How to Surf the Tech Trends without Going Under
Everyone is familiar with tastemakers in fashion, music, and popular culture. They indicate what is hot and what is not, with words and actions. Those who want to stay ahead of trends pay close attention.
But what about enterprise tech?
The general idea is the same. There too, you have influencers, like industry analysts. But the dynamics are much different. Users and decision-makers aren’t generally surfing TikTok or watching Kylie’s Instagram to see what the next big thing will be.
So what do you do, if you are in enterprise tech or some gorpy B2B space? How do you track where things are, where they are going, and leverage this insight for PR?
What’s your Silicon Valley Time?
An article I saw a while back inspired this topic. The story, about the tyranny of “Silicon Valley Time,” was widely read and shared. Aaron Zamost’s Medium post rang eerily true for those in the tech marketing, journalism and PR worlds. His subtitle said it all: The tech press moves like clockwork, fitting company narratives into a predictable arc. Here’s how pros deal with it.
He describes the expectations set when a company is founded (“12:00 SVT; Birth – No one really cares”) and circles the clock on to Shiny New Toy, Up and Comer, and Industry Disrupter (3 SVT) and beyond. The idea being, if you are in PR, you should heed this timetable and try to beat the clock in your storytelling and execution.
But the focus here is on another schedule that impacts media coverage. It is the one that follows the inexorable march of technology evolution and disruption. This one too, is about promise, expectations, triumph and sometimes flameouts.
Here, the clock turns not for an individual company – but for categories (true, one company might be the driving force in a new “bucket,” but there will inevitably be competitors).
These segments are important because they help the media and their audiences understand what kind of tech you have, and where it fits in the scheme of things. Each category has a narrative, a story arc that starts with invention and ends with obsolescence. It has its innovators, leaders and followers.
How long it takes for a category to emerge and go big relates to many factors: is there a real market for this new kind of thing, is it affordable, does it work as promised? All these questions dictate the likelihood that the tech will jump from development, get used by early adopters and eventually reach a mainstream market.
Geoffrey Moore wrote about the dynamics of technology adoption in his classic text, Crossing the Chasm (the “chasm” refers to the gap separating innovation and mass adoption). Gartner Group famously maps the trajectories of enterprise tech segments in their Hype Cycle reports, charting them along a curve like the one below. Here’s a link to their Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2021.
Leveraging Tech Evolution for PR
Media appetite and coverage of vendor news and stories vary significantly depending on the stage of the space. This presents challenges and opportunities for those in the mix. The savvy tech marketer adjusts tactics accordingly.
Where does your tech and company fit in the category story arc? And what can you do with this understanding?
Let’s play spin the clock with some examples.
Think desktop PCs, big a million years ago; yeah, still incredibly important – but does anyone really think about them or care much today? Especially media, they don’t necessarily want to cover older stuff AKA “legacy tech.”
Or “big data” – hot or not? This blog asked that very question five years ago – after NY VC and tech influencer Matt Turck said that big data sounded “increasingly three years ago,” folowing Gartner’s jettisonong of the phrase from their 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.
Back then I did an analysis that showed big data was still much buzzed about, despite the second guessing. But today?
On the other hand, Most would agree that quantum computing (a segment that Fusion PR works in) is at an early stage. Depending on who you listen to, we could be 5-10 years away from mainstream adoption.
The Register had a funny piece that skewered Gartner Hype Cycles: Where on Gartner’s Hype Cycle is Gartner’s Hype Cycle? That’s the way uh-huh uh-huh, I hype it Rupert Goodwins writes: “…quantum computing seems to crop up about one year in two. Bless.” (But c’mon, Rupert, doesn’t media play a role in perpetuating hype? Yeah, PR too, obviously. We are all part of the hype-o-system).
Quantum computing is a frothy space – there is much excitement about its potential and eagerness for its arrival. Press interest and coverage reflect this – every minor advancement, things that would go unnoticed in a late adoption stage, get covered here (PoCs, papers, etc.). Hard news rules the day. But the definition of hard news is much more lax.
Surfing the Cycle
Press interest and coverage can vary based on the stage of your technology in the Gartner Hype Cycle. The following is a grab bag of tips and observations accordingly:
- In the earlys stages – “Technology Trigger” through “Peak of Inflated Expectaions” – new shows, awards, publications and influencers emerge – the savvy PR team does triage on these.
- It’s a horse race to determine winners and losers, the leaders and followers as the category climbs that slope. There’s a lot of noise. You need to decide whether you want to play the hype game or be more conservative (but there are no awards for playing it low key).
- The press can get negative as the tech traverses the peak and descends the “Trough of Disillusionment.” If you’re a company that competes in the space, be ready for this.
- Technologies that are in the later stages of adoption – they are mainstream, widely used, with little fuss – get less media attention. You need to work harder to get that media love.
- For those, feature articles and bylines about best practices are good options.