Posts Tagged ‘technology companies’
In the first of two parts we explore what is a Brand Audit and why tech companies choose to conduct them.
Remember the fantastic scene from “A Few Good Men” where Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise), an inexperienced military trial lawyer, confronts a seasoned Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) about the facts surrounding the apparent murder of a fellow Marine? “I want the truth!” exclaims Kaffee in the courtroom. “You can’t handle the truth!” shouts back Jessep.
Although it is sometimes hard to ‘handle’ or swallow, the truth is the idea behind conducting a brand audit. More so than some other industries, tech companies need to know the cold hard truth of how they are perceived in the marketplace. Even if the results hurt the technology brand ego. Because the first step in strengthening brand weaknesses or vulnerabilities is learning precisely where the brand value stands now.
This year, some tech companies won’t need a full-tilt, top-dollar rebranding. They may have just finished a complete rebranding last year, or recently merged or acquired other brands. They might just need a brand audit to help them with this year’s strategy and resourcing decisions.
What is a brand audit?
A brand audit is a thorough, multi-dimensional analysis to understand a company’s brand(s), its internal and external perceptions, and their strategic implications. Brand audits often include rigorous competitor brand evaluations to deliver strategic context and recommendations to its findings.
A brand audit answers questions such as:
- How do prospects really view the technology brand?
- Which brand attributes and personality does it and its competitors ‘own’?
- How much ‘permission’ does the brand have to offer new products or enter new markets?
- How cohesive and compelling is the tech brand story and promise?
- What internal and external challenges stand in the way of developing and strengthening brand to drive business forward?
- Which touch points have the most impact for building this technology brand?
- How should brand position change to be most effective against competitors?
- Is it wise to go ‘head-to-head’ with primary competitors? Why or why not?
- What differentiators do the brand offer that cannot be easily copied?
- How relevant is the brand in today’s marketplace? How believable is brand promise? How differentiated?
In many cases, technology brands ‘lead with the tech’. They believe it will be compelling enough to drive the trial, preference, and repeat business that drive future revenue. Technology is only part of the value offered by Apple, Google or Microsoft. These technology leaders all carry brand value and associations far beyond the technology they offer: prestige (or ‘everyman-ness’), cool (or not-so-cool) ‘geekiness’, self-expression, social or economic status, values, etc.
Top technology brands also carry associations related to value delivery, service quality, and relative pricing, whether it’s their products or stock. The brand value goes far beyond a technological development.
Unfortunately, executives do not always want to hear the truth about their brands. Lack of honest insights can cause uninformed decisions and leave them wondering why the numbers or performance of their brand is not improving.
Can your team handle the truth? Let us know how you uncover the honest data that leads to informed decisions.
Next time, we’ll look at the specific elements of a brand audit, and why it can be a relatively inexpensive and extremely effective tool.
Conducting a brand creation or re-branding assignment can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a marketer. But for some folks it can be a daunting task that leaves the organization with a bad taste in its mouth for branding based on one terrible experience.
Throughout the years I have heard horror stories and experienced the good, bad and ugly of branding first hand. That’s why I wanted to give you a list to help circumvent the pitfalls so many technology brands succumb to.
Here is my Top 10 list of what not to do when it’s time to conquer brand development.
1. No commitment from C-Level suite.
It is number one for a reason. If you do not have strong support from the top a branding effort is worthless and doomed for failure. Rarely can a successful brand strategy be pushed from the bottom up. Take it from experience. It simply does not work.
2. Lack of buy-in from top executives.
Connected to the first point, executive buy-in is mission critical. You will earn the support of top execs by introducing the process, expectations and specific deliverables. Ensure the executive team understands the goal and owns the outcome to secure their buy-in. For if you do not have a nod from the top, it’s highly unlikely the initiative will survive let alone thrive.
3. Setting the wrong expectations.
Specify expectations, deliverables and budget before starting the project. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the brand development process will resolve every issue. Collaboration and coordination with key stakeholders across all levels and departments of the company is critical. For example if you cannot articulate a well thought out market strategy, you won’t be able to articulate a thoughtful brand position and vice versa.
4. Absence of a cohesive process.
The process should be your best friend. If you’re not using a proven plan of attack that involves internal and external as well as competitive insights, simply stop. A smart process allows you to weed out opinions that are not supported by validated research. Anything else is fool’s gold.
