Time to Get Branded

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It has been a bad week for brands, and it is only Wednesday. Between Tiger Woods’ early morning mishap and certain global warming scientists being exposed as frauds, we have seen two well established brands bite bullets.

Software companies can learn from these missteps. Despite decades of consumerization in the technology marketing space, few brands have significant value with the IT-buying public. Software companies must define their brands in the marketplace lest the market define their brand for them.

Savvy branding delivers.

Tiger’s troubles are your troubles

Nobody believes that Tiger Woods was out for a 2AM joyride and happened to lose control of his car while leaving his driveway. His squeaky clean image is tarnished, and though not debilitating to his multi-million dollar income, his personal brand will not carry him as smoothly as before.

Certain scientists lost much more when email and computer modeling code was hijacked and disclosed to the public. In less than three days the word “climategate” – which had not previously existed – has 13.4 million references in Google whereas “global climate change” and a mere 0.5 million. Those emails and comments in source code show that “scientific consensus” never existed, was straggled at birth (i.e., the peer-review stage), and that Al Gore’s Nobel Prize might be recalled (I made that last one up, just to goad Gore’s goat and make Al nervous). These scientists have no future career though they may have future cellmates. The brand of “consensus science” no longer exists and the brand of “global climate change” is now negative.

Why companies fail at branding

Brands are interesting abstractions. The concept of a brand is simple, and in my humble opinion, I believe Silicon Strategies Marketing articulated it best when we wrote:

Branding is making the market think and feel what you want it to about you and your products.

The hard part of branding is making up your mind about what the market should think and feel. The harder part is making it stick. Companies fail at branding because they do not know or properly delegate the three roles of brand management:

  • It is marketing’s job to define the corporate brand, though it typically happens accidentally and largely based on founder’s biases.
  • It is the CEO’s job to make everyone in an organization aware of what the corporate brand is and why it is important.
  • It is every employee’s job to live the brand.

When marketing clearly defines and documents the desired brand, it becomes easier to communicate. People will parrot anything that they instinctively agree with. Employees will ape a corporate brand if they know what it is and it is not abjectly inaccurate. But none of this happens if marketing fails to define it with precision and reduce it to a simple, repeatable concept.

The CEO’s role

Even CEOs need help. Often the CEO sets the brand based on the boldness of his leadership. Take Larry Ellison and Oracle. Their brand image in the technology market place is not pretty, but it is effective. Larry set the brand early and reinforced it vigorously. Call it what you like – “evil empire”, “death star”, “the matrix” are all common Silicon Valley pseudonyms for Oracle, even among Oracle employees. But the brand is consistent and if nothing else oozes strength.

The point is that the CEO must carry the ball to the employees every day of their working life. When Bill and Dave drafted the HP Way, they established an enduring brand (that temporarily succumbed to a CEO who some have called a “succubus”). The HP Way was a simple set of rules for employee behavior that in turn created the HP brand. Bill and Dave did their job and marketing’s job too.

Employees, when given simple and clear branding, will live it. Circuit City – back when it was a healthy and growing concern – had a brand based on customer service, and that brand was broadcast throughout the company and in the house organ. So clear was the message that one newsletter article told of a Circuit City deliveryman who hauled an upright freezer a mile down the road to the customer’s house after his truck broke down. He was not going to let the Circuit City brand fail that customer.

Strong tech brands remain rare

In the technology biz, brands are largely left to rot. Tech companies have the misfortune of being founded by technologists, who view the world as a rules-based logic engine. They often believe that features and benefits drive every decision, and they could not be more wrong. Even iron cast CIOs have emotional functions that need to be nurtured during a sales cycle. Since part of selling is having a clear, believable and beneficial brand, your brand will make or break sales.

Let me give you an example. I was chatting with an old techie buddy of mine who mentioned putting in an order for 100 new X64 servers the day before, and that he ordered from HP. I asked him why HP and he said he simply believed they made the best hardware available. I probed a bit more and discovered that he had not read one comparison report nor did he have a lot of experience with IBM, Dell or any other vendor. HP’s brand made the sale.

If you are a CEO and you cannot repeat your internal brand statement, it is high time to figure it out.

It is never too late to get this right because eventually your competitors will.

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing. Guy brings a combination of technical, managerial and marketing experience to Silicon Strategies projects. Directly and as a consultant, Guy has worked with a variety of technology-producing organizations. A partial list of these technology firms include ORBiT Group (high-availability backup software), Telamon (wireless middleware), Wink Communications (interactive television), LogMeIn (remote desktop), FundNET (SaaS), Open-Xchange (groupware), VA Software (enterprise software), Virtual Iron (server virtualization), SUSE (Linux distributions and applications), BrainWave (application prototyping) and Novell.

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