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The 2019 Branding Guide for B2B Tech Companies

Why branding matters more now than ever before, and what steps your tech company should take to make sure your branding is working for (and not against) you.

Branding is arguably more important in tech than in any other industry. Complex product offerings, or, in some cases, totally new and innovative technology solutions demand clarity and consistency across all channels.  

People buy from recognizable brands because they offer peace of mind. Plus, popular brands help breakthrough the clutter in a marketplace.

Head over to Amazon and search for “laptop” — you’ll see 1,000+ results. Already have a couple brands you know and trust? You’ll widdle that list down quickly and find what you need a heck of a lot easier.

While that example is B2C, B2B isn’t all that different. Buyers in both channels are drawn to brands they recognize.

A Harvard Business Review article from April 2018 titled “The B2B Elements of Value” evaluates whether the elements of value in B2C and B2B are all that different. Sure, the B2B sales cycle is often longer, the products more complex and the decision-making process should be more logical, but that isn’t always the case.

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Understanding the range of logical and emotional factors in B2B tech purchases—and tailoring your brand accordingly—can help firms stand out, and ultimately contributes to the growth of the business.

If you’re like most tech companies, branding probably hasn’t been your number one priority. Heck, we’d be surprised if it was even in your top five. But 2019, more than ever before, is the time to take a hard look at your branding to make sure you’re leveraging this powerful element of your total story.

What is branding anyway?

Branding is more than a logo or tagline. (Although those are important elements!) It’s that intangible, emotional “gut feeling” prospects, partners and investors get when they interact with your software or tech company.

It’s found in the UI/UX of your website. It’s reflected in the color of your office walls. It’s heard in the auto-attendant greeting on your phone system. And yes, it’s also closely related to your logo and tagline.

Everything your company does—no matter how big or small—says something about your brand.…what does your brand say about your company?

Why is branding important for tech companies?

What’s one of the most admired brands in tech? Apple, of course. And even if you don’t think they have a superior product, you can’t deny they have a cult following.

But why?

Because Steve Jobs recognized that branding wasn’t a secondary objective to his “true” goal of making a great product—it was within everything that he did. And because of that focus, Apple has been able to stand out from the competition, charge a premium and build customer loyalty—three of the most important rewards of living and authentic and well-defined brand.

Stand out from the competition

Tech companies are a dime a dozen. In fact, the famous Martech 5000 graphic is now up to 6,829 different marketing technology solutions from 6,242 unique marketing technology vendors. And that’s “only” a 27% increase from the year prior. Yikes.

How are you supposed to make your own software or tech company the clear winner in such a crowded space? You guessed it: branding.

Realistically, people don’t have the time to thoroughly research even 1% of those martech solutions. They’re going to make a decision on who gets put on their short list within a matter of seconds based on a gut reaction to a brand. Would yours make the cut?

P.S. Even if you’re lucky enough to be the only SaaS vendor in a certain space, don’t expect to have a monopoly for long. Odds are there’s a startup in Silicon Valley looking to cut into your market share.

Charge-a-premiumCharge a premium

Don’t compete on price. In a global marketplace, someone will always be cheaper. In fact, a good brand will allow you to do the exact opposite: charge a premium.

Why are people willing to spend hundreds more on a Mac over a PC? The higher perceived value that goes along with an impactful brand. Is their product better? Some may argue not. But it doesn’t matter…smart tech companies want buyers who make purchasing decisions with their heart over their pocketbook.

What would it mean to your tech company if you could charge even 10% more for your services just because of good branding? That’s pure profit! Time to look at branding as a serious revenue generator vs. a fluffy “nice-to-have” exercise.

build-customer-loyaltyBuild customer loyalty

Once a customer signs on the dotted line, the sale isn’t over. Repeat business and referrals are crucial to growth in the software and tech industry, so creating “brand evangelists” should be a must-have part of any branding or marketing strategy.

Are your customers singing your praises on social media? Are they taking selfies with your product? At the very least, are they passing along referrals? If not, your brand doesn’t have a passionate following of loyal customers. But it could, with a bit of branding work.