5. Focusing on opinions from legacy employees can kill the process.
You’ve got to remove opinions from the equation at some point in the process to move your thinking forward. Focus on getting a current snap shot of your customers’ understanding of the category. Learn how customers view your brand against the competition. Lastly, it’s imperative you understand what is currently owned by the competition. Creating a brand position that’s currently occupied by a competitor is not a good thing. Believe me, it’s happened.
6. Failure to know category definition.
For technology companies this is a must. Often we see companies build brand strategies that are not aligned with an existing category definition. Understand where you fit according to Gartner or Forrester. Technology buyers rely on these organizations to validate their purchasing decisions. If you do not know where you fit, develop a strategy and path. Never start the brand positioning process until your team agrees on the category definition.
7. Without a clear position, you’re dead.
Every step puts you closer to an intelligent conversation on the most important topic of brand positioning. If you don’t have complete alignment on the position do not move forward with developing the brand expression. This is where the rubber hits the road. Create a positioning statement that clearly demonstrates your differentiation. This is paramount to having your executives agree to deliver brilliant creative. Lack of agreement is just cause to stop moving forward.
8. Boring brand creative expression will not go far.
Just because you’re a technology company does not mean your brand expression should be boring. This is a time to set the bar for the industry. With solid positioning you can create better brand expression and design. Push it. People remember fresh and new.
9. Employees must not only ‘get it’, but also love it and live it.
You’re only as good as the people who represent you. The worst thing you can do is create a promising brand and not have your people understand what it means and how it effects their role. Successful branding strategies usually start from the inside out. Begin with employees first before working your way out to the external marketplace.
10. Manage your brand, or it will be managed for you.
The best technology brands in the world start with a philosophy and process on how they manage the brand. They develop a well thought out management system and standards to guide the brand. The last thing you want is to have people and marketers making arbitrary decisions on how the brand should be represented and managed. This is the difference between building a mediocre brand or world-class brand.
Before embarking upon a branding journey, consider all the things that could steer the ship in the wrong direction. Knowing what could possibly go wrong will give you a better shot at staying on course.
But this is just the view from where I sit at our branding firm. What would you add or change from this list? I welcome all comments and input for other blog topics you would like to explore.
Best of luck with your brands.
Why category positioning is paramount to building a successful technology brand.
During the first part of this series we spoke about the importance of defining your business category and brand positioning. The second part focused on the approach and type of insights you must acquire before entering the strategic phase. To finalize this series, we need to explore ideation; defining your category, crafting a winning position and establishing brand strategy.
First of all, ask yourself and your team a very simple question. Does your current and future business model/strategy and offering fit into an existing category that is clearly recognized and defined by your audience and qualified industry analyst (such as Gartner or Forrester)?
If the answer is yes, then you can craft a well-defined category description base upon the current interpretation and competitive considerations set, but more importantly you must now clearly understand who already owns what in the category and determine what positioning will give you the greatest value and differentiation.
Clearly if any of your competitors already own a positioning space that’s seated in the mind of your audience, stay away from trying to take it over. In our experience this is a losing proposition. Remember how your customers think. They will know you for ONE thing (as the accompanying video so poignantly points out).
So pick something you can own long term. Something fresh. Something new. And that usually starts with being first at something.
A good way to start thinking about a winning position and brand strategy is to ask yourself a few questions to generate ideas. Here’s a few things to think about:
1. What are you good at?
2. What do you love to do?
3. What can you be famous for?
(Thank you to Tom Peters for providing this wonderful way to explore brand positioning.)
Once you’ve articulated these thoughts, put yourself to the test of trying to narrow it down to one word or simple idea. Remember, the more narrow the focus the stronger the technology brand. Throughout history most great technology brands can be articulated in a word or two.
Dell owned personal (before it was commoditized). Linksys owned networking before they were bought by Cisco. And Cisco is trying to own Human Network. And the list goes on.
So you see, it must be simple. It must be believable. It must be relevant and most importantly it has to be defendable! These are always good criteria to put against your thinking.
But what happens if you don’t fit into a category? What happens when Gartner or Forrester don‘t recognize or have a category that fits your business? Well, that’s a little tougher.
Basically you’ve got a few options:
1. Work with Gartner or Forrester to co-develop the category (this takes time and money).
2. Identify the category you are closest too and tweak the definition slightly so your audience understands but gets a refreshed view and new spin on it.
