Olivia Parker
Jun 16, 2017

A tech marketer's guide to unscrambling the shoptalk

Ben Gibson, CMO of American technology firm F5 Networks, explains how his latest campaign got to the point.

F5 Network's latest campaign, launched globally in January
F5 Network's latest campaign, launched globally in January

Ben Gibson knew his latest marketing campaign had been a success when one of his colleagues confessed it had helped them explain what they did to their grandmother for the first time.

For people whose job it is to market such complex products as those developed by the technology firm F5 Networks, where Gibson has been CMO for almost a year, simplifying the jargon is easily the biggest challenge.

This is how Gibson and his team arrived at 'We make apps go: Faster. Smarter. Safer', a two-year global campaign launched in January to help promote F5’s application management services to C-suite executives pursuing the elusive goal of “digital transformation”.

The company has its HQ in America but offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, via which it has promoted the campaign across Asia, Gibson told Campaign Asia-Pacific at The Wall Street Journal’s D:Live conference in Hong Kong. F5 has allocated a “disproportionate” amount of marketing budget to certain fast-growing markets here, Gibson says: According to F5's recent 'Pursuit of App-inness' report, almost three-quarters of ANZ and India's users have deployed 10 or more app services, a 60 percent increase from 2016. 

“I don’t think there’s any shortage of relevant growth drivers for us in this market, it’s just there’s a lot of new types of applications being developed with different endpoints. It used to be all about mobile, now it’s about networked vehicles and the internet of things,” says Gibson, who started out as a journalism major before switching to corporate communications for tech companies such as Cisco and Aruba Networks.

The job of selling tech in all global markets has also shifted significantly in recent times, he said. “Tech companies always used to be about marketing technology to technologists, particularly to enterprise IT vendors,” Gibson said. “In the last few years it has changed from marketing products to marketing business outcomes. So marketing really has to find ways to speak business language to connect the dots or articulate the value proposition of that technology.”

Armed with a simple strapline, the next step on Gibson’s 'We make apps go' campaign strategy was to get it in front of a select—but not limited—market of executives. “I think the number one rule is to focus on quality not quantity,” he said. “I can’t afford to blanket the airwaves and go everywhere with this but I don’t think executive audiences respond well to targeted ads. I think they respond to really interesting, creative applications of content.”

For 'We make apps go', this has meant not only investing in out-of-home advertising in, for example, Singapore’s largest business complexes and Changi Airport, but also creating a special content hub, designed to educate readers about the world around the products through infographics, videos and articles, rather than the technology itself—a first for F5. It’s a move that the company hopes will help broaden conversations about the products among different C-level executives.

“I think you’re going to see this as a trend with technology companies, creating brilliant content that maybe doesn’t even mention the product,” explains Gibson. “It’s more like ‘let’s talk about top five strategies for educating your board on security threats’. We’ve got plenty of products that can help you activate that but for us, the kind of dialogue we want to have with the chief security officer is about how he or she creates more awareness and more focus and even investment for a company with the CEO or with the board of directors.

“It’s about thought leadership, bigger ideas that we want F5 to be associated with in this higher-level audience.”

LinkedIn is a critical tool for navigating the infrastructure of this audience, Gibson continues. Twitter is the other social-media platform his team uses regularly. “Because we engage with longer sales cycles, you want to understand who that chief security officer is, you want to understand who that CIO is, in addition to the director of infrastructure or the app development manager. You can do some really interesting things with social platforms to help map the different key personas or roles within the organisations.”

While F5 Networks offers plenty of other services beyond application support, Gibson agrees that they have lent a lot of weight to this campaign both in terms of budget and airtime. “It's an emotional stake first and foremost,” he says. “To me, ‘We make apps go: Faster. Smarter. Safer’ is about generating emotion, not only in the market and more awareness with new audiences, but emotion within our company too. It’s been a real rallying cry for the company.”

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