Why Faceless Technology Requires More Contact

What does your best customer look like? Are they blond, dark haired, tall or short with a light or dark complexion? I ask this question because we often don’t know what our customers look like. Some might argue that it doesn’t matter. I would agree that in many cases, it doesn’t matter.

I was in a hotel lobby a few months back and a person shouted my name. I turned around and didn’t recognize who the person was. They knew me and my brain churning didn’t come up with a name to match the face. As it turned out, I had met this person several times and had lunch with him a few years ago. Yes, it was almost embarrassing; I finally remembered who he was.

Why Customers are Faceless

Customers don’t come into our businesses like they used to. They use the internet or the telephone which creates a faceless image of our business. If we want to awaken our brand and image, we must put a face to our business. This can be a picture or a logo creating a brand.

One of the reasons I use my picture in all my selling materials is to create a strong brand image for my clients. I want them to remember me and my company logo. This is my brand. It’s important to create brand awareness, so people know what you represent whenever or wherever you meet them.

On a completely separate occasion, 6 months ago, I attended another conference. This time, I had never personally met anyone from this group. None the less, there were several people who walked up to me and introduced themselves. They recognized me from my picture on my website and the company logo on my shirt. Hurrah! I had accomplished my goal of creating a brand.

Giving Customers a Face for Business

If you and your best customer took the same elevator, would they recognize you and know who you are? Would you know what they looked like?

Unfortunately, many businesses and salespeople are faceless to their best customers. This is a sad commentary when we have so many image branding tools we can use. Image branding technology tools can solve a faceless image. We just need to apply the image and branding technology that reminds our customers who we are. The more consistent and frequent our communications, the deeper we brand our clients with our image.

Consistently use your logo, brand or photo on all your communications.
Create a memorable tag line for your service or business and use it consistently.
Balance your communications, so customers know your voice, image and signature.
There are only a few ways to make a memorable impression. When we blend and balance our communications, we become more noticeable. One of my favorite technology branding tools is brand mail. It applies a consistent image to all the emails I send. This matches the website, business cards, stationary, and my shirts. Businesses and salespeople must adopt a “remember me” attitude. If you are not branding your company communications, how will someone recognize you?
It is impossible for us to recognize customers we never meet face to face. This is understandable. However, if they don’t recognize us, and they are a top customer, we have an image problem.

2011′s Fastest Growing and Most Valuable Brands

The recent release of the Millward Brown Optimor’s BrandZ survey named Apple as the world’s most popular brand. Ending Google’s four-year reign at the top, Apple has achieved a cult-like following after reinventing the personal computer, transforming the way we buy music and creating an insanely popular portable tablet.

The report continues to show the popularity of technology brands in recent years. Representing only a few spots in the 2006 top 10, technology companies now occupy 4 of the top 5 spots in this year’s list. It’s representative of a global shift in telecom and technology usage amongst an ever-growing number of people with access to data – even in developing regions of the world.

Millward Brown determined 2011′s most popular brands by first looking at earnings data. Next, they look to international survey results. Each year they survey about 200,000 people in countries that account for 85% of the world’s GDP. TO identify those that are loyal to a brand, they separate out those that are purchasing based on price and location, so that they focus on people buying the brand for reasons other than convenience. That helps determine what portion of the company’s total earnings are driven by their brand. Finally, they look to consumer loyalty and future earnings projections to determine if the brand will continue to be strong.

The top five:

Apple – with a calculated brand value of 153.285,000 Apple saw an 84% increase in value since the 2010 report. Innovative products like the next generation iPad and iPhone have continued to raise brand awareness.

Google – with a brand value of $111,498,000, Google saw a 2% decrease in brand value from last year. Google’s entry into mobile technologies and internet software offers users new ways to experience their substantial internet brand.

IBM – with a brand value of $100,849,000, IBM saw a 17% increase in brand value from the 2010 report. The company continues to continues to evolve from a hardware company to a service based knowledge leader, helping businesses use technology to achieve a competitive advantage.

McDonald’s – brand value of $81,849,000, IBM saw a 23% increase in brand value from last year. The current recession has driven consumers to experience the value of their products. The company used the opportunity to introduce the brand to a new audience through premium menu items and healthier options.

Microsoft – with a brand value of $78,243,000, IBM saw a 2% increase in brand value from the 2010 report. The Microsoft brand has grown to include more than the Windows operating system. Computer accessories, utility software, and the Xbox gaming platform help consumers identify with this technology giant.