3. Create a new category. This is the most courageous/interesting and potently valuable. However, it’s also tricky and takes considerable thinking, making it a great idea for the subject of a future blog.
Technically speaking, understanding what business you are in and defining your category and position is fundamental to growth and building value. But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?
I hope you enjoyed this series, please submit your comments, experiences and suggestions on other topics you’d like to discuss. Best of luck with your businesses.
Who is part of the Brand Council and what are its functions and processes?
Last time, we talked about why almost all companies, technology companies especially, need a Brand Council. Technology companies in particular struggle to enhance the value of their brands by aligning their activities to deliver a fulfilling customer experience beyond the functional and/or technological benefits they offer. All genres of technology are being replicated more and more quickly each year, and customers are getting more and more sophisticated.
The beautiful and invaluable thing to remember about a great technology brand is that it can’t be copied.
Constituting a Brand Council for technology-focused companies
We suggest following two guiding principles to determine who should be a member of your Brand Council:
1. Your Brand Council should have a senior representative from each functional area, since all areas impact the delivery of your brand promise, including:
· C-suite management
· Human Capital Resources
· Public/Investor Relations
· Research and Development
We recommend that you also retain an external consulting partner to maintain an objective point of view and provide your Brand Council with current and top branding strategies.
2. A member of senior management should be your Brand Council Leader. This individual should represent the importance and visibility that your organization wishes to give to the brand. We recommend a CEO or COO. The Brand Council should also have a Chair who is responsible for setting the agendas and directing the meetings.
The Brand Council provides strategic brand governance in five categories:
1. Creation/management of the brand
2. Challenges and opportunities for the brand
3. Brand compliance
4. Brand measurement and refinement
5. Brand culture
Beyond “Logo Police”
Following are the types of issues that you may encounter in your Brand Council, grouped into the five categories introduced above.
1. Brand Creation/Brand Management
a. Alignment between business strategy and brand strategy
What is our business strategy, including our short- and long-term business objectives? How does the brand strategy bring this business strategy to life?
b. Business objectives formulation and assessment
How can we leverage the brand to achieve our business objectives (i.e., revenue growth, cost reduction, market share growth, etc.)? How have these objectives changed in the last year/quarter and what impact could these have on the brand?
c. Product and /or service portfolio decisions
Which products/services complement the brand direction and, therefore, warrant a current or future investment? Conversely, which products/services should be rationalized because they no longer match with the brand promise? What is the best ongoing process to review our portfolio?
2. Brand Opportunities and Challenges
a. Operational choices and decisions
How should the brand promise guide everyday operational issues and/or decisions (e.g., work quality, defect rates, product design, response times, communication gaps, product line or service gaps)? Conversely, how do these operational issues and/or decisions affect the brand?
b. Customer targeting
Which new customers are most likely to benefit from the values, objectives and promise that our brand stands for?
c. Merger and acquisition evaluation
When evaluating potential mergers or acquisitions, which organization(s) would complement our existing brand promise? How do these organizations fit into our existing portfolio? What would be the brand implications of merging with or acquiring these organizations? How can we manage the brand to maximize value for an upcoming liquidity or merger event?
d. Prospective partner assessment
Which potential co-branding partnerships will align with our brand promise and values? Which of these partnerships might be most beneficial for building brand equity?
e. Competitive analysis and response
How does the brand help us differentiate ourselves and de-position our competitors? How can the brand dictate our response to competitive activity?
3. Brand compliance
How do advertising, communications, signage, online and other applications of our identity (e.g., logo, visual vocabulary, language and tone of voice) align with our guidelines for consistent brand expression? Should there be differences in brand expression in the organization and, if so, what are these differences? What are the challenge areas (e.g., too many versions of the logo, inconsistent execution across applications) in the expression of the brand?
4. Brand measurement and refinement
General brand assessment What is the state of the brand (e.g., metrics definition and tracking, findings and implications from any recent brand research, recent media mentions, share of brand choice, etc.)? How do we measure the brand’s performance against the competition in a changing marketplace?
5. Brand culture
a. Brand culture assessment
How deeply are our employees engaged with the brand? How well are our brand attributes being embraced internally to help shape desired behaviors and attitudes? What new programs should we develop to keep people engaged and “living” the brand?
b. Customer touchpoint management
How well have the multiple interactions that customers have with the organization been considered and aligned with the brand? Have touchpoints been mapped and analyzed for improvement so that investment can be directed to those that have the greatest potential for positive impact on the customer experience?
