In the commercial sector, many technology companies succeed in their space with average technology wrapped with slick business strategy. Only a handful of them rise to the top by showcasing technology superior to their competitors. It’s safe to assert that a viable business model coupled with right execution remains the driving key success factor.
Nevertheless, superiority in technology helps get a company ahead of its competitors. The lead may not persists forever, but while it lasts the fame of being the best helps seize significant market share. Every once in a while, we see products and services backed by superior technology win over mass customers and crush competitors. Examples are Oracle’s database, Sun’s server hardware, Google’s search algorithm and Apple iPhone hardware/UI.
On the other hand, no matter how great your product is, competitors tend to catch up with comparable technologies quickly. Superiority in technology alone isn’t sufficient for success, but it does gain respect from the technology community and a direct consequence is that the company is likely to attract top technology talent. Conversely, being widely perceived technologically inferior to its competitors would sooner or later cause the company to lose.
There are lots of brilliant technologists, so emergence of great technological work isn’t rare. What’s rare is right execution with the right timing. From time to time, we see great ideas implemented at the “wrong time” like:
- Resource-intensive GUI on computers when CPU speed was at 5 MHz
- Cloud-based systems with common Internet connection at 56 kbit/s
Why technology marketing?
We do not have much control on the right timing, which is often prone to subjective interpretation plus a bit of luck. Semantic Web, Internet of Things are two examples that forward-thinking technologists started advocating more than a decade ago, yet they are nowhere near being widely adopted in their supposedly ubiquitous form. We do however have control on how to capitalize the using of internally developed technologies beyond building product. One approach is to publish or open-source selected technologies. Intentional or not, this is a marketing effort. Below are a few bullet points highlighting some of the benefits:
- Project an image of being a technology pioneer
- Good Samaritan, giving back to the technology community
- Benefit from the general collaborative open-source development effort
- Attract top technologists
- Get feedback for improvement from a broad technology community
Bottomline is that, almost everything especially in the commercial sector needs some marketing effort to shine. Technology is no difference. More importantly, marketing your product directly is inevitably met with normal skepticism as you’re supposed to talk up your own product, and the effect is short-lived as every business including your competitors is doing the same thing. Marketing the underlying technology of your product adds subtlety to the conventional product marketing effect which customers have long been numb to.
Many technology companies have already been doing that:
- Google published their Big Data work such as MapReduce and BigTable, released interface definition language Protocol Buffers, among many other things.
- As another company that deals with data at the real Big Data level, Facebook gave out NoSQL database Cassandra, interface definition language Thrift, and Scribe for streamed data aggregation.
- Yahoo still gets a lot of respect from the technology community not because of their search engine, email service or its media popular CEO, but their relevance in the Big Data technology space, particularly Hadoop.
- Twitter incubated distributed real-time streaming software, Storm.
- LinkedIn created high-performance distributed messaging software, Kafka.
- Netflix rolled out Java library, Curator, for ZooKeeper and a bunch of cloud-centric software.
- Meanwhile I’m not aware of any open-source contribution from Amazon, but the popularity of their EC2 platform made them a cloud service pioneer. The retail giant was hardly perceived a leading tech company before they expanded into the cloud service.
When not to publicize your technologies?
Publicizing your internally developed technologies isn’t necessarily a good move in all cases. It might not be a good idea to expose technologies to the public especially in the form of open-source if the technology:
- consists of your core business intellectual property (i.e. secret sauce)
- isn’t compliant with industry standards
- doesn’t work well on contemporary open-source platforms
- is just “yet another” ordinary implementation of certain technology
- hasn’t been and won’t be used in some of your own products
- isn’t polished enough to give out to external technologists
Like any marketing effort, technology marketing takes significant resource. That’s why companies who can afford doing that are in general well-established with abundant engineering resource. However, even for smaller companies and startups, if there is marketable and shareable technological work along with the right expertise in-house, it’s still worth serious consideration to publicize it.