Ever dreamed of leaving the cubicle behind, striking out on your own and making your own technology vision a reality?
For many people in the technology industry, the possibility of starting their own company, based on an idea hatched over late-night beers or from a concept your boss said will “never $#@!% happen here,” is the holy grail.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some talented software developers, and I’ve seen some very cool technology in its infancy. I’ve learned that great technology can sell itself when a passionate community rallies behind it.
But I’ve also learned that great, well-positioned and branded technology can sell itself a hell of a lot better.
That’s what gave me inspiration for a new series of posts, of which this is the first. I wanted to help people with smart technology ideas understand the basics of brand strategy and positioning in order to ensure that their technology babies can thrive to their fullest potential.
Read Additional Posts in this Series:
A quick word on credentials: I spent about 10 years helping develop the brand strategy for Red Hat as it grew from 100 people to a $1 billion technology brand with offices around the world. Over the past 6 years, our company, New Kind, has worked on brand strategy for some very cool technology startups: Companies like NGINX, the heart of the modern web, powering half of the world’s busiest websites. Or Ansible, which in about 2 years went from founders’ vision to being acquired by Red Hat for over $100m. I also wrote a book about how to position brands in a digital world, called The Ad-Free Brand.
So if you have dreams of starting your own technology company, have recently struck out on your own, or even if you are well on your way to success and simply want to learn more about how technology companies should think about brand strategy, this series is for you.
What is brand positioning and why does it matter?
Great brand positioning is the foundation of all great branding. Think of any great technology brand that you know and love—whether a colossus like Apple or Google, or an upstart like Uber or Slack, and you’ll find clear, consistent brand positioning at the heart of the story it shares with the world.
So what exactly is brand positioning?
Traditionally, brand positioning has been defined as the art of creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds.
Great brand positioning makes that meaning clear and consistent. So that everyone who encounters a brand can quickly understand what the brand is about and why it matters.
The impact of brand positioning
If you are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there is a similar model you can think about for the impact brand positioning can have as it becomes more actualized.
Positioning can help people understand the brand
At the most basic level, you can use positioning to ensure people understand what your brand stands for. It breaks through the clutter and helps you differentiate your brand from others in the marketplace.
Positioning can help people value the brand
But it is never enough for a brand to just be different. It must be different in a way that people actually care about and value. The best brand positioning also helps people understand why the brand should matter to them.
A brand positioning strategy can be successful even if it never makes it past this point in the hierarchy. For many brands it is enough to clearly communicate a value proposition that would be meaningful to a potential customer. In fact, these two levels of the hierarchy represent the basic foundation of classic brand positioning.
But the best modern technology brands often can push their positioning to have an impact even higher in the brand positioning hierarchy.
Positioning can help people identify with the brand
Once you show people the value of the brand, the next level of the hierarchy is to use positioning to get people to identify themselves with the brand. Using the mega-brand examples from earlier, many of you would probably identify yourself with either Apple or Google based on the way the brands are positioned.
For example, if you believe strongly in the power of elegant design and care about simplicity, there is a very good chance you are carrying an iPhone in your pocket and writing your emails using a MacBook Pro. You may identify as an Apple person.
But if you care more about choice, openness, and flexibility, you are probably more likely to have an Android phone in your pocket, while surfing the web using a Chromebook. You may identify as a Google person.
If one of these two examples describes you, whether you consciously realize it or not, you have identified with a brand because of the way that brand is positioned. This brand certainly doesn’t define you entirely as a person, but it shares a set of brand traits with you that help illustrate who you are.
That’s some pretty powerful stuff.
Positioning can help people take ownership of the brand
Today, some brands even take things a step further. Their brand positioning connects so strongly, their value proposition resonates so emotionally with a brand community, that the community actually takes some ownership over the future direction of the brand.
Brands like these become lifestyles for the people who love them. Think Wikipedia, where the community of contributors has a very clear set of beliefs and values that they strongly share and promote on behalf of the brand. Or Yelp, where a community of reviewers come together because a shared belief in ensuring the truth about restaurants, shops, and services is transparently accessible.
This is the highest level of the brand positioning hierarchy—where brands have created such a resonant positioning platform that their community not only identifies with it, but actually is willing to doing the heavy lifting of bringing it to life.
How far do you think your positioning can take your brand?
Think about your new technology company for a second. How high in the hierarchy do you think you have the potential (or the appetite) to take your brand? Are you simply selling a commodity, and you want people to clearly understand what you are selling and why they should care about it? Great. That’s classic brand positioning and you can have a huge impact on your business by doing it right.
Do you think your company represents a fundamental shift in the way technology works? Or do you think your technology might become a part of how your customers define themselves? You may be starting a movement, and as such, you may be able to create a positioning platform that will resonate with people at an even deeper level.
In my next post, I’ll begin to share the fundamental building blocks of brand positioning and some tips for how emerging technology companies can begin developing effective positioning platforms of their own.