Next time, in Part 3 of 3, we’ll look at specific ways to turbo charge your Brand Council, and pitfalls to avoid.
Category positioning is paramount to building a successful technology brand
During the last several months, I have had the opportunity to work with several well-known technology brands. Interestingly enough, although they are distinctively different in size, business model and longevity in the market, each technology brand shares the same business challenge: defining what category best describes their business, and how to position themselves within the competitive environment.
Our team of brand experts believes if you don’t get the category right or cannot arrive at a differentiating position, nothing else matters. So often, we find corporations throwing massive amounts of budget and resources into category positioning that is off-target and irrelevant. They are often left wondering why their branding and marketing is ineffective. Does this sound familiar?
Why is this a common problem amongst technology brands?
Unlike other established traditional consumer markets, technology is always evolving—it’s a moving target. New markets are constantly emerging enticing companies to forge into areas that are outside of their defined consideration set. Additionally, technology companies think in terms of technology rather than branding and marketing. However, category and brand positioning are not just a marketing decision; it’s a business decision that must be embraced and aligned with company executives.
In addition, research companies like Gartner and Forrester define categories that often influences technology brands. Yet these innovative technologies and companies do not always fit into an existing consideration set, which can present a challenge.
The bottom line is the technological industry is always changing, but does this mean your brand positioning needs to change? In order to answer that question, start by asking yourself or your team a few simple questions. This will determine if your company is internally aligned. You might be amazed at the response:
1. What business are we in? Describe.
2. Define the category of business in which we compete.
3. Are we positioned correctly against the competition? Describe.
4. What does our brand stand for?
If you cannot clearly articulate answers to these questions, or if your team is not aligned, imagine what your customers, prospects and market must be thinking?
Do not fret, for you are not alone. These are common issues that most brands deal with when change has occurred. The bigger question is how to develop a brand strategy and process? What is the best way to team up in order to deliver the type of thinking needed to develop the right brand strategies and path to move forward?
Next week, in part two of this three-piece series, we will explore how and what you need to think about when developing your moving forward brand strategies.
Part 1 of 3: What is a Brand Council, and why tech companies need them
It is now commonly understood that brands represent significant corporate value and are among an organization’s most valuable assets. This value has been demonstrated in brand valuation rankings and acquisition prices worldwide.
Properly created and managed, your brand helps generate operational and economic value by:
- Enhancing awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty
- Adding value to your offering beyond price or technology, both of which can be copied
- Attracting and retaining customers with an engaging promise and experience
- Guiding and informing business decisions and activities
- Attracting and retaining top-tier talent and partners
- Easing entry into new markets
- Commanding price premiums
- Facilitating brand extensions into new products and categories
One of the most pressing challenges we address with clients is how to make business decisions that are consistent with their brand. Technology companies especially struggle to enhance the value of their brands by aligning their activities to deliver a fulfilling customer experience beyond the functional and/or technological benefits they offer.
Consider the following questions:
- Our tech firm has developed a new offering/product/service. Do we need a separate brand? Why or why not?
- One or more aspects of our performance may be hurting our brand image. How can we prioritize where we should take corrective action to protect and build our brand?
- We’re considering a merger, partnership or divestiture. How might that affect our brand(s)? How do we assess which brands to use, how to transition them, over what time period, and why?
Your organization is collectively responsible for creating an expected and consistent brand experience. The challenge becomes how your organization, with its multiple layers, multiple divisions and multiple markets, comes together to address the strategic and tactical issues related to brand management.
The Brand Council defined
A Brand Council is a leadership group, led by the CEO and representative of your larger organization, with one mandate:
To ensure that business strategies, processes, decisions and actions are aligned with the brand’s positioning and values – namely, your organization’s unique promise of distinction.
This, in turn, focuses the entire organization on delivering the fulfilling customer experience that secures loyalty and future earnings. Apple’s brand practically guarantees that every new product or partnership will meet with huge demand, forgiveness for mistakes and general success. Apple has a top secret Brand Council, led by Steve Jobs and other key leaders, whose job it is to steward the brand, and with it, Apple’s success.
The Brand Council provides strategic brand governance in four categories:
1. Creation/management of the brand
2. Challenges and opportunities for the brand
3. Brand compliance
4. Brand measurement and refinement
5. Brand culture
Next week, in Part 2 of 3, we’ll look at the specific makeup of Brand Councils around the world, the 5 functions they typically perform, and the process by which they do it.
