HostingCon 2014: The Art of Selling Space with Makiko Ara, Total Product Marketing

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If there is one thing that the cloud and hosting industry struggles with as a whole, it is marketing. The space is crowded with providers offering commoditized services, and trying to compete on price just doesn’t work.

The right marketing approach can help providers connect to the buyer better and convince buyers that the cloud is secure, stable, and easy to access and manage.

On the final day of HostingCon, Makiko Ara of Total Product Marketing talked about how cloud and hosting providers can address common marketing pains. She also provided some interesting strategies and takeaways for providers to deploy, based on her ETC Marketing Model: emotional benefits, triggers with association, and content of value.

Ara says hosting providers have traditionally relied on organic growth, compete in a crowded market and have a lack of resources – all factors that contribute to lackluster marketing.

Traditionally there has been a lot of emulating going on, Ara says. Which isn’t a bad thing, but there are a few common marketing traps that hosting providers fall into. These include too much emphasis on functionality, race to the bottom, and a lack of creativity.

AWS markets based on functionality, so using that strategy is not very effective. Service providers should focus on emotional benefits instead, and create the anticipation of professional and personal awards.

“Customers want to feel that they have pride in the decision they’ve made,” Ara says.

Connecting on an emotional level helps to engage customers. The new breed of B2B buyer consumes content like water, is extremely self-sufficient in terms of research and is impatient. The average person spends 8 seconds on a website to decide if it’s what they’re looking for.

“The window of opportunity to capture attention is very small,” Ara says.

Emotions that connect include security, belonging, control and freedom, she says.

The final piece of the puzzle is fear. “In the 80s and 90s people would say you can’t get fired for choosing IBM,” she says. If decisions are driven by personal reward, another crucial factor in making a decision from a buyer’s point of view is fear.

Customers feel first, and think second. Trust is more valuable than data, Ara says.

Ninety percent of the time tech companies focus on functionality, 10 percent focus on economics, and 1 percent or fewer focus on emotion in their marketing approach.

“Employ creativity and use your limited marketing dollars wisely,” Ara says.

Ara spoke of the ETC Marketing Model: emotional benefits, triggers with association, and content of value.

When providers sell on emotion, customers understand what the products will help them accomplish.

Triggers are things in marketing that help the buyer remember the brand. These things could include slogan, format or product. One idea that Ara mentioned was a hosting company showing their customers how secure their servers are by having hackers try to break into servers, and promote it.

A high-perceived value of content equals high-perceived value of products, services and company, Ara says. Visuals and photos should reflect the emotions and experiences of your prospective customers.

The average person doesn’t relate to servers, for example, because there is no emotional impact. Use photos of people instead, these could be customers or employees.

Many hosting websites use client logos, which can help with credibility, she says, but really only offer a small benefit.

Customer success stories are more effective. It is also helpful to incorporate photos of team members as part of a brand, especially if a provider is selling support or specialized service.

Ara doesn’t recommend using stock photos unless they are believable.

Providers should create a jargon dictionary, Ara says. Write down all of the words on the website that the average, non-technical customer wouldn’t know. Try to replace these words with “real words” that resonate with buyers, she says.

It is important for service providers to ask themselves what are they selling and what their ideal customers want.

“Create customer-focused products as a starting point for discussion for selling,” Ara says.

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