Interview: IT Marketing Summit – Sunder Sarangan, Persistent Systems

From Internet of Things to the Internet of Me, what according to you is the big thing that will define IT marketing in 2016?

2016 will undoubtedly see a lot of IT marketing about the Internet of Things and Internet of Me. After all – neither ideas would be possible with IT or technology, so only fair that IT companies take them for a ride in their campaigns. Plenty of loud, frequent, and generic noise around these ideas should not be a defining or big thing for the year, but the big thing to define IT marketing in 2016 (I wish it were not) will be the uniformity or similarity (aka clichéd messaging) when it comes to marketing around these ideas.

The signs of this were obvious when I was at a conference at the end of 2015. Take out the names of speakers or logos on videos, the similarity of their newest launch or concept videos or their executive keynotes was stark. Every part of the IT world was contributed to this similarity – from the worlds of hardware or software (grounded on premise to prevent shocks or floating above like a cloud and ready to pour), to the world of services (delivered fact-to-face by human experts and pyramids or behind their backs in the names of many aaSes). Even the strategy consultants and IT analysts sound the same but they don’t probably consider themselves to in the worlds of IT and IT marketing.

This boring uniformity will define IT marketing in 2016 with only hope for contrarian approaches to form a silver lining. They may risk being lost but at least won’t darken those clouds of white noise, and keep alive any chance of being noticed as that silver lining.

Two ways in which the digital lives of people, things and organization is impacting the way companies are marketing to them?

Marketing, especially in the world of B2B and in IT, has been about influence more than transaction. Today, that is rarely true. Strong calls-to-action characterize a lot of marketing today, and our “digital” lives allow companies to access and market to us at those moments of actions. This makes marketing more transactional and a lot closer to selling and to measurable revenue impact, and is one way in which companies are marketing differently today.

The second impact on the way companies are marketing today is on us as marketers and how we do what we do. Technology helps us automate, and be predictive and rapidly responsive by being more data-driven, among many other things. This makes us get better at or become more efficient marketing operators, but is also taking our attention away from the softer and less measurable aspects of marketing (even if we are just as capable as before).

Marketing has become obsessed with the call to action and conversion metrics as a consequence of focusing on the digital “lives” of people, more than emotional appeal, influence, and conversation metrics – and the jury is out if this is a move for the better or for worse.

How has sales function transformed in the changing times wrt to changing consumers and organizations?

Transform is one of the most abused or misused words in business. For those of us with kids in school or college, do we think of them getting transformed every quarter, semester, or year? They simply develop over time – pick up new skills and build new capacities to be successful in life. The sales function, likewise, is only evolving or keeping pace with changing social behavior of buyers in their personal and professional worlds.

Deals are no longer closed only on golf courses and country clubs for some businesses, or hawked on street side joints and neighborhood stores to consumers. “Old-boys networks” matter less and when they do in the form of communities and peer forums, they are not called gender-specific names – am thinking how many “old-girls network” would ever have liked to be called that even back in the day.

Sales may not be transforming like a caterpillar to a butterfly or moth – nor is it disintegrating or disappearing as some predict. It continues to be the only function that translates customer experiences into currency experiences so accountants can recognize the value of customers to a business.

How do you see the role of IT marketer changing in the coming year and what has been the transition that you are already witnessing?

Every conversation today must have an Uber story or example, so here is mine. Uber, as we all know, broke down the control of taxi and limousine operators and today we benefit from more drivers on the road, better and cleaner cars, better service, and better value for the money. Instead, think about how every driver today is making lesser money than the taxi drivers did per passenger per mile, adjusted for influencing, purchasing power, fuel prices, or any other index.

The point I want to make is that technology will commoditize expertise and automation will eliminate the need for it. And the expertise to operate any form of technology and automation in the long run will get commoditized or become non-core and get outsourced. Think of the time, not too far into the future, when Uber will meet autonomous or self-driving cars and we as consumers can celebrate but not a joyous eventuality for all the drivers betting their livelihood on riding the Uber wave. Recipe for the future and food for thought for today – about the “digital” lives and future life of marketers.

With that Uber story only remotely relevant to your question about the next year, let me change the time horizon to 2016. The value of an IT marketer will continue to shift towards IT marketing operations (especially digital) and away from IT marketing strategy or common sense in IT marketing. Someone who can use common sense to align marketing disciplines and business relevance will be undervalued compared to the experts in the silos of IT marketing – pre-dominantly digital and social and in demand generation. The more scientific, data-driven, and automatable – the more valuable you will be in 2016. But as your expertise gets aligned more and more to the function of marketing operations and technology, and less and less to the company and product or offering you are taking to market or farther from applying thought or common sense to operations – the more you will become dispensable to the company and as a marketer over the next five years. Not very different from the Uber drivers of today.

Enjoy this Uber-world of IT Marketing. The choice is yours – to make hay when the sun shines, or to wait and plan ahead for the rainy day; or do both.

Profile: Sunder Sarangan, Chief Marketing Officer at Persistent Systems

He is also a speaker at Great Indian IT Marketing Summit & Awards 2016.

Sunder pursues his interests in hygiene-free street foods, masala overdoses from Bollywood, or bogeys on a golf course – along with a professional occupation as a Persistent marketer. Addiction to frequent flying trips or traps can influence his most elevated views about ground realities from that height of 30,000 feet, colored only by the wine and presented with a mix of nutty common sense and jugaad.

 

About the author  ⁄ Tuhina Anand

Tuhina Anand

Tuhina thrives working in an entrepreneurial environment. In the past, she has worked with both digital media start-ups and leading publications. She has been writing specifically on advertising, media and marketing. With more than a decade of experience, she enjoys creating and curating content and understanding brand complexities. Follow @TuhinaAnand

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