Branding your business – the pitfalls and mistakes

  • Joe Bush

As we all know, branding is something that can make or break your business - a blueprint for how you want the world to see your company. Despite this however, it is something that is still chronically misunderstood – to the point where it is sometimes ignored altogether.

With a decade’s experience in branding and design (with past clients that include the likes of McDonald’s, Marks & Spencer and Auto Trader) as well as being a mentor on the NatWest Accelerator Programme, Kim Leary, Managing Director of creative agency Squibble, is well placed to offer her thoughts on some of the biggest branding mistakes that tech companies can make.
Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, described branding as: “What people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Branding goes way beyond merely having a good logo, and Kim explained that a strong brand increases customer loyalty, builds engagement and creates trust.
“It’s well known that consumers are more likely to buy from a company with a compelling brand story, because it’s easier for them to build an emotional connection,” she commented. “A well curated brand also increases the perception of quality. And that means that you can charge more.”
However, in the tech world it can be very difficult to judge digital products until the consumer uses them. That means that these products cannot be sold purely based on their technical specification. Kim highlighted that this leads on to the first major branding mistake tech companies make - using too much jargon.
Jargon busting
Kim added that the following is a genuine company value proposition -‘Revenue focused marketing automation and sales effectiveness solutions, unleash collaboration through the revenue cycle’. However, on reading that statement, do you understand it right away? What does it mean? Can you explain what that company does? Probably not.
“It’s important not to be cluttered and have lots of buzzwords. Greater cognitive fluency (which is how easily the brain can interpret what it is seeing without thinking too much), means things need to be easy to understand - we can glance at it, read it quickly, understand what we are looking at and what we need to understand.”
She added that even if you are targeting a technical audience and using specialised language, you still want to make sure your readers are doing as little thinking as possible. So why is thinking dangerous? Kim continued: “Our brain has two modes. When we are browsing web pages, we are in autopilot - system one - everything is where we expect it to be. However, what if something is not where we expect it? Then the second part of our brain is engaged - system two - which is slow and questions everything.”
Once in system two the brain is no longer in autopilot and doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. It begins looking for cues and reasons to move on, to close the web page, to leave the site and try something different. “There’s a reason why Amazon has really gradual changes on their website. Their search and buy buttons are always in the same place - they never move, because that is where people expect them to be. Amazon don’t want to do anything that takes their customers out of autopilot,” Kim added.
It is here where jargon can be harmful, as it can cause our brains to jump from mode one to mode two. It makes our brain think and start to question. “If you are questioning whether your customers think you use too much jargon it is easy to find out - just have a conversation with them. If your customers don’t use the words you are using, their face is covered with confusion or you have to explain yourself over and over again, then these are all clues that you’re talking in a different language.”
She added that although unnecessary jargon, particularly when used in a persuasive tone, is bad, it isn’t always negative, and there are a few occasions when using technical jargon may be acceptable and even effective. If you want to give a perception of higher value; you have a speciality language for a niche audience; or if you want to filter out leads that you don’t want; jargon can be a useful tool.
“Psychology tells us that if we want to build credibility and trust with potential clients, then we need to be empathetic. And the easiest way to show empathy in life is to mirror the behaviour and language of the person that we are talking to,” Kim continued.
This is something that we as human beings do all the time - we copy each other’s behaviour, and often repeat each other’s words and phrases. This demonstrates that we are listening, and that we have got an understanding of their meaning. However, this can sometimes perpetuate the use of jargon.
Within your own inner circle or with colleagues this is acceptable, but when you are engaging with your customers or your target audience, they are a completely different group of people so it is crucial to hit the reset button.
Keeping up to speed
This naturally leads on to branding mistake number two – staying relevant. Kim explained that a business could have spent a great deal of time and money creating an amazing and innovative piece of software. It’s been launched out into the world to industry wide delight and acclaim. The product could be the toast of the town, and the business and founder could be on top of the world. However, what happens when the next big thing comes along?
This is particularly pertinent in the fast-paced technology sector where a new and rival product launch is always just around the corner, and as such, finding new angles on the same old story can become time consuming and boring.
However, this is also a huge bonus as the great thing about technology is that it is constantly evolving - developers are continually adding new features, which provides an opportunity to return to the market and restart conversations around your product and its new features.
Kim continued: “It makes sense that every time you create a new product, or add a new feature, that you really stop and consider why you are doing it, what was the purpose of creating this new feature, how will it help customers, and how does it differ from before?
“This may seem obvious, but I have seen businesses fall into this trap time and again – it is so easy to get carried away with the detail of the new feature, that it is easy to forget why it was created in the first place. Therefore, marketing messages must highlight the benefits, and not just the features.”
