No other industry makes predictions quite like the tech industry. From the outlandish (like 5G-enabled drone taxis) to the mundane (cloud will get more secure), experts and vendors across the globe generate new ideas each year as they jockey for a piece of the thought-leadership pie. And for good reason. A well-planned and properly executed technology predictions campaign can bear significant fruit, both in the months leading into a new year, and throughout many subsequent months.

After helping clients generate broad awareness through these technology predictions campaigns for more than a decade, we thought we’d share one of this year’s success stories – WatchGuard – and break down our approach. Here are eight steps to creating a killer technology predictions campaign:

Step 1: Set the Stage

Developing a general list of industry themes that you want the technology predictions to address can be an invaluable starting point. These could range from hot trends and topics to key technology categories and more. This sort of general framework will make for a much more productive discussion when you engage with subject matter experts (SMEs) and generate potential predictions that align with topics that matter most to your company. Beyond that, it will allow the team to more easily evaluate the resulting ideas and streamline the process of narrowing them down.

Step 2: Rally the Troops

Technology industry predictions are only as good as the time and people invested in developing them. That means harnessing your best SMEs and making the process fun. We recommend sitting down with the product or technology team for a brainstorm that’s structured, yet exuberant. For WatchGuard, we work with the CTO,  senior security analyst and their team of Threat Lab researchers. Walk through the key topic areas from your initial list and prompt your SMEs to think through related predictions for each. Record the resulting ideas and be sure to include detailed notes.  

Step 3: Trim the Fat

Once you have a comprehensive list of potential technology predictions, work with your SME(s) and marketing contacts to narrow it down to the best of the best. It’s critical that these experts select topics they are truly excited about and actually believe. That passion is the secret sauce that comes through in videos and with press. Other factors to consider when it comes to separating the predictions wheat from the chaff include how original, controversial and newsworthy the ideas are, and how well they support the company’s marketing and thought leadership goals.

How many predictions should you create? This number can vary, but in general, we recommend assembling a final list of no less than three and no more than 10. Also, consider a mix of realistic and eccentric predictions. After all, readers expect to have a bit of fun and out of the many competing predictions each year, reporters gravitate toward those that display originality.

Step 4: Flesh it Out

Now that you’ve settled on your final list of technology predictions, it’s time to work with your SMEs to add detail and expand them each into well-reasoned write-ups. Some SMEs prefer to do this work on their own, while others appreciate when you interview them and provide draft content that they can edit and adjust. The process might involve multiple drafts and review cycles with various company stakeholders. Regardless, this is the stage in which you flesh out the predictions content and polish them until final.

Step 5: Find a Theme and Build

Once you have your final ideas, it’s time to pick a unifying theme that ties the campaign together. For example, last year’s WatchGuard theme took the post-apocalyptic approach (and before that we played with a cartoon theme and Star Wars):

(From their post-apocalyptic bunker, Corey and Mark review their predictions.)

This year we decided to align around a larger marketing theme – simplicity. Because of all the moving parts involved in a full-fledged campaign, it’s important to start working on predictions at least 3-months before the end of the year. This allows the creative team enough time to produce the assets (which can be a combination of landing pages, videos, infographics, ebooks, webinars, etc.) and your PR team enough time to devise and execute a strategic rollout to press.

For 2020 technology predictions, WatchGuard created a dedicated predictions anchor landing page with additional sub-landing pages for each prediction – all with detailed videos, text descriptions and helpful security best practices.

Step 6: Outreach Tactics

WatchGuard leverages its annual predictions campaign for a variety of marketing activities across media, social media, channel audiences, and with customers. While we’re not able to share specific program metrics, we can say that historically just on social media alone, the content has generated more than 500k impressions and close to 50k video views (during the initial two months). Very impressive indeed.

From a PR standpoint, supporting tactics include generating standalone educational blog posts on each prediction that link back to the anchor landing page, pitching predictions to press (both as a set and as individual predictions where applicable), and placing thought leadership contributed articles across a variety of outlets. Some clients even choose to do press releases for SEO. Industry predictions campaigns usually launch between mid-November and early December. Each year, we see an initial wave of predictions coverage leading up to the new year, then a secondary wave of contributed content and longer-lead stories published throughout Q1, followed by the use of predictions materials in other proactive pitches and bylines through the duration of the year. And finally, as the next new year comes into view, we typically recommend doing a blog post, contributed article or podcast (or all the above) to assess how the preceding year’s predictions faired in terms of accuracy.

Step 7: Measurement and Results

As mentioned earlier, this is a success story. In the initial two months immediately following WatchGuard 2020 technology predictions campaign launch, the PR team secured 41 total articles in a variety of tech, security, IT, channel, business and vertical publications. Given last year’s output in the following months, we expect to see an additional 30 or so predictions articles publish by the end of the year.

It’s important to assess your media results in order to measure success and opportunities for improvement, but keep in mind that the provocativeness of the predictions can play a major role in press pick up. Consider working in key trends or events to spike interest. While each prediction should be able to be summarized in four sentences (for media outreach, social content, etc.), be sure to include assets that involve richer content that reporters and readers can dive into for more detail (links to detailed landing pages, videos, long-form blog posts, etc.).

Step 8: Okay This Isn’t a Step, Just Some Final Tips to Consider 

  • Do a predictions podcast, or consider pitching your SME to talk about predictions as a guest on other industry podcasts.
  • Turn the prediction development process into a contest. Get SMEs excited to participate by offering cool prizes if their idea is selected by the group.
  • Build in an adequate runway. Trying to do predictions quickly or on the cheap will likely result in subpar results (but hey, if you’re just looking for two or three media mentions, even low-rent style predictions can work).
  • Generate predictions that could come true, then jazz them up with tons of flash and flare. Based on our experience, mixing creativity with reality makes for a winning combination.

Good luck for 2021!