Tech marketing secrets from the Start-up Nation
McCann Tech CEO Shai Almagor shares his view of the dynamic tech marketing strategies turning Israel into an innovation hub
January 7, 2021
The Economist has described Israel as the most dynamic ecosystem for tech businesses outside of America – and few people get as good a view of that ecosystem in action as Shai Almagor, CEO of McCann Tech. As leader of an agency that epitomises the rise of the ‘Start-up Nation’, his team works with everything from start-ups to major global enterprises and across sectors from cybersecurity and communications technology to AgriTech. Shai’s own career has taken on a similar trajectory to the country as a whole. He started out in marketing in an account director role at McCann Erickson Israel before heading to New York City with TBWA, with stints at Tribal Worldwide, Group SJR and Grey Tel Aviv, before returning to McCann as an agency leader of McCann Tech.
We grabbed the opportunity to ask Shai about his journey, the insights he’s picked up along the way – and the secret sauce for dynamic tech brands looking to scale their growth and make a global impact.
What is it about B2B tech marketing that most inspires you?
“It’s all about innovation – about being there on the cutting edge of technology. It’s exciting because you get to see what’s coming next. To understand innovative technology and the impact it can have on our lives, and to have those conversations years in advance of the technology arriving – that’s amazing and I love it.
It’s also an inspiring space because of the way tech marketing is evolving right now. There’s a quote from former SAP CMO, Jonathan Becher: “big glass buildings don’t buy software – people do.” Great companies are starting to realise they’ve focused too much on the technology itself and not what it’s meant to do, which is make people’s lives better. They’re gravitating towards an approach that’s more human-to-human, more B2C. And in today’s marketing landscape, that kind of communication flourishes. LinkedIn is now the most important communications platform for a B2B tech company – but the challenge is that everyone’s on there. In order to stand out, you have to be more creative and disruptive – even if you have the best solutions. Companies are recognising that the first battle in communications is attention – and we’re getting more and more requests focused on that.”
What makes Israel such fertile ground for innovative tech businesses?
“I think there’s been two phases to it. In recent years, lots of young folks have seen the success of start-ups from Israel and so they’re inspired by that. It’s a small place, you can get to anyone through a few contacts, and that makes it easy to get advice from successful tech entrepreneurs. As a result, you have new companies coming out with huge, global ambitions right from the start.
Looking further back, I think there’s also a culture and a mentality in the country around not failing – a determination to find new ways to try and make something happen. There’s a great book by Gideon Amichay, who’s been one of the founding fathers of advertising in Israel, called No, No, No, No, No, Yes. I think that sums it up. There’s a culture that ‘No’ is always followed by a comma rather than a period; that it’s just the beginning of a conversation.”
How should B2B tech businesses balance brand and demand?
“It starts with their objective. Creative and advertising are never the objective – they’re just a means to an end. We have to understand what a company really wants to get out of the activity – and it’s not always obvious. A client might say, “we want something disruptive, we want everyone to know about us,” but they’ll also say, “we want 100 new business contacts at the end of it.” We need to ask ourselves whether the real objective is more balanced towards lead gen or brand.
What we find is that it depends on the life-stage of the company. I believe it was Wix that came up with a term for measuring marketing investment: “Time to ROI” or TROI. It’s a case of when you expect to get back the dollars that you put in. If we’re working with an early-stage start-up, we’ll tend more towards lead gen because they need to generate business and they need to show investors that they have a viable product or service. They have a shorter TROI. When you invest in brand, it takes longer for your investment to come back – but over the long term and for bigger companies, that investment is often more important. There’s a saying that by the time a B2B client meets you face-to-face, they’ve already pretty much made up their mind whether they want to work with you. And that’s a product of brand.”
What’s the secret formula for building global B2B tech brands?
“It’s about being consistent – especially in B2B where the sales journey is longer and more complex. Communicating consistently throughout the year and being as simple and clear as possible about your value proposition and how you work: those are the keys to getting major traction globally.”
How have you approached planning for 2021?
“Agility has become the name of the game. It’s not a case of trying to plan the entire of 2021, because we can’t afford too many long planning processes. We need to be strategic about being tactical. We have to move fast, work in sprints and prepare to react to what’s going on. It’s about finding a different way of working and therefore a different way of planning.
Events have been a big change as far as planning is concerned. Suddenly, companies are looking for new channels to invest that budget, create that same impact and build those types of relationships. With digital events, there’s often this discrepancy between the amount of time that companies spend creating the content for an event – and the value they get from it. We’re taking a before-during-after strategy to maximise the value that businesses get. There’s so much great content that gets developed but ends up being buried somewhere deep in the company’s website. We’re building toolboxes to help amplify that to relevant audiences.”
What do you see as the biggest tech opportunities going forward?
“Definitely anything that can facilitate remote working: cloud, remote contact centres, cybersecurity solutions for remote connections. At the same time, mobile gaming and gaming in general have seen huge uplifts, along with all of the ad tech that has to do with that. But there are huge opportunities elsewhere too: agriculture, with the sustainability agenda making a big comeback, and healthcare, where we’re going to see a lot of innovation. It should be super interesting.”
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned between starting out at McCann Erickson over a decade ago, and returning as McCann Tech CEO?
“It’s that marketing is really all about the people. In particular, there are three distinct groups of people that you have to learn from, understand and figure out how best to communicate with: the people on your side, in your agency, the people on the client side, and the folks that are the end-customers or end-users. In all of these areas you’ll find huge diversity. If you’re curious about knowing and understanding them then you have what you need to get ahead.”
To learn more about technology marketing, check out the Tech Hub and hear the experiences of B2B marketing leaders.