Brand plays a bigger or lesser role in different categories. People buy and use products and services for a basket of reasons, but choice and preference is primarily driven by some form of differentiation. In a market with a lot of product parity brand differentiation is critical. Consider bottled water, with very little functional difference between products creating a differentiated brand proposition is vital to drive consumer choice in your direction.
In other categories brand plays less of role because other factors are given more consideration. For example with prescription medicines purchasing and prescription decisions are supposed to be made solely on clinical data, brand should theoretically play a very limited role.
So what about tech companies? How important is brand to them? It is very easy to fall into the trap of ignoring brand and relying on the functionality and utility of the technology. Take Facebook, you might argue that it really doesn’t matter what you think of the brand because the utility of having your friends and family on one site is so important it transcends any benefits brought by having a brand that I can trust and engage with.
Now in terms of choice this is true, where else would I go to get the status updates of all my nearest and dearest? But brand plays a very important role in lots of different types of behaviour, not just choice between two products. Having a trusted brand can also influence technology adoption, loyalty and usage.
We see this playing out with backlash against the planned upgrade of Facebook’s mobile app to include ambient listening technology. There is already a petition with over 250,000 signatures asking Facebook to not release the update. In fact I heard about the petition before I heard about the update.
The Facebook brand doesn’t have a good reputation for respecting privacy. You could argue one of the things it stands for in the minds of many users is “privacy violator” and that affects our behaviour. It affects how often we post, what we post and now it is affecting our willingness to adopt new features and technologies.
Of course Facebook insist that the upgrade is there to help us, and maybe it would be wonderful to live in a world where our phone is listening in to what is going on and able to somehow make our lives easier. To give over that amount of data and control requires trust. Trust that Facebook does not have because it hasn’t managed it’s brand properly.
Our perceptions of brands are massively affected by what they do, not just what the say and look like. No matter what you are doing you have brand. Whether or not you chose to manage it or not is up to you. The 2 big lessons from this are:
1) How you define, express and manage your technology brand can affect adoption, loyalty, usage and advocacy
2) Everything you do affects perception of your brand, so make sure you live by a strong purpose and set of values.