Top 3 Branding Mistakes That Most Tech-Led Companies Make

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Hello and welcome.

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So let’s start and for many Branding is chronically misunderstood.

From people thinking that branding can be “done” in an afternoon to companies just ignoring it altogether. It’s a key area that can make or break your tech business, especially in the long run.

Branding doesn’t evolve by itself. 

It’s a blueprint for how you want the world to see your business and blueprints are always planned and researched documents. So just for clarification a brand is not your logo. 

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“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.

A great quote!

A strong brand increases customer loyalty, builds engagement and creates trust. It’s well known that consumers are more likely to buy from a company witha compelling brand story because it’s easier for them to build an emotional connection.A well-curated brand also improves perception of quality and that my friends means you can charge higher prices.

But as a consumer of tech products it can be very difficult to judge digital products until you’ve actually used them. That means that digital products can often suffer from being sold solely based on their technical specs and not by the problem they solve.

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So our first mistake to avoid is using too much jargon. 

Recently, I saw a set of brand guidelines for a multi-million pound technology company, based in Canada. It categorically said and I quote “We do not use Jargon. We do not abbreviate.” So brand guidelines for those that don’t know are essentially a set of instructions on how the design elements should be presented. From the tone of voice to the use of colours and fonts – brand guidelines are a must. So for this company not using jargon forms part of their brand voice and it explicitly sets out instructions on when it is or isn’t acceptable to use. When you have a team of people, setting ground rules like this is paramount to success. 

Everyone communicates the same message.

So let’s look at how using jargon could be a big mistake. 

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I’m also going to talk about Cognitive Fluency, which is how easily the brain can interpret what it’s seeing without thinking too much. 

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If you came upon the following value proposition, how likely is it that you’d understand it right away?

“Revenue-focused marketing automation & sales effectiveness solutions unleash collaboration throughout the revenue cycle”

What does it mean? Can you now explain what they do?

How about these examples from 2 different email service providers.

Which one is easier to understand? 

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Or this…..

Probably the second one. The first one is cluttered with buzzwords (‘truly dynamic,’ ‘maximize the performance,’ etc).

That’s not to say the first example isn’t effective – it could be very effective. But the second example, MailChimp, has much greater cognitive fluency. It’s easier to understand.

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Another example, if you take a look at Crawley – a tool for developers. You’d expect to get lost in a sea of technical jargon that you may or may not understand. Which is fine, because they’re targeting developers. It’s a specialised audience that deserves specialised copy.

But they’ve done a great job of using technical terms but in such a simple way that it’s still fairly easy to understand. They’re using specialty language, but still writing it as simply as possible…

The point is, even with technical audiences, you still want to make sure your readers are doing as little thinking as possible.

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Why is thinking dangerous? Basically, our brain has 2 modes. System 1 and System 2. When we’re browsing web pages we go along in autopilot (system 1) – here is the search where you’d expect it in the top right corner, here is the menu along the top.

What if something is not where we expect it? Like the menu down the side? Well then the second part of our brain is engaged, System 2. It’s slow and untrusting. 

Why is the menu here? This doesn’t feel right. 

We’re now not in autopilot and the brain doesn’t feel safe. It’s looking for cues, for reasons to move on.

There’s a reason why the changes of Amazon have been gradual. 

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And if you think about it their search and buy button are always in the same place. Because that’s where people expect to find them. Amazon don’t want to do anything that takes their customers out of autopilot.  Amazon 

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It’s the same with Jargon. Jargon makes us think – Our brain is going “Well what does that mean?, I don’t understand it, I shouldn’t be here, this isn’t for me.”

If you’re questioning whether your customers do use jargon or not there’s an easy way to find out. 

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Just have a conversation with them. 

  • If they don’t use the words you use
  • If their face scrunches up with confusion at any point
  • If they have to ask you to explain yourself

These are all clues that you’re talking in different languages. 

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Unnecessary jargon, when used to persuade is bad. Jargon as a whole, however, isn’t always a negative. Here are a few occasions when using technical jargon may be acceptable and even effective:

  • To give perception of Higher Value
  • Speciality language for a specialty audience (if you’re selling to developers, use words they use)
  • Filtering out leads you don’t want (“we’re not for you if…”)

If you’re talking about a complicated topic to share your position as a thought leader, then naturally you would have to use terms that are specific to your industry. 

Psychology tells us that if we want to build credibility and trust with potential clients, we need to be empathetic. The easiest way to show empathy in life is to mirror the behaviour and language of the person you’re talking to. We do it all the time, we copy each others behaviour. 

