Branding is a favorite topic among many corporate executives and entrepreneurs, including those leading tech companies. Many companies spend an inordinate amount of time on technology branding; others, not so much. I find that there is a wide variance in how seriously it’s taken by the management teams of software and hardware companies. This is often based upon the varied backgrounds of the management teams, founders, etc. But how important really is tech company branding, as well as the relative importance of it’s various elements? And how should all of this branding work manifest itself in the end, to have the most powerful effect? Let’s take a look as some of the more important aspects of technology company branding, at least from my perspective:
Common misunderstandings about tech company branding
So what’s the first thing you think about when you hear the term “Branding”? It probably varies among people, because it’s a term that seems to be kind of vague and squishy to many people. But I would guess that for most what comes to mind centers on the company logo, colors and other graphic design elements. And that is certainly PART of what is meant by branding. But for me – in a tech business specifically – these are far from the most important elements. Branding is NOT SIMPLY DESIGN, especially in the tech business.
Now, in a typical consumer business with low prices and modest product differentiation, these brand design elements ARE much more important than in they are in the typical tech business. The more a business is based upon self-service (no sales reps), low prices and small actual product differentiation – all leading to fast buying decisions, the more critical of a role these design elements play between winning and losing.
Of course, there are many technology businesses that either compete in consumer markets or in market segments that react well to consumer marketing-style tactics. So it’ important not to generalize too much about which elements play the most important role in a branding strategy. The analysis should be market and company dependent, as “the devil is always in the details”.
Understand your competitors’ brands first
It’s going to be important to understand YOUR own company and product strengths and weaknesses, of course. But branding is almost by definition a exercise in defining DIFFERENTIAL attributes of your business. Think about it; how effective would you brand be if you end up claiming the EXACT same things that the biggest competitor in the market already has wrapped up, in the minds of your market segment’s prospects? It’s going to be pretty tough to win that one, no? So while there may be some overlap in brand attributes versus the competition, your brand had better be able to realistically claim some unique and important attributes – as seen by your chosen market segment. Otherwise your marketing efforts may end up dead on arrival.
Technology branding IS important, but…
Branding often isn’t the most important differentiator leading to strong growth and market share in a technology market segment -at least in the short run. For example, many times in tech markets a new company comes out with a new product that has a major disrupting effect on a market segment. Maybe the product is half the cost of those currently on the market, or performs at 4X the rate. In these cases, branding often doesn’t do much to stem the tide of a disrupter in an existing tech segment. In my opinion, product differentiation and related intellectual property (IP) play a major role in winning and losing in tech. But that “features and specs” differentiation is also often not defensible in the long run, in a dynamic tech market segment. Products often catch up pretty quickly on specification differences. So in the LONG run, your brand is one of the few truly defensible differentiators in a software or hardware technology business.
The Relative Importance of Technology Branding Elements is Market Dependent
Below are what I consider the most prominent elements of a good technology brand strategy:
- Brand positioning – much more effective if it goes past functional benefits (does this, does that) into the deeper “why” your overall offering is different, based upon it’s more fundamental benefits or purpose.
- Brand promise – what customers will EXPECT from you; how well you articulate and actually deliver on it is critical.
- The entire customer experience – your brand won’t have much effect if it’s just a concept that was dreamed up in the marketing department, so infusion of your branding into your entire CX is critical.
- Employee buy-in – this is one of the biggest steps you can take to ensure that your branding is infused throughout your CX. Without it, your branding execution may be doomed to failure.
Important – but not as critical in the typical software or hardware business
- Company and product names – it’s best if all brand names are consistent and memorable, but as long as they aren’t egregiously bad, they’re not generally deal-killers in tech branding.
- Logo and other design elements – these need to be good, of course; but great doesn’t do as much for you in B2B tech as in a typical B2C brand.
- Brand Voice – much like the other items in this “less important” segment of my list, it doesn’t matter so much in B2B tech whether your voice is informal or formal, etc. The most important thing is that it is professional and consistent.
Focus on your brand positioning and promise, not design elements
Of course you want your website, marketing materials, indeed everything you do be visually appealing, clearly articulated and up to date. But unlike in consumer marketing, a memorable logo is unlikely to “move the needle” in B2B technology branding. So in a “typical” tech business, as long as your stuff is professional and presentable, spending too much time and money on design can be a mis-allocation of resources, relative to others aspects of your business. Usually it’s best to save your scarce resources for other aspects of the business, once you get to a certain level of professionalism in your design.
Much more important is your brand promise and how well you actually EXECUTE on it with respect to your actual customer experience. It’s one thing to brag about how great your tech support is, for example, as part of your overall brand promise. But if a user has to navigate a ridiculous phone tree, wait on hold for 45 minutes and then get asked for some exorbitant fee to solve their support problem…well, at that point your brand promise isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
In the long run, customer experience is everything
So the over-arching message is that your customer experience is what really gives credibility to your brand promise. These two elements are what really create a defensible, long term advantage in the tech business. Your brand promise and positioning should serve as the starting point and the primary driver of the design of your customer experience. But in the end, it comes down to execution. In my view, customer experience is approximately 1/10th brand promise and 9/10ths execution. And execution is ALWAYS the hardest part. But if you don’t define your brand promise and positioning well upfront, proper execution of your customer experience becomes almost impossible.
So that’s my very basic primer on technology branding and when it matters, where it doesn’t so much, and what you should look for as the end result of all of it. As I stated above, it all boils down to customer experience in the end. That really is where your long term defensible advantage will lie, if you are able to create one. Technology branding should play a major role in how the customer experience is ultimately manifested.
Do you mostly agree with my views, or do you view tech company branding through a different lens? I’d love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment below or feel free to contact me directly using the information below.
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