It is vital to remember that benefits sell, and features tell. Madonna is the queen of reinvention - she knows that the world changes and so she must change with it. Likewise, every time you add a feature to your software, it is an opportunity to test whether your ideal buyer has changed. Are they still in the same roles? Do they have the same pain points? Have they moved from influencer to decision maker?
“Your ideal buyer will change over the course of your product’s life. So, you must continuously tweak your messaging to appeal to them. The launch of new features is a prime time to reinvigorate the website, write new blog posts, target new customers, and generally keep on top of where your customers are. And this will ensure that your product stays fresh and relevant,” added Kim.
A common issue, said Kim, is that as a business grows it can neglect and then forget who their original customers are, creating a gap between what the business actually does and what the customer thinks it does. Disregard for a website for example, will mean that, in time, it will be reduced to a dim reflection of what the business has become.
Kim cited the example of a security hardware and services company, who last rebranded in 2000. Since that time, the business and the market has transformed significantly. Given the company had never collectively addressed these changes their story to the marketplace varied from department to department. The company’s Head of Branding said that: “We like to think we have a special sauce, but our previous brand didn’t reflect that.”
Kim continued: “This didn’t just create discord, it meant that they were selling themselves short, as the market only had access to a narrow selection of the products and services they sold. What happened next was the marketing equivalent of a makeover montage. The team got together and worked on establishing their brand identity, who their ideal customer was, what products and services they offer, the perception in the market, and then the steps that they needed to take to rectify the situation.”
After the makeover, the website centred around the pain points of the customer and how that problem could be solved. With the new brand, every employee now understands what effect their daily work has on the success of the customers. Which is a very simple, but powerful, message.
The most successful brands are the most relevant brands. With regards to technology, an Accenture survey of global C suite executives, published in 2018, revealed that 68% said they expected their industry to be significantly disrupted within the next three years by technical innovation. Two years in, and the disruptions are being felt the world over.
“It used to be that only tech companies had tech stories to tell, however, today that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Kim added. “There are lots of companies that are completely re-engineering their processes to accommodate working from home, for example.
“The breathtaking pace of digital transformation is impacting every industry and every sector. No organisation is immune. And those who choose not to invest in innovation will simply not survive. If you are head of marketing at a non-tech company, you may not fully appreciate the scale and impact a well told innovation story can deliver.”
Kim added that there is a growing body of evidence linking a compelling innovation story with an increase in corporate valuation. Therefore, talking tech more frequently leads to a bigger company valuation. An example of a non-tech company that has boosted their standing by communicating a business strategy that has technology at its core, is Domino’s.
She continued: “Domino’s is starting to lean on technology. Customers increasingly wanted mobile apps to place orders and get food delivered seamlessly to their door. In fact, there are now more online orders than those taken over the phone. A decade ago, its share price languished at $2.83, so both consumers and investors were obviously underwhelmed. It’s now $430, and the company’s market cap stands at $17bn.”
So what’s changed? Put simply, Domino’s started to call itself a tech company. Of the 800 people working at the company’s headquarters, 400 work in software and analytics. Their business is centred around mobile ordering and its tracking ability.
A window into your business
The third most common branding mistake links to the very beginning of this article where we mentioned that it is difficult to demonstrate tech-based products within marketing material and on websites. So, why make it any harder? Why invest so much time, energy, and money into creating an awesome product, if you don’t then invest in how you show it off.
Having excellent imagery, and importantly eliminating pixelated images, can be a drudge if all you want to do is move on to developing your next feature. However, your competitors are doing it, and some are doing it very well. The bar is set high, especially within the software as a service sector, (SaaS), which is booming.
In order to build a strong brand, companies need to be consistent - and to be consistent you need to showcase your product at its best. That means highly relevant imagery, which details how the platform or product works, with perhaps some clever animations – with not a pixelated or tiny screenshot in sight.
“This is often the missing piece of the jigsaw,” Kim added. “You can’t convey your product’s value through a single pixelated screenshot. It just doesn’t do it justice. If you invest in great imagery it can be used on every channel - from your social media accounts to tech spec sheets - uniting everything together through bold and well-designed artwork.” This sounds simple but Kim explained that this is a mistake companies make all the time.
So, don’t use jargon, and make your copy as simple as possible to understand. Always stay relevant - be aware of your marketplace and what people want now. Don’t use pixelated images of your products - invest in really good imagery. “If any of these strike a chord, then take a step back and start putting together a plan,” concluded Kim. “Don't jump in, consider running a mini-brand audit. Lay everything out in front of you so you can check for consistency. Or you could always ask an expert.”