Internet Marketing/Branding Strategy for Indian Software Players [Tips]

Before starting my venture, I was with a leading digital marketing agency. I joined this after spending five years in the sales team of IT services / product companies. This led me to write this piece about the relevance of the online medium for the large base of software product companies / software services companies in India.

I am restricting my discussion to companies catering to the global B2B enterprise market : for companies in the B2C consumer software market, it is easier to understand what the medium can do for you.

First of all, some basics about selling and marketing in this space for the uninitiated

  • In mature markets (like the US,UK), it is tough to get appointments. Cold-calling takes an enormous amount of time of a sales guy in his first year. In fact, the calling starts in India itself much before he starts his US assignment. If you speak to a sales person, he would always say – “Marketing needs to do more to help us get appointments”
  • CIO’s don’t go to Google and type ‘outsource to India now’ J. It is not an impulse decision: It is a longish, consultative kind of sell. Companies are not sure of the benefits of outsourcing, various sector specific solutions, products which are doing well, etc… Some one needs to guide them in this – usually it is the first sales person who lands up in office who has to do this job.
  • Prospects are also spoiled for choice when it comes to outsourcing partners. The ‘Indian’ advantage is becoming less relevant. Global players like Accenture also have Indian bases. The need for branding becomes more important in such a scenario.
  • A serious player also has to build the brand locally among job aspirants and young working professionals. The element of B2C branding comes in here.

Build an awesome website

  1. In all the hoopla of marketing events, press releases, brochures, we tend to ignore the one main board where all your prospects are going to land – the website.

A lot of MBA / marketing /communication types stay away from website related assignments in organizations. They gravitate towards the so called larger roles like branding, PR, prospecting, analyst relations, RFP’s and the like. The reason is simple:it involves a lot of detailing and the above mentioned folks are not great at it J.

But make no mistake –So many times, I have heard a prospect telling me ‘I contacted you because I happened to land on your site and I liked it’. An awesome website is different from an average website in the detailed thought that has gone behind each of its elements – content, structure, usability, navigation and aesthetics.

CMO’s don’t think twice before subscribing to expensive Gartner reports , having stalls year on year in networking events but they will not invest in utilizing say a website usability expert – it’s an unfortunate situation.

(2) Unlike a travel site where people come to buy tickets, web visitors (and especially those who come through search) come to look around, to download stuff, get information, get white papers, read industry updates, etc…So a logical information hierarchy and sufficient number of well-written case studies are crucial.

Also these guys should be allowed to access documents easily without you telling them how you started your company and how you adhere to CMM level 5. It’s ok to have registration but only for some really cool stuff that you have produced and want to distribute.

Inexpensive Controlled Global Branding – that’s what the medium allows you to do

(1) While doing search driven campaigns (Sponsored Ads), it is possible to start showing up on select categories of sites which your target audience frequents. One can also place ads on selected sites which are part of content networks of search engines.

(2) If you want to directly reach C level executives, try showing up on sites which deal with golf, wine and the good life. Or sponsoring newsletters they subscribe to,etc.. – you get the point.

(3) B2C branding tends to have a lot of innovation while B2B enterprise level is lagging behind. Why not sponsor a popular blog, A particular section on a site. Why not have a video ad which is an interview of your Product Management Head. Or an interactive image banner which has your key customer testimonials.

Don’t doubt the relevance of social media for your brand.

This is relevant for the B2C branding.

You have two kinds of companies here – those that have stayed away thinking that this is all hype. Well, could be – perhaps Twitter may not ever start making money but RIGHT now, your brand is being discussed, debated and sometimes torn apart on these networks. So pay close attention to what job aspirants, current employees and young professionals are saying about you.

Then there are those who use it for boring updates about the company. In this case, the only guys who follow it are employees and close associates.

Use Facebook/Orkut/Twitter to do things like showcase your org culture – your events, your picnics, the lighter side of your division heads. That’s the mood on social networks so join in.

If there is more serious stuff, share it on a Linked in community. Even here, understand that there are enough guys doing general industry updates and to break from the clutter, you would need to do some amount of original research.

How online savvy are your sales guys

(1) The sale is made in the interaction, not in the final proposal. Are your sales people sending useful information and interesting articles to the prospects to show thought leadership. Prospects don’t want to be in touch with sales guys, they want to keep in touch with interesting folks whom they can share notes with.

(2) Sales guys need to spend more time on Linked In. Your key functional experts/practice heads need to consciously spend more time participating, responding and reacting to discussions. A lot of appointments gets fixed up on Linked-in. This can save a lot of your cold-calling effort. Sometimes we Indians are not very participative in online forums, we tend to stay away from discussions unless we think we have something monumental to say.

Have a more scientific webinar strategy

In the movie ‘Boiler Room’, the sales intern tells prospects that he will call them back with a big idea and hooks them for the next interaction. For a sales guy in the software category, an invitation for a thought-provoking webinar could be a useful hook to get a prospect to a next interaction.

But companies tend to do this in a haphazard manner. There seems to be no great science behind the topics chosen (one sees the same kind of topics being chosen), the attractiveness of the format (maybe only case studies?), etc. But if done well, this is a great lead generation tool.

Webinar announcements are also readily picked up by search engines, news sites, PR sites and the like giving you cost effective online PR. They also can be marketed effectively using SEM.

Are you utilizing all your information assets

I used to sit next to the marketing team in my earlier stints with software companies and know this for a fact – a lot of marketing documents get produced every week either on account of responses or internal needs. Some of these are high-quality presentations, flash PPT’s, charts and such other visual stuff. Why can’t some of this be repurposed, tagged and thrown open to search engines. What about the interesting content on your newsletters which you have been doing since ages?

The short point is this : An enormous amount of research gets done on search by your target audience, associates, partners and job aspirants today – maybe some of this stuff can catch their eye.

Also, remember that it is easier to start ranking on images and videos as opposed to text simply because there is less competition. So start tagging and putting any key video interviews online – especially those where a sector/category/trend is being analyzed.

Crawlers may not like flash but remember that they read word docs, PDF’s and PPT’s. All this can be put up on sites – it does not have to be in text format on the site for it to get indexed.

[Guest artivle by Kaushik M, Chief Catalyst @ Learning Catalyst, a specialist in learning programs for the web and mobile category and an IT solutions provider for educational institutes]

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