As strategists and designers, we are always curious about the use of color in culture and business. Recently, we took a look at brand colors in the top 100 technology firms. While the range of colors and combinations is varied, we noted a few intriguing themes.
For tech company colors, blue is always true
Technology has been a business game-changer at every level — revolutionizing customer experience, enabling groundbreaking innovations, and accelerating the speed of business. Technology giants are expanding their reach while companies with decidedly non-tech histories like Maersk and even McDonald’s have reinvented themselves to excel in the digital era.
B2B tech companies need to work harder than ever to differentiate their offerings and ensure continued customer loyalty. And a well-defined brand strategy is a must-have. Great technology brand strategy is everywhere, from Google, whose name has become synonymous with research, to Apple, whose product releases consistently generate consumer excitement and weeks of media hype, to Amazon, whose ever-expanding portfolio is the de facto example of brand success in a world that calls for constant evolution and flexibility.
But you don’t need to be a B2C giant to have a strong technology brand. There are plenty of B2B companies, such as Slack and Dropbox, that employ effective branding. Here are 10 essentials for developing — and executing on — a successful technology brand strategy.
1. Begin With a Solid Foundation of Research
Whether you’re building a tech brand from scratch or revamping a brand to pivot more to technology, research provides the in-depth perspective required for successful technology brand positioning. Research offers insight into areas of competitive differentiation and also provides the opportunity to test hypotheses and uncover potential issues. This step is crucial for understanding the market landscape and uncovering the authentic attributes of a differentiated brand. But it’s unfortunately one that many organizations overlook, either because of budget and time constraints or a misguided belief that they already have the information they need.
The best research is gathered from a range of inputs that encompass not just employee viewpoints but also the perspectives of customers and other external stakeholders. Research should include a review of analyst outlooks, industry trends, and competitive positioning. Findings should incorporate quantitative data that offers for statistically-sound analysis and comparison as well as qualitative inputs from interviews and workshops that provide perspective and context.
During our work with dataxu, a programmatic ad-tech company, research uncovered a critical area of differentiation by revealing the challenges that its primary audience —CMOs — were facing. Our interviews showed that many CMOs struggled with the industry’s rapidly changing landscape and lack of transparency but felt dataxu allayed those fears, building trust and helping them achieve professional success. Not only that, internal interviews confirmed that these external perspectives aligned to an organization-wide commitment to going further than the competition to help customers. Together, this information became the basis for a differentiated strategic brand positioning for dataxu that centered around its role as a trustworthy, customer-centric ally in a complex, often dehumanized, and sometimes murky industry.
2. Determine Where to Position the Brand on the Tech Spectrum
In order to define a brand strategy that truly differentiates, a key research objective is to understand an organization’s industry position. For example, a pure-play tech company’s brand strategy will vary depending on its competitors. Are they also pure-plays? Or maybe their competitive offering is only a small slice of that corporation’s offerings.
In many cases, we recommend that an organization entrenched in the technology sphere downplay the tech components of its story and focus on other strengths and areas of differentiation. Competing head-to-head against other tech players can become a losing battle of specs and features. And the market is looking for something more human and relatable. Consider Zendesk, the CRM company. Yes, it offers a software solution, but much of its brand focuses on its employees’ dedication to their clients and communities.
On the other hand, it often makes sense for a company that’s not a pure tech player to focus on its technology expertise. For example, Sweetgreen, a chain of fast-casual restaurants focused on salads and grain bowls, positions itself not just as a restaurant chain but also as a tech company. Given that its tech-centric focus has led to innovations in mobile ordering and rapid delivery that directly benefit its customer base, it makes sense that technology is a significant part of its brand.
In fact, in our work with clients across industries including financial services, law, and consulting, we’ve seen that there is a considerable opportunity for B2B organizations to highlight the more tech-forward elements of their value proposition.
For example, in our work with Cenergistic, a national energy conservation consulting firm, research revealed that while the company’s emphasis on data and technology would resonate with its customer base, this capability was notably absent from its brand. We recommended the company reposition itself as a technology- and data-powered company and revamp its customer experience to reflect this focus. The result? A higher close rate as well as growth in new verticals.
3. Develop a Brand Positioning Strategy That Stands for More
Brands that successfully set themselves apart from the competition focus on the “why” over the “what.” Why do they exist? Why is the benefit they offer to customers valuable and important? For example, DeSantis Breindel client SailPoint, an identity and access management (IAM) provider, emphasizes client benefits above all else. The brand’s purpose is front and center: SailPoint doesn’t want to simply offer IAM, it wants to focus on it and redefine it. Rather than being bogged down with tech specs, prospects encounter customer-centric messaging about how SailPoint will help them innovate, transform, and stay safe.
