• Athina Mallis

How to grow your martech company: Experts share top tips on the Martech Podcast

The marketing technology landscape is fiercely competitive, so how can you stand out from the crowd? Azadeh Williams, founder and managing partner of AZK Media speaks with Ben Shapiro host of the Martech Podcast. They discuss how to grow your marketing technology company in a crowded marketplace, the differences between growing in different regions and how PR is just a piece of the puzzle when going to market.


Listen to the Martech Podcast featuring Azadeh Williams here.



Ben Shapiro: Let's start off talking a little bit about you, where you are and what you do. Tell us a little bit about your work.


Azadeh Williams: Before starting AZK Media as an agency, I was actually a marketing and technology journalist. So I've written for the Times and The Sunday Times in the UK. Then I wrote for IDG publications globally. IDG is obviously a US-based company and they've got arms across the world, CMO Magazine, CIO, PC World, Computer World. I've interviewed over 300, CMOS and CTOs and CEOs of martech vendors across the world.


I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of pitches and marketing activity, and I'm very passionate about the space, which is why I started AZK media and we really specialise in helping B2B businesses like marketing technology companies gain their presence in the APAC region, as well as business intelligence and data analytics and cloud technology companies. Very much the digital ecosystem of businesses who have some measure of global success, but want to gain their presence across APAC.


Differences between martech vendors globally


Ben: We're in a similar situation. We've both interviewed a number of executives in martech and ad tech and it's amazing what you can learn as a, I don't know if I would call myself a "member of the media" but as an interviewer, you can really understand the landscape of an industry and you in your case, have turned that into a marketing consultancy and at your existing practice. I'm curious to hear your thoughts.


You mentioned that you know, you wrote for a publication that was based in the US and in the UK, and you're based in Australia. You've covered at least three continents with your employment. Talk to me a little bit about how you see the differences for martech companies across the various continents and regions that you've worked in.


Azadeh: Do you mean from a media perspective?


Ben: Well, that's a good question. I was thinking not only from a media perspective, what's the difference? But let's start off with businesses that are founded in various regions, do you think that the landscape and the playing field is equal? Is there any benefit of starting a martech company that is US-based as opposed to Europe or Asia, any differences in terms of you know, where the company is located in driving martech success?


Azadeh: I wouldn't say one region is necessarily better than the other, because the martech landscape is so complex. We've got about 8,000 martech vendors, and it's just growing. Whether you're starting it in Singapore, or India, or you're starting in the US or the UK, you just need to have the right solution fit for the customer base that's in your region. Now, there's no one size fits all of setting up that business and growing it in that particular region.


We have clients in London and the UK, and they've reached far and wide across the Continental part of Europe. And they work very much across the retail verticals, and the sort of drinks and beverage space and the ecommerce space, their business model of growth is different to our US vendors, and those who are in the San Francisco area, New York or Michigan.


I don't think there is necessarily somewhere that's better than the other, we have a great ad tech company that we work for in India, they have very low overheads and are a great place to start. But they have the challenge then of getting the trust and gaining the buy-in from the rest of the world. While it's cheaper for them to start up and scale, it's harder for them to get noticed globally. If you are starting in the UK and the US you have such a massive pool to work in, it's quite faster and easier to scale there and kind of get that street cred as such when you're moving to say the ANZ region. So it's complex.


Expanding your reach overseas and mistakes to avoid


Ben: It's interesting to me that you mentioned when you're starting a martech company, or when you're in the early stages, one of the most important things to think about is how you can gain traction in your region. Specifically, if you're starting in India, you have low overhead and it might be easier to gain traction in that area, that is a distinct advantage. You don't need a lot of capital to start a technology company in India, relative to starting in the United States.


The benefit of being in the United States is there's probably a larger revenue pool to pull from once you start to scale. Now, that brings us to the point where you get to a certain point of traction within your region. What are the ways that you generate that early traction? You're networking, you're starting to build in your marketing funnels. How do you eventually expand beyond the region that is one of your birthplaces for a company?


Azadeh: We can flip that on its head and say some of the mistakes that we've seen, that a lot of martech vendors make when they're trying to expand, and just how to avoid them. One of the common mistakes when starting out is thinking, let's get some media coverage to create some buzz around what we do.


Unfortunately, with the media landscape as it is, it's quite hard to get some sort of direct business value from just creating a buzz in the media. That's one of the common mistakes we see a lot of martech vendors make, especially when trying to expand outside of their region.


Another mistake that we see it's very startup level or expansion level, is that martech vendors will invest in this massive army of salespeople, and then in relative to that, give them little or no marketing support, their marketing and social media presence and their overall ecosystem is dull, it looks dry, it looks boring, doesn't stand out from the crowd, and it just doesn't create the foundation to be able to really build that pipeline and generate the customer tribe that's necessary to grow a martech business. I know the likes of Tealium, Cheetah Digital, Salesforce, they're doing it really well. I think they're great examples of companies that know how to get the mix, right. But they're the exception, not the norm.


Ben: Yeah, there's also a different level of scale, when you start talking about marketing for Salesforce as opposed to marketing the early-stage companies. I do agree with you that there is a blend of marketing of awareness driving activities, let's call PR into that activity, and then direct sales. You need that blend to drive awareness to get that initial engagement.


Then actually drive someone through your marketing funnel with your sales tactics and finding that balance in that blend. But something that can be pretty difficult. Is there any difference, when I was saying, "hey, what's the difference between the regions?" and you said, "do you mean the media landscape?" Tell me how driving that buzz, that awareness, you work in PR, on some level? How is that different in different places in the world?


