RSA 2016 De-brief Part 2: Are You Sure That Your Communications Strategy Is Working?

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In my last blog post I outlined some of the issues attendees had with the content and direction of vendor thinking at this year’s RSA show. This may be a harbinger of things to come.

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2016 looks like it will be a challenging environment for tech and security is not immune. Some say tech is thriving with no signs of slowing down, while others caution that there are signs to be wary of. Some are sharing guidance on how to prepare if a tech bubble does pop. You can make a case either way.

Whether or not the security segment faces a slowdown, the sheer number of security startups in play means that VC firms will be increasing their scrutiny of who they give funding to. We can expect wary investors to grill start-up CEOs with questions like:

  • The large companies you plan to target are hard to get to and it can take a long time to convert them. In the meantime, how do you plan to capture customers and revenue in the mass market?
  • That’s a very specific target audience. How do you plan to effectively market to this target decision maker?
  • That’s a great feature, but how do you plan to build out a multi-feature platform that can compete for the long term? How do you plan to avoid being copied or commoditized?
  • This market is saturated. How do you plan to expand into adjacent markets?

And wary industry analysts will be asking vendors questions like:

  • Can you show me happy customers who can verify your claims?
  • Why do customers pick you over your competitors?
  • How do you make money? And how much do you make?

So, it’ll be bracing times for many vendors. 2016 will certainly be stormy for many new players as customers look for their marketing rhetoric to transform into tangible results. Credible and realistic communications, sales and marketing strategies are essential to surviving the shakeout. It’ll be a fascinating market to watch.

As for the RSA show itself – vendors can do a number of things to make RSA 2017 a much more exciting, impactful and useful event for customers. Here are just a couple of recommendations as you look ahead to what’s left of 2016:

  • Run a ‘warts and all’ RSA de-brief – Be honest with yourself on what worked well. Based on what you saw this year, what would you do differently next year? You may even want to reevaluate your overall 2016 plan, if your narrative is not resonating with target customers.
  • Immerse yourself in the customer’s world– Too much vendor messaging is gravitating towards niche segment positioning and jargon definition. Customers rarely think in terms of categories or even features – they focus on problems first and spiral outwards from there. Ensure all content marketing, PR and AR is aligned around the customer’s thought process, not a features list. Tactical steps to take include:
    • Run an analyst audit to gather up to date perspectives on any evolving buyer pain points
    • Talk to recent prospects who turned you down about why you didn’t get the deal
    • Speak to greenfield customers about what’s concerning them and prioritize listening and digging deeper on those issues, rather than going straight for the hard sell
  • Think beyond your own product’s horizon – Think about the internal politics, cultural and economic factors that the customer experiences and how this impacts their strategies, processes and staffing. These contextual business drivers will define the capabilities and characteristics they look for in a vendor.

But that’s just my perspective, and I’m keen to hear yours. What was your experience at RSA? How did it compare to previous shows? Was there a topic missing this year that you think next year’s show needs to address?