By the time people reach my door, they have discovered a branding problem they hope I can fix.
I undoubtedly can. But before we can fix anything, we first have to prise the brand from the cold, clammy grasp of the guy who thinks branding and brand strategy is all about function.
Letting go is one of the biggest obstacles to brand engagement. That, and the pathological inability of senior executives to favour form over function.
“We have the best product in the World. We just need to communicate that we’re the best.” It’s a particular affliction of technology companies. Tech companies always think they have ‘the best technology in the world’. Perhaps they do. But that’s not the thing. The thing is that nobody gives a shit about the technology. Technology is not what people buy. Ever.
“But, but, but… nothing can compete with our technology…” Eh, well, ‘nothing’ does actually compete with your technology. Large corporate inertia, procrastination and extended sales cycles are primary barriers to the adoption of any new technology. It’s really, really easy for people to do ‘nothing’ – certainly in the context of the ‘world’s best technology.’ Your enterprise customers have managed to grow into successful, multi-billion dollar corporations without you or your amazing technology. It’s harsh, but, well, there we are. It’s not all about you and your amazing technology. Didn’t your parents ever explain that?
And while ‘nothing’ remains a popular choice for many prospects, the rest will have ‘something’ in place already. Whatever the something is, it will broadly achieve what you’re hoping to achieve. You might deliver faster, or at a better quality, or you might provide significantly greater savings, but here’s the thing – you’re not in there. Someone else is. You’re the World’s greatest? Good for you, but I’ve already got one. Thanks, goodbye.
The function is expected in B2B marketing. We expect technology to work. It doesn’t always deliver, but we expect that too. It’s part of the package. It works, it doesn’t, they say it’s the greatest, it isn’t… blah, blah… The function is expected in all its guises.
Successful technology has never been about being the ‘best’. In the 1970s, the dawn of digital media, Sony launched Betamax, the ‘best technology’ for video, but was outplayed in a global market by the JVC, Sharp, Hitachi and Mitsubishi brands promoting VHS. It’s not about being the best, it’s about being first. Or being smart. Or being a brand.
So we don’t simply need functional branding. We need form. We buy branding aesthetics (iPhone), we buy branding fashion (women’s stiletto heels), we buy beauty (Brangelina), we buy emotion (The X Factor). There is no logical explanation why those examples succeed in their primary function (the iPhone has always had questionable phone qualities…). But we’re not really looking for logic here. Arguments are never won with logic. Arguments are won with emotional engagement – the ‘other thing’.
People in business don’t buy technology. They buy the other thing. Outcomes. Success. Problem resolution. An easy life. Creativity. Peer approval. Risk mitigation. The dream. They all buy the dream.
At some point in the buying cycle, your product will undoubtedly need to perform a function. But is the performance the most important message you can conceive to communicate in a busy business world? Are you really going to break through and shape market perceptions with, “Look! Our technology… works!”?
No. Is the function what a billion people are waiting to post on their Facebook pages? No. Will millions of people watch a YouTube video of your technology ‘working’? No. But almost 2 billion have watched Psy jigging along to Gangnam Style. No one understands Gangnam Style, but everyone feels the emotion and everyone can do the galloping-on-the-spot-dance thing. Psy has successfully created a popular global brand using little more than creative ‘form’. In Psy’s homeland, by contrast, the Korean governments have focused on military ‘function’ for decades and are still struggling somewhat with the same degree of popularity.
Claiming to be the best in the world isn’t going to convince anyone. Being the best in the world is. That’s the difference between form and function. To develop an effective brand positioning strategy that drives brand engagement, your marketing needs form. Without it, you’re just another geek with a bit of software. And we all know how that story turns out – just look at Bill Gates. Loser.