, I offer that “quality” whatever that may entail, is a basic requirement for being in business today. It's merely table stakes to be in the game. Claiming quality as a differentiator is of no value since its highly likely that all your competitors already have it, or if by some strange chance they're lacking it, they'll have it soon. Figure out something else of value to customers on which to base you brand's difference.

  16. mfbertozzi
    May 5, 2011

    It is a good question and I really appreciated, because it allows thinking more about. My personal feeling is trend acts as “key” and right timing could help a product in ramping the trend or in doing a break, starting a new one. I also insist in external events as possible major influencers , this is not a topic discussed inside current Ford's editorial, I guess to share some opinions about, with EBN community, in the future as per next editorials.
    -Thx

     

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    May 6, 2011

    Jbond:

    you made a good point on that. i think the reason for that is because every manufacturer want to be at the top of the market and one of the ways to do that is to keep releasing new products which may not have passed the test of time though.

    Innovation is a major foundation for staying on top on the market but then you products are being released even before customers could think about the previous ones tend to scare them because innovation could also bring the fear on the unknown or untrusted products.

  18. tioluwa
    May 6, 2011

    Ford Kanzler 

    i wasn't really refering to quality, i guess you missunderstood me. i was refering to the effect of chaning market trends, and how they control the Tech industry.

    Forexample, alot of talk is going on about Green this, and Green that, it is a sort of trend, and it determins alot in the Tech market.

    Interoperability is a big deal especially in areas like Smart grid, this too affects what the Tech manufacturers in that sector are working on.

    Portability is becoming big too with tablet, smart phones and the likes, and everyone is doing everything to get a slice in the mobile market.

    I think trends as much as timing is key to success, but you're the expert, how do you see it

  19. Ford Kanzler
    May 6, 2011

    TIOLUWA – Believe we agree. A market trend, such as change in the shape of demand, i.e. for green, mobile, interoperable products, all affect product development, availability and promotional timing strategies. Too early and no one is paying attention or can't yet see the need. Too late and you're facing well established competitors and declining prices. Another of Trout & Ries' 22 Laws that's likely applicable here is, “It is better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace.”

    Understanding technology that's available and applicable to newly arrising or discovered customer pains or pleasures is the what its all about. That's one of the roles market reseach analysts and product planners play in the tech sector. Additionally, new technology sometimes creates its own demand as people realize a new need rather than just replacing older ways of doing things. For example, people didn't generally realize the values of a personal computer at its initial introduction and availability at affordable prices. In that case marketing investment plays an essential role in driving demand for something entirely new. Effective promotional timing remains critical.

     

     

  20. tioluwa
    May 7, 2011

    A really expert analysis there, you're enlightened me greatly, it all still boils down to timing in the end. but at the least, we were able to bring out a number of other deciding varibles, to which timing still applies.

     

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