Branding Technology is the Same But Different

Branding is a word which is often perceived as the preserve of arty creative types paid too much money to come up with simple, even simplistic ideas. Moreover, with regard to firms which produce technology goods and whose focus is mired in the complexity of features and engineering, brand management is often very low on the food chain. However, the brand is as vital to any technology firm as it is to all firms, places, people even.

For technology firms to achieve sustainable and long-term competitive advantage a volte face is required with regard to how they position their products whilst they jockey for position in a crowded market. The short-term gains afforded by a myopic focus on technical specs and the scant regard paid to the emotional resonance which really gets people to buy your stuff means that many tech firms will not survive much more than the next ten years let alone successive generations.

The rule is that we buy on emotion and justify with logic. The logic is important and any help we can get to articulate that is helpful, but the real deal happens at gut level. Any firm worth its salt needs to have a clear idea of what this emotional stuff is, which really sets you apart and can be the lode star which assures customers of the consistency of the quality you offer.

The following describes the different considerations which are necessary for the successful branding of technology goods – and that is a whole lot more exciting than it sounds. The pre-supposition is that tech goods are branded differently to more common-or-garden consumer goods. Net, there are indeed important differences in the way one should develop, manage and nurture a technology brand as opposed to a common consumer product or service.

Consider those which might immediately spring to mind: Google, Apple, Cisco et al versus Quaker Oats, South Western Trains, De Beers’ diamonds. All are household names. The former are the winners in the tech universe which have successfully traversed the divide from tech firm to broad-consumer brand.

Essentially, the challenge for technology companies is both to sell to groups of consumers on the strength of features and at the same time establish the firm as a recognised company brand name which cuts through the incredible complexity of technological change and renders our purchase choice to buy (their products and services) a no-brainer – we just buy yours! It’s such a noisy and confusing world out there. For instance, many of us find the purchase of a mobile phone an obstacle course to translate the plethora of features into a simple choice: this phone or that? Oh hang on, what about that one?

It seems that mobile phone sales staff themselves are at odds with the marketing collateral they are required to display (“what do all those features really mean?” People ask themselves), which while it makes good sense to them, doesn’t help to sell the phone – beyond shoring up the image and credibility. So it helps, but not explicitly. The successful salesperson realises that mostly they only need to translate this stuff about memory etc into benefits in order for us to make our decision and walk away a satisfied purchaser. Remember: we buy on emotion and justify with logic. The brand name becomes a guarantee of quality, reliability and performance.

Consider Apple as an example of a brand which successfully cuts through the complexity of the market and gives us consumers an anchor of stability. Therefore, the battle for mindspace is as relevant to technology firms as it is for any other. Sustainable competitive advantage demands it.

Time is a potent factor. There is a definite rapport between the sophistication-level of the component parts of a product (Cisco’s products are packed full of hi-tech components); the speed of change in the industry; and the way the product is subsequently branded. Consider how technology/IT products evolve very quickly; porridge oats stays essentially the same. This speed of change has crucial implications for the way you would seek to build/develop and manage the brand.

Some might think that this is at odds with what branding is fundamentally about – building consistency. Not so, it’s really about considering technology branding as being on a different time-scale, where time moves much more quickly: all brands change and alter according to the change in their environment. So your data-mining app is the hare to the tortoise of porridge oats.

Taking this as an example, although Quaker Oats still adheres strongly to its original value set, today’s consumers tend to buy it because of Quaker Oats’ fit with consumers’ more “modern” values around health, lifestyle, simplicity and assurance in a complex world – rather than on 400 year-old Quaker attitudes, values and precepts. Would you buy this porridge because it reminds you that “truth is to be found within us, not handed down by authorities outside us” or because of the simplicity of the product, and even the way it renders a complex, confused world simpler, more grounded, more honest even. Perhaps these are not so very far from Quakerism than at first glance they appeared. By contrast, the latest i-phone is selling well based on the changes in the feature set which have evolved over the last 12 months, to the extent that it is designed for uploads – in sync with the speed of change – so that you yourself become the change: you are empowered, dynamic, at-the-top-of-your-game; another great reflection perhaps of the brand you want to project to the world and definitely resonating at an emotional level.

The faster the speed of change in the market and the greater the complexity of components that can be recognised by the consumer – or certain groups of consumers such as early technological adopters – then the more convoluted the job of managing the brand.

