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Tech group to trumpet city's digital marketing niche

September 3, 2013

Much like Indianapolis’ declaration that it’s the “amateur sports capital of the world,” a business group has staked the claim that the city is also the “marketing technology capital of the world.”

TechPoint, which promotes Indiana’s tech industry, has honed its focus on digital marketing. The hope, according to TechPoint CEO Mike Langellier, is that Indianapolis can capitalize on the successes of some of its marketing technology firms, such as ExactTarget Inc. and Angie's List.

“A big part of it is focus. That’s why we’re changing,” Langellier said. “Let’s not just talk about tech broadly, which makes it tough to differentiate. … With this, we can distinctly say, ‘Hey, we’re not trying to be everything to everyone.’ We’re just saying we have a core competency in marketing tech.”

TechPoint, an arm of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, plans to use a Sept. 19 marketing conference to kick start the initiative, dubbed M-Tech. Publicity material for the event notes that more than 30 marketing tech firms are headquartered in Indianapolis.

The event piggybacks onto the ExactTarget Connections marketing conference that ends the same day. The ExactTarget event drew 4,000 digital marketing professionals last year.

“As a result, we thought now is the time while we have this conference in town where we’re bringing in thousands of people, while we have all of this momentum around our marketing tech community, to put a flag in the ground and say, ‘Indy owns marketing tech.' This is going to be the marketing tech capital,” Langellier said.

Looking beyond the M-Tech launch, Langellier hinted at a wish list including a business accelerator for marketing technology companies.

So far, branding the city and marketing the new message has consumed TechPoint’s focus. One staff member works on it full time.

Everything outside of marketing needs to happen “organically,” Langellier said.

M-Tech replaces a similar but mostly dormant effort called the Indiana Measured Marketing Initiative, which launched in 2010.

Industry experts say the latest push needs to include more concrete programs—such as a business accelerator—for the initiative to succeed.

“I don’t think your competition is fierce, by any regard, but you’re sounding like a guy who declared the race won without even running yet,” said Russ Jones, chief technology officer at Virante Inc., a digital marketing firm based in Morrisville, N.C.

Jones said Indianapolis has some credibility as a digital marketing hub. So do many other cities—they just haven’t overtly declared themselves as a capital.

Indianapolis has to compete against much more established technology markets. To name a few: Silicon Valley in California, Silicon Alley in the New York area, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Other mid-to-large metros such as Portland and Seattle also have gained esteem, Jones said.

However, marketing the city as a digital marketing hotbed could motivate the local industry, he said.

“It could be fluff or vaporware,” he said about the Indianapolis tech community’s declaration, “but it could drive people to become it.”

Indianapolis’ business leaders know they can’t compete with major markets like San Francisco or Boston when it comes to the overall tech sector, said Doug Karr, CEO of Indianapolis marketing consultancy DK New Media.

That is where the refined focus on digital marketing helps, said Karr, who also manages The Marketing Technology Blog.

“If someone wants to fight on who’s the best marketing tech scene, we should relish the opportunity to brag,” he said.

Bill Balderaz, who heads the Columbus, Ohio, division of Cleveland-based digital marketing consultant Fathom, could not think of another example of a city declaring itself as the capital for a niche within technology.

“There’s a lot of credit for the city to [back up] the claim,” Balderaz said about Indianapolis.

The local marketing tech sector has seen its share of recent major developments. In July, Salesforce.com closed its $2.5 billion purchase of Indianapolis-based ExactTarget, which launched a $161 million initial public offering in March 2012.

Aprimo Inc. sold to Teradata for $525 million in December 2010, and iGoDigital Holdings sold to ExactTarget for $21 million in October 2012.

Also, Indianapolis-based Angie’s List raised $114 million in an initial public offering in November 2011.

Industry research also projects that chief marketing officers will spend more on technology than chief information officers do by 2017, further fueling TechPoint’s decision to focus more on digital marketing.

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