When the Product Does All the Talking, Where Does Brand Marketing Fit In?
Technology companies exist inside an active ecosystem.
Between the years 2007 and 2016, the total number of tech startups in the U.S. increased 47 percent, from 116,000 firms to 171,000 firms. The sheer volume of newcomers leads to fierce competition for consumer attention. With innovation coming from every avenue imaginable, new companies in the tech space are challenged to distinguish their product offerings. That’s increasingly difficult to do.
One reason for this failure to connect the dots for the customer is a delusional belief in the power of the new product to do all the talking. “Product love” is a dangerous thing to bring into the C-suite, as visions of grandeur can blind, and success absolutely requires exceptional vision. But a company’s leaders must be precise when looking at past performance and realistic about its prospects.
For a new enterprise to have a chance, the organization needs a direct channel to customers. We all need a deeper understanding of what moves people to buy. When was the last time your founder and CEO took a long walk in the customer’s shoes? Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones, and your leadership team is open to go-to-market stress tests and strategic challenges from the entire team, including the agency teams that are hired to help solve these problems.
I started my advertising career in the high-tech B2B sector in the 1990s. I have met with and worked closely with tech leaders with pronounced brand marketing blind spots. Typically, these were the result of the tech entrepreneur’s engineering mindset. Engineers may see brand marketing as frivolous; in their mind, all the genius is in the product.
The engineer also wants to convey all the facts under the sun about the new gizmo, without ever stopping to consider the capacity of the buyer to take in and weigh this kind of information — or how it will position the new company in the buyer’s mind.
The task of a great brand is to cut through the noise. Whatever twist the new product or new company brings to market will be copied and challenged, and it will happen in no time at all. High-performing market leaders invest heavily in brand and are careful to create and manage their brand experiences in a holistic and meticulous manner, from product design and packaging to the retail floor and beyond.
Going to market with a minimum viable product is common practice, but it’s not good for a new brand. From a brand impression perspective, anything you do that is underwhelming is a major ding to your image. Yes, iterating rapidly is required, but in brand communications, you do not “move fast and break stuff.” You make a map of the customer journey and meet your VIPs (a.k.a. customers) at every step along the purchase consideration path.
Building a healthy and robust tech brand is like building a suspension bridge across a chasm: To move people from the side they are on today to the higher ground where your new startup resides is not easy, nor is it simple. Smart brand marketing educates and entertains. The trick is to interest people now and then keep these same people interested over stretches of time, especially in B2B environments where the sales cycle is counted in years, not months.
For a new company to compete, it first must last. And to last, it needs to consistently win. A strong investment in brand marketing helps create winners because people pay close attention to how a company treats them and makes them feel. As impressive as new technology is, people want to know what it means for them. Breakthrough innovations may seem obvious inside a company and its industry, but brand communications that truly move the needle are the ones that reach people far and wide on an emotional level that sparks rational behavior.