Technology brands operate in fiercely competitive markets where it’s essential to find ways to stand out and communicate unique value. That means a tech company’s logo and greater visual identity need to launch their brand storytelling on sight—signaling who they are, what makes them different, what kinds of promises they make and…
Technology has been a business game-changer at every level—revolutionizing customer experiences, 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.
As a result, B2B tech companies need to work harder than ever to differentiate their offerings and ensure continued customer loyalty. And to achieve those goals, a well-defined brand strategy is a must-have.
Great technology brand strategy is everywhere—with great examples ranging 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 and have the clear identities—and market leadership—to show for it.
By developing 10 essential components, B2B technology brands can set themselves apart and position themselves to win. Here’s how to build and activate a successful technology brand strategy.
1. Begin With a Solid Foundation of Research
Whether you’re building a tech brand from scratch or revamping to support a pivot, research provides the in-depth perspective required for successful technology brand positioning.
This first step in building a tech brand strategy is crucial for understanding the market landscape and uncovering the authentic attributes of a differentiated brand. But it’s unfortunately one that many organizations skip, either because of budget and time constraints or a misguided belief that they already have all the information they need.
Research develops several advantages:
- Offers insights into areas of competitive differentiation
- Provides opportunities to test hypotheses
- Can uncover potential brand obstacles/issues
The best research is gathered from a range of inputs that not only include employee viewpoints but also the perspectives of customers and other external stakeholders. It should include a review of analyst outlooks, industry trends and competitive positioning.
Findings should incorporate:
- Quantitative data that offers statistically-sound analysis and comparisons
- Qualitative inputs from interviews and workshops that provide perspective and context
During our work with dataxu (a programmatic ad-tech company), research revealed the challenges that its primary audience—CMOs—were facing. We found that many were struggling with the industry’s rapidly changing landscape and lack of transparency. But they also expressed that dataxu allayed those fears, building trust and helping them achieve professional success.
Per internal dataxu interviews, these external perspectives aligned with an organization-wide commitment to “going further than the competition” to help customers. So together, these insights became the basis for a differentiated, strategic brand positioning centered around dataxu’s 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 tech brand strategy that truly differentiates, one key research objective must be to understand an organization’s current industry position. For example, a pure play tech company’s brand strategy will vary depending on its competitors. Are they also pure plays? Or do their competitive offerings represent only small slices of their businesses’ solutions?
In many cases, we recommend that organizations entrenched in the technology space downplay the tech components of their stories 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, the business offers a software solution. But much of its brand celebrates 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 specializing in 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 that directly benefit its customer base, like mobile ordering and rapid delivery, it makes sense for technology to be a significant part of the Sweetgreen brand.
In fact, in our work with clients across industries—spanning financial services, law and consulting—we’ve seen that B2B organizations often have considerable opportunities to highlight the more tech-forward elements of their value propositions.
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/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
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 enough to forge the emotional connections that the strongest brands have with their audiences.
It can also be very difficult to differentiate on functionality alone, particularly in the tech space. A company may offer a leading feature or be the first to market with a specific capability, but the competition is bound to catch up. And with social critiques mounting against Silicon Valley, it’s more important than ever for technology brands to stand for more than products and profit.
Technology brands that successfully set themselves apart from the competition focus on “why” they exist over “what” they do. Why is the benefit they offer valuable and important to customers?
For example, DeSantis Breindel client SailPoint, an identity and access management (IAM) provider, emphasizes client benefits above all else. The brand’s purpose sits front and center: SailPoint doesn’t want to simply offer IAM, it sets out every day to redefine it. So rather than bogging prospects down in tech specs, the brand offers customer centric messaging about how SailPoint helps its clients innovate, transform and stay safe.
This is again why research is essential. It can reveal the emotional levers that resonate with target audiences and the fundamental value the organization provides.
4. Support the Brand Story with an Effective Name
Naming is critical to successful technology branding, as it cultivates positive associations and carves out differentiation. Names can range from the literal (like SAP, an acronym for Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing) to the evocative (like OneSpan, suggesting a single, broad and protective solution) to the completely-coined (like Google, a platform now so widely understood that people use its name as a verb). For a B2B tech company, there’s no right or wrong approach. But every 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 enter the market, you may be wondering if you need to include naming as part of your brand positioning process. It’s true that for many established tech companies, a rebrand is not necessarily a reason to change a name; we often recommend against a name change, as it can put hard-won name equity (developed over time) at risk. But if a 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 advisable.
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 given a pivot in the company’s strategy and a significant expansion of its offerings. We landed on the name OneSpan because it reflected the company’s focus on acting as a single partner for customers and supported the brand’s “Trusted Identity” offering, which brings all of the business’s solutions together into a single platform.
Foundational research will not only determine whether a new name is warranted. It will also provide the insights needed to develop a new name that will be effective.
