We all want to be popular. It’s human nature. But what is the journey to popularity for B2B tech brands? And what challenges stand in the way of marketers in building this brand popularity? These questions were at the heart of the discussions at a recent B2B Marketing roundtable, co-hosted with the creative agency LogicLogicMagic, and attended by a broad spectrum of tech marketers. Here are some of the key take outs by the agency’s Creative Partner and Co-founder, Alistair Ross:
Brands exist in the minds of audiences. Nowhere else.
This is not simply semantics, it’s an important distinction. A brand is a collection of information and experiences that create a mental shortcut to a product, organisation or person. If you are familiar with an organisation, it will be the brand that is creating that bridge of mental recall, across the chasm of the unknown to the land of familiarity.
Lazy use of language has led to the word ‘brand’ interchanged with the word ‘branding’ and vice versa. As a marketer you should have complete control of your branding. However, you won’t ever have that level of control over your brand. All you can do as a marketer is try and influence the perception of the brand through all your audience touchpoints.
Product, price, performance, after sales support and customer experience all have a critical role to play in feeding into the ever-changing notion of a brand. So, before you embark on trying to make your brand popular, consider what you can influence and perhaps more importantly what you can’t. With that clarified, let’s get back to the notion of popularity.
We have a clever tech product. Why do we need to worry about popularity?
In short, because humans prioritise popularity over superiority. We make decisions using loss aversion and often driven by a sense of satisfaction. But most importantly because, as humans, we like shortcuts. Popularity is a shortcut for good enough. “I’ve heard of them. They must be good,” is a common non-sequitur that many accept. The opposite is also true – “I’ve not heard of them. Why is that? What have they got to hide?” As Professor Byron Sharp states, in the seminal publication ‘How brands grow’, familiarity is the single biggest driver of consideration. Familiarity is the first critical step on the road to popularity.
Having the cleverest tech product can be a huge benefit, if it’s marketed to make the buying audience feel clever, not the product creator. But for too long features and functions, designed to show off technical expertise, have been pushed by product marketers who assume that buying audiences will translate what it does for them in an emotional, as much as a rational, way.
By default people remember the most popular kids from their school class, more than the cleverest. That’s how memory works. It remembers personality over intellect. But it’s a bitter pill for the clever product makers (who are often tech company founders) to swallow. Memory is how consideration lists, even those drawn up by B2B buying committees, are made. Making your buying audience feel clever is a sure-fire way to be remembered and grow popularity.
“Our competitors are growing faster with an inferior product.”
It’s a common complaint. Let’s assume the product inferiority claim is true. The issue can be summed up as ‘beware of good enough’. The buying audience are obviously convinced your competitor’s product is good enough, if your competitor is gaining market share. Are the buying audience even aware of your product? If yes, are they aware of the benefits it could bring them? How are you promoting these benefits?
You’ll often find that organisations with inferior products know they have to market the benefits more cleverly. They think harder about distinctive branding. They work harder to create great customer experiences. They price the products accordingly. Is your sense of product superiority blunting the need to focus on these things? ‘We try harder’ for Avis is the classic example of a number two brand, positioning itself to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. How you would market and position your product if you knew it was not superior?
Is there a global route to brand popularity?
Many European tech marketers inherit campaign creative from their North American headquarters, in the belief that what drives familiarity and popularity there will work globally. There are several issues with this global approach. Firstly, it assumes that European markets are at the same level of maturity as North America and the technical language within them is globally understood.
This is rarely the case. Often there is a greater education job to do, as European tech-buying audience’s understanding may be tracking years behind those on the west coast of the United States. Talking above the heads of your audience will never make them feel clever or your brand popular. Listening and empathy are great shortcuts to popularity. Local marketers need to be able to adapt campaigns to resonate with their audiences and the pains they are facing.
Which brings us onto the second point – there is no United States of Europe. Although similar in land area, the cultural differences across Europe are significant. That means understanding and utilising local insights into what makes tech brands in those countries popular and trusted. It is a false economy to look at the potential cost savings of one-size-fits-all global campaigns. Frugality rarely leads to popularity.
Is your branding distinctive enough?
There are some areas though where globally all B2B tech brands could improve their chances of growing familiarity and then popularity. Branding is one of these. The branding devices that B2B tech organisations use en masse are largely homogenous and interchangeable (colour + design language + stock imagery). This only favours those brands with the deepest pockets, who will already benefit from probably being the most familiar.
Popularity is largely a behaviour driven accolade, but to become popular you must be noticed first. Distinctive branding devices like characters and sonic devices, when used to amplify your brand positioning, help organisations get noticed faster. Most importantly they give tech brands personality. That most human of things that usually decides whether someone becomes popular or not.
Take a long hard look at your branding and question how much distinctive personality it really has. As a marketer this is one area that’s easy to improve. Changing colours rarely changes fortunes – you’ll have to be more imaginative than that!
It is a mistake to visually try and mimic the leaders in a category, in the hope that audiences will see you as similar or established. All you are doing is helping to promote their brand. Branding is your chance to stand out. Rather than swim along in a sea of sameness, build a boat out of distinctive branding devices and sail off into the sunset.
Brand popularity is not easy to achieve. But if you believe that marketing’s role is to drive business growth, then brand popularity is the emotional expression of that growth. Think about what your marketing is doing to make your product or organisation more familiar, then popular.
It’s an approach that forces everyone to consider the emotional, alongside the rational. Seasoned marketers should aim to give their brands a strong personality that can create popularity. Knowing this will lead to market superiority. The clever thing to do always, is focus on being popular.