Technology Branding for Consumers

San Jose Mercury News, Business Monday, October 16, 1995

As computers become ubiquitous in the home, advanced technology marketers are facing the cold hard truth: their rarefied province is being invaded by the technically downscale, the dread “consumer.” And consumers are changing life as tech producers know it, insisting that everything be simple, glorying in their ignorance and, most painfully, requiring mass marketing efforts. Can technology companies meet the challenge?

The pot of gold is too big to walk away from, so here are some tips for making a consumer branding effort work:

1) Take heart: you already have a brand.

A brand is defined by the marketplace, so if anyone anywhere is using your products, like it or not, you have a brand. When customers see or hear the name of your company or product, they automatically pull up what they know, usually limited to a couple of facts and a generalized emotion like “good” or “bad.” Yes, true even for technology products. Why do people buy from H-P? “It’s a really good company” or “it makes the best products” are the reasons I hear in research – not a list of specifications.

2) Focus on building your brand’s equity.

Your brand already has a value: it’s called brand equity, and though it may not be worth as much as Coca Cola’s at $39 billion, it’s a valuable asset. You can enter the consumer market by building on that equity: Microsoft got cozy with consumers in their business persona first. Make all decisions based on whether they support the brand promise. Select partners, channels, marketing communications, pricing strategies all on their potential brand-building power. You just can’t go wrong this way. Look at Apple: when it emerges from its troubles, we’ll still know and trust the brand that’s easy to use and friendly.

3) Get your product out there, even if the marketing plan isn’t perfect.

The key success factor is developing a dialogue with consumers as quickly as possible in live markets. And there’s no way to predict how they will behave from research – even they don’t know what decisions they’ll make in a real purchase situation. Example: research in the mid ’80s showed home computer owners would pay $15 a month to bank by computer. When the product was actually introduced, consumers recognized they were saving the banks a pile of money, and though they loved the idea in theory, they weren’t willing to pay extra for it.

4) Introduce your name in tandem with building its brand associations.

Just getting your name out there isn’t enough. In the absence of information about your brand, consumers create brand associations for themselves. Look at 3Com – every sports fan in the Bay Area knows that name now that Candlestick Park is 3Com Park. But what associations do they have with the company? As one sports fan opined “they won’t know if it’s 3M or 3Com.” Worse still, for many local consumers, 3Com comes out of the starting gate as the big bad wolf.

5) Make your promise simple and specific.

Unless you’re a marketing behemoth like Microsoft or AT&T with a whole myriad of products, forget about image ads. AT&T can afford to spend some of its $515 million ad budget to say it’s “The Networking Company.” You can’t. Build your brand with a specific solution to a specific problem and don’t worry that you’ll “niche” yourself. It’s easier to build out after a big success than to start over after a failure.

6) Be a consistent and relentless brand champion.

You have to champion the brand, constantly, relentlessly, obsessively. Packaged goods companies automatically think about brand impact whenever they make a decision. Non-marketing people in technology companies generally don’t. Once you’re out there in consumer land, the brand is all. After $275 million was spent to launch Intel Inside, Intel then risked it all in the way they handled publicity about the Pentium flaw, initially refusing to consider recalls or replacements. It was a legal and financial decision. They didn’t consider it brand impact. Where technical people would expect idiosyncracies in new products, consumers were outraged by Intel’s response.

Follow these steps to your own pot of gold, and have a little sympathy – we’re all consumers.