Monday, February 28, 2011

Why High-Tech Companies Have Low Brand I.Q.’s

Famous Female Inventors: From an early age Amanda Theodosia Jones  showed great promise. Among other things she devised a motivational method to dramatically speed the learning in young children to ride a bicycle.
Source: Flickr - Caption: "Famous Female Inventors: From an early age Amanda Theodosia Jones showed great promise. Among other things she devised a motivational method to dramatically speed the learning in young children to ride a bicycle."

I will admit it. I am a geek.

I get obsessed with little technology things.

Often I have big tasks to complete. But I postpone those tasks so I can do things like install Chrome add-ons.

Even more frighteningly to those who know and love me, I can go on and on about these little technology things. (Strangely it seems to get worse the more I know someone doesn’t want to hear it.)

For example – and I don’t work for Google nor am I paid to promote their products - I have been proselytizing for Google Voice for weeks now. Even though the voicemail transcription is bad. Even though I can’t get the conference calling feature to work. Even though I don’t do anything with it, usually, except make phone calls. I just love tinkering with Google Voice.

So it is with great empathy that I reach out to the technology community to say this:

Most of the time, your branding s***s.

It’s not like techies don’t have possible mentors. Look at Google, one of the world’s top high-tech brands. Microsoft. Oracle. IBM. Intel, Dell. Not to mention Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

No matter how you feel about any of them, all have built up awesome brands. All have that communication edge. If you put any one of them up against a no-name competitor, the war is basically over.

How is it that a few tech companies can brand themselves so well, while so many others struggle?

More than that, how is it that technology professionals – innovators by trade – have so much trouble explaining why their creations are unique, different, and on the cutting-edge?

The answer is that technology people and branding people, as a rule, think in completely different ways (don't ask what kind of odd exception I am):

  • Technology people see the world as full of unlimited possibility.
  • Branding people try to reduce things to their simplest possible form.

This leads to scenarios like the following:

A technology and a brand person walk up to a tree.

The techie looks at the marvelous myriad of functionalities that can be created out of the tree. The wood can help build a house, or construction projects of every kind; the leaves can be turned into medicine, or decoration; the earth beneath the tree can be replanted to grow vegetables; and so on.

The brand person sees the same tree and thinks: “Of the million trees out there, how am I going to sell this one at a premium?"

The brand person concludes, to give just one possibility: "Everybody's buying granite countertops these days. I think there is a real market for vintage-looking, gnarled wood."

G-d help us if these two get into a conversation. Because the technology person owns the tree company.

So the brand person asks the technology person to describe the tree, so she can sell it, and the techie is dumbfounded. How can just one selling point be isolated? There are so many! And thus she gets a lengthy speech about the 5,000 benefits associated with investing in that particular tree.

The brand person's eyes glaze over. Nothing is holding her attention. Because to her, the techie is in the weeds: focused on too many possibilities and too many details. No matter how interesting.

Most people, fortunately or unfortunately, think like the brand person, and they are going to be the ones to buy the product. If you're the techie, find a brand-er you can trust. (Preferably who doesn’t know beans about technology.)

That’s the person who will tell your story.

That's the person who can find the money.

So that you can go back to the tree, the garage, the lab or the basement, and plow your profits back into R&D.

Conversely, if you’re the brand person, show a lot of respect. The money is in the technologists’ unending passion for their products. And one day, one of those so-called "crazy" ideas could very well be the next big thing.