The Cult of Sloppy Marketing: Bits from Nasscom

Browse the typical I.T. company’s Web site and you’ll find a long list of tired, meaningless clichés in the “About Us” section. Something like: “We create value for clients with unique end-to-end solutions that streamline business processes and enhance operational efficiency.” Look depressingly familiar?

Marketing guru David Meerman Scott took India’s tech companies to task for sloppy marketing in a talk here at the Nasscom industry conference in Mumbai. “It’s like a cult the way you guys talk – what the heck does this mean?” he asked, after reading a company description loaded with hollow catch-phrases.

Basic corporate marketing collateral should do two things: 1) state clearly what the firm actually does; and 2) differentiate it from the pack. In the I.T sector – where dozens of me-too outsourcing and software companies peddle nearly identical services to CIOs around the world – that differentiation is becoming ever more critical.

Alas, too many I.T. companies fail on both counts. So you’re “adding value” and “offering end-to-end solutions,” are you? That describes a casino and a sandwich bar as well as it does a software company. Why not tell us point blank that you design software for clients in industries including A, B and C, or that your business process outsourcing services include call center support and insurance claims processing. And please, please, stop using the term “solution”! This isn’t a math problem.

Over lunch I talked it over with Amrita Joshi, a marketing consultant for I.T. and outsourcing providers. Except for a handful of big players in the industry like Infosys and Wipro, she said, most I.T. companies treat marketing as an afterthought. “If you look at most of the providers, they have very junior people doing marketing,” she said. “They don’t view it as a strategic function.”

It’s not just the words you use that can do you in, but the pictures too. Scott noted in his talk that many Indian companies, bizarrely, tend to shy away from showing Indian faces on their Web sites. Instead, there’s an East Asian lady with a headset or a group of “multicultural happy people” sitting at a table – generally, people that don’t look like they’re employees OR customers of the company in question.

“Who the hell are these people?” he asked. His solution: use company employees in your marketing collateral.

Scott, a marketing strategist who travels the world preaching the fundamentals of message-making, pointed out that big companies in all sorts of industries make these mistakes. (I tend to believe I.T. companies are particularly egregious self-marketers.) He showed Walt Disney Co.’s old description of itself as providing “unparalleled entertainment experiences” with “well-connected businesses that operate in concert to maximize exposure and growth worldwide.” As he pointed out, it’s probably better to just say you’re into movies and theme parks.

The rest of Scott’s speech felt like it should have been given in 2007: Online advertising is where it’s at, he said. Get yourself on Facebook. Make a cool YouTube video about your company that becomes viral (oddly, he chose IBM as his poster child for viral coolness). Why spend money on TV and radio and direct mail? Etc, etc.

All good points, but if you really need that advice in 2010, maybe the tech industry isn’t for you?

Cross Post -Amol Sharma, WSJ

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  1. David Meerman Scott

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