B2B Security Vendors: Prepare for Scrutiny

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Growing Skepticism Toward Vendors' Claims

Public sentiment toward technology vendors is undergoing a significant shift. Just take a look at what Ben Smith at Buzzfeed is saying, or the message behind Franklin Foer’s new book, “World Without Mind.” The shift reflects a growing skepticism in the claims technology providers make about their products and services. Consequently, it’s also creating a PR issue that could have a negative halo effect on all tech companies — especially those involved in B2B security.Currently, the skepticism is mainly focused on consumer-facing vendors such as Google and Facebook. As detailed in a recent New York Times article, the pressure is growing for these vendors to be proactive and transparent in the face of public and government scrutiny. How long will it be before B2B tech vendors, especially security vendors that supply the technological underpinnings of these public companies, are subject to the same scrutiny? How long will it be before a vendor is “outed” as part of a breach or core service issue? When will they be forced to publicly accept a larger share of the blame?

How Is The Market Changing?

We’re seeing a steady year over year increase in IT security and network security searches in Google Trends.

b2b security google trends

We’re also seeing increased investment and market crowding. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, “Worldwide spending on cybersecurity products and services is predicted to eclipse $1 trillion for the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.” As we continue to see these trends, it’s logical that these companies will potentially face a level of criticism comparable to consumer facing tech companies.Reporting is starting to reflect this shift as well. Consider just a handful of headlines from Techmeme the morning of September 18, 2017. Each article demonstrates the level of skepticism and consequence that is becoming standard for tech companies.

  • New Study Says Apple May Be Overselling Its Differential Privacy Protections In MacOS and iOS; Apple Disputes Study’s Findings
  • Face ID Has Upsides and Downsides on Both Security and Usability and Isn’t Less Secure Than PIN or Touch ID in Practice
  • Bing Starts Showing Fact Checking Labels in Search Results

The Consequences For B2B Security Vendors

How does this factor into PR and marketing strategies for B2B security vendors?

  • Increased market pressure triggers some PR and marketing pros to push the line on claims (first/best/only/performance). While no one makes 100% protection security claims anymore, researchers who are looking to make a name for themselves find easy targets thousands of security vendors. Those vendors will find themselves in defense mode when they are the “subject” of an unplanned exposé.
  • Even without overtly boastful claims, vendors could still be caught up in an inadvertent issue due to public information on case studies or news supporting an affected company like Equifax. This makes it potentially risky, and likely even harder, to get customer PR involvement. These limit security PR pros to product news (which no one covers), trend news (which is overly noisy), and their own data (which reports are questioning more and more).
  • This puts a premium on owned content and true thought leadership–hard won efforts that don’t align with the day-to-day media fight for airtime. True differentiation will be much harder to come by; it requires executives to invest in PR and content for the long haul.
  • As B2B security vendors look to leverage AdWords and social ads to amplify hard won earned and owned content, there may be diminishing returns based on internal skill sets and competition for the same keywords or audience.

PR Strategies For B2B Security Success

However dire this assessment may sound, all is not lost. B2B security vendors and their PR/marketing teams can find success by consistently focusing on a few key strategies.

  • Offer something legitimate. Unique data, perspective based on years of experience, and trend synthesis still matter. They are tried and true assets for thought leadership. Work hard to continually refresh these efforts, add new data/insights to owned content, and fund the efforts accordingly.
  • Focus on long tail search terms. No vendors, except the largest ones, will win on blanket keywords like “IT security.” Weaving content and earned media strategies around messaging and keywords, which tie together differentiation with larger market themes, will help carve out a lane for the company to win.
  • Craft a 360-degree crisis communications plan. Make sure it clearly includes what to do when a client has an issue as opposed to when the product or service is compromised. Widening the scope of the crisis comms plan will ensure that, even when a customer is affected, the team will be ready to protect the brand.

Looking Ahead

Market pressures are only going to increase for B2B security companies. PR pros must focus on understanding the environmental conditions, having realistic expectations of what could happen, and investing in areas that can be won instead of chasing the competition.

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