The Reverse Iceberg of Technology Marketing Part 1: Extreme Forces

Marketing in support of any complex technology is an inherently unstable proposition. Competition relentlessly drives innovation, and that need for innovation will drive change in how you position and sell your solution.

As your company evolves and adjusts to market pressures and growing expectations, it is a safe bet that your marketing strategy and message will be revisited early and often. Here’s a simple model for negotiating this level of change. 

I’m sure you’ve seen the “tip of the iceberg” metaphor used to represent how the part you can see above the surface (i.e. your personal appearance, or the company image), is dwarfed by the underlying chunk of ice that carries a lot more weight (examples here).

While this metaphor is fine for many purposes, I’d like to propose a reverse iceberg platform for technology marketing that is inherently unstable. In an environment where you are often only as good as your last release, marketing loses much of the inertia underpinning the business itself. Even well-established brands are subject to being “flipped” out of the market – half of the S&P 500 Index companies are likely to be replaced in the next 10 years, if estimates hold up.

Basic Reverse Iceberg of technology marketing concept. 

Let’s say your marketing message is a cute seal, riding on a fresh chunk of ice, broken off of the permanent shelf it once frolicked upon. If you are that seal, you should not lean your ice sheet too far forward (speculation), nor attempt to inhibit change by leaning too far back (convention).

To survive on this platform, your message must not only be differentiated and fit your brand, it must continuously avoid the two extremes of speculation and convention as it moves forward on the current, to avoid being toppled.

I liked comparing the surface to ice, rather than a surfboard or boat, because it takes into account the “slippery slope” effect of not being able to reverse course if you get too far out of balance. 

How do these extreme forces play out in messaging your technology?

Speculation. This is commonly referred to as “getting ahead of yourself” or “being out over your skis,” and chances are you’ve already seen enough high-profile examples of this in action. It is natural to want to aggressively go to market in response to perceived threats or opportunities, but leaning too far forward can accelerate a problem for a company that cannot meet demand.

For instance, let’s say you are running a massive ad campaign to announce a product launch, without the necessary support on your site or service to handle the increase in traffic. Or, your sales teams are delivering a message – invented in PowerPoint – around product features that are not yet delivered or proven by customers.

  • Problems: High inconsistency of message, high risk of failure, poor customer experience, loss of credibility, inability to capitalize on interest or demand, fast customer churn
  • Solutions: Try evolutionary vs. revolutionary changes, soft launch or graduated release, be more selective about target customers, run advance beta or survey programs, recruit customer or expert validation, track customer value as a success metric, go deeper

Convention. The risk in this conservative approach to messaging is often much harder to detect until it is too late, as it happens over a period of time. Even very large companies can scarcely afford to stand still, as dominant players can suffer the “death of a thousand bites” of nimbler companies that are not only doing specific work better, but targeting messages to specific customer needs more accurately.

Overly conventional marketing focuses on message parity – what industry peers, analysts and competitors are already talking about, rather than expressing a unique point of view and direction. While it is counterproductive to attempt to forge a totally unique message every time, your message does need to demonstrate that you are evolving, thinking, and actively participating in the exchange that drives your market. 

Don’t be jealous about allowing your experts to evangelize innovative ideas, either – if the topics are worth discussing, they are not as proprietary or as permanent as you may think. Remember that if you don’t express market-leading ideas, chances are someone else will.

  • Problems: Becoming irrelevant to the market, slow content production, undifferentiated or boring messaging, teams and customers do not resonate with the message, competition appears to be more advanced
  • Solutions: Commit to a thought leadership perspective, encourage customers and peers to join the conversation, participate in communities, focus on openness, avoid jealousy, go higher

You might say all of the above should be common sense advice, but it is surprisingly easy for companies to fall prey to the extreme forces of speculation and convention, given the competitive nature and high rate of change inherent in marketing technology. Fortunately, these extreme forces have gentler counterparts you can use to keep your messaging in equilibrium: experimentation and evaluation. We will take a look at these balancing forces in a future installment on the reverse iceberg messaging topic.