Buzz Marketing?
Forget the Buzz - Show You Are a ‘Survivor'

© Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

High-tech PR during the go-go Internet run up used to be built around the concept of ‘buzz' - loosely defined as industry chatter. Although never a really valid metric for communicating your company's competitive distinction, it had a certain allure and appeal - especially if there was no real measurement of the results, and the programs were built around puff pieces on the company's executives and technology ‘superstars'. The media complied with publishing reams of this pablum, and endless lists of ‘Companies to Watch'.

What difference a year makes. The industry ‘buzz' theses days is about layoffs (the Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. monthly Internet failure list is a closely watched metric these days) and nasty tax bills from now-worthless incentive stock options. Hardly the basis for convincing the market that you have a valid product line, and in fact will survive the market ‘correction'.

So how do companies respond to this down market? Not surprisingly, with a bunker mentality - ‘say nothing'. What is surprising, however, is that their public relations advisors are going along with this and in some cases, advocating it. Seems that when the heavy lifting is encountered, some stop lifting all together.

How do other industries deal with these kinds of events? For example, aerospace has had its ups and downs for years - Boeing periodically lays off thousands of workers. Does that mean that the airlines are going to stop using their 7X7 aircraft, or that you won't fly on a 7X7 because "the company is having problems"? Not hardly. Boeing continues to win both new domestic and international flag carrier aircraft orders, and also a recent $34 million contract to service the President's Air Force One.

But wait a minute, you say - software and other high-tech items can be switched in and out much easier than jumbo jets. Well - yes and no. Major ERP and CRM systems are multi-year investments that usually require customization for the client's business model - so mid-stream vendors changes are real expensive - and payoffs are based on several years' utilization.

Rather, what becomes critical is the perception that a vendor will be a survivor. Let's name three companies - IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox. Which ones will you bet on to be survivors? In some cases, your response will be based on financial and market information - they are all publicly traded. But for many companies that aren't, or aren't followed by an analyst - your public relations program can significantly impact whether or not you are perceived as a ‘survivor'.

So how do you build the ‘survivor perception'? Here are several factors to consider:

Momentum - New business wins. The value of publicizing your new business wins is obvious - it's an endorsement of you by the market, and shows that you are viable in the competitive marketplace. This continues to reduce the perceived risk of choosing your product or technology. If all your business comes from ‘maintenance mode' customers - well, that sends a different signal - just look at Wang Computer (remember them?)

Client List - Who's betting on you? This ‘star roster' gets trotted out by every vendor who has one. Especially if you have a number of ‘name' (e.g., Fortune 500) customers. Major companies are perceived to be savvy decision makers - hence the ‘halo' effect.

Direction - Not necessarily ‘bleeding edge' - but working with and adopting accepted technologies that represent the future. A big danger is being perceived as ‘stale' in your competitive solutions. For example, this is the software that took too long to go to a 32-bit Windows platform, or does not have an interface to the popular programs that are used with it (e.g. a contact management program without a Palm interface.) A survivor has everything you would expect - and hence is a competitive solution.

Turnover - Loss of top executives or key staff is a danger signal - the canaries in the coal mine. A one-time layoff to adopt to a new operating size or reduce operating costs are one thing, but if you are announcing a new VP Sales, Marketing, CFO or other senior executive every nine months or so - something's amiss. Same goes for members of your sales team who are negotiating the sale - prospective customers get nervous when they are dealing with the third account manager since they began negotiations. And don't kid yourself that no one pays attention - just check out ‘Digital Dirt' at - which is a web site covering the Massachusetts technology scene.

Is your company positioning itself as a ‘survivor', or is it going to be kicked off the island by your markets? The best way to communicate your survival skills is an on-going public relations effort built around how your new customer wins and how your customers are using your products to solve today's (and tomorrow's) technology problems. Yesterday's ‘buzz' technique is just that - a quaint throwback to yesteryear.

© 2001, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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