We often repeat each other’s words and phrases too. It demonstrates that we’re listening and understand their meaning. This sometimes perpetuates the use of jargon. Its completely acceptable within your circle, your colleagues use it all the time. 

However, as you shift back to speaking to your company’s target audience, it’s crucial to hit the reset button and remember that you’re building rapport with an entirely new group of people.

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That brings us onto Mistake 2 and that’s Not Staying Relevant.

You’ve spent ages creating an amazing and innovative piece of software. You launched it into the world to industry-wide delight. Your product is the toast of the town and you’re on top of the world.

Until the next new product comes along.

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In the fast-paced world of technology, The Next Big Thing comes around as often as Kim Kardashian takes a selfie. Finding new angles on the same old story can become time-consuming and boring.

However, the wonderful thing about technology is that it is constantly evolving. Developers are continually adding new features, which provides an opportunity to go back out into the market and get the conversation going again. 

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So it makes sense that every time you create a product, or add a new feature that you stop and consider:

  • Why are we creating this?
  • How will this help our customer in their lives?
  • How does this differ from before?
  • How will these new features make our customers feel?

This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen it over and over again. It’s so easy to get carried away with the detail of the new feature that it’s easily forgotten why it was created in the first place. 

Therefore the marketing message must highlight the benefits, not the features of a product.

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If in doubt always remember this: Benefits Sell, Features Tell

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Madonna is the undisputed queen of reinvention. She knows that the world changes and so she must change with it. Likewise, every time you add a feature to your software, it’s an opportunity for you to test whether your ideal buyer has changed.

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  • Are they still in the same roles?
  • Do they have the same pain points?
  • Have they moved from influencer to decision-maker?

The thing is, your ideal buyer will change over the course of your product’s life, so you must continuously tweak your messaging to appeal to them. The launch of new features is prime time to reinvigorate the website, write new blog posts and target new customers. Keeping on top of where your customers are at will ensure that your product stays fresh and relevant to them.

Another issue you may be having is a gap between what customers think you do and what you actually do. I see this all the time. Business have grown over a number of years and they’ve entirely neglected their website. It doesn’t reflect what they do anymore.

Milestone Systems, a security hardware and services company had this same problem. Their last rebrand was in 2000 and within the next decade, they had seen their business (and the market) transform significantly.

Given the company had never addressed these changes, their story to the marketplace varied from department to department. This didn’t just create discord, it meant that they were selling themselves short as the market had a very narrow perception of their products and services.

What happened next was the marketing equivalent of a makeover montage. The team got together and did a lot of work on establishing:

  • Their brand identity
  • Who their ideal customer was
  • What products/services they offer
  • The perception in the market?
  • The steps they needed to take to rectify the situation
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Reeducation was a key part in repositioning themselves. They created a short video that encapsulated who they were, what their capabilities were and how that differed to their competitors. Their head of brand, Julie Rumsey said:

“We like to think we have a “special sauce” to add to the hardware we sell, but our previous brand didn’t reflect that.”

Our competitors talk about product features and prices. Our new brand emphasises what our competitors aren’t talking about: how our engineering and products secure the lifeblood of our customers’ business.’ 

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This focus trickled down to the revamp of their website. As you can see it was cluttered and featured very heavily on products, not solutions. 

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But after the makeover, the website was centred around the pain point of the customer and how Milestone could solve that problem. All packaged in a clear and beautiful site:

“Now with the new brand, every employee understands what effect their daily work has on the success of our customers.”

Very powerful message, yet very simple.

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Is it fair to say that the Most Successful Brands Are The Most Relevant Brands?

I mean you only have to look at the likes of Zoom, Netflix, and Tesla. Zoom saw 300 million participants per day in April with revenue soaring 169%. 

Even Adobe has seen a 50% rise in the number of people sharing PDFs compared to last year. 

All highly relevant brands. It will certainly be interesting to see how companies like Zoom retain customers moving forwards. I know I keep getting sent huge discounts if I sign up for a 12 month plan.

According to an Accenture survey of global C-suite executives published in 2018, 68 percent said that they expected their industry to be significantly disrupted within the next three years by technological innovation. 

We’re only 2 years in and the disruption is being felt the world over. 

It used to be that only tech companies had tech stories to tell. Today that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m sure you’ve all heard of lots of companies that have completely re-engineered their processes to accommodate WFH.

The breathtaking pace of digital transformation is impacting every industry and every sector. No organisation is immune. Those that choose not to invest in innovation will simply not survive.

