Getting technical about marketing

Richard Aylen, technical manager, Junckers.

WOULD you want to separate your technical department from your marketing activities? Conversely, is it possible for technical and marketing functions to become too closely enmeshed, resulting in something that becomes counterproductive, perhaps losing trust in your company rather than enhancing it?

I’m writing this from the perspective of a manufacturer, but the same questions are relevant if you are a contractor selling your services or product to a client.

For most people the answer to the first part of that question would be ‘no’. It makes sense of course to use all your best technical selling points in your sales arguments but I think the second part is a little more complicated.

The amount of technical input your marketing department needs is partly dependent on who you’re selling to. For consumer products you might need less because the message often focuses on lifestyle and aspirations. However, if you’re selling to trade customers, designers and specifiers you’ll probably need to tap into your technical resources a little more.

They’ll want to know about how your product performs against industry standards, how strong or durable it is, how long-lasting, and increasingly what its environmental credentials are.

Technical information is a valuable tool in helping you to win orders. If you can show your product can save the contractor some time, eliminate risks, accommodate a cheaper ‘less prepared’ subfloor then your chances of getting that order must increase.

There’s a direct benefit to sales too if you have a broad repertoire of solutions for clients who need to test their floor to its limits, (sometimes beyond) with potentially floor damaging activities such as using retractable seating, access equipment, large sculptures and art works, giant (18 tonne) chocolate fountains and real full-sized trains on their floors (yes, really!).

It’s nice to be able to say ‘OK, here’s how you do it’, especially if your competitors cannot do the same. Post-sales there’s a very strong link between marketing and technical functions in the after- sales service that you offer.

It’s good to be able to claim that you offer customers peace of mind in relation to maintenance and repair for example. So, let’s return to the second part of that question. What can happen if the technical/ marketing marriage should hit the rocks?

Well, on a basic level if you bombard the customer with too much technical stuff they can become confused and may view your products as being overly complicated and beyond their understanding. It’s tempting sometimes to give them the full story just because you can. But you have to pitch it right and offer just enough to reassure them they’re in safe hands, to ensure they fully understand what they’re getting and ultimately to give them the confidence to place their order.

There’s more though, and I’m afraid this is a rather ugly side of the business, and one where distorted technical arguments are being used, not to enhance the profile of the manufacturer’s own product, but to discredit those of their competitors.

A sort of ‘pseudo-technical’ sales pitch perhaps. My own company, a hardwood floor manufacturer, has been on the receiving end of this sort of thing on several occasions from magazines and on manufacturer’s websites.

If we don’t first find out about these ourselves, we’ll hear from our customers and when letting us know they usually offer their own views on the intellectual capabilities of the people that wrote the item. Recent examples include a claim that our floors distort every year because of seasonal changes in humidity and so need to be sanded every year (The truth is that sanding is done every 10-15 years – and no, they don’t distort!).

Another magazine article written by one of the squash court manufacturers made the astonishing claim that an engineered wood floor absorbs more sweat than a solid wood floor (this being a safety issue in squash courts). This claim, and the numerous others for which no proof is ever offered, is so unbelievable we’re quite sure our customers will see through it straight away.

Knocking your opposition has always been seen as unprofessional, but it’s also a risky marketing strategy as you’re playing with your own credibility. So much can be lost if customers should see through this – the greatest loss being their trust, and that’s something that takes a long time to regain.

So, how do you want to use technical information as a marketing tool for your products and services? What’s the best way to use it to gain and maintain long-term trust in your company? I think most of us know.