Brand development is an essential ingredient for the longevity of a business, often a struggle for tech companies busy in the here and now.
Branding — my 13theen-year old daughter asks, what does this mean? We are at the grocery store. I turn to the side and point to the shelf filled with chocolate brands: “Look this chocolate celebrates old America. This one pretends to come from the German Alps, and promises good German food and culture and yet another one looks modern and seems to associate itself with youth and sports.” None of this is factually accurate because chocolate does not grow in the Alps. It comes from the Mayans in the middle of Mexico and is to this day grown there.
The power of creating an image you associate with a product deeply rooted in our lives and desires is the core ingredient to an iconic brand. Chocolate is a commodity accessible to many, but only a few companies manage to ensure we buy their brand from generations to generations.
Why — I wonder, is branding so hard to steer for tech-driven companies who often have infinitely more resources than candy companies to establish this deep connection with their customers?
Partially, I think, it has to do with innovation. Since tech companies regularly instigate change in our lives and create significant leaps in the future, they already serve core desires such as curiosity, adventure, and safety. The benefit to humankind is engrained in the existence of high tech products and therefore does not seem to need any further explanation? On the other hand, the second an innovation leaves the house and enters the marketplace it starts to become outdated and requires more development to stay relevant. At this moment leadership will focus on mastering the next level of technological advancement. The fast turn around which comes with it and constant change is demanding and keeps enterprises on their toes. Leaving little time to craft a long-term brand image deliberately.
Leadership and comfort zones
Another aspect is likely Tech-Leaderships comfort zone. Typically they are trained through business education and funding processes to focus on objective outcomes, like growth strategies and KPI’s. The stakes are high and leave little margin for error. To develop an aspirational brand image is nebulous, crosses comfort zones in creative realms, is hard to measure and can take an unpredictable amount of time.
A brand image will shape itself around a company one way or the other. It forms itself through the customer’s experience with the product, service when they encounter a problem and how they found out about the product in the first place. Tech-brands are often profoundly influenced by the intention of their founders. In some cases, this creates a great story for end users to absorb, in other cases it creates a very limited proposition and hinders the company to strive.
Why does it matter?
Tech-related companies, because of the novelty of their product or service, can encounter little competition for quite some time, particularly if you compare this back to the candy makers, or cosmetic companies. Until the day when a contestant does come around who can provide the same service faster and better. Now the company will often compete on price leaving little else to leverage just like the candy companies. At this point having a well-steered brand is not only good business practice because it creates an outstanding customer experience and long-term loyalty. It is also an insurance policy in crunch times, especially for tech companies which can considerably fluctuate between well being and severe struggle.
The case of Airbnb and HomeAway
An outstanding well-executed case is Airbnb who created an inspiring internal customer-obsessed culture, with a focus on design, brand development, and advertising. The company got early on help by working with exceptional agencies, spending in-depth time creating a global brand roll-out. Even so, it comes with occasional controversies, changing brand altitude and the professional look and feel undoubtedly helped to create one of the most successful global launches in recent times.
Travel is so much more than booking a place to stay we learned from Airbnb’s engaging brand message “Belong Anywhere”.
I’m also sure all of this caused texas based HomeAway — and Airbnb’s primary competitor in the US a series of sleepless nights. HomeAway recognized an excellent market opportunity and consolidated the entire US Vacation Rental market around 2005, which had until this point consisted of less known private entities. With an almost sole focus on the business advantage and a much lesser knowledge of User Experience and brand development, they were unable to master an innovate experience and brand excellence.
If I went back and asked my daughter who Airbnb is she can give me instantly a clear answer: “The place where you can sleep when you travel.” also immediately associated with fun, adventure, and a youthful Instagram like global culture. HomeAway, on the other hand, is most relevant to the vacation rental owner. Travelers could care less if they find the right place to stay from HomeAway or some separate entity, like hotels.com or booking.com. Their image blends into the generic experience of all other travel websites who offer places to visit. HomeAway is merely a search tool to find the desired place for the lowest price possible. Therefore the company is vulnerable to be replaced by customers with any other service accommodating the same function.
If a traveler rents with Airbnb, they not only find a beautiful place to stay but participate in a desired cultural experience, which feels great and is easy to share with friends and family creating lasting memories unconsciously associated with the brand.
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