If you’re head of marketing at a non-tech company, you may not fully appreciate the scale and impact a well-told innovation story can deliver. There’s a growing and credible body of evidence linking a compelling innovation story with an increase in corporate valuation. In other words, talking tech frequently leads to a bigger company valuation.

Let me give you an example of a non-tech company that has boosted their standing by communicating a business strategy that has technology at its core.

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Domino’s Pizza. Surprising isn’t it.

Well, it’s seen as one of the early adopters that started to lean on technology. Diners increasingly wanted mobile apps to place orders or get food seamlessly delivered to their door. In fact online orders now far surpass orders taken over the phone.

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A decade ago its share price languished at $2.83. Both consumers and investors were obviously underwhelmed by what the business had to offer. It’s now at $430 and the company’s market cap stands above $17 billion.

So what changed? Domino’s started to call itself a tech company. Out of the 800 people working at Domino’s headquarters, 400 work in software and analytics. Their business is centred around mobile ordering and it’s tracking ability.

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Our third top Mistake is one of my pet hates. In at number 3 it’s Pixelated Screenshots.

As I said at the beginning it can be very difficult to demonstrate tech-based products in marketing and on websites. 

But why invest so much time, energy and money into creating an awesome product if you don’t then invest into how you show it off.  

I know that it can be a pain and that you just want to move onto developing the next feature. But

But your competitors are doing it and some are doing it very well. The bar is set high. Especially within the Software as a Service sector. SaaS is booming. 

As a business Squibble has subscriptions left right and centre. To successfully manage the agency I use loads of SaaS products and I love them. From Asana for project management, Xero for our accounts and to the lesser known platforms like BigFlip. 

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BigFlip enables us to move post-it notes around on the screen much the same as when we’re sticking them on the wall during a strategy session. Who’d have thought it! But it’s been a life saver for us during lockdown. 

In 2019, SaaS annual revenues exceeded 100 billion U.S dollars according to Statista. They also projected that the global (SaaS) market will reach 157 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, more than doubling the market size in 2014.

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So let’s go back to my favourite tool, Asana. Look at how beautifully they show off their product. 

There’s no technical jargon and it’s completely relevant to me as an agency owner. Particularly during lockdown. I can’t have a quick catch up with James, my designer, he’s not sat next to me.

But look, they entice me in with highly relevant imagery that details how it works with clever animations. Not a pixelated or tiny screenshot in sight. 

And yes this could be seen as part of the marketing BUT in order to build a strong brand companies need to be consistent. And to be consistent you need to showcase your product at its best. This is often the missing piece.

You cannot convey a products value through a single pixelated screenshot. It doesn’t do the product justice.

So where did Asana start? According to Wikipedia, it was founded in 2008 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Google, ex Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein. They both worked in improving the productivity of employees at Facebook. 

Commercially Asana was launched 4 years after, in 2012, and has gone through 5 rounds of funding. 

In December 2018  the company was valued at $1.5 billion but was still not profitable. How crazy is that and some might question if it’s worth it.

However, by April 2020 revenue had increased by 71% compared to the previous year. Slowly they are drip feeding extra features for higher paid subscription fees. And like a sucker I’m upgrading my account every time. 

But look, if you invest in great imagery it can be used on every channel from your social media accounts to your tech spec sheets. Uniting everything together thorough bold and well designed artwork. 

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Let’s compare Asana to another project management tool. How about this website. Sky Discovery.

No images just a load of text. Not particularly engaging.

By judging both these sites side by side and the experience they offer, which are you more likely to use?

And would you pay a higher price if you could have a better experience? Yes, of course you would.

There really isn’t any more that can be said for pixelated images, or having none at all. 

Yet companies make this mistake all the time.  And with that mini rant we’ve come to an end.

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We’ve certainly covered a lot and I hope you’ve found it interesting? Maybe it will inspire some of you to go away and review your own brands.?

But in summary these are the 3 mistakes to avoid. 

  • Don’t use Jargon – make your copy as simple to understand as possible
  • Always stay relevant – be aware of your marketplace and what people want now
  • Don’t use pixelated images of your product – invest in good imagery

If anything I’ve said rings true, take a step back and start putting together a plan. Don’t just jump in. Consider running a mini brand audit. 

Lay everything out in front of you so that you can check for consistency. 

Or you could always speak to an expert.

Thank you very much for listening, I’m Kim Leary and I run Squibble a branding and web design agency based in the JQ.

I hope you’ve found my talk valuable. 

Thank you and goodbye for now!