Too often, tech brand positioning is based on what an organization does or has — the services, capabilities, features, and functionalities it offers — rather than on its deeper purpose or the fundamental benefits it provides. While branding around products and services may seem logical, or at least harmless, purely functional positioning is rarely sufficient to forge the emotional connection that the strongest brands have with their audiences.
And it can be very difficult to differentiate on functionality alone, particularly in the tech space. Although a company may be the first to market with a specific capability or have a market-leading feature, the competition is bound to catch up. With social critiques mounting against Silicon Valley, it’s more important than ever for technology brands to stand for more than products and profit.
This is why research is essential. It can uncover the emotional levers that resonate with target audiences and the fundamental value the organization offers.
4. Support the Brand Story With an Effective Name
Naming is critical to successful technology branding — names cultivate positive associations and carve out differentiation. Names can range from the more literal, SAP (Systems, Applications and Products in Data Processing), to the more evocative, like “OneSpan,” to the completely coined, like “Google.” For a B2B tech company, there’s no right or wrong approach, but the strategy needs to be informed by in-depth research into the industry, competitive set, and customer base.
Unless you’re a new company getting ready to go into the market, you may be wondering if you need to include naming as part of the brand positioning process. It’s true that for many established tech companies, a rebrand is not necessarily a reason to change a name. In fact, we often recommend against a name change because of name equity that has been built over time. But if the rebrand coincides with a major change in company strategy, such as a complete pivot into tech from another sector or a merger or major acquisition, a rename may be necessary.
For example, as we worked on a rebranding initiative with OneSpan, a global leader in identity and transaction security, we determined that a new name was necessary because of a pivot in the company’s strategy and a significant expansion in its offerings. We ultimately landed on OneSpan, a new name that reflects the company’s focus on acting as a single partner for its customers as well as the importance of its “Trusted Identity” offering that brings all the company’s solutions together into a single platform.
Foundational research will determine not only whether a new name is warranted but will also provide the information needed to develop an effective new name.
5. Find Your Authentic Brand Voice
Once a company has determined its strategic positioning, it needs to develop an authentic voice to communicate that story to its audiences. Brand positioning and brand voice go hand-in-hand. No matter how good a brand positioning strategy is, if the brand voice is misaligned to that strategy, it simply won’t be believable. For example, if a tech company’s brand positioning strategy is built around a pioneering spirit and drive to break away from the status quo, it can’t use a plain-vanilla corporate brand voice.
In fact, one of the biggest risks B2B tech companies face in developing a brand voice is using technical jargon, “feature speak,” or corporate lingo rather than communicating in a human and relatable way. This can happen for a number of reasons, including the misguided belief that a buttoned-up, capabilities-oriented style is the best way to demonstrate proficiency and expertise. While professionalism is certainly important, today’s buyers are looking for brands they can connect with on an emotional level. There’s a time and a place to show off technical expertise, but it’s not on the homepage of the website.
To help our clients tap into their authentic brand voice, we turn to Carl Jung’s archetypes. Developed by the famed psychologist in the 1940s, Jung’s set of 12 archetypes — common character models — were based on the human psyche and behaviors. Like humans, every brand falls into an archetype, from the Sage (exemplifying wisdom), to the Creator (innovation and ingenuity) to the Caregiver (support and nurturing.) We hold workshops to help clients determine their unique brand personality as defined by their archetype. This exercise informs parameters and provides guardrails for brand voice, and ensures messaging consistency.
For example, SailPoint’s brand voice is unique in its space: conversational, clear, and even a little cheeky. You won’t see much tech jargon here. SailPoint’s archetype was the Creator, so it was important that the company demonstrated that it could express its inventive ideas in a way customers could understand. The result is copy that immerses you in the sky’s-the-limit SailPoint experience before you ever send an email or pick up the phone.
6. Infuse Brand Into the Entire Customer Experience
For a technology brand to change perceptions, it can’t just be a concept — it must be infused into everything the organization says and does. A new brand should include a comprehensive plan for bringing the brand to life and sustaining it over time. This is done through traditional marketing channels like ads, events, and digital content as well as experiential touchpoints such as customer service calls, sales pitches, and office reception areas.
For example, given the intense client focus in dataxu’s brand, we recommended that the company not just update its website to put its clients front and center, but also modify its content strategy to focus on the professional accomplishments of its clients. And to support Cenergistic’s new tech-forward brand strategy, the company built an interactive lead qualification tool that immerses prospects in video testimonials targeted to their specific region and interests.
To adapt seamlessly across different channels and audiences — clients, prospects, employees, recruits, investors, analysts, media — an organization needs to develop brand guidelines, message maps, and other tools to ensure that messaging flexes to address each constituents’ unique needs and concerns while maintaining brand consistency.
