To be a marketer right now is to live with a lot of uncertainty. It’s everywhere, including the enterprise tech space where Article Group focuses.
That doesn’t mean just giving in to an attrition mindset and giving up on marketing. It does mean rethinking our priorities and approach, whether you’re an in-house marketer or an outside partner.
Enterprise tech marketers have important work to do right now
The No. 1 thing we think enterprise tech companies can do right now is what we call “high-upside brand-building”: focusing on activities that drive brand awareness and affinity while delivering a high impact relative to the dollars spent.
In simpler words: scrappy, useful marketing that makes people like you.
This isn’t brand marketing, in the classic sense, nor is it growth marketing. It’s something different, but hopefully familiar.
Worry less about MQLs and more about being helpful
Our first recommendation for anyone marketing enterprise technology right now is to drive goodwill, not leads.
There is increasing evidence that typical B2B lead gen efforts generate weak leads, anyway. To invoke Chris Walker, who we admire, five people who reach out to you ready to buy are worth more to an organization than 500 people who read an ebook and are only interested enough to waste an SDR’s time.
That’s true regardless of any pandemic or recession.
And there are great ways for marketers to create the conditions for those new customers to be born, that you can use now, even as you watch your marketing dollars shrink.
I’ll go into a few of our favorite principles and how to activate them. They are:
- Build an audience around your ideas, not your products.
- Create content that delivers the same value as what you sell.
- Just be there for people.
Build an audience around your ideas, not your products
Great companies are built around great insights, not just great products.
Since time immemorial, the greatest innovators see a way for the world to change for the better that other people don’t see. And so they go and create the Model T. Or Mint.com. Or the Powerwall.
No, your average enterprise tech founder isn’t Elon Musk. But there’s a very good chance that if you’ve made a product that people buy and you have a viable business, there’s an insight supporting what you’re doing, whether you realize it or not.
Our suggestion is to get familiar with that insight, define it, flesh it out, and then speak about it and rally people who share your point of view, using channels and methods that don’t blow up your budget.
Basecamp does a masterful job of this.
They write, speak, and publish a lot about their insights on remote teamwork.
They present a strong, clear, consistent voice on how to manage remote teamwork well and frequently call bullshit on technological and cultural forces that get in the way of it.
At this point, they are arguably known for what they think as much as they are for what they make. All of that fame came at a cost, of course. But I’m sure it was close to 100% time and effort, and close to 0% paid media.
Basecamp has no slick anthem video ad, no big paid social play, no content syndication buy (that I’m aware of). Just a website and typical social media channels. Here a few ways they’ve built an audience around their ideas that any company can adopt, pretty cheaply.
- They publish internal documents.
- They say a lot and engage a lot on Twitter.
- They write books (yes, writing is a ton of work, but self-publishing isn’t).
- They run low-fi video live streams.
Depending on how saturated your market is, you might be able to make a big impact with a fraction of the content a seasoned publisher like Basecamp puts out there.
Create content that delivers the same value as what you sell
Maybe building an audience around your ideas feels too daunting, or too hard to sell in to your CFO. That’s understandable. There’s another approach you can use that works incredibly well to ensure your content achieves a high-upside, brand-building effect.
Just give away the candy store.
If you’re in a service business, teach people how to do for themselves what they might hire you to do. I know that sounds crazy, but the reality is that if your service business is built to serve a real need, then showing how you do things will build a lot of credibility and give prospective customers a feel of what it’s like to work with you.
There are many great examples you can work from here. NOBL, an organizational design consultancy, built a free NOBL Academy. It offers a cornucopia of tools, explainers, and guidance on tackling problems like designing your employee experience (which I’ll go ahead and guess is a challenge NOBL’s consultants would be delighted to help you with).
If you sell products, not services, then craft your content so that it helps your audience do whatever it is your products do. If you sell project management software, then publish free templates that help teams respond to COVID-19. If you sell marketing software, then help marketing teams learn how to be better at their jobs. If you sell an enterprise mobility management platform, then write content that helps IT admins mature and harden their endpoint deployments.
And so on.
This concept is uncomplicated, and perhaps obvious. But inspiring goodwill is an incredibly powerful force that can help your company stand out during difficult times.
Just be there for people
The last point is incredibly simple.
Rather than asking how you can inspire people, or what you can teach them, ask how you can help them get through the day.
This includes your current customers as well as anyone who might buy from you at some point.
We are all suffering right now. Some of us far worse than others.
It might feel crass or exploitative to do any marketing at all. And a lot of brands are pushing very hard at the boundaries of taste, propriety, and common sense because they feel like they have to say something.
Just turn on a TV, and you’ll see the same ad on repeat. Empty streets, somber piano, and a pregnant-pause-filled voiceover on how we’ll all get through this together.
There’s a lot more marketers can do to be there for people than running a tear-jerker ad, especially in the enterprise tech world.
We were proud to see our clients at Google make the choice to just give away their video conferencing product for free, to anyone. That’s an act of kindness, but it’s also an act of marketing.
Smaller tech companies are finding ways to help, too. Like team messaging app Flock, which is giving away licenses for free, or Surfshark, which is helping small businesses connect to VPN for no charge.
In the coming months, there will be other ways that enterprise tech companies can help society heal from COVID-19 while providing the simultaneous benefit of driving awareness and affinity.
That’s a pretty high upside in my book.