How do you know when it’s time to rebrand?

As the saying goes, “brand or be branded.” If you haven’t proactively defined your brand—and been consistent about living it—then the market will do it for you. And their version of your brand might not be what you’d like.

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Here are some signs it might be time for your tech company to consider revisiting its brand platform:

  • Your company has had the same name and logo for decades, even though your services have evolved
  • You’re launching a brand-new product or service
  • Prospects don’t understand what you actually “do”
  • You’ve recently merged with or acquired another company
  • New competitors have popped up and everyone seems the same
  • You’ve had some bad PR in the past and need to distance yourself from the negativity
  • You’re struggling with attracting top talent
  • You want to connect with a new audience
  • You want to raise your prices

Can your software or tech company relate to any of those scenarios? If so, read on to see how our professional branding and marketing agency approaches the branding process.

How do you wrap your head around (re)branding?

If you’re struggling with one of the above scenarios, you might be overwhelmed with exactly how to go about rebranding. In its simplest form, it’s really just about understanding how your product matches the needs of your customer and how your culture makes your company unique from the competition.

The good news? Branding should be a collaborative effort, so get your co-workers and agency partner involved for a good ol’ fashioned branding workshop to get the creative juices flowing!

Running a branding workshop

A workshop is an absolute must when kicking-off a branding initiative.branding-workshop-goals

Because something as big as branding touches every element of the business—from marketing to recruitment to your UI and customer support—you probably want to involve your key stakeholders right up front.

 A workshop to kick-off of the effort does a couple of really important things:

  1. You gather input from all stakeholders. Your HR recruitment manager probably has different ideas than your customer service manager who interacts with clients directly, yet all of those different perspectives should be taken into account.
  2. You help people across the organization buy into the reasoning and philosophy behind rebranding by encouraging them to be part of the process. And if everyone is on board, the process of rolling out the new brand will be that much smoother.

In the workshop, you should discuss a few different areas including who exactly your ideal and prospective buyers are, what exactly they want from a potential vendor and why your current clients came to you in the first place.

In this workshop, you’ll have to ask what can seem like a lot of simple or (dare I say it) “dumb” questions, but those foundational questions will really get to the core of who your buyers are and what they are looking for.

Understanding how your product matches the needs of your customer

People don’t buy products: they buy solutions. So no matter how flashy your software is, or how many awards your tech company has won, buyers won’t care unless you’re solving their problems. 

But how well do you actually understand the unique pain points of your potential customers?

If the answer is just at a superficial level, your brand is likely too generic or generally misaligned. That’s when tech marketers fall into the trap of touting technical specs and product features over how they’re actually helping the user. Which do you think is the more compelling brand story?

Since we’ve already established that the martech space is thoroughly saturated, let’s review how brands for similar(ish) SaaS marketing automation products in that industry could be very different based on the pain points of who they’re selling to:

customer-comparison

Clearly, the software selling to the small business owner should have a brand focused on making marketing simple and affordable. The software selling to CMOs at large companies should have a brand focused on making marketing robust and integrated. Two very different brand messages, as you can see.

While these are extreme (and simplistic) examples, understanding how your product/service can help your unique audience should be the cornerstone of every company’s brand.

Understanding how your culture makes your company unique

Your own internal culture isn’t just important for recruitment purposes: it’s important to creating an externally-facing brand as well.

Do you have a clearly defined (and up-to-date) mission, vision and core values? If not, your employees likely don’t understand what direction your company is headed…and neither will your clients.

Does your company value speed of delivery? Or quality control? What about stressing the need innovation over long-term stability? There isn’t a right or wrong answer…it’s all a part of your brand story that should hopefully appeal to your unique buyer, just as your product does.

On that note, it’s okay for your brand to be a bit aspirational, but you can’t lie—people will see right through an inauthentic brand. So don’t promote yourself as the world-leading solution when you’re really a startup with three employees.

