Transform Magazine: Balancing Traits and Feelings – 2023
Robin Kadrnka, director of strategy at London-based design agency Together Design, explains how, for her tech clients, there’s a familiar struggle between hearts and minds when it comes to branding.
While some of the most famous brands in the world come from the tech sector, it’s also an industry with some of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of.
Those that are known have been built on exceptional branding and marketing expertise; Google, Apple, Microsoft and Airbnb – all have a clear business strategy as a starting point, they understand their customers and are savvy in delivering their marketing. However, for every mega brand in the tech sector, there are many more still working on their specific complexities.
At Together Design, we have found common challenges when working with companies in this space:
– Many have grown through mergers and acquisitions
– They have complex products and services
– The pace of development and change is faster than most other industries
– There is a greater tension between marketing and product development
All of these things make it difficult to develop, implement and manage a brand in this industry, but the pace of change makes it an exciting area to work in.
Technology companies’ growth strategy often involves mergers and acquisitions, which can lead to fragmentation of brand identity. Bringing people together can be difficult, and a risk. Celia Fleischaker, CMO at Verint, explains, “Companies invest millions to buy intellectual property and every person you lose through integration potentially devalues that investment, so companies tend to proceed with caution in terms of reconciliation of brands and cultures, but at their own risk.
Paul Stoddart, Marketing Director of Customer Success Marketing at Salesforce, believes brand is key to bringing people together. He says: “The brand is made up of sensations and experiences and when delivered well, it provides a sense of place. Employees and customers want to belong. Investing the time to engage them pays dividends in the long run.
To ensure success, develop a timed, people and brand onboarding process spanning day one through year one, including a planned brand migration approach covering naming and visual identity .
Rate of change
Typically, technology companies spend less time thinking or interacting with their customer base, and as such, customers and their customers’ end users are not at the center of their development. Companies with large product portfolios often break down over time as the pace of change makes software versions obsolete. This can create incredibly complicated product architecture. The naming approach companies take can help provide flexibility for product expansion, but product development teams can be reluctant to let brand people into their inner circle. Matt Barrett, CEO and co-founder of Adaptive agrees: “As technologists, we have to learn to stop listening to ourselves and listen to our customers – it’s difficult but important. It’s something I didn’t believe in as a young developer, but as the owner of a growing tech company, I fundamentally believe in it now.
The short vs long term message
The complexity, coupled with the pace of change, is unique to the technology industry. Bek Simmons, COO at Riverlane describes their challenges: “Quantum is deep technology, it’s a new industry, there’s no market to reference, so we’re constantly creating from scratch. For us, the biggest challenge is to turn very complex things into very simple things. Messages change quickly and it can be difficult.
This brings us to the tension between marketing and product development. And here is the crucial point. Marketing knows that a clearly defined and consistently repeated message is necessary to land a brand narrative, win hearts and minds, and build loyalty over time. The product must say everything about everything because novelty is king. While developers want to tell the world how far they’re progressing, there’s a difference between what companies should celebrate internally and what they need to communicate to customers, analysts and the market externally. As Simmons acknowledges, “We don’t need to outsource everything. We try to distinguish “instant” marketing messages from brand messages, always asking ourselves “does this fundamentally change our mission in the longer term?”
follow the guide
Ultimately, brand strategy follows business strategy. Prioritizing business strategy helps align people and activities. If we agree that branding follows business strategy and marketing, product and communications follow branding, then we have a clear filter to define what needs to be communicated, to whom and when. It also ensures that companies only communicate essential elements to support and prove their core brand narrative. Bringing marketing, communications and products together gives us a better chance of achieving a balance between complexity and simplicity, aligning the characteristics of technology with the benefits for humanity.
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