-Mariana Agathoklis, head of communications, Verizon Business
-Jennifer Temple, CCO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
-Karyn Barr, MD, B2B Technology, Allison+Partners
“Product PR really was the meat of what tech has done over the years,” reports Barr. “CEOs always wanted to be out there touting their wares as the best, most innovative and market-leading product. And it paid off.”
However, while the importance of brand and purpose has been understood for a while, matters such as values, mission, DE&I and sustainability have never been more top of mind than the past two years in which our worlds have forever changed due to the pandemic.
A recent Allison+Partners global survey of 1,000 tech marketing and PR decision-makers bears this out.
Seventy-seven percent believe in the power of authentic, brand-first storytelling to showcase a company’s value, purpose and mission. However, only 58% say their company truly prioritizes brand-focused campaigns.
That gap highlights the struggle that was the focus of the recent webcast, Squid Game PR: The Technology Tug of War.
Webcast speakers were (clockwise from top left): Agathoklis, Temple and Barr.
Meeting in the middle
As Barr notes, this is truly a challenge for comms because “they have their CEOs on one side wanting to talk about the brand, but sales on the other side saying it’s all about products.”
So who wins this tug of war? In the best-case scenario: both sides.
“There are crazy expectations of technology – more so than ever before,” suggests Temple. “And this is a huge opportunity, especially for b2b tech, to show the world who we really are.”
“This big spotlight on technology creates an opening to talk not only about products,” she continues, “but also the impact they're having in solving big societal issues.”
The truth is, this is not an either-or conversation. One should not replace the other. Products will always be at the heart of tech PR. What communicators in the space must figure out is how to add brand storytelling to that and find the right balance.
“At Verizon, it’s pretty straightforward,” says Agathoklis. “We are America's most reliable network. What that means for our brand is that the two biggest attributes are trust and innovation.”
Those two words – trust and innovation – perfectly capture the balance needed in tech storytelling. Innovation speaks to product. Trust speaks to the brand.
Or as Agathoklis eloquently states, “Product is what solves your pain point. Brand is what makes you feel really good about doing it with that company.”
Brand focus equals business
The Allison+Partners survey also found that 55% of respondents feel that brand-focused storytelling can lead to sales increases, while 63% say it helps with customer retention.
These findings do not surprise Temple.
“Many of our global customers have conveyed that when there's a like-for-like comparison amongst competitors, they choose the brand that most represents their values and that they feel they can trust. People want to do business with someone that represents the values they care about most.”
“In fact,” she continues, “we have seen a 16-point lift in some of the surveys we've done in the past couple of years and how people are giving us credit for the good we're doing. That is directly linked to how people perceive us as a business partner.”
Looking back to the survey, Barr also notes how more than 60% of b2b tech brands emphasize values and authenticity when determining the companies with which they will partner.
“The beautiful thing that's happening now is people realize that sales and service can actually coexist together,” notes Agathoklis.
As an example, she highlights Verizon’s Small Business Digital Ready program that [at the time of the webcast] had already seen 30,000 small businesses sign up in just two months.
The program offers new and existing small businesses access to educational resources, coaching, community networking, and a marketplace of specially curated tools, products and services. This is a strong marriage between CSR/comms and sales, which actually provides many of the solutions that will help businesses.
“And it’s our job as communicators to identify those opportunities and then elevate the stories of customers, the people who we're helping,” adds Agathoklis, “so people actually see the impact you're having in their local communities.”
Focus on the people
One area in which brand focus might have an even more powerful impact than products is staffing.
“Purpose and brands are becoming increasingly more valuable not just from a customer perspective,” explains Barr, “but also a retention and recruitment perspective.”
Allison+Partners’ survey highlights this, too, as 51% cite “improved talent retention and acquisition” as a benefit of brand storytelling.
Of course, the people purchasing products matter a lot, too. If you had any doubts, they should be put to rest by the 72% who agree that customers make purchasing decisions based on the value of the company, its brand and purpose.
Another person who took center stage during the webcast was the CTO (chief technology officer), specifically the relationship comms pros have with those in that crucial role.
As Agathoklis notes, the CTO is a huge partner to the CCO and comms team, whether it’s helping explain more complicated tech-product matters to lay audiences or during crises when the CTO is a central figure in helping bring about solutions as quickly as possible.
Barr focuses a bit more on the comms assistance CTOs can bring.
“Their tech-minded brains help us tell a fuller story,” she suggests. “So much strong content comes from them. And if you happen to have a CTO who is a good speaker, that is a great way to add to your bench strength. It can be a great counterbalance to the CEO when it comes to addressing the media.”
“I’ve definitely seen an uplift in CTO-comms interactions during the past two years,” concludes Barr. “They have been exposed to what good PR can really do in not only talking about products, but about the major transitions in society those products bring about. They’re in and invested. And I suspect the interactions will only increase in the coming months and years.”
Between the survey and research, so much more is covered on the different findings among various global regions, ways to ensure storytelling consistency across local markets, and much more.
Click here to watch this webcast on-demand.
And click here for the full Allison+Partners’ survey report.