More help less hype – building a pipeline for your AI / ML / blockchain brand

September 16, 2020


By Anu Ramani

Anu Ramani is a specialist in international B2B communications.

More articles from Anu Ramani

At Isoline we are lucky to work with exciting companies that are bringing to market some great applications of cutting-edge technologies like distributed ledger (or blockchain, as it is more commonly known), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). I’m going to stick my neck out and say that some of these technologies are poised to dramatically change sectors like financial services in ways we have not seen since the internet arrived.

There is a bewildering amount of hype around these technologies, with industry analysts and others pitching them as the next big thing. But we have observed that while hype might be effective in the first instance, especially to investors and venture capitalists, marketers need to move beyond the hype in order to drive long-term sustainable growth in funding and sales.

Why? As Gartner’s hype cycle so effectively illustrates, inflated expectations and disillusionment tend to follow exaggerated hype.

Companies in these sectors seeking to generate leads and achieve long-term growth over the long term need to focus on the use cases and applications of the technology, rather than on the wow-factor of the buzzword itself.

Here are two fundamental errors that startups excited about their shiny new technology tend to make, and ways to avoid them.

Error 1: Build it and they will come

A fundamental error that many companies make is to assume that all the hard work is finished once the platform is up and ready for a pilot. We call this ‘build it and they will come’ syndrome. It worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but is unlikely to work in a cluttered, competitive marketing environment.

This strategic error begins to magnify itself as marketing strategies are rolled out. The main goal then becomes amplification of the message, based on the assumption that if a company tells enough people about the platform, a few will be interested in a trial. Don’t get me wrong: many companies do succeed in securing pilots or trials – usually on the strength of the personal relationships of the founders or other senior executives. However, this strategy is not scalable to greenfield business development efforts.

A piece of advice that we tend to give clients in exciting areas of tech like AI is ‘assume nobody cares’. In other words, prospects are not interested in you, or your exciting blockchain platform. They are interested in their own pain points and the opportunities they are trying to capitalise on. Companies should therefore ground their marketing in the pain points that their potential customers have.

Once this fundamental approach has been established the rest is almost natural. The platform – whether it is a blockchain-based ledger or an ML-based software – almost becomes the underlying technology. Much like Volvo speaks to consumers about safety and not its xxx-horsepower engines and yyy-powered braking systems, companies must speak to their audiences about what they can deliver or alleviate as a result of their platform, rather than the platform itself. This can drive a value-based, differentiated positioning that bolsters revenues and margins.

Error 2: One-off content marketing

Companies that are seeking to generate a sustainable pipeline of leads, especially in a post-COVID era, realise the need to tap into digital marketing. And content-based marketing strategies are almost the only sustainable way to reach, educate and convince prospects to engage in conversations with salespeople.

However, buyers want more autonomy than ever in the purchase cycle today, following a decade or more of digital upheaval. Even before 2020, buyers have been spending up to two thirds of the purchase journey conducting their own research online before speaking to sales or product marketing experts. Today, the majority of buyers spend hours gathering information and comparing products and services before they make a purchase. According to Forrester, on average a person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.

In this context, another major error that companies tend to fall into is to have a ‘content month’ when they create several assets, and then expect leads to arrive. Alas, content efforts cannot exist in a vacuum. They need to be part of a larger ecosystem. Developing a single white paper, making it available on your website, then crossing your fingers regrettably isn’t likely to generate leads.

A systematic content marketing strategy is needed, cutting through the complexity of your solutions to build a relationship with your prospects and generate trust. All delivered via a joined-up sales enablement process that underpins lead generation.

Doing it right

The good news is that it is not difficult to do it right, and there are numerous examples of small companies who have focused on doing content marketing right and have succeeded in driving leads into the pipeline.

Take blockchain: De Beers demonstrated the potential for blockchain to transform the diamond mining industry with a blockchain-based tracking system that allows consumers to track the ring they are buying all the way back to source, thereby ensuring that they are not from conflict zones.

HaloTrade is doing something similar. With its blockchain-based tracking system that incentivises suppliers to open up their operations to inspection by enabling access to trade finance through smart contracts, it is allowing retailers to ensure organic products are truly organic, clothes do not use sweatshop labour, and so on.

Adjoint is using blockchain to transform treasury operations in large multinationals, to cut costs, increase efficiencies and streamline operations.

Emailage is using machine learning technologies to help operators of social platforms and retailers to quickly and seamlessly authenticate their customers and users.

What is interesting about all of these companies is that their marketing does not talk about blockchain technology, or machine learning technology, in the first instance. Doubtless, these technologies are fundamental to the effectiveness and capabilities of their respective platforms. However, they focus squarely not on themselves or their underlying technologies, but on what these technologies enable for their target audiences. Recently, companies are also using artificial neural networks for more complex automation tasks where they also need activation functions for productivity.

Stay focused on your buyer

There is no doubt that sustained content – focused on your users’ pain points – is essential for lead generation. While this is a given, there is almost infinite scope for creativity and differentiation.

Try to focus on marketing and content that adds value and best showcases your unique perspective on a pain point or problem. For example, responding quickly to topical occurrences or trends, using data from your own systems to plot future trends, showcasing your unique expertise, establishing a positioning that is driven by your personality and values.

All these tactics go a long way in creating a voice for yourself that will establish you in your prospects’ minds – a voice that is more resonant and long-standing than riding on the crest of a hype wave.

If you’re interested in what we have to say on marketing these exciting technologies, or if you’d just like to share your views, contact us at [email protected].


Photo by Verena Yunita Yapi on Unsplash

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