5. Find Your Authentic Brand Voice
Once a company has determined its strategic positioning, it needs to develop an authentic voice to communicate its story to its audiences. Brand positioning and the brand voice go hand-in-hand. No matter how good a positioning strategy is, it simply won’t be believable if the voice does not align. For example, if a tech company’s brand positioning strategy is built around a pioneering spirit and the 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 can take with their brand voices is using technical jargon, “feature-speak” or corporate lingo rather than simply sounding human and relatable. 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 showcase technical expertise, but it’s not on the homepage of the website.
To help our clients tap into their authentic brand voices, we turn to Carl Jung’s archetypes. Developed by the famed psychologist in the 1940s, Jung’s set of 12 character models were based on the human psyche and behaviors. Like humans, every brand represents an archetype, from the Sage (exemplifying wisdom) to the Creator (representing innovation and ingenuity) to the Caregiver (the embodiment of support and nurturing).
At DeSantis Breindel, we hold workshops to help clients determine their unique brand personalities as defined by their Jungian archetypes. This exercise:
- Informs parameters
- Provides guardrails for the brand voice
- 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 demonstrate it could express its inventive ideas in a way customers would understand easily. The resulting brand messaging and copy immerses audiences in the sky’s-the-limit SailPoint experience before they ever send an email or make a call.
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. Every new strategy should include a comprehensive plan for bringing the brand to life and sustaining it over time. This can be accomplished by leveraging traditional marketing channels like ads, events and digital content as well as experiential touchpoints like customer service calls, sales pitches and even office reception areas.
For example, given the intense client focus in dataxu‘s brand, we recommended that the company not only update its website to center its clients, but also modify its content strategy to focus on customers’ professional accomplishments. 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—engaging clients, prospects, employees, recruits, investors, analysts and media—an organization needs to develop brand guidelines, message maps, and other tools to ensure that their messaging flexes to address each constituents’ unique needs while maintaining brand consistency.
For example, even though customer centricity was at the core of dataxu’s new brand positioning, we knew that for investors and analysts in their fast-changing industry, the company’s R&D strategy and innovation roadmap was of critical importance. So we developed investor and analyst-specific communications that combined high-level messages with a strong emphasis on the company’s roadmap.
7. Build Support for 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, clarifying their value 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 the sales/purchase process
- Enables cross-selling
- Puts high-potential products and services in a special spotlight
Brand architecture also determines how products should be named, including whether or not they fall under a master brand strategy or require individual brand names. This decision has important implications for marketing investments as well as customer perceptions.
For example, in our work rebranding OneSpan, we determined that while the company had shifted from a hardware company to a software company, it was still communicating its offerings in the style of hardware brands by using numbered product lines. We recommended a shift to descriptive naming, which is more common in the software space and also much more customer-friendly.
Effective B2B brand architecture also provides a roadmap for how to position any future products and services gained through mergers and acquisitions. In such cases, it provides a framework for integrating new products and services within the portfolio and sharing the news 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. Workers operate on the front lines of B2B brands. If they don’t believe, no one else will.
For a tech brand to be successful, employees must understand the business’s strategy and also feel the drive to “live the brand,” spreading 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 that can rally employees, including in-depth workshops that explain the new brand and provide strategies for incorporating it into day-to-day interactions with clients/prospects. We also build brand tools designed for internal stakeholders, such as brand guidelines and messaging frameworks, helping employees embrace and activate the brand positioning.
But by far the most effective way to build employee enthusiasm around a strategy is to update and adjust the employee and customer experience to better align with the brand. When a brand is authentic, more people will feel a connection and be motivated to support it and advocate for it.
9. Create an Ecosystem of Ambassadors
For B2B technology companies, successful partnerships are a key element of success, whether that means working closely with value-added resellers to significantly expand reach or collaborating with service providers to help customers adopt solutions successfully. So in addition to making sure that branding efforts resonate with employees and customers, tech companies must carefully educate their partner ecosystems about their new brands.
Ecosystem partners have a vested interest in mutual success (making them a bit of a captive audience), but there are still important best practices to consider when rallying them around the brand. Because each company has its own identity, it can be easy for one brand to be misrepresented or diluted in joint marketing efforts. Organizations will need to provide their partners with both consistent guidelines for how to speak about the brand and the tools they need to implement it strategically and consistently.
10. Continually Evolve and Innovate
In the tech sphere, innovation is a constant. It’s important that this spirit of ongoing evolution isn’t limited to products and services but also influences the brand positioning strategy. We often encounter organizations that have made significant initial investments in brand positioning and strategy, only to let them go stale over time. But to make an impact, the brand should be viewed and managed as a dynamic entity that requires continual nourishment and regular adjustment.
This doesn’t mean that companies need to constantly reinvent their strategies. In fact, we often recommend the opposite, as too-frequent changes can be interpreted as lack of commitment or follow-through. (New strategies should update and clarify—not confuse—a company’s main points of differentiation and value.)
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 may remain relatively evergreen, they can be brought to life in new ways across marketing channels. Keeping a brand current can be as simple as refreshing advertising to reflect a different facet of the brand positioning strategy or 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 existing messages in the marketplace.
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 help identify rich new areas of opportunity as they emerge.
To further explore building a successful tech brand strategy, contact us.
Originally published on April 20, 2022.
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