The marketing to the early adopters of technology brands, requires brand managers firstly to emphasise the new feature set and allow these early adopters to articulate how these enhance performance whilst enabling them to live a tech-lifestyle better. Brand managers must then move the onus of the brand onto the benefits: to highlight how your life will be enabled. This shifts the brand towards the larger body of the market, who buy the tech product based on benefits and the more emotional twang which resonates within us. This latter area breaks away from apparently purely physical or visible functionality and drifts into the fuzziness of emotionality. That is not to say that early adopters of technology live dispassionate lives in Geekdom. Throughout the A-Z of technology brand management, these buyers are conscious of the exclusive club-like status that ownership of one brand or another affords them just as much as technophobes sport nice shirts and say “I don’t do technology”: so, I can be the geek with the latest phone and I am still unconsciously aware of the message this sends out to my world, as much as the mainstream adopter who accessories their look with specific technologies. Ironically then, mobiles have become the most obvious fashion differentiator.

Technology firms fight to differentiate themselves just as much as any other firm. The thing about your competitors which is rather galling for all producers these days is that your competitors can imitate your functionality in a nano-second. But what they can’t imitate are the emotional vibes which your brand resonates with. If you can establish this in the minds of people – whilst maintaining the performance and functionality which is expected of you, then your chances of competitive advantage are more greatly enhanced.

Long-term competitive advantage requires a marriage of vision and technology. It is imperative that tech firms have a means to differentiate themselves. Technology firms can be side-tracked by the speed of change themselves and so need to take pains to dream about their vision for themselves several years down the road; several generations even. A differentiation trajectory enables tech firms to maintain a weather eye on long-term vision whilst scrutinising new features. The firm chooses a unique path for the brand vision which, over time, serves to put distance between you and your competitors. Apple’s “usability and superior customer experience” have served to inform the product design and differentiate one from the other and others as well. This is analogous to all firms and even individuals: successful people have a strong vision for themselves. There is nothing to say that this vision cannot change. Indeed it must change in most cases. But your vision serves as a stake in the ground, a place to aim for and this functions to drive the innovations inside the company forward by giving everyone a measure of success; a language to communicate inside and out; and an expectation around how features in new products evolve and are positioned. The vision makes choices compelling and renders the choice easy. Simply put, the vision becomes the brand.

Sony Ericsson has sixty three phones in its current product range. They are called things like K320i or W710i or C702. Meaningless to the uninformed. But ultimately very meaningful in the context of the house brand. They are highly-differentiated from LG and Samsung – other potent brands. The consistency that Sony Ericsson can achieve comes from its most deep and core values which are sublimated in the purpose “energising people’s experiences”. This is the anchor and the anchor chain runs right through the business to all those phones above: they must be the embodiment of the core values. Thus, the core values function to screen ideas and at the same time provide a bar that product developers must stretch to reach in their designs and the myriad functionality they choose to include: they say to themselves “okay, is my feature set hitting the hot buttons that the vision describes and if not then how can I achieve this?”

The brand is therefore both a force for generating sales to external customers like you and me as it is a force for consistency and a highly-motivating shared vision inside the business.

Another consideration is around how typically many tech products actually bundle several brands into one: so-called Ingredient Branding. So Intel Inside is Intel’s core technology which, when integrated into other lesser known brands, has the power to sell the latter to great effect. It might though be cripplingly expensive for the host. Intel will sell your product, but at a price.

Conflicts of interests caused by ingredient branding are extremely prevalent. Vodaphone trying to strong-arm Motorola with a Windows Mobile operating system. Less contentious has been LG’s alliance with Prada containing Flash Macromedia, Scheider-Kreuznach lens – marketed at the time as “the first complete touch interface”. Here the halo effect was perfect – coming out at the same time as the film The Devil Wears Prada.

The key challenge for tech firms is to marry engineering minds, who are the drivers and leaders of these firms, with a mindset which embraces the emotional fuzziness of really effective brand management. Engineers tend to see the world through their eyes of course and so adhere to the belief that what makes them buy products will turn everyone else on in the same way. Feeds and Speeds (product features…) are not going to differentiate you in a market already crowded with technology. Superb branding segues into superb product design so that the “what’s under the hood” stays firmly under the hood and is not displayed for all to see. Think Apple and Bang and Olufsen: the aesthetic is vital, very Now and accessible by the wider market. The art to achieving this, particularly in a B2B market, will be to summarise benefits regardless of the market. So if a large multi-national UN agency is buying SAP for example, how then is it sold to the various customer categories within this organisation – from pay-roll and accountants through to people in the field for example? The need therefore is to calculate the features and benefits as appropriate to different customer groups, which are aligned with the brand’s core values and purpose.

In conclusion, branding is an activity at the centre of all firms regardless of the nature of your products. Technology firms must be very aware that the world they inhabit is often not only populated by people like themselves and that the brand – and your emotional values – will set you apart from your competitors, appeal deeply to all your customers and is absolutely fundamental to your success.

