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High Tech Brand Building

From BMA Knowledge Base

"Brand building" is the latest buzz word in high tech marketing. But it is not new. The truth is, brand building has been around forever, but more recently it's been referred to as "corporate image advertising." It is a consumer marketing strategy recently discovered in the high tech world.

The best example of high tech branding today is the "Intel Inside" program, on which the company reportedly spends over $250 million per year to execute. This program has generated almost $2 billion in worldwide co-op advertising since its inception in 1991, making it the largest and one of the most successful marketing programs in the history of the electronics industry.

Intel President/CEO Andy Grove has gone on record saying it's the best investment his company ever made. And because of Intel's success, many other high tech companies, like Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, AMD, S3 and Cisco Systems are attempting to recreate it and build their own corporate images. They are spending multi-millions of dollars to build brand loyalty, because, over time, they've realized it translates into increased market share and greater profits. Brand loyalty is a sound foundation on which businesses can build enduring, profitable growth.

The Brand is the Differentiation
If most high tech products are commodities and equal in price and performance (which is the case today), then the brand becomes the differentiation. Consumer companies figured this out a long time ago. High tech companies in Silicon Valley are typically run by engineers. Marketing has always taken a back seat, and it's not uncommon to have one person responsible for both sales and marketing. A big mistake. Marketing and sales are not the same.

Many high tech companies have been slow to recognize the importance of marketing, but they are now becoming more receptive to brand building programs because of increased technology parity and fierce global competition. There is a shift today in high tech from product marketing to brand marketing. As competitive advantages disappear, brand building becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. So the need to differentiate companies by personality or image is rapidly increasing.
Brand building is not easy because:

  • Everyone has similar technology and products
  • Target audiences, communications channels and media are increasingly complex
  • Marketing communications is expensive, especially TV
  • Product messages are increasingly cluttered

Can Small to Medium-Sized High Tech Companies Build Their Brands?
The answer is yes, but it takes time, 18 to 24 months, and a real, long term commitment from senior management. The key is to develop an integrated marketing communications program targeted to specific market segments. You need to "rifle shoot" your communications messages to niche markets only and stick with it. Forget TV, it's for the big boys with multimillion dollar budgets.

The first step is to conduct as much market research as possible-both internal and external. You need to understand your customers, your markets, your strengths and weaknesses, your competition, your distribution channels, your awareness level and current perceptions. Interview your senior management-your President, CFO, VP/Sales, Marketing and Engineering plus industry analysts and trade editors. The more intelligence you gather, the greater the odds that you will be on target with your strategies and positioning. Without this information, you are shooting in the dark and you'll decrease your chances for success.

After you analyze the data, you need to develop a marketing strategy and position your company based on the market research. Many companies add taglines to drive the branding program, i.e. "Extending Your Reach," "Solutions for a Small Planet," or "What You Never Thought Possible."

After finalizing a branding strategy and positioning, you need to develop a new corporate identity and an overall marketing communications program. The total process can take 2 to 4 months. This is a golden opportunity for the marcom manager to prove his or her worth. No one else in the company has the experience and knowledge to coordinate advertising, public relations and other communications disciplines in a synchronized manner.

Long Haul is the Key
If you can't get a long term commitment from your management to develop a brand building program, you should save your money or lower your expectations. A "start and stop" program doesn't work and is a waste of both time and money. Creating a branding program involves more than advertising with a tagline. You need to develop a total marketing communications program integrated with everything you do, including advertising, direct mail, brochures, websites, data sheets, and PR. Everything needs to have the same "look and feel" to project the personality of your company. (Apple Computer did this brilliantly for years with their agency, Chiat Day).
 
Rome Wasn't Built in a Year
Too many high tech companies view marketing expenditures as discretionary, to be cut immediately if sales soften. Some CEOs expect immediate results and kill programs after only a few months if they don't get them. This is unrealistic. Brand building is a long term process-you need a minimum of 18 to 24 months to measure and show any results.

A branding program we developed for a client 12 years ago is still running today. To my knowledge, it's the longest running Silicon Valley branding campaign, despite management turnovers of four marketing directors, five marcom managers and two advertising agencies.

The reason for its longevity is the CEO and president. He drives the marketing process and refuses to change what works. That's why it's imperative that the President/CEO buy into your branding program from the beginning. If not, your chances for long term success are slim to none. All too often, companies change direction every time a new marcom or marketing director is hired. The most successful companies recognize that branding is a long-term process, and is the company's best investment.