A golden rule for marketers today is to focus on quality rather than volume. This adage was drummed into me during my formative years in marketing agencies, and it’s something that we should place front of mind as we evolve an already thriving Scottish digital economy.
From Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and John Logie Baird’s television, Scotland has a strong heritage of producing change makers and world-changing inventions. Today, Scotland is on the precipice of making another giant leap in innovation with our tech scene expected to grow twice as fast as its overall economy by 2024. Yet for all the recent progress made, we’re facing an age-old, Scottish problem – we’re either not shouting about ourselves enough, or when we do we shout the wrong things.
I launched a martech startup four years ago and today my main focus is on technology than the actual marketing side. But old habits die hard, and I can’t help spotting the glaring errors Scotland is making when it comes to promoting its tech community. If Scotland is to attract the talent and investment we need to thrive, we must get better at talking about our digital economy.
Scotland is a Tech Nation – Let’s Spread The Love
There’s no denying that Edinburgh is the jewel in Scottish tech’s crown. The city was the UK’s fastest growing tech hub in 2017 and has a string of recent digital success stories, with the £1.4bn acquisition of travel tech firm Skyscanner top of the pile. Whenever you see the Scottish tech economy being discussed, Edinburgh is invariably the first name on the call sheet.
Yet despite the laudable pace of growth, Edinburgh lags behind other UK cities as a destination for tech talent. Edinburgh is home to 20,000 developers, far behind London’s 300,000-strong community, Manchester’s 40,000 and Birmingham’s 39,000. Geographical size clearly plays a factor, but if we’re to attract the right talent to Scotland we need to incentivise workers from around the UK to move here.
In marketing, we’d say we need to relate to the audience – not everyone will be enamoured with Edinburgh, not everyone will be able to afford to live there, and not everyone will want to work for the companies based in the city. Even if they were, there are only so many Edinburgh jobs to spare. We can’t put all our eggs in Edinburgh’s basket.
I believe that Scotland is a tech nation. Edinburgh won’t be for everyone – so let’s get better at shouting about other thriving hubs. We’ve plenty to be proud about, from the long line of flourishing digital startups produced by Glasgow’s universities, to Dundee’s thriving games sector and Stirling’s rapidly scaling tech hub sprawling outwards from the freshly-opened CodeBase site.
When marketing a product, you’ll only get so far if the product itself is sub-par. If a brand is selling something that doesn’t deliver on promises, even your first few customers will soon desert you.
If we want talent and businesses to ‘buy’ Scotland as a tech nation, we need to be providing the digital infrastructure they need. Tech development, file transfer and even just day-to-day working life depends on internet connectivity – yet by the end of 2017, more than a fifth of Scottish SMEs still didn’t have access to superfast broadband.
While UK government initiatives have earmarked the Orkney Islands and Perthshire for 5G trials, I believe now is the time for Scotland to tackle a nationwide rollout head on. 5G’s pace outstrips superfast broadband, allows for more seamless tech integration and presents a far more cost-effective way to connect rural and remote areas with high speed internet. Instead of playing catch-up and promising universal superfast broadband by 2021, let’s jump ahead of the pack and invest in 5G.
A marketer’s dream product is one so fantastic that early adopters become ambassadors for your brand, shouting about you from the rooftops and convincing others to give you a try. So if we’re to convince the world that Scotland is serious about nurturing our tech economy, Westminster and Holyrood must provide clear communication with all businesses, clarifying precisely when they can expect superfast digital infrastructure and hastening rollout wherever possible.
Putting a face to Scottish tech
Creating a personality for a brand is essential in marketing. By developing an easily identifiable authoritative voice, you will build trust, and over time become an authority on whatever you’re selling, be it cars, pet food or nappies.
Like him or loathe him, Boris Johnson became a consistent voice for the London tech scene, particularly on the world stage. The former Mayor banged the drum for the city, launching London Tech Week and travelling to Asia, America and the Middle East to wax lyrical about the capital’s Silicon Roundabout. Sadiq Khan has continued this work, encouraging investment to pour into the city and hammering the ‘London Is Open’ message at every opportunity.
We don’t have a consistent voice in Scotland – a single entity who can speak for the whole of Scottish tech, with authority, at every opportunity.
I don’t want a Scottish Boris Johnson. I just want a consistent voice – whether it’s a government-appointed ‘tech tsar’ to champion every example of inward investment or one of Scotland’s tech pioneers who has the time to tour the world promoting Scotland as a hotspot for digital growth. Our country needs a consistent, authoritative voice who can speak for the sum of Scotland’s many parts.
I’m immensely proud to be part of Scotland’s tech community, but it’s a simple fact that we must get better at promoting ourselves. While we’ve wasted time refining our message, our competitors across the UK and Europe have been rolling out an intense marketing campaign, targeting the audiences who matter: the skilled tech talent in short supply and investors from high-growth markets such as America and Asia.
Now is the time for our marketing step-change – Scotland is a tremendous place to launch and scale a tech business, and it’s time more people buy what we’re selling.