A high-tech company’s brand is not the product name, not the logo, not the tagline, nor brand colours. All these are associated with the brand – but they do not form the brand itself. It is the name of its business. In this part 1 of 5 parts, we examine what are the drivers & characteristics of high-tech branding, how the models for FMCG branding don’t work for high-tech and what does.
TWB_ works with the worlds leading high-tech companies, whose solution is so brilliant that significant business growth has been achieved through inbound marketing. The company and its marketing believe that if a new technology is as good as it says it is then the product can sell by itself. In the short term it may be true but in the long term, it leaves the company vulnerable to attack. The fence is the brand.
Strong brands are forged out of an emotional connection with customers. Branding forces marketing to ask what is the number one emotion each time the customer engages with the brand. Customers experience through when they read your blog, visit your website, retweet a tweet, visit a store, call customer care or watch a product video. Building a brand, therefore, forces the company to revisit what it really is, because as we’ll see, brands are promises that deliver an experience.
Why do you need branding?
High-tech companies tend to forgo a true branding strategy in place of focusing on improving the technology on offer chiefly delivering additional features. The fast-changing pace of technology means that, although the solution might very well be the best on the market today, tomorrow, another company could bring out something that’s even better – and there is an infinite release cycle to catch up. Brand building is a strategy that looks to the long-term, with the ultimate purpose of gaining a sustainable competitive advantage, here’s how:
Branding creates differentiation
In a world of marketing plagiarism, branding is what demonstrates a company’s competitive advantage by highlighting the company’s purpose. A brand is the identity of a company. And identity is everything. Without branding, there is no differentiation.
Branding is a cushion
For a technology business to maintain its altitude over the long-term, branding is just as important – perhaps even more important – than the technology itself. Branding – which is the branding of the company as opposed to the actual product – is what give the business a chance of long-term growth and survival.
Branding lowers perceived risk, but highlights innovation
High-Tech industries live in high uncertainty environments. Uncertainty is both about innovation (disruptive products and competitors) and markets (how quickly will the market shift?). Customers, strangely, live in a paradox — innovation is seen as a great motivator to choose a product but anything that is too disruptive and discontinuous is easy to reject, on the other hand.
- Scepticism is inherent to innovation because new technologies tend to suffer from a liability of newness, that is, they do not have a history of past performance. Consequence there is uncertainty about technology being immature and unstable. A powerful brand can straddle this and communicate the promise.
- Innovative products elevate perceived risk because consumer familiarity and experience is limited. The perceived risk of a new product purchase may exceed the individual’s acceptable level of risk affecting even if they are early adopters and the financial risk is with the company. Again brands provide a continuity of ‘experience’ even in times of change for both early and late adopters.
Brands forge company identities & relationships
Brands can create growing base of employees after founders and early employees get outnumbered by new hires. Brands accelerate the depth of an ecosystem of partners. Powerful brands help attract and keep customers. It can also be a strong foundation from which to launch new products, improve relationships with channel partners, foster good communication among employees within and across business functions, and help a company better focus its resources.
Bridging the Technology-Branding gap
But if brands work so well, why don’t more high-tech companies brand more effectively? It’s because Tech managers assume that brands and brand images are relevant only when purchase decisions are “irrational” or “emotional” and seen to be the case appropriate for detergents, automobiles, and fashion. However, the evidence is totally on the contrary on performance data of markets populated by highly sophisticated and experienced customers. High ticket high-tech purchase decision as made on much the same beliefs and decision-making processes. So how do we bridge the gap and create world-class technology brands?
Product-Centric thinking: Why Tech-Managers stall branding
Most technically trained managers won’t easily buy the idea that their businesses should be focused on brands. The first stop in having effective brand management is well your management. Here’s why:
- “Why does a great tech company need brand management?” The bias is simply because managers who have grown up through the technical side of the business do not truly understand what good brand management involves and what it can do for their company. Most tech-managers think of marketing as selling, and branding as an advertising campaign or a slogan for them these are both costly and difficult to assess. For most tech-managers, the idea of developing and maintaining a strong brand simply does not resonate.
- “That’s what marketing does, doesn’t it?” Without C level or even Business or Product Management commitment brand management is mostly left to the marketing or sales departments. So it’s not central to the technical direction of the company. A brand remains a logo, a trademark, a slogan, or a campaign — and marketing is supposed to handle those things.
- While the tech-managers don’t understand marketing, the marketing managers don’t understand technology.
The market share myth of Product-Centric thinking
Product-Centric thinking is when managers in high-tech companies think that high-tech products and services will succeed as long as they perform as promised. A good product will satisfy customers’ needs, and develop a large install base.
- Product-centric thinking is dangerous because customers do not necessarily experience a company’s promise of value just because its products enjoy wide acceptance.
- Technology Managers are taught to think that market success depends primarily on the price-performance ratio and a product’s success is ensured once a large installed base is secured. It is assumed there is a customer lock in as switching costs pose a barrier to buying from other suppliers. However, monopoly power built on an overwhelming market share is not, in the end, a promise of value.
Short term – vs – Long term planning
High technology companies struggle between what they perceive as a choice: short-term product marketing versus long term brand building. Mature technology companies strike a balance as they understand the competitive advantages derived from powerful brands. Others dilute or forego branding in favor of more tactical technology evolution, new product feature sets, increased flexibility or improved price-performance. This short term focus results in a product marketing emphasis, which renders the marketing spend and message obsolete as the technology continually advances.
What then should a brand be?
A brand is the way in which customers perceive this personality. A tech company’s brand is the way in which users experience the product and service at all levels. It is the brand to which customers stay loyal to in a market where there are plenty of other similar solutions. In later parts, we’ll examine the framework of creating a technology brand and how a company develops a ‘promise of value’ for its customers.
Entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, Philanthropist, Rakesh Shukla is a 1996 MBA graduate and 1993 BTech. Rakesh Shukla is the Founder & CEO of TWB_ which is the partner for technology & business content for Fortune 500 leaders worldwide. A motivational speaker he speaks on creating success from professional and personal failure. He divides time between his 2 homes in Bangalore and is called the ‘dog-father’ for being papa to the 750 rescued dogs that live with him at the VOSD Dog Sanctuary. Rakesh has featured in 100+ interviews on the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, CNN-IBN, NDTV, India’s national dailies, and at TEDx talks.
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