Emerging technology is perhaps the most dynamic and compelling part of industry today, and tech companies continue to rule the world, judging by the daily headlines, whether it’s Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple or Uber.
By the numbers, Apple and Microsoft compete for the top spot, with market capitalizations of over one trillion USD. The S&P 500’s technology sector of the main index recently reached 26% of the total (of 11 sectors), necessitating a re-categorization exercise to regain some sense of balance. The fix? – the creation of ‘Communication services,’ a new sector pulling from both Tech and Consumer, with constituents including Alphabet, Facebook and Activision from the former and Comcast and Disney from the latter.
Beyond the numbers, you’ll have seen the raft of articles in the news cycle about tech companies’ increasing participation (and responsibility) in some of the biggest political and social questions of our time, with ethical questions raised about how we want to structure the very fabric of a society where technology increasingly enables people to connect, learn more, and learn differently.
The preponderance of tech in our minds and the current events landscape is not just reserved for the big players either, and perhaps the share of real excitement for tech is actually more amongst the smaller, newer companies: great success (and, in turn, a chance for great scrutiny) has been earned by a raft of emerging tech offers (I’m thinking about Revolut, Monese, Tableau, Headspace, Urban, TikTok, and more). These are just a few of the companies that have made a splash in an increasingly crowded, competitive marketplace, arguably for their ability to have a true finger-on-the-pulse understanding of what customers want, making themselves indispensable for the way society is moving in how we live and work.
So, what does it mean? The story of the tech industry today is an extremely compelling and multi-faceted one, with impressive product and business model innovation happening right down to the early-stage start-up level.
Brand is that story – it’s the sum total of what you say and do to bring yourself to market. That story is about compelling visuals (what your communications and overall offer looks like, what they evoke). It’s about what the major, consistent verbal messages are in how you face the world. More and more, ‘what you stand for’ on a higher level is a key part of the equation too, with companies across industries recognizing the importance of adhering to an organizational purpose as a business entity, a bigger (though it also doesn’t have to be) ‘reason to be’ in the world.
In short, brand is who you are as a company, and it’s a lot of different and specific assets doing a lot of things across your customer’s experience. Ultimately, it should explain ‘why buy’ and attract awareness, conversion and loyalty. And – you can’t avoid brand, in a hyper-communicating world: not thinking and creating thoughtfully on who you are does not mean you don’t have one, it means you perhaps just have a messy one that isn’t helping your case with customers.
For cutting-edge technology players, large and established or emerging, it is crucial to develop that customer-facing narrative that states in a clear, concise and compelling way what you offer to the world, especially if you are new and different (and we all hope to be, no?!). That this matters significantly for B2C companies is probably pretty clear, but the B2B space is not immune here, with growing agreement that even for your business model, customers are still people who often bring diverse expectations to work driven inevitably by their lives as consumers.
Many tech companies are still making the mistake of not investing in brand-building, or doing it too late, erroneously believing that a great product is all that’s needed to succeed today. A great product is the cornerstone, but as soon as a technology is successful, it’s already on the way to being copied and on the way to becoming a commodity (albeit sophisticated), and then nobody really cares if you were first.
Building a brand is maintaining an edge, and it’s good business – it means quickly becoming memorable to customers so you are not lost in the inevitable deluge of a fast-moving part of industry where everyone wants a piece of the success pie.
So then, what do you need to define to start creating that clear, compelling brand that can holistically and memorably explain who you are?
- What do you do? – pitched in the straightforward way you’d tell an entertaining story around a jovial dinner table. You might need to focus first on translating what could be quite technically sophisticated into something a general consumer could understand, which is good for your customers, your employees, and any other stakeholders who need to understand you (and you should be the author of that story, not anybody else!)
- What attention, if any, do you pay to a bigger societal or business-driven purpose? How does your offer fit into a broader value chain or within partnerships with others, i.e. down to the end-consumer uses and their implications for how our world works?
- How are you different from who’s around now and from who will come next?
- Why should I want to work for you? – Don’t forget about your employees as an audience for your brand, which will benefit their own engagement and desire to rally around your proposition when you may need it most: employees are the best brand ambassadors you could ever hope to find, so take the time to engage them in the brand-building journey; it’ll pay dividends
And then, your strategy can come to life – get executing! (That’s another article, at least.) The great part is, today’s marketing world gives tech firms a plethora of ways to tell your company’s story, broadly or in an extremely targeted way – from cutting-edge (or effortlessly simple) design to novel and powerful digital storytelling options via your relevant channels. So go on then, tell me your story.
Liz Olsen is a Senior Strategy Director on our London team.