• Transform magazine
  • June 22, 2024


Balancing features and feelings

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Robin Kadrnka, strategy director at London-based design agency Together Design, discusses how, for her technology sector clients, there exists a familiar struggle between hearts and minds when it comes to branding.

Whilst some of the most famous brands in the world come from the technology sector, it is also an industry with some of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of.

Those that are household names have been built on exceptional brand and marketing expertise; Google, Apple, Microsoft and Airbnb - all have a clear business strategy as their starting point, they understand their customers and are savvy in the delivery of their marketing. However, for every mega brand in the tech sector there are many more still working through their specific complexities.

Common challenges

At Together Design we’ve found common challenges when working with companies in this space:

– Many have grown through mergers and acquisitions
– They have complex products and services
– The pace of development and change is faster than most other industries
– There is greater tension between marketing and product development

All of these things make developing, implementing and managing a brand in this sector difficult but the pace of change makes it an exciting area to work in.

Growing pains

The growth strategy for tech businesses is often through mergers and acquisitions and this can lead to a splintering in brand identity. It can be a challenge to pull people together, and a risk. Celia Fleischaker, CMO at Verint explains, “Companies invest millions to buy an IP and every person you lose through integration potentially devalues that investment, so companies tend to proceed with caution in terms of bringing brands and cultures together, but at their peril.”

Paul Stoddart, CMO of customer success marketing at Salesforce believes that brand is crucial to pulling people together. He says, “Brand is made up of feeling plus experience and when delivered well, it offers a sense of belonging. Employees and customers want to belong to something. Investing time to engage them pays dividends over the longer term.” 

To ensure success, develop a timed integration process, for people and brand, stretching from day one to year one, including a mapped-out approach to brand migration covering naming and visual identity.

Pace of change

Generally, tech businesses spend less time thinking about, or interacting with, their client base and, as such, their clients’ customers and end users are not at the centre of their development. Businesses that have broad product portfolios often come unstuck over time as the pace of change makes versions of software obsolete. It can create an incredibly complicated product architecture. The approach to naming that companies adopt can help offer flexibility for product expansion, but product development teams can be reluctant to let brand people into their inner circle. Matt Barrett, CEO, and co-founder of Adaptive agrees: “As technologists we need to learn how to stop listening to ourselves and listen to our customers – it is difficult but important. It’s something I didn’t believe as a young developer, but as an owner of growing technology business, I fundamentally believe this now.”

The short v long term message

Complexity, married with the pace of change, is unique to the technology industry. Bek Simmons, COO at Riverlane describes their challenges: “Quantum is deep tech, it’s a new industry, there isn’t a market to reference, so we are constantly creating from scratch. For us the greatest challenge is distilling very complex things into very simple things. Messages change quickly and that can be challenging.”

This leads us to the tension between marketing and product development. And here’s the crux. Marketing knows that a clearly defined and constantly repeated message is needed to land a brand narrative, win hearts and minds, and develop loyalty over time. Product needs to say everything about everything because newness is king. Whilst developers want to tell the world how much progress they are making, there is a difference in what companies should celebrate internally and what they need to communicate to customers, analysts, and the market externally. As Simmons recognises, “We don’t need to externalise everything. We try to distinguish ‘moment in time’ marketing messages from brand messages, by always asking ‘does this fundamentally change our longer-term mission?” 

Follow the leader

Ultimately, brand strategy follows business strategy. Putting the business strategy first helps to align people and activities. If we agree that brand strategy follows business strategy and that marketing, product and communications follow brand, then we’ve a clear filter for defining what should be communicated, to whom and when. It also ensures that businesses are only communicating things that are crucial to supporting and proving their core brand narrative. Clustering marketing, communications, and product together gives us a better chance of achieving a balance between complexity and simplicity, aligning the features of the technology with the benefits to humanity.