 On THAT note, it’s just as important to understand your weakness as much as it is to recognize your strengths. If you’re not well-versed in a certain industry or programming language, it’s okay. You don’t need to be a fit for everyone…just those who will relate to your brand.

 Want this as a PDF?

What are the must-have branding docs?

Whether you’re rebranding internally or working with an agency as part of a workshop process, make sure these items make their way into your final report:

visionVision

This is your tech company’s core purpose that remains unchanged over time. It’s the destination, the future you want to create. Because of this, the vision statement is usually pretty vague and has a huge influence on the company’s culture.

A sample vision statement could be:

  • To make information accessible to everyone, everywhere.
  • A world where data security isn’t a concern.
  • To empower business innovation.

missionMission

By contrast, your mission is the specific path your company is taking at this moment to fulfil the vision. It’s what you need to do to get to your destination. This can change over time (though not very frequently), so it’s more specific.

A sample mission statement could be:

  • To build a telecom network that reaches every city in the continental US.
  • Creating the safest data center with zero breaches by 2025.
  • To allow entrepreneurs to focus on working on their business, not in their business.

core-valuesCore Values

Your company’s core values are the guiding principles that should drive every business decision, both internally and externally.

Have a potential hire that’s smart but doesn’t believe in a core value? Don’t hire them.

Have an existing vendor that has violated a core value but has super competitive pricing? Fire them.

Core values are your brand’s moral compass, which is crucial for attracting like-minded talent and customers alike.

Here are our agency's core values:

CoreValue-Innovative  CoreValue-Communicate  CoreValue-Initiative  CoreValue-RavingFans

 

buyer-personaBuyer Personas

Documented buyer personas are a must-have in any marketing organization, but they are especially important as you look to refresh your brand.

Buyer personas highlight what your target audience really cares about. And if you want to gain their attention, your new brand will lead with what they actually care about.  

Having your buyer personas clearly documented will also come in handy when you roll out the the new branding company-wide. It flows nicely to say here is who we want to reach, which is why we are rebranding!

brand-differentiatiorsBrand Differentiators

How does your brand stand apart from the competition? What’s your unique place in the marketplace? Knowing your strengths (and weaknesses!) will help you articulate why your brand is the best choice for a specific audience.

key-messaging

Key Messaging

What are your primary/secondary “selling points”? In other words, what about your brand appeals most to prospective customers? A key messaging guide will tell you how to talk about your brand, including any hurdles or objections that you might need to address.

personality-adjectivesPersonality Adjectives

This may sound corny, but if your company was a person how would friends describe it? You’re trying to humanize your brand, so don’t be afraid to act like a person, not a corporation. If you really are super professional and formal, that’s fine. But if you’re more laid back than you let on, that’s a great way to connect with your prospects and customers. After all, B2B is really H2H: humans selling to humans.

voice-toneVoice/Tone

How do you want your brand to “sound”? Qualified, but not boastful? Serious, but not stuffy? Defining the voice and tone for future writing communications is a valuable part of any branding exercise.

creative-translationCreative Translation

While you may (or may not!) decide to redesign your logo as part of the branding process, you should still define some high-level recommendations for how to translate your new brand into creative execution.

For example, do your personality adjectives lend themselves better to a bright color palette? Did you decide your website should have more pictures with people in them vs. screenshots?

This is the perfect time to document these brand-related design and writing needs to pass on to your internal marketing team or agency partner.

creative-translation-comparison-1

How do you roll out a rebrand?

Keep people informed

In rolling out the new branding, you may want to consider communicating the change to a few key groups.

    1. Internal employees. Everyone in your company should be the experts and champions of the new branding. Communicate the change early and often, making logos, templates and brand standards easily accessible.  
    2. Customers. Especially if your website is changing, or if your total branding is dramatically different, make sure you’re customers aren’t caught off-guard.  
  • Your prospects. Just like your customers, you don’t want to catch your prospects off-guard who are actively in the sales process. This relationship is especially delicate, as they are really just getting to know you. In this case, the message probably comes best from the sales reps that they are working directly with.
  • The world. Also known as your target industry. You can communicate the change via a press release that highlights the reason why, which is also a nice opportunity to communicate the value that you can bring to your prospective clients.

