For every tech company that gets mainstream visibility for its impact on consumers and businesses, there are hundreds of others working diligently behind the scenes to help them do it.
Take, for instance, a company like Shopify. Shopify has not only given retailers the ability to launch e-commerce stores but also ways to customize almost every step in the shopper journey. That’s because, behind its platform, there are thousands of technology partners who power everything from the ability to offer shoppers upsell opportunities and subscriptions all the way to full-blown, automated marketing campaigns that work around the clock to drive shoppers back to their stores.
While Shopify works to bring media visibility to what it offers, many of the technology companies it works with don’t. This isn’t because they don’t deserve the limelight or that there’s someone else who does what they do better than them. More often than not, it’s because they simply haven’t cracked the code on breaking into the media.
Kieran Powell, Executive Vice President of Channel V Media, a New York City-based PR firm that represents technology companies, refers to these companies as “invisible companies.”
“The reason for their invisibility is two fold: One, they’re often B2B companies that are unknowingly powering familiar experiences brought to consumers through a public-facing company or brand. And two, they’re simply not out in the market taking credit for their work.”
The latter is a problem that Powell and Paul Lewis, CEO of retail media outlet and think tank RETHINK Retail, have set out to solve through a new invite-only ‘visibility accelerator’ they launched for retail tech companies.
I spoke with Powell and Lewis about how companies should rethink their media strategies for greater impact, and they were able to sum it up in three overarching thoughts.
1. The Media Doesn’t Always Cover the Best Product. It Covers the Best Stories.
With an average of 50 million new startups emerging every year, it’s not always clear how media outlets determine which tech companies to focus on. Or why some consumer technology companies consistently dominate the news cycle while equally innovative business technologies are left out of the conversation.
According to Powell, a key reason for the discrepancy is that companies that develop groundbreaking consumer products often cater to the masses and capture the interest of a broader audience.
B2B tech companies, on the other hand, typically solve complex and niche problem sets that don’t align with the interests of the mainstream media sphere. This makes it challenging for journalists to turn what these companies do into accessible media stories for their audiences. Powell says that companies need to do that part before they even begin a conversation with the media.
“There’s no question that it’s easier for consumer technology companies to get mainstream media coverage,” said Powell. “What they’re doing affects the masses. And instead of focusing on the features and functions of their technology, these companies usually focus on the experience or benefits their products deliver to users.”
On the other hand, he explains, nearly 100% of B2B tech companies try to sell the media on their products. “What they need to do is sell them stories.”
Lewis agrees. “While B2B tech companies can talk to you about the inner workings of their products all day long, they often struggle to speak from their customers’ perspectives or transform what they do into narratives with wide-reaching appeal.”
This is such a big issue that companies end up losing market share to more marketing-savvy competitors, even if their product is fundamentally better.
2. When Tech Companies Talk about Their Tech Instead of Their Promise, They Start Sounding the Same.
Part of the challenge facing B2B tech providers is that instead of focusing on what makes them different or the value they offer to their customers, many focus on the things that make them sound like everyone else.
Take, for instance, back in 2017 when AI began gaining mainstream popularity. Every tech company suddenly began basing its public-facing positioning around its nascent AI abilities rather than its unique abilities to “solve X problems (or create Y benefits) for Z people.”
What we were left with were hundreds of companies with totally different value propositions who were suddenly competing based on their most common denominator.
“The goal is to compete on what makes you different, not the same,” said Lewis. “If you’re using the exact same descriptors as competitors who are vying for the same budgets–or media coverage–as you, you’re left competing on price, or simply being left out of the story.
“The companies that successfully set themselves apart from a dense competitor set not only know how to position their broader businesses, they know how to position their technology for different prospective client types.”
This approach translates to the media, as well. In addition to tailoring media outreach to outlets according to what they cover and who they speak to, companies that establish their executives as thought leaders can provide the media and potential buyers with value that extends beyond their product offerings.
“There are many vendors who position themselves as just another technology to buy. Businesses that establish themselves as thought leaders in their space position themselves as visionaries and guides to their clients. By demonstrating insights and knowledge into the specific problems of the prospect, companies can quickly distinguish themselves from the competition.”
3. Companies Invest a Lot in Trade Events but Don’t Maximize Their Presence Once They’re There.
While digital communication has its merits, nothing can truly replicate the impact of face-to-face interactions.
Every year, trade events like the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show draw tens of thousands of attendees looking to gain knowledge, learn about new innovations, and network. Demographics from the 2023 NRF Big Show reveal that 90% of its 35,000 attendees were involved in making purchasing decisions, and 87% planned to spend $100,000 or more for products they discovered at the show.
Technology companies typically often spend upwards of $100,000 dollars to attend a single trade show, yet often forgo investing money to get the attention of these high-value attendees. Instead, they show up unprepared and without a defined course of action. Which, according to Lewis, is an assured path to missing opportunities with the media, analysts, and potential prospects.
“I can tell you from experience that when RETHINK Retail’s reporters attend trade shows, their days are fully booked with brands, vendors, and influencers well ahead of time. The same is true of other reporters and prospects attending these shows,” said Lewis. “The tech companies that are getting the most attention are the ones that invest in their visibility and reach out to prospects far in advance.”
By initiating media engagement early on, tech exhibitors can build anticipation and generate buzz around their upcoming trade show presence. This, in turn, will increase foot traffic at their booth and provide a greater opportunity for them to engage with the right audiences. This type of proactive approach can extend far beyond the confines of the trade show timeline, encompassing sustained coverage and relationship-building that lasts long after the event’s conclusion.
Not all companies know how to do this, though–they’re more focused on building technology than opportunities with media and prospects. For these companies, Channel V Media and RETHINK Retail recently launched the Retail Awareness Accelerator, a program that positions technology companies for success by driving media and prospect awareness before, during, and after trade shows. The program will hand-select companies to pilot the new offering for the 2024 NRF Big Show.
“Even technology companies with the most compelling offerings struggle to connect with audiences and get noticed at trade shows,” said Powell. “With the right strategic plan and execution, they can turn this around to create astronomical ROI for their trade show investments.”