For dataxu, although customer centricity was at the core of its new brand positioning, we knew that for investors and analysts, the company’s R&D strategy and innovation roadmap was of critical importance in a fast-changing industry. With this in mind, we developed investor- and analyst-specific messaging that combined high-level brand messaging with a strong emphasis on the company’s product roadmap.
7. Build Support on a Logical Brand Architecture
Brand architecture is the structure of brands and sub-brands within a company. It defines the hierarchy, relationships, and differentiation among brands in a portfolio and clarifies it to internal and external stakeholders. By ensuring that a company presents its roster of products and services to external audiences clearly and coherently, brand architecture facilitates purchase, enables cross-selling, and puts high-potential products and services front and center.
Brand architecture also determines how products should be named, including whether or not they fall under a master brand strategy or if they require individual branded names. This decision has important implications for investment in marketing as well as customer perceptions.
For example, in our work rebranding OneSpan, we determined that though the company had shifted from a hardware company to a software company, it was still communicating its offerings in the style of hardware, using numbered product lines. We recommended a shift to descriptive naming, which is common in the software space and much more customer-friendly.
But successful B2B brand architecture doesn’t just determine sub-brand organization and naming. It also provides a roadmap for how to handle the products and services resulting from future mergers and acquisitions. For example, if a tech company makes an acquisition, brand architecture provides the framework for how the new products and services should be integrated within the portfolio and shared with the market.
8. Build Brand From the Inside Out by Enabling and Inspiring Employees
If there’s one piece of guidance we share consistently with our clients, it’s that B2B brands are built from the inside out. It’s essential that companies recognize the value of gaining employee buy-in of the brand — employees are on the front lines of B2B brands, so if they don’t believe in it, no one else will.
For a brand to be successful, employees must understand the strategy and also have the drive to “live the brand” and spread the word to clients, prospects, and beyond. Google is a great example of a company that understands the important linkage between employees and brand. As part of its stringent interview process, candidates are interviewed on their level of “Googleyness.”
Getting employees on board doesn’t happen automatically. We work with clients to employ a range of tactics to rally employees, including in-depth workshops that explain the new brand and provide strategies for incorporating it into day-to-day interactions with clients and prospects. We also build brand tools designed for internal stakeholders, such as brand guidelines and messaging frameworks, to help employees embrace and execute the brand positioning. But by far the most effective way to build employee enthusiasm around a technology brand positioning strategy is to update and adjust the employee and customer experience to better align to the brand.
9. Create an Ecosystem of Ambassadors
For B2B technology companies, successfully partnering with other organizations is a key element of success, whether that means working closely with value-added resellers to significantly expand reach or collaborating with services providers who can help customers successfully adopt solutions. So, in addition to making sure that branding efforts resonate with employees and customers, tech companies need to also ensure they’re educating their partner ecosystems about the new brand.
Even though ecosystem partners have a vested interest in mutual success and are, to some degree, a captive audience, there are still some important best practices to consider when rallying a partner ecosystem around a brand. Because each company has its own brand, it can be easy for one brand to be misrepresented or diluted in joint marketing efforts. Organizations need to provide their partners with consistent guidelines for how to speak about the brand and tools to help implement it appropriately.
10. Continually Evolve and Innovate
In the tech sphere, innovation is a constant. It’s important that this spirit of constant evolution isn’t limited to products and services but also applies to the brand positioning strategy. We often encounter organizations that have made significant initial investment in brand positioning and strategy only to let it go stale over time. But to make an impact, brand should be thought of as a dynamic entity that requires continual nourishment and occasional adjustment.
This doesn’t mean that companies need to constantly reinvent a new brand strategy. In fact, we recommend the opposite. But measures should be taken to ensure that the brand remains fresh and interesting over time. Though the core tenets of any technology brand strategy should remain relatively evergreen, they should be brought to life in new and interesting ways across all marketing channels. This can be as simple as refreshing advertising to reflect a different facet of the brand positioning strategy or it can mean developing new customer experience initiatives that add depth and dimension to brand value.
For technology companies, the risk of falling back into functional, feature-driven messaging will increase with each release of a new product, feature, or service. So it’s very important to continue to leverage established brand positioning strategy and use each new release as an opportunity to reinforce that message in the market.
Additionally, once a technology brand has been established, it should be regularly evaluated to determine if perceptions or the brand landscape have changed. Ongoing research will ensure that the brand is functioning well and can identify areas of opportunity or concern.
For more about tech brand strategy, contact us.
About the author
Julia Mulcrone is a Senior Strategist at DeSantis Breindel. She draws on a combination of analytical and creative skills to help organizations build strong brands that help them make forge powerful connections with their audiences.