The Question of Me

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“To be, or not to be. That is the question.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

In most tech businesses today, life revolves around the Gadget.

The Gadget can be anything from toasters to next generation telecommunication satellites. Gadgets can be thrilling. They often make great media stories. They are steps forward and bold promises. For those of us in technology marketing, pushing the Gadget’s many virtues – faster, cheaper, more efficient, more strategically aligned – is what we do. We work to sell the better mousetrap.

But truly effective tech marketing today goes well beyond the Gadget, because as a society we are reaching a saturation point for innovation. Last year, Mike Elgan over at Forbes wrote something particularly profound that highlights this evolution, pointing specifically to the growing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement.

“The reason BYOD is here to stay is psychological. It’s less about technology and more about culture—or even anthropology. It’s about a belief of what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me.’”

Elgan is referring here to the proliferation of personal mobile devices at work. In the telecom and tech worlds, the term “BYOD” refers to work environments and policies that allow – or even promote – the use of personally owned mobile devices at work, for professional purposes. The trend brings both great benefits and serious challenges, mainly in the area of security, but the modern enterprise is quickly realizing that this movement is also very likely inevitable. The power of the Gadget is no longer the most elemental force in communicating about technology.

It’s a cultural issue. It’s about identity and self-definition. And that changes the entire equation.

Makers of consumer products, especially luxury items, have appreciated the leverage of self-image for a very long time. Ferrari owners tend to view themselves differently than do owners of Honda SUVs. Someone wearing a Rolex likely won’t see the world in the same way as someone who owns a $10 digital watch from Walmart. People prefer to spend money on products that have an aspirational context, and are generally willing to pay a hefty premium in order to own some of that refined self-image.

But for B2B (business-to-business) technology sales, the motivating drivers have traditionally not been aspirational in nature. The drivers we’ve seen most often have always been:

Cost savings. Everyone wants to cut their costs, and by far the most compelling driver in technology is reducing OPEX (Operational Expenses). More flexibility at reduced cost is the low hanging fruit of B2B technology sales, and likely always will be.

Risk mitigation. Second to spending less money, savvy businesses are constantly on the search for better ways to take the risks out of their business. Whether the product is a new IP-based VoIP PBX (risk: rising maintenance costs and rate of part failure in incumbent on-prem PBX) or a state-of-the-art digital document management system (risk: costly legal expenses associated with lack of e-discovery system, inability to keep up with changes in regulatory compliance), the dangers of tomorrow are often enough to push forward a buying decision today.

Opportunity development. With reduced costs, greater functionality, more flexibility and a better handle on future uncertainties, what opportunities will your business now be free to chase? This driver is almost never the lead, but is often a good followup point from cost savings and risk control.

And most of the time, those three classic drivers are enough to get you home, because technology purchasing has typically not been considered a set of personal decisions.

That is changing. There is a fourth dimension to selling tech today, and it goes back to the point that Elgan made about BYOD. Tech is no longer purely about a logical review of facts and figures. It is no longer about not being fired for buying IBM. There are too many conflicts and compromises that a buyer has to consider, too many highly individualized problems and solution sets available.

As the devices and applications grow more complex and malleable, they start to become indistinguishable from the everyday background noise of human life. As the feature sets and value points become more commoditized and standard, these solutions simply start to become extensions of the self. Even the most prosaic Gadget then becomes a cultural force.

This means that to craft a truly powerful sales message in service of innovation, we always have to look beyond the cost/risk/opportunity trinity and get to why the technology really matters. What does it say about me? About you? How does it redraw the borders between self and All Else? How will it affect people on a human, down to earth, daily basis? What sort of cultural force are you unleashing?

These are the questions that BYOD vendors and buyers are dealing with today. But before too much longer, they’ll be the issues that all technology marketers will face. Technology is becoming invisible – it could be argued, as Steve Jobs did, that invisibility is the hallmark of technology greatness – and in that transparency, the self ascends to a more governing force.

Me versus Not Me, that is the question. But it is also the answer for technology marketers who desire to continue winning in today’s evolving innovation landscape.

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