When I first started my career in high-tech B2B marketing, I didn’t know what branding was. I was trained in product management and product marketing, and in my mind if the product was good, that was all the company needed.
Some 20 years later, I know differently and have learned to use branding as a strategic tool. In today’s high-tech world, branding is not always top of mind for many marketing executives. Unless a company has just hired a brand new CMO who wants to leave a mark, goes through major changes such as a merger, or undergoes a departure from a product line, branding is usually a tool better left for consumer companies.
In a world of big data marketing and mandatory ROI, branding spending is difficult to justify as its impact can appear intangible. It takes time for a new brand initiative to bring results when the building of a brand does not occur overnight.
The question is: Why would you engage in a branding initiative in an industry where investors and shareholders have little patience? Well, here are a few reasons why we should consider branding as a key strategic imperative for enterprise software or cloud services, especially in a high-growth environment.
- Branding professionals will tell you branding builds value. They have many examples to bring forward. Just looking at the few acquisitions of great brands, like AMC and even the Waldorf Astoria by foreign investors, demonstrates that the acquirers did not just purchase movie theaters or a historic hotel but rather brands known beyond their borders.
- They will also tell you that brands outlive their products and sometimes their founders. My best example is Chanel. The Chanel brand, 45 years after the death of its founder, embodies the most important attribute of the company and still rules over the world of haute couture.
- The current digital age drowns us in products, information, and reviews. What helps anything stand out? Brands do.
More specific to software and SaaS services, consider these three additional reasons:
- Branding initiatives force us to revisit, confirm, or affirm a company strategy. Whether branding a new startup or doing a rebranding of an existing company, the process involved in the development of a branding strategy requires us to review the purpose of the company, its essence, its reason to be. The “what we do” and the “how we do it” will be discussed, but not nearly as much as the “why we do it.” Customers, prospects, partners, investors, reporters, analysts, even competitors will be interviewed. From this in-depth survey, the actual perception of the company will be captured and measured against the company’s actual purpose. This is the science of branding. Aligning the two and bridging the gap with messaging, positioning, and a visual language is the art of branding.
- Without branding, there is no differentiation. In a world of “me-too” offerings, marketing plagiarism, and copycat strategies, branding is what demonstrates a company’s competitive advantage. More importantly, as we discussed above, branding is central to highlighting the company’s purpose.
- Finally, I will leave you with a last thought: Branding will help create a movement that can inspire thousands to join a community and transform from loyal customers to raving fans.
In a Forbes article, Scott Goodson from New York branding agency StrawberryFrog compared brands to “Russian dolls with many layers, tenets, and beliefs that can create a following, whereas products are one-dimensional.”
Brands can rally a growing base of employees long after founders and early employees get outnumbered by new staff. Brands can accelerate the depth of an ecosystem of partners. Brands can affirm customers’ choices and turn them into referrals. Brands are what create an emotional link between a company and its audience.
For all these reasons, we should look at branding as a critical strategic imperative. A brand is the identity of a company. And identity is everything.