Brand clichés

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Brand clichés have been in the background of my career in agencies, all the way through. I am sure that brand clichés will continue long after my career is over.

I started off writing copy for technology clients. Short pithy marketing copy and longer thought leadership pieces, opinion editorials and white papers.

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Back when I first started working on technology, media and telecoms brands we had a raft of clichés. These brand clichés were in the product and vendor descriptors.

Broken technology marketing

These weren’t the most sophisticated brand marketers. Marketing was sales support. There maybe some brand equity at the corporate brand level. But that was often down to user passion, rather than skilful brand marketing. You can still see that mindset at work in ingredient brands like AMD, Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, NVIDIA, Oracle or SAP.

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Part of this was down to history, marketers were often engineers who had been promoted out of pre-sales consulting. Their corporate and product communications was often run by people who were ‘vested’ having worked early on in the companies life in an admin role. A personal assistant or an office manager, probably with a liberal arts degree from a university or community college.

The modern iteration of this dearth of marketing experience is the broken adtech space and a legion of growth hacker profiles on LinkedIn. Once you understand this broad brush picture of the technology sector the brand clichés start to make sense.

Technology brand clichés

Apple PowerCD

A leading… – we compete in the following market for sector, but there isn’t anything to separate us from our peers. High fives happen in the office if we end up in the right part of the Gartner Magic Quadrant reports.

Best – Someone somewhere said that they thought we were better than our competitors based on their particular view at that time. We’ve paid an analyst firm a large amount of money for digital reprints where they said it. We will give you this as PDF if you give us all of your personal information and opt-in to being in constant contact with our marketing automation application.

Best-of-breed – we cobble together bits of technology from a number of sources, all of which are good. We usually have competitors who are vertically integrated and do everything reasonably competently in-house. It tells you more about market dynamics than it does about benefits. See ‘end-to-end’ used by vertically integrated businesses.

… compatible – usually a hygiene factor in areas were there are clear open standards like email and web browsing. It used to be that back-in-the-day a peripheral that was Mac compatible would cost double the price of PC compatible products. USB was a major change in this. Where there aren’t open standards, then beware of ‘lock-in’ where you get bled dry by vendors, rather like the Mac users of old. A second aspect of compatability is where vendors built super-standards on top of the ‘open standards’. Adding additional features over the top, if they can get their client to adopt them it can increase lock-in without having to go to the hassle of creating a completely bespoke standard. For example, POP and IMAP email doesn’t support being able to delete an email after you’ve sent it, unlike sending email from and to a Microsoft Exchange email server.

Cutting edge – will be obsolete, but not just yet.

Disruptive – we have an incumbent competitor and we hope you’ll change for the sake of change.

Enabler – we provide part of what you need, but we know that the majority of IT projects fail to reach the objectives that businesses have in mind. A classic example of this truth would be the NPfIT (national programme for IT) done by the NHS, Post Office Horizon project or most implementations from the likes of Autonomy to Adobe Workfront.

End-to-end – usually followed by solution or solutions provider. This was trying to make a virtue out of vertical integration of the corporate parent (think about the way HP used to do everything from servers to printer paper), in a market that was likely orientated towards horizontal integration (a classic example would be Windows running on an Intel or AMD processor, or Google Android running on a MediaTek or Qualcomm processor). The reality is that it’s barely a feature, let alone a benefit.

Fastest – the devil really is in the details of fastest. The measure of speed depends on what you want to measure. In technology real world speeds are difficult to capture and you can’t benchmark across systems. Way before Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal chip companies like Intel and Nvidia were routinely doing conceptually similar design tricks to recognise and optimise for benchmarking tests, often to the detriment of real-world use.

First – this would be then followed by a really arcane descriptor. For example ‘Product X is the first tree-based database structure in cloud services that supports MUMPS database language instructions aimed at industry 5.0 applications’.

Innovative – we spent money on design and putting things together. Appreciate it. Often used to support disruptive.

… ready – usually this is about a technology that might be in the news but is years away from the standards being developed being ready for commercialisation, or the standards may not even exist. In 2023, we saw several blockchain based companies talk about their technology being metaverse ready. You can read here about how far away and uncertain that statement is. The reality is often that this is pure hype.

Scaleable – it will work with more of our stuff. It might even work with other people’s products. If by any chance your business grows, we want to sell more stuff.

Solution – a mix of web hosting, other vendors products, our products and consulting time as a kludge to make things work. Think of every collaboration in streetwear and luxury fashion that was a dog’s dinner – this is exactly the same, but in IT.

The world’s leading… – this might be supported by either market share data for one quarter’s sales, or a number of analyst reports. Basically ‘a leading…’ but with a bit more confidence. Usually you will find that the brand has some visibility within their market sector and is likely considered. So when green tech company 1pointFive announced an agreement with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – BCG was described as:

 Boston Consulting Group (BCG), one of the world’s leading management consulting firms

1PointFive and Boston Consulting Group Announce Strategic Agreement for Direct Air Capture Carbon Removal Credits

Yes business people are likely to have heard about BCG, but that doesn’t mean that they would prefer to hire them over McKinsey, Teneo, Bain, Accenture etc.

Value-added – a synonym for expensive and complex.

Bland brand clichés

Now the key ones I see, tend to be throughout the brand book. A good proportion of the reason why these have become brand clichés is down to over-use. In a world where brands are the above average equivalent of the children in Lake Woebegon.

Authentic – we do what we say (most of the time). Unless it has implications for our bottom line. Often used interchangeably with principled and brand purpose. The latter two often look at higher order ambitions than the business.

Dedicated – more about the focus of the business than the quality of the product or services. Through to the 1980s in western countries, there were companies called conglomerates which were a mass of disparate businesses. Originally they may have started off as looking to integrate businesses into their offering. So if you sold hardware to businesses, you might want to provide software that those businesses would want. You might help them put it all together, which then meant you had a professional services business. All of this doesn’t come cheap, so you might add a finance business to help them spread the payments rather than an overly expensive bank loan. All of a sudden you are a conglomerate. Being a conglomerate makes it harder for you to focus on what you do well. Being dedicated means that in theory you have that focus.

Helpful – We do enough so that you will probably do business with us again.

Passionate – we behave in a professional manner. Basically they weren’t the guy in the coffee shop I went to on Saturday, where he let us wait in a queue to be served while he finished rolling out five cigarettes. He then asked ‘what do you want?’. He demonstrated authenticity, but not dedication or helpfulness.

Trusted – customers pay us for what we do. Some of them do this on a repeat basis.

It’s even been spoofed in ‘The Bland Book‘ (PDF).

That’s me for today, happy St Patrick’s Day to my fellow Hibernians out there.

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