Some well known tech brands have well established personalities. Often those personalities may not be exactly what their managements would prefer. Google, Microsoft, AT&T, and Comcast come to mind. But tech brands can help themselves by establishing or nurturing a personality that connects with their customers in a positive way just as many consumer brands have. Aflac, Ace Hardware, Mini (cars), and Disney are a few with rather positive personalities.
I managed marketing for an IT service management (ITSM) startup last year. It had breakthrough software helping IT management become exceptionally valuable and efficient to an enterprise in ways that other players did not and could not. We had clear differentiation from large established competitors that appealed to buying decision-makers up, down, and across a company. However, we needed something more to help break through and spark stronger customer interest. We took our personality cue from our outspoken, intelligent, and somewhat smart-alecky VP of engineering.
The company's technology was demonstrably disruptive. The VP and CEO were both quite vocal about it. They published broadly about how and why their new technology was valuably different. This helped put a face on the company in contrast to its rather dully authoritative, established competitors. We needed to go further. Adopting the engineering VP's snarky attitude we created a “persona” that would help amplify the brand's personality by becoming the somewhat raucous voice of change, as we saw it, and champion for our customers. Once an effective spokes-persona is invented, the possibilities for application to marketing and sales activities are nearly endless.
Creating such a character, like Mr. Clean, the Aflac duck, or the Geico gecko, has been undertaken by some major tech brands. Most memorable is Captain Zylog, who first came to the rescue of embedded system design engineers back in 1979 and then returned last year with a whole new campaign.
To help spark thinking, who would your brand be as a person or mythical character?
A brand persona doesn't always have to be vocal. Recall that Intel hired Blue Man Crew to help add a memorable cool factor to its brand promotion for several years.
A company's top management can and often does accomplish much of a brand's personality. Think of Apple's Steve Jobs, GE's John Welch, and certainly T.J. Rogers at Cypress Semi, who never shied away from a fight. However, that strong brand personality may be lost when the CEO leaves. New management may not be able, or want, to sustain that personality.
When you're claiming disruptive technology, make it very clear what your problems are with the status quo or mainstream, in particular your giant competitors. Pick fights you can win. Have your facts completely nailed down and perhaps externally validated. Work from a clear statement of what's wrong with the way things are. Having a persona to express this for the brand can also help. Everyone needs to be on board with the fresh perspective and bold claims.
Creating a new brand personality is a type of thought leadership communications strategy. I've discussed this aspect of marketing communications and PR in earlier blogs and in my book — Connecting the Mind and Voice of Businesses .
Controversy and provocative perspectives are superb ammunition for highly effective PR campaigns. Being very clear on your customers' perceptions and perspectives going in is essential. Is your provocative claim credible and powerfully supported, perhaps by others such as market researchers or allied brands? Are you anticipating most customers' or competitors' questions or challenges?
One important question to clearly address is how easily can customers adopt your product or service? Can you paint a picture of the customer's pain relief once the new technology is being applied? Do you have “secret ingredients” competitors cannot provide? These and other questions must be answered. It's very much like developing a business plan or VC pitch. Persuasiveness is key.
Addressing brand personality is a start to helping drive massive, positive change for a company. It may include many aspects up to and including a name change. How many tech companies' names out there have zero meaning or say nothing about what they do that is valuable to customers? Yes, some are known in spite of that. How much more successful would they have been, and how much sooner would that have occurred, if their brand personalities were well aligned?
Messaging, including the brand name, tag lines, and slogans that capture competitive differentiation are part of the package, including proof points and developing ways of applying that to corporate ID, designs, and content development. All must hang together well. It can become nothing less than an entire brand reinvention.
Done well, injecting some personality can become a winning method for making a tech brand more visible, relevant, understood, and valued by its market. If you think this kind of marketing is way outside the tech realm, don't forget that engineers and purchasing pros are all affected by the same things as the rest of our species. Perceptions, not products, move a market.