Tech Companies Beware. Your Brand May Be Boring.
SaaS and other tech-based companies can learn something invaluable from “old school” branding.
I used to work at Mastercard and Citibank. I was in fintech before it was dubbed fintech.
The bottom line is that any technology-based product or service is basically a commodity. Mastercard was and is a piece of plastic (or series of unique numbers) that enables you to pay for stuff. So are Visa and Amex.
So, what distinguishes one commodity brand from another?
I don’t care about what the thing does (i.e., functionality). Lyft and Uber both pick me up and take me places. I can post videos on Vimeo, YouTube, or Wistia. I can order food from any number of app-based delivery services.
Functionality is easy to copy. It’s the basic price of entry these days. As the recipient of hundreds of sales pitches each week and attendee at lots of conferences, I’m getting tired of hearing about what innovations do. I want to know more about what makes yours better than other similar (and sometimes seemingly identical) solutions.
Tech companies may start to realize that in the months and years ahead as more and more companies will have a “cloud-based thing” that enables a consumer or business to do something in less time.
Even companies that have a physical presence (like co-working spaces and trade shows/conferences) are finding that they need to compete on variables other than square footage and the number and titles of people in them. Size does not a unique brand make.
Brand is all about soul.
Although the 20-year old “Priceless” campaign has gone through many iterations and countless CMOs have taken credit for its creation, its roots are based in the fact that money (paper or digital) can’t buy everything. Experiences are what’s memorable.
When it launched, the Priceless campaign was carried through every aspect of the company’s operations and marketing — both direct to consumer and B-to-B. Even the annual report.
Companies today talk a lot about their culture. But the soul of a brand extends far beyond the giant Jenga or PTO or cool tee shirts or a wide variety of breakfast cereal in the kitchen.
A great brand is…
- Genuine and meaningful. It distinguishes the company from its competitors in a profound and customer-relevant way. If you take your company’s name out of your branding statement and insert another company name, will it still hold true?
- Research-based. If you don’t know why your customers like your product/service or what their pain points are your tagline and logo are just a bunch of blah-blah. Above all, a brand needs to address what customers (and prospective customers) really care about. Great brands are even able to charge more for their services if they deliver value.
- Ubiquitous. It needs to carry through every aspect of how the company lives and breathes. Every employee needs to be able to explain the brand and to act on its principles. It has a meaning beyond a series of clever ads or a fun social media campaign.
- Timeless. Although the creative execution may evolve over time, a great brand (like a memorable person) has a deep and credible core.
Perhaps companies care less about “traditional” branding these days because of the short-term scale- and-sell mentality that’s pervasive in the tech world.
Or, maybe we just haven’t reached that point yet where companies don’t realize they need to distinguish themselves in order to survive and thrive.
Many of today’s marketing and creative agencies haven’t been trained to ask their clients, “What makes you truly different from and better than the other companies that do what you do?” Having more rounds of funding is nice, but being rich doesn’t always make you better.
So, whether you have a small company or global operation — before you spend another digital penny on that logo or website from either a full-service agency or from Fiverr, be sure to ask yourself, “What makes my brand priceless?”
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