Azadeh: I would say in the UK because it's very competitive to get noticed. When you do get noticed in the media and scale and volume of people reading your content, you will get a lot more traction. I think the same goes with the US because there's just such a big population and there's a high readership of content.


If you do get media coverage, there's more chance of you looking more authoritative, seeming more successful, you can leverage off the back of it, it gives you greater bragging rights in many ways.


Now, a lot of companies that are in the UK and US think they're going to get that same level of street cred and bragging rights when they come to say Australia. Australia only has 20 million people. So with the publications, you might get about 600 people reading the article 1000, if you're lucky. That's nothing compared to the sheer scale and volume of readerships across other parts of the world. You're just not going to get that level of traction, people aren't going to read an article in Australia and magically evangelise and go, 'I really love this product. This is amazing.' I think it's a lot more complex than that.


Ben: I think that there's something to be considered in terms of when you're expanding to a different region, let's say you're going into APAC, the geography is not only different, but the volume is different as well. In the early startup days, when I was kind of getting into the space, it was very much like TechCrunch, or bust, right? If you can get an article in TechCrunch, you are going to get noticed your startup was going to thrive, you sort of had that initial burst of credibility, and it was a great media source.


There were some other publications that were around as well. Now everything is a little bit more disintermediated. TechCrunch is not the powerhouse that it used to be for the technology industry. It just seems like you know, with social media, it's so easy to get your content in front of people but getting noticed and getting their attention is a different story. When you're moving into the Asian Pacific, are there different media outlets that you rely on? Obviously, Australia is different from China, which is different from Japan and India, that they're all a little different. Give me the lay of the land in terms of who are the popular publications. Or are they a similar mix to what we see here in the United States?


Popular marketing technology publications in the APAC region


Azadeh: The martech publications here, if you're looking at the intersection between marketing technology data, there are a number of specific publications here that are open to great media pitches. We're looking at obviously CMO magazine where I was, and CIO to some extent, then we're looking at Marketing Mag, B&T, Mumbrella, Martech Series, Campaign Brief. There's also IT Wire to some extent, and Techday. There's a nice mix, but it's very small. It's a very, very small pool.


It's important to build relationships and trust with those journalists. It's also important to have local stories to tell. So local customer success stories, local business wins, things that are very localised, no journalist in Australia is going to pick up something that's happened in the US, they don't care about it. They said we will pitch to those US publications.


Growing your business in the APAC region? It's all about relationships


Ben: You have to regionalise your outreach, come up with customer stories that are relevant to the market, when you're trying to expand. There's a martech company that's here in the US trying to create a foothold in the Asia Pacific. Why should they prioritise PR as opposed to some of the marketing tactics that are less regionally specific? Like your Ad Words, your performance marketing, your email marketing, those are kind of things that expand globally relatively easily. Why should marketers be prioritising the PR and the awareness and buzz driving activities when they're going to a new market?


Azadeh: Well, interestingly, what we say is don't prioritise PR. It's not something that you have to prioritise. I think it just forms part of the overall marketing mix. I would say completely the opposite. I would say have a look at your entire marketing funnel. Yes, PR hits the very top of the marketing funnel. Like I said, it gives you some bragging rights. It gives you maybe some third-party links, if you're lucky. They build a little bit of street cred on the ground, but it's not the be all and end all, it certainly doesn't need to be the priority.


Azadeh: In Australia and New Zealand. It's very much a relationship-building exercise. If you come here, and it's very old school, and I know there's a big backlash around events and what have you. Globally, people are not doing as much event marketing as they normally do. But in Australia, it's very much a relationship building.


You need to be across all of the local events, the local Marketing events and martech events to get yourself noticed and build those relationships on the ground. That to me is the number one thing. That takes money, it takes a local regional marketing partner. For instance, we work with a lot of martech vendors and data analytics vendors on the ground here to build their presence across local webinars, local sponsored events, local podcasts, they're the things that are going to build local trust and local relationships, PR is just a little mix. But I think that should be a real bigger focus. Of course, the Ad Words and the content around it, you know, blogs and inbound activity, it all forms part of that integrated mix.


Ben: Yeah, that's a really important part to think about when you're expanding into new regions is internationalisation is not just a language change. Hopefully, you're taking it easy on yourself and going into a region where you have native speakers in your company. But there's also relationship building exercises and some of the nuances that come along with moving into a new region.


There are different behaviors across different cultures. That's all something that you need to factor in when you're thinking about expanding beyond your geography. Azadeh, to help me understand what are some of the ways that companies that are thinking about either internationalisation globalisation, you know, what are some of the ways that they can avoid coming off as hollow or like, they don't understand the region that they're trying to break into?


Azadeh: A common mistake that we see global Martech vendors make when trying to expand in the APAC region, it's not actually having any local-centric content on their global site, local landing pages, customer use cases, or anything that makes the local customer feel like "this martech vendor at a global level really understands us, really cares about us, gives us content and information and relevant things that speak to us" don't just kind of speak generically. I think that's really, really important when you're trying to create localised efforts.


Ben: I think that's great advice. Not only trying to go into a market and just changing the geographies of some of your advertising strategy, and doing some outreach to PR vendors, but really, truly showing that you are integrating and starting to work in a region is what makes a difference to the people that are on the ground. And that wraps up this episode of the Martech podcast. Thanks to Azadeh Williams Founder and Managing Partner at AZK Media for joining us.



Listen to the Martech x Azadeh Williams podcast here.