Marketing Complex Solutions – The How vs. Why Paradox

To set the scene I’ll start this article with a story about a situation I found myself in a few years back.

I had just been given a large technology vendor as a client and realised to my horror that I knew virtually nothing about their products or the underlying technology behind them, worse still my feverish efforts to go on a crash course only served to confuse matters even more as I stumbled and hacked my way through a jungle of seemingly impenetrable tech-speak.

Hyperconvergence, virtualisation, software defined… these were all meaningless scribbles that might as well have been written in hieroglyphs for all the sense they made to my poor befuddled brain, and so in a final act desperate move I arranged a meeting with one of their technical experts to give me a “Barney level” breakdown of the technology.

Payment in the form of beer and burgers was exchanged, and true to his word he arrived at our office with a server box under one arm and a laptop containing a presentation under the other. We topped up our coffee mugs, took a seat and started the lesson.

He showed me the inner workings of the server and explained the concept of an end-to-solution in simple-to-understand terms that cleared the mist in mind and gave me my moment of clarity. I was understandably relieved and began to ask questions that would help me define a comprehensive marketing strategy that I would be able to present… That was when I first encountered the “how vs. why” paradox.

Q: Why should I buy your product instead of the competition?
A: Because it’s better.

Q: Ok… Why is it better?
A: It just is.

Q: Okaaaaay… Is there something in the manufacturing process that makes it better? Something you do that makes your product special?
A: No not really, the manufacturing process for servers is pretty standard across all brands to be honest.

Q: Then what makes it better?
A: We were the first to develop this technology.

Q: Congratulations… But why does that make your product better today?
A: Long technical answer that explained the inner workings of the server again.

Q: Again, that’s really interesting but I need to understand what I can base a marketing campaign on and I can’t use a data sheet to do that. Do you have any USPs?
A: Oh yes… our product is better.

The rest of the meeting was spent going around in circles, my teacher showing me how technically clever their product was and me asking why, as a potential customer, I should care about any of that?

I thought that perhaps this was a one off, but over the following years I discovered that complex products and solutions very often use data sheets and technical specifications as USPs rather than focusing on the things a potential client will want to know from the outset.

  • Why should I invest in your product?
  • What problem will it solve?
  • What makes your solution better?
  • How will it help me grow my business?

These are the “why” questions [Surely you mean how what and why? – Ed] , the questions that the business decision maker will ask before the technical team even start to look the technical considerations, so why do we continue to focus on the “how”?

This is in no way a criticism of my very helpful colleague, and to be fair the conversation that followed the initial technical overview has been immensely valuable over the subsequent years as it has allowed me to understand what is required to translate technical content into a compelling business “why” message.

So, what makes a good campaign when it comes to technically complex products and solutions? Here are a few tips to help:

Sell your solution to the budget holders not the implementers

This is the essence of the “why” message. Focus on what the technology can achieve rather than how it works. There will be a time and place for data sheets and tech specs once the business case has been made.

Keep it simple

Avoid the temptation of going into too much detail from the outset. Business decision makers aren’t likely to be technical, and overly complex content will more than likely cause them to switch off. Focus on simple business language whilst avoiding technical buzz words and acronyms to get a better response to your campaigns.

Keep your powder dry

Don’t try and make the sale in the first communication. Most complex products or solutions require large capital investment that need to be investigated and scoped. There is no “click to buy” option for enterprise IT and a brand-agnostic zero-point asset to start the journey will usually pay dividends by the end of the campaign.

Marketing automation can make all the difference

Understanding how workflows and personas can impact the effectiveness of your campaigns is a fairly recent but game changing development in how we communicate complex messages. There are dozens of solutions that can help on this front each with their own list of features, but all based on a single theory.

These tips aren’t marketing doctrine, they are simply learnings from almost two decades running marketing and business development campaigns for complex technology solutions, and for the most part they have enabled me to deliver far more success than failure.

Now that I have returned to Clever Marketing fold after a few years away, I’ve been able to provide both a philosophy for success and the processes to deliver results.

Complex solutions don’t need complex messages… in fact quite the opposite is true. Creating campaigns that give others the moment of clarity I had all those years ago will establish the foundation of trust you need to take them on the from casual browser to transacting client.

Clever Marketing, digital marketing agency.
Clever Marketing are the full service digital agency offering channel marketing and marketing automation alongside traditional marketing techniques.

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