The tech industry is fascinating from a brand perspective. Its growth has been so fast, disruptive and organic, with so many quickly expanding start-ups, that it has barely had time to pause and draw breath, let alone ponder what role brand might have to play in its future. When your numbers are good, something like brand scarcely seems to matter. Most companies have thrived despite, rather than because of theirs. But the hour of reckoning may be near.
In all industries there comes a point when it isn’t enough to have a great product or service to build a successful business. Knowledge spreads and grows. What once was groundbreaking rapidly becomes standard, imitable, improvable… the marketplace crowds and alternatives proliferate. Your ability to communicate your difference and your real value becomes ever more important as competition intensifies. Which is what makes the current situation in tech, digital and data analytics so interesting. With a plethora of similar-looking brands that use familiar language, the sector has evolved into a homogeneous playing field. The overwhelming sense is that everyone looks and sounds extraordinarily similar. That, for the wise, presents a far bigger opportunity than a few more lines of groundbreaking code.
It’s easy to see how things have come to be the way they are. All that mattered at the outset was the innovation. Companies started small and agile. Many really struggled to keep pace with their own success. Brand was often lumped in with digital marketing, handed to less senior people to take care of, and frequently seen as superficial – “just a logo” – and therefore low priority. The great thing about digital marketing from a digital company’s point of view? It’s easy to measure. Brand, which is bigger in every way, less so. All this is understandable: companies had people to hire, products to develop and customers to deal with. Even many who understand the importance of brand have simply put it off.
But now the situation has evolved. Many of those companies that started with two or three people now number twenty or thirty or substantially more. Now internal purpose, morale, discipline, decision-making and behaviour weighs heavier: bigger overheads, bigger clients, bigger responsibilities… each new step carries greater implications. How do you keep this ever-growing number of people together as a meaningful entity? Who exactly are you, as an organisation? What do you actually stand for?
The questions keep coming. How will you thrive consistently in the tech big battleground that is the fight for talent, when demand outstrips supply? What’s going to make high quality people choose you, instead of a close rival, for their next job, so you can maintain the high standards of the work you do as it scales up? Your good name and future business rests on it. And how, when you know that your product is better than your lookalike rivals out there, are you going to convince potential customers of that? How will they know who to believe? What’s going to get you the market share your innovation undoubtedly deserves?
Decisions going your way is the answer to these questions – and all of the great myriad of micro-influences that lead to that. But it’s easier said than done. The science of decision-making is fairly well documented. We’re not such rational beings as we’d like to believe, with up to 90 percent of the choices we make based on emotion… and later post-rationalised. This is just as applicable to tech as it is to buying chocolate in the supermarket or choosing a house. Instinctive decisions are made before we even know it ourselves. And this is where a brand – when it’s done well – comes into its own.
A brand isn’t simply a logo, a strapline, colours, imagery, fonts – it’s the sum of how all these are orchestrated, plus the behaviours and feelings that this leads to. It’s the whole experience of your organisation at every moment it has contact with someone. It’s the sum of every gesture and action by every employee as well as every facet of every piece of communication. A smart brand is alive to possibilities not just online or through marketing but anywhere there is engagement or the opportunity to bring its big core idea to life. Why can’t you make someone smile when they least expect it, in – say – the company car park for example? A brand is how you make your customers (and your own people) feel, which influences their behaviour towards you. And that’s why it’s a key strategic tool. The right thinking now can shape big, big decisions later. This is not a slap of paint.
To return to the tech sector in particular. It tends to be the case that tech companies focus intensely on what they have developed. It’s what they know, it’s where they feel comfortable. But what do they – or you – really know of the person who says yes or no to you, the key decision-maker with the final word? Or of what goes into that decision? Are you sure the technology itself is even within the grasp of this individual? Does it even need to be? Perhaps what matters for them is simplicity, ease of use, an instant sense of reliability and effectiveness: impact. Often, it’s not until much further down the line that verification of the tech offer is sought – usually by someone else, long after the important decision has been made. It’s no coincidence that so many tech businesses only thrive when they become human, literally, in the form of a meeting or presentation. If that’s the only time your “brand” is alive – then you don’t have a brand at all.
The fact is that many businesses in the tech sector focus their communications around dry, technical language set against a visual backdrop of technology cliches or familiar-looking process diagrams. Whilst it might be a necessity to articulate the nitty gritty of a technology, platform or service somewhere, this is often given priority at the expense of the wider, more human and beneficial story. Complexity stymies simplicity. Many businesses are missing the opportunity to connect their brand with customers in a much more powerful way.
So what can (great) branding do for you:
— Revolutionise credibility
— Influence the big decisions people are making about your company
— Improve your talent acquisition
— Support your business strategy
— Radically alter morale and engagement internally
— Increase business leads and new business / revenue
— Inform strategic decisions
— Bring stability and reassurance through demanding times
— Drive IPO or sales valuations higher
— Change the future.
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