Even a Tech Firm Can Use a Brand Personality

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.

10 comments on “Even a Tech Firm Can Use a Brand Personality

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 5, 2013

    I perfectly agree that the brand personality helps the consumers to perceive the good features about a product or the product range offered by a company. 

    This reminded me of a product that our team developed some 20 years back which was something ahead of time . It was a TV with built in electronic diary , a small built in computer and capability for school children to program it .

    When we approached the advertising company to create an ad campaign for the same they gave the personality of “Merlin” the great magician and truly our product had many a tricks that were hidden inside that simple outward looking TV.

    That personality brand said everything about the product in one word what an hour long demonstration and a 10 page product brochure could not probably explain.


  2. elctrnx_lyf
    February 5, 2013

    Its really important for any company to establish right marketing strategy that can explain how they can erase the pain of the customers. The persona are definitely a big success and animations are also very very impressive. What vodafone did in India with zoozoos, these cartoon gave an alternate name for the Vodafone brand itself.

  3. Daniel
    February 5, 2013

    Elctrx_lyf, you are true about Vodafone's story in India. The zoozoos and chasing dogs had created a good brand image for Vodafone in India, after acquiring Hutchinson Essar. There is no doubt that advertisement can create brand images, which will be always remembered.

  4. Ford Kanzler
    February 5, 2013

    Glad you're seeing the value in the concept. The personality can grow from an advertiising image, a top exec or even the spirit the employees project to their customers. As wih any well-thought-out marketing strategy, it should connect with customers' needs and values. In consumer brands the personality may be helpful. In the B2B tech sector the personality or tone may be knowledgeable or authoritative (educational) since change is constant and people are eager to keep up with what's next. What sorts of brand personalities in the B2B tech sector are you aware of? Can anyone name some they feel are effective?

    February 5, 2013

    I read your blog with great interest and it has energized me to try do something in my own company.  Our product is at best a “me too” so we really need to get some personality.  Thanks for the words of wisdom and inspiration.

  6. Ford Kanzler
    February 5, 2013

    Thank you! Remember that companies with rather “me too” products can still apply differentiation to their marketing. Many consumer product brands are continuously challenged with this. How would you like marketing toilet paper, window glass or crackers?

    Paraphasing Lance Armstrong's book title, “Its not about the product.” Seek alternate ways of differentiating. These may include but are not limited to: how its made, where its made, how long its been made (tradition), special ingredients, who prefers the product, a unique attribute and your quality of service but only if the competition lets you have that option. Service isn't a sustainable differentiatior.

    You may also be different in a range of places if you're meeting alternate competitors in various geos. Globalizaton has been overused and over-emphasized. As Jack Trout has taught, dramatize the difference. A strong brand personality can help accomplish that. Once a clear differentitor, that customers value, is discovered, you cannot overephasize your differnce. Please read my earlier blog posts on differentiation and strategy.

  7. Daniel
    February 6, 2013

    Ford, thanks for the response. I agreed that in consumer brands, such personalities can have more brand value and targeting a mass audience. But when it comes to B2B, would you think that any such personality can create a brand value. If that’s the case Steve job and Bill gates can create a brand image, so far not.

  8. Daniel
    February 6, 2013

    Flyingscot, for consumer brands, they normally use celebrities or popular figures from different fields for advertising the products and you can also look in to such aspects. But recently I had seen some of the companies had mad add films with their own employees. That’s a good option, if expenditure is a concern.

  9. FreelancePRDotCom
    February 24, 2013

    Ford, I have to admit it's more challenging for a B2B marketing firm. We're currently doing preliminary work for a tech startup that has both B2C and B2B audiences, and while the consumer “hook” came quickly and easily, the corporate vibe has been slower to develop. Off the top of my head, I can't name a high-personality B2B brand that doesn't also have a B2C audience.

  10. Ford Kanzler
    February 24, 2013

    Some responses seem to be going toward only considering the use of a celebrity personality (movie star, sports hero, commedian, etc.) for merely borrowed interest. Suggest that's generally a costly and often rather hazardous approach. It can work. However, if your brand spokesperson/celebrity does something dumb and trashes their public reputation, your marketing investment goes down the drain with them.

    There are numerous other ways of creating brand personality and I'd offer its not just the perogative of B2C brands. I gave Zilog as an obvious example of a B2B marketer that has created a brand personna that brings lots of personality to the customer dialog.

    B2B brands can help themselves especially by adopting some showmanship and personality because so many of their B2B peers or competiors are utterly lacking in personality. The contrast in the B2B realm can be more powerfully differentiating that in the consumer sector which is full of attempts at using personality to separate themselves from competitors.

    I'm not going to attempt extensive B2B sector research to demonstrate how B2B brands are applying personality. I suggest people look around and notice how some brands communicate vs. others. In advertising, Hitachi Semiconcuctor, once a powerhouse in IC memories, had an award-winning, long-running campaign using original artwork of various animals like cheetahs, antelope and birds to connote specific product benefits. If a huge and frankly quite conservative chip company can do it, lots of smaller, more agile B2B brands certainly can. Also, differing brand personalities (and marketing messages) may be necessary in various geographies when facing differing competitors. Globalization is often highly over-stated.

    Here's a more recent example of a B2B brand applying similar, animal-related, borrowed interest to their advertising to add some personality.  Even better, here's the same company t using their management team members in costumes to get their differentiation across with great humor, personality and effectiveness …that their market segment couldn't ignore. This may be more than some companies can manage but it shows what's possible in a B2B situation.

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