In the final installment, in Part 3 of 3, we’ll look at specific ways to turbocharge your Brand Council, and pitfalls to avoid.
Originally posted on B2BBrandDebate
If you were asked to randomly search 15-20 B2B technology brands online, you’d probably come to the same conclusion. Most are boring. But why? You’d think innovative companies would breathe innovation into their brands. But that’s not the case. Here’s my conclusion and most importantly a few ideas for technology executives and marketers to explore.
Peter Drucker said it best: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only two, basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” Well, most successful technology companies get the innovation part down, but struggle with understanding the role and expectation of marketing/branding. Let’s be real, technology companies only really start thinking about branding and marketing when they have to. And it’s very difficult to educate a technologist on the importance of branding and marketing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “the leaders of the company don’t get it and don’t know what it costs.” The result: boring brands and uninteresting branding. So, what can we do about it? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Know your audience. Talk in their language.
First of all, you’re not selling branding, you’re selling hope and future business success. So, you need to find the hot buttons of the sponsor you are trying to educate. Start by identifying the benefits. CEOs need to hear about maximizing the corporate value (get the category and story right for increased profits). CMOs want to demonstrate preference for increased pricing (smart branding can drive market share). COOs need to understand how internal branding can align the organization (increased performance). And smart CFOs need to know how brand strategy can help during M&A (eliminate risk and maximize investment).
2. Demonstrate versus complicate.
Another way to help executives understand what great brands are made of is to find relevant examples that allow them to visualize themselves. For example, if you are in the B2B midmarket software space, go find examples of outstanding work they can relate to. But make sure you link it back to a clear business strategy/brand strategy and examples of fresh marketing. Excite you audience with what’s possible. Set the bar high.
3. Have a process. Get buy-in for the deliverables.
Two quick points here: follow a proven best practice process and make sure everyone has a clear understating of the deliverables. It’s critical to have your executives on board before the creation phase begins. Building a world class B2B brand starts at the top. Don’t think you create it in isolation and expect them to buy off. This just does not work. Remember you’re selling hope and imagination.
4. Be courageous.
Lastly, great brands are created by people with courage to try new things. Don’t resort to mimicking safe strategies. Find greatness and promote it fearlessly. Remember your job is to inspire and create. And if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded for the efforts and leave a wonderful legacy.
But that’s just my point of view. What’s yours?
Ok, it goes without saying that every B2B company marvels and envies the “Intel inside” story. I can’t tell you how many times prospects and clients have referenced this B2B success, not to mention the numerous Intel employee stories and variations on how this success was created and achieved. It’s an OEM marketer’s dream to create such brand preference, demand and value. For B2B technology companies it is—– Brand Nirvana.
But somehow, throughout the 15 years since its conception, Intel’s brand strategy/architecture lost its way. The original idea of simplicity and value creation was lost in the multiple names and brands that squeaked their way into the primary brand’s strategy and positioning.
But Intel is not alone; this is a common problem that technology brands run into. Product managers and marketers think they have to have a name/sub-brand for every new product and platform they dream up. Then, all of a sudden they have brand confusion and dilution.
But why? Mostly because marketers don’t formalize their brand architecture strategy and give it the attention it deserves. Alan Brew, a colleague of mine wrote an article on this subject and nailed it perfectly.
“The problem with brand architecture is that it’s such a fuzzy term and every organization has its own meaning.” Or more frightening, no meaning at all.
This brings me back to the Intel Inside strategy. Recently Deborah Conrad, Vice President of Corporate Marketing has made changes to the strategy by reducing the number of brands and introducing “modifiers” into the core brand which signal different features and benefits. See Video
I applauded her intentions. It’s an interesting concept and you should check it out. But in my opinion, this has replaced complexity with a whole new set of issues. I’m a strong believer in simplicity and single thought. Trying to differentiate the company, the positioning of “Intel Inside”, and product differentiation might be too much for the audience to digest. In my experience, simple is better. People can only remember so much. Keep product positioning strategies separate and brand strategy pure. That being said, I’m sure Intel will do just fine. Who’s knows, maybe this is the first step towards getting back to the simplicity and originality of the idea that helped shape the company in the first place.
But that’s my opinion, what’s yours?