We all know that many companies, especially tech companies and companies with technology-enabled value propositions, have a hard time getting their branding right. They have rebrand after rebrand, but their message never seems to hit home with customers. It seems helpless. After working with hundreds of companies in this exact situation, I’m confident to say that it isn’t helpless.
They’re just making one fatal mistake:
These companies are focusing on the output of branding before adequately understanding and bonding emotionally with their customers.
Many technology companies see branding as writing the perfect copy, choosing the perfect color scheme, and writing up a perfect competitive sales message. The often treat messaging as branding. They get lost in a sea of bits and bytes and focus on speeds, feeds, throughputs and proprietary technology, never getting to a message that bonds so strongly with customers that they’d feel they were cheating on the brand were they to choose a competitor.
Messages and marketing might be the output of branding, but branding is one thing: understanding – and bonding in a deeply emotional way with – your customer. I spend a lot of my time working with technology companies who categorically reject the notion that tech companies need to create deep emotional bonds with their customers. They believe that their tech’s special bells and whistles should be enough to sustainably differentiate them and give them a competitive advantage for their entire lifecycle.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
If your proprietary technology or whizz-bang features that give your tech more of what I call RASM (reliability, availability, scalability, manageability) are not directly imitable by a competitor, the high-level benefits those features provide are. Here’s what I mean. Your solution may have a feature that enables customers to do more processing faster, helping them focus on their core jobs. You might even create messages that are centered on the notion of “doing more with less.” Unfortunately, that’s a baseline requirement – and promise – of technology in general, right? If you market on the basis of something that’s a baseline expectation of an entire category of products (and in the case of technology, an entire industry) you’re doing it wrong. That would be like marketing ice cream on the basis of being made of milk and being cold and sweet.
If you are pointing your marketing towards a company or a nameless, faceless customer, you’re doing it wrong. Technology purchase influencers come in many shapes and sizes, not just demographically, but also attitudinally and psychographically. What I mean here is that if you’re a tech company with new, unproven but exciting technology behind it, your ideal customer might be someone who is not just willing to take a risk on new tech but wants to be seen as an innovator in her or his organization. When you know exactly at whom you’re pointing your tech brand, you can start to understand what’s important to them and target not only your brand, but your messages and marketing directly at that person’s values, beliefs and desired achievements.
Finally, take a look at your company’s website right now. Go ahead and do it. I’ll wait. Take note of the first words you see on your website’s main headline. If those words are either “we” or your company’s name, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re talking from the point of view of “we do this so you can …” or “we make blah, blah and blah…” you’re doing it wrong. The best technology brands in the world are those that focus on their customers’ life stories and what they, as individuals, are looking to achieve in life.
This is a challenge. There are thousands of ways you can understand your customers, and many companies are paralyzed by understanding where to start.
From my experience helping companies understand their customers, there are three core questions that really get to the root of how the brand and customer interact. If you can answer these three questions, you’ll be in a much better place to start your branding process.
1) What does your brand say about your customers?
The first question for brands to answer is what it says about a person that he or she uses this brand. What does it communicate both to the outside world and to the customer him or herself? This is important because, at its core, this is what a brand is. It’s a statement about the customer, and it’s crucial that, as a business, you know what that statement is. Answering this question requires you to really get inside your customers’ heads and understand what they want to achieve in their lives, how they measure their success in achieving those goals, what they care most deeply about, and, ultimately, how the brand must deliver.
2) What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get from anyone else?
The second question to understand is what the singular thing is that a person using this brand gets from it that they can’t get from any other brand. In other words, what makes your brand singular and indispensable. What you’ll find, as you dig into this question, is that most of the answers aren’t tangible. It’s unlikely that your product has a feature that no competitors can provide. Instead, what commonly comes up are intangible benefits, like the ways the company makes them feel or the story it tells them about themselves.
3) How do you make your customer a hero in the story of his or her own life?
The third question requires an understanding of how your brand makes the customer a hero in his or her own life story. Everybody wants to be the hero in his or her own story. Everybody wants to be the protagonist. Some brands may achieve that in an obvious way (like a fashion brand making the customer stand out from the crowd), whereas others might be more subtle (like an IT brand making the purchasing manager look good in front of their colleagues). No matter what the case, if you can answer this question, you’ll have loyal customers for life.
At a very high level, everything we do in branding is about answering those three questions.
Before you do any copywriting, design, or other branding outputs, take some time to answer those three questions. If you have trouble getting to the bottom of them, don’t worry. Ask your customers for help, and keep digging until you really understand them. With this newfound understanding of who your customers are and how they want to interact with your brand, you’ll be on the path to defining a powerful brand strategy.
Deb Gabor is the author of Irrational Loyalty: Building a Brand That Thrives in Turbulent Times. She is the founder of Sol Marketing which has led brand strategy engagements for organizations ranging from international household names like Dell, Microsoft, and NBC Universal, to digital winners like Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway and RetailMeNot, and dozens of early-stage tech and digital media titans. For more information, please visit www.debgabor.com and connect with Deb on Twitter, @deb_sol.