Intangible marketing

Marketing intangibles is tough work. And yet, this is a growing part of the high tech world, so we better get used to it.

Physical objects are fairly easy. I have watched with amusement when a techie walks past a rack of servers at a trade show. Their eyes widen, their jaws, drop, and they gaze slobberingly at the hardware in a Homer Simpson donut trance. Then again, I’ve seen a similar response from women walking past a shoe store.

But intangibles are harder. How does one create a functional and emotional connection to something that cannot be seen, measured with a yard stick or a SPECmark? How does a marketing professional make the vaporous solid?

This is not a trivial question. As IT technologies become more commoditized, more of IT dollars are spent on services and software. Techies won’t stop at a booth that simply promises great service. Well, not outside of Amsterdam at least.

There are a variety of ways of creating functional and emotive connections concerning intangibles (which I will haphazardly lump software into, though you can at least demo software and create a pseudo tangible connection). The primary way is to lean more on emotional motivators than functional ones. I know this sounds like heresy to an industry that was built on features, functions, and benefits. But heretics are often right (well, at least the ones not burned at the stake).

Emotions are very real . . . to the audience. Tapping into those emotions creates an instant reality for the receiver of the marketing message. And, the more basic the emotion, the more powerful it is. People my age and older may well remember a public service announcement that appeared on TV during the early stages of the environmental movement. This commercial showed an American Indian scanning a polluted horizon, then turning to face the camera with a tear in his eye. The “product” being sold was environmental consciousness, which is completely intangible. But the commercial was very visual. Very powerful. 100% emotional.

You may recall some television ads for security software that ran on major news networks a few years back. In these ads, either a cyber punk or a long-legged blonde, both in basic black, tapped on a keyboard and claimed they had just hacked into your corporate database. These ads, targeted at CEOs, were designed to generate fear and insecurity and drive them to buy software that wasn’t even demoed. Very visual. Very powerful. 100% emotional.

Even IBM, who now derives most of their income from services, has latched onto this basic premise. I’m staring at a flyer I received, sporting a concerned looking Asian businessman and a caption that reads “Today, if you fail to innovate, you simply become a commodity. How painful.” This flyer promotes IBM’s business consulting services. Very visual. Very powerful. 95% emotional (well, they are a technology company – they had to slip somewhere).

My belabored point is that the more intangible a product/service, the more you have to ignite an emotional response to make it “real”. That emotional response has to make the audience want to take action, not merely investigate features and functions. The emotion your outbound marketing creates is the tangible part.

Now, speaking of basic emotions, if anyone has the phone number of that long-legged blonde . . . .


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