Julian French is a brand trainer based in the UK and Paris, France with over 15 years’ experience delivering brand training solutions to organisations and individuals world-wide. His diverse clients include UN agencies, international banks and insurance firms, public sector organizations, technology firms, and marketing firms to name but a few.

A New Intel Brand: Do Wholesale Changes Foretell a Better Day at Intel?

I’ve always considered Intel to be one of the world’s best-managed technology brands. Last year, Interbrand ranked Intel as the fifth most valuable brand in the world. And it consistently stays in the top ten because management works hard to make sure the brand remains relevant in the fast-moving semiconductor market.

Of late, Intel has garnered a lot of press regarding the sweeping changes management intends to make in the company’s brand and product line. In many ways, these changes will send the world’s largest chipmaker into uncharted territory. Some analysts are saying that Intel’s new direction will necessitate creating a new brand. However, at its core, I believe Intel will very much remain the same company, mainly because the deeply established core values that drive the Intel brand are alive and well and working exactly as designed.

Under founder Andy Grove and successor CEO Craig Barrett, Intel thrived by concentrating on the microprocessors that power personal computers. They invested billions of dollars in plants that could crank out millions of processors, and in the process they helped give life to the age of the personal computer with ever-faster, more powerful chips. Occasionally, Grove and Barrett ventured into areas beyond microprocessors and personal computers. But from the outside, those tentative forays looked more like cautious experiments than full commitments to new markets. For the most part, Intel stuck to its very narrow focus, and in doing proceeded to bury the competition.

A New Direction

New CEO Paul Otellini appears to be steering Intel in a very different direction. Instead of remaining focused on PCs, he’s pushing the company to play a key technological role in a half-dozen fields, including consumer electronics, wireless communications and health care. And rather than continuing to focus solely on microprocessors, he wants Intel to create a variety of chips and software and then meld them together into what he calls “platforms.”

With Grove and Barrett at the helm, Intel first provided customers with full sets of technology ingredients, such as microprocessors, chipsets, communications chips and base software capabilities. Under Otellini, Intel will develop complete technology platforms based on Intel ingredients, an evolution best evidenced with the introduction of IntelĂ’ Centrino(TM) mobile technology. Even the “Intel Inside” logo will disappear, to be replaced by an updated Intel logo with a swirl around it to signify movement. And for the first time since the early 1990s, the company will add a tagline: “Leap ahead.”

At first glance, all of this looks like a sharp departure from the company Grove and Barrett built. However, upon closer examination, these moves turn out to be very “Grovesk” at their core.

In December 2005, Grove’s photo appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine, accompanying an article entitled “How to Become a Great Leader.” Fortune stated that Grove, 69, has never lost track of the truth — that Intel has always been one wrong move away from disaster and that a closed mind is the trap door to the abyss. During his tenure as CEO, Grove made numerous “bet-the-farm moves” could have killed the company but ended up propelling it forward. For example, his decision to get out of the now commodity memory chip business and focus solely on microprocessors. Or the decision to stick with Intel’s mainstay chip technology, CISC, rather than pursue the new, more glamorous, RISC technology. Or the decision to focus on microprocessors for PCs and invest billions of dollars in plants to manufacture them.

While it appeared that Intel was doing most of the adapting, it was really Grove himself who underwent the most radical change. Forcing himself to constantly adapt to a succession of new realities, he left a trail of discarded assumptions in his wake. Grove attacked every problem the same way, by setting aside everything he knew. Fast-forward to the present, and it looks to me like Otellini and team are doing the exact same thing in the exact same way that Grove taught them.

The Old Values Remain

In its January 9, 2005 edition, BusinessWeek ran a cover story entitled, “Intel Inside Out: How It’s Shaking Off the Andy Grove Era.” I don’t think so.

From my perspective, the legacy of Grove is very much alive and well at Intel. If fact, the article states that when asked about the sweeping changes at Intel, Grove replied in the following manner: “I want to say,” he boomed, “that this program strikes me as one of the best manifestations incorporating Intel values of risk-taking, discipline and results orientation I have ever seen here. I, for one, fully support it.”

What a leader! Grove understood that the sweeping changes at Intel were not an indictment of his and Barrett’s leadership. Rather, he recognized that times had changed and that Intel needs to — again — change with them.

Perhaps Grove’s greatest legacy is the strength with which he built in the values that drive Intel’s brand. If the new management team remains true to those values, and I believe they will, Intel will continue to make the right moves in a market where change is not only constant but is accelerating all the time.