In 2012, a Gartner analyst famously predicted that by 2017 marketing technology budgets would be bigger than IT technology budgets. In most organizations, budget means power, so Gartner’s prediction spurred speculation that the CMO-CIO relationship might become a testy one. Within a year, we saw headlines like this one in the Harvard Business…
When B2B technology companies seek branding help, it’s often for a similar reason: their formerly product-focused, sales-driven organization needs a brand that goes beyond what they do and tells a larger story that elevates their position in the market. This quest to minimize the role of products often raises doubts internally. More and more, together with our CMO partners, we on the agency side find ourselves responding to three common objections from sales executives.
“We have the best technology out there – why wouldn’t we make our brand about it?”
B2B technology companies invest a lot in R&D, so it’s understandable to want to build a brand based squarely on these products.
But in technology markets, products play an extended game of leapfrog. As soon as you’ve gone to market with version 2.0, your competitor comes out with 2.1. Adding features and functionality is critical to responding to market changes and customer demand, but it isn’t a formula for successful branding, as this would mean updating your positioning with every product launch.
Business strategy evolves – moving from hardware to software, developing new product lines, expanding into new industries and regions – and the right brand strategy will evolve with it. A brand tied to specific offerings can quickly feel constricting, struggling to adapt to expanded portfolios, multiple buyer categories and diverse need states.
While we think you should leave product specs and functional descriptions for sales sheets and detailed product webpages, this doesn’t mean that the skill, expertise, and focus that went into building these products should be absent from the brand. These elements are prime branding material, as they talk about who you are, what drives you, and how the way you work differentiates you – characteristics that are much harder for a competitor to copy than product features and functionalities.
“No one will know what we do.”
When developing a brand, it’s key to nail the foundational elements – the core of the brand strategy – before extending them into business units and product lines. Business partners involved in the branding process may ask where the specifics of their offerings are when they read a high-level positioning statement or pithy brand essence.
It’s important to remember that a brand is not just a manifesto or tagline in isolation. It’s the culmination of everything a customer experiences, from messaging and marketing materials, to interactions with the sales team. The foundation of a brand strategy should stay elevated enough to stretch across your current and future offerings. The explicit details of your present-day offerings will come through in messaging development that comes after the core brand development.
“Anyone could say that”
Moving to a higher order brand essence or tagline means that, at first glance, your brand may not be explicitly tied to your industry. Those who want the brand to shout the market in which they play may balk at a brand essence line or tagline that doesn’t label them as “The cybersecurity company” or “The ecommerce payment company.”
But these functional, descriptive lines are easily duplicable within the category, and miss an opportunity to truly differentiate. Everyone in cybersecurity says they’re a cybersecurity company. But fewer are taking on a unique challenger positioning, or one driven by preparing their clients for what’s next. Embracing a differentiated positioning – based on a belief, approach or purpose – sets you apart in a sea of sameness. It’s also a way to appeal not only to technology buyers, but also to the C-suite who are now responsible for more technology decisions but care less about tech specs than business outcomes.
Finally, for inspiration, we suggest taking a look at taglines for GE (Imagination at work), SAP (Run Simple) and Thomson Reuters (The Answer Company). Without context, these could be lines for a creative agency, athletic goods, and a search engine, respectively. But there is deeper meaning layered throughout the brands that have made these lines – and their respective positions in the market – truly unique and fully ownable.
Moving your technology brand beyond what you do can feel uncomfortable at first – and it’s reasonable to discuss concerns with stakeholders. But this uncharted territory is worth exploring to take your brand somewhere truly differentiating.
While conducting research for our branding project with ICF, a global consulting firm, we did a lot of “typical” research: in-depth interviews with senior leaders in the organization, conversations with current and prospective clients, and an online, all-employee survey. We were getting a lot of good material – insight into the company culture, perspectives…