Plan for cost concerns

As you’re rolling out the new brand, there are probably more than a few physical pieces that will need a refresh…and some of that could come at an unexpected cost if you don’t plan ahead.

Before you roll out the new branding, take inventory of everything that will be impacted. Things like nameplates, business cards, signage outside your office, etc. It doesn’t all have to be updated at once, but the more you can do right away, the stronger the new brand will be.

Get the timing right

The timing of unveiling your new branding can be an advantage or a detriment, so it's absolutely critical to get it right.  

For example, you wouldn’t want to have a ton of promotional activities going into your biggest show of the year, then at the show, “unveil” your new branding with a new booth that is totally different than anything they saw from you before the show.

But, you can take advantage of events in your branding unveiling. A new year, a big internal event, or a big customer event are also great times to communicate the change.

What do you do after a rebrand?

After you launch the press release, distribute the new brand standard and refresh the website, your job is done, right? Wrong!   

There’s a few key areas to make sure you don’t lose sight of after your new branding is live.

brand-policeAim for 100% brand consistency

In order for your new brand to really make an impact, it needs to be implemented 100% correct, 100% of the time. And that can be tough for a few reasons…

Most likely, your employees have files tucked away on their desktops in the old PowerPoint template. Or maybe your clients have reference documents with old branding.   

In order to make the new branding work, you may have to take on the role of “brand police” until everyone is up to speed. Make sure branding documents—like new logos, templates, and brand guidelines—are easily accessible. And if you come across an instance where branding isn’t applied appropriately by your employees, it’s important to address it.

The role of “brand police” isn’t a fun one, but it's so important to get it right after all of the effort put into it. (Bonus points if you can make a game out of it—gift cards for those with no “brand violations”!)

schedule-reviewsSchedule your regular reviews now

Just like how the first representation of your brand since you first opened your doors has evolved, this new brand can (and should!) evolve over time, too.

To make sure you stay ahead of the game, schedule a workshop for 12 months out from launch to review the brand as a group, to see if there should be any changes or updates.

If you keep regular reviews on the calendar, you’ll not only stay ahead of any potential changes, but you’ll also reduce the likelihood of waking up three years from now with a dated brand and your competitors rolling right over you.

ROIMeasure your ROI

As you know, measuring the ROI of some marketing activities can be tough. And part of that is because prospective buyers don’t always follow the exact path that us marketers create for them.

For example, someone may see your ad five times in a row over the course of a week until you’ve finally piqued their interest. So they jump over to a web browser and Google your company name, hit your website, view 10 web pages, read a press release, then finally fill out a form. Great! Or is it?

The problem there is that you can’t attribute anything to the ad which made them come to your website in the first place!

The difference with branding is that it is FAR less likely to attribute any new business directly (keyword: directly) to the branding itself. At least with a digital ad, you have a chance of someone clicking thru it so you can credit the ad directly.

When it comes to measuring the ROI for a rebranding effort, it becomes even more fuzzy. If someone clicks thru your press release about the new branding and directly fills out a form stating “I really love your new branding, sign me up to become a customer,” then you’ve maybe paid for the effort in one shot. A girl can dream…

When it comes to measuring ROI of a rebranding, you’ll have to look at long-term and softer metrics. Average time spent on website, net new customers, share of voice and lead-to-customer conversion rates are all good metrics to measure the total ROI over time.

Getting Started with Branding

Ready to get started with a brand update or overhaul? We can help. Check out our brand capabilities page here.

Kiwi Creative is a HubSpot Gold Agency Partner that specializes in working with B2B software and technology customers. And, hopefully, after reading this web page, you can tell that we know our stuff when it comes to branding.

Here’s a really great case study about how we completely rebranded Security MicroImaging Corporation, a technologically-advanced ECM (enterprise content management) company who had a 40+ year-old name that was losing relevance and a brand identity that was primed for a refresh.

Read to chat about an upcoming branding project? Schedule a time that's convenient for you.

 

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