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How tech companies can navigate the new world of communications

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Trade shows and conferences are the drumbeat of the technology industry’s communications calendar, driving news, product development cycles and customer engagement. The ongoing cancellation of events, combined with a total shift in audience and market priorities, has meant a complete re-think of marketing plans. As the world tentatively looks to the future, what learnings can communicators take forward?

We recently surveyed leading media and analysts for their views on how technology companies have been communicating during the Covid-19 pandemic and what they want more (and less) of in future. The results, published in The New World of Tech Communications report, will help technology companies plan their next steps. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Improve the virtual experience

The virtual events created to fill the gap left by the cancellation of major events have been largely well-received. Almost three quarters of media & analysts (71 per cent) agreed that virtual events have tended to be more useful than (pre-Covid-19) physical events. One leading analyst said, “Overall, I think people are getting used to doing more things remotely and people are realising how much time they are saving.”

However, there is significant room for improvement as three-fifths of media and analysts (59 per cent) reported that it can be hard to ask questions and half (49 per cent) said it can be difficult to get the input they’re looking for. As one leading industry analyst said, “Virtual is great, as long as it is informative, tightly run, and provides opportunity to interact.”

Hosting virtual events is about far more than putting on a webinar and hoping for the best. Marketers need to think about how to attract the correct audiences and create opportunities for engagement before, during and after the event. For example, a key component is making sure you are activating influencers both inside and outside your organisation to drive visibility and authentic engagement.

It’s also critical to avoid clashes, especially if your virtual event is replacing activity that would have been held at a big trade show. One top magazine editor said, “This week would have been the NAB Show in Las Vegas and I’m listening in on three webinars and other virtual events this afternoon and it’s just crazy on the online front at the moment. It literally feels like every company and their dog is doing something and I actually can’t make all of them because sometimes two or three are taking place at the same time.” It’s imperative to avoid this by being more strategic with timing.

Our research revealed there is substantial appetite for companies to adopt more integrated digital strategies when trade shows and conferences resume. Around three-quarters (72 per cent) of respondents said they would cover more from events if content was available online. When physical events return, there’s considerable scope to continue to leverage the power of digital communications to reach a much broader audience. Nine out of ten (90 per cent) of media and analysts want more online access to briefings and presentations from physical events.

Give influencers what they want

It is perhaps unsurprising to see that Covid-19 related industry commentary was the top type of content received by a significant majority (79 per cent) of leading technology influencers. However, less than a quarter (24 per cent) said they want more commentary on issues around the pandemic. This reflects a feeling that plenty of material sent out by technology companies wasn’t perceived to be helpful or newsworthy. In fact, when asked what content they wanted more of, respondents went for case studies, industry research and product launches. As one top technology journalist said in the report, “There has been way too much talking about Covid and not enough actual news.”

Avoid going quiet. Make communications count

In a time of crisis there’s an understandable tendency to hold news back. This is reflected by the fact that three fifths (59 per cent) of media and analysts have received less news than the same time last year. Worryingly, while technology companies might have been more selective with announcements that hasn’t actually resulted in an increase in quality. Almost half (48 per cent) of respondents said that the quality of news has actually decreased compared to last year.

While announcements need to be appropriate and made with the right tone, this shouldn’t mean news is cancelled. In fact, ever increasingly as time goes on, media and analysts are increasingly looking to spotlight announcements that show markets are continuing. It is vital to prioritise appropriate communication activity in uncertain times, to keep stakeholders up to date and ensure ongoing engagement with customers.

Tailored communications

It’s a truism to say that media and analysts always want information that is designed for their specific needs. No one has time to sift through an abundance of detail. This is especially important when teams may be reduced by cuts and furloughs. So it’s no surprise that 1-to-1 briefings (either by phone or video) were ranked as the no.1 most useful input by 94 per cent of media & analysts, reflecting a clear need for focused, tailored stories and information.

While it may be tempting to want to push all your content in front of key influencers, you can actively damage relationships by doing so. As a case in point, online demos were ranked as being least useful by over half of respondents (54 per cent).

Technology communicators are planning for a very different landscape in the future, evolving plans to drive sales in rapidly changing markets while striving to demonstrate true leadership. The focus should be on what works rather than rushing to try to recreate what went before.

David Lawrence, Managing Director, Platform Communications