The best products don’t always make the most successful companies, sometimes they get ahead through brand.
I sometimes hear folks in Silicon Valley insist that a good product alone is what wins markets. They think that the best product will beat out all of the competition. And for some lucky tech companies, the stars have aligned allowing them achieve some success with little to no focus on traditional branding. As the tech market becomes more crowded, will that trend continue?
Brand building, attributes, values, and positioning are disciplines that often take a back seat in hyper growth startups or tech companies. Sometimes they vilify these practices by calling them “fluff” or reducing them to the importance of a “team building exercise” within the organization. More commonly priorities are determined based on what can be quantitatively measured; technology or human computer interaction design. These are often the first class citizens of digital products. You know… features, clicks, views and user counts.
It’s ironic for me. I did time in the old world of advertising where tech and UX were underestimated and misunderstood. I experienced times of exasperation trying to convince brand traditionalists on the importance of concepts that reign supreme in Silicon Valley. Now, I am here in the tech capital where I find brand and creative to be the undervalued second class citizens.
There is a happy medium
The way that a user experiences your product is your company’s brand.
Saying that they are one in the same doesn’t take anything away from the other; it’s about valuing both so they can enhance each other. From the consumer’s perspective they are fundamentally the same thing.
The output of both brand and UX is: emotional response.
Whether it’s feeling satisfied with finding the information you need (UX) or experiencing an adventurous spark of energy (branding), the two feelings complement each other.
Your product’s brand is not a tagline, logo, or color scheme; it’s the entire experience. Just like your user’s experience is not a login screen, checkout flow, or search bar.
It’s how your product fits into someone’s life and how it impacts their day.
Tech needs to harness human emotion and tell stories. Not product stories, not user stories, but human stories. Over the next few years, I believe brand will become more and more important in Silicon Valley. It is easier than ever to strike out on your own and there are a lot of similar products surfacing. On the design front, the bar has been raised for usability and resources are plentiful for making an experience more friendly. On the technology side, there is a lower barrier to entry for building a digital product. Reaching the masses through effective branding and messaging will be the only way to separate the winners from the losers in this competitive market.
Storytelling and creative positioning will be the differentiator. As Silicon Valley companies scramble for advantages, it will be those that have a brand that resonates with consumers and evokes emotion. People think of Nike and they think of aspiration, Coca-Cola is fun, and Visa exudes trust. When consumers think of your product what will they feel? Will they have to engage directly with your product to know, or will the mere mention of it evoke a tinge of emotion?
So how do we get started?
We don’t need anything new, Silicon Valley just needs to change the way we think about what we have: Design.
Design is brand and UX. It’s thinking about how everything works together.
It’s the end to end experience that a human has when discovering, using, enjoying and sharing your product. It’s the top down and the bottom up. It’s not just the interface or a stack of wireframes. Design is the likelihood that a consumer will recommend your product to a friend and the shot of adrenalin they feel when they think of tapping your app icon. You may think your product has “design” but does your product have all of that?