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Thursday
May252017

Pivoting Brands: The “Tech” Label and Why Space Still Matters

Fueled by aspirations to be associated with the digital revolution, many banks, insurance companies and even law firms are strategically identifying their offerings as technology-driven, embracing tech as a core part of their identity. Meanwhile, many tech companies are moving away from this label, acknowledging that technology is simply a medium—not the message—for what they do, and technology alone isn’t a marketplace differentiator.

It’s a larger trend that’s surfacing across multiple industries around the globe. Financial institutions are distancing themselves from simply being known as aiding in transactions and providing monetary services. These organizations are emphasizing that they are now in the business of technology, founded on the belief that they are creating data and metrics that have inherently changed their business model. On the other hand, many companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond are pivoting away from being known as a “tech” company in hopes that consumers view their offering with greater purpose through products and services that truly enhance our lives. For either industry, though, it seems that introducing these new labels will create confusion in the marketplace.

As Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” and from the outside looking in I would argue that consumers see finance as finance and tech as tech.

Since these companies are self-selecting a label other than what most would describe them by, it creates a gap in understanding and ability for consumers to speak as true advocates of the products and services that these companies deliver on. There is a misalignment between how these organizations view themselves internally versus how their consumer base would articulate what they do. Organizations rely on their mission and value proposition to communicate their business focus, so why are these organizations making this shift and how can they help consumers understand what they are really selling?

Technology companies understand that tech is a platform and a means to an end, while other industries are attempting to reap the benefits by classifying themselves as a “tech” company. By redefining who they are and what they stand for, especially in an industry like finance, it gives companies access to a new pool of talent, different approaches to thinking and problem solving, as well as investment money that may not have been otherwise available.

Various financial institutions are creating shared community spaces like cafes and lab spaces to shape the future of what their brand will become and help people understand who they are now. These places give consumers and employees a safe place to experience the brand first hand. These new venues enable aspiring millennials to find career opportunities in what may have once been considered an unconventional organization. By redefining what they do and putting it into practice with a physical manifestation, traditionally non-tech companies can gain advantages in the marketplace around talent, funding and more.

On the other hand, a prominent business social networking platform, for instance, wants to be known for being more than just a cool app because it’s what their tool does that really matters. They are in the business of bettering people’s lives by connecting a global workforce through a powerful network. They see their workspace as a vessel to articulate culturally relevant messages about who they are and what they stand for to their workforce. Technology in and of itself is just a means to an end, and companies are creating meaningful services that are often categorized too easily under one umbrella. It’s when these companies understand that “tech” is only just a label that they can then begin to differentiate themselves and drive long term interest and brand loyalty. The key for technology companies is to help consumers understand why a product or service is going to enhance our lives.

Brands must rely on consumers, employees and influencers to broadcast their message about what they do and the experiences they create. Organizations need to look at all channels to convey that message, including virtual and physical experiences where people can understand the brand first hand. It is an interactive, experiential process that takes time to develop and nurture. While the label “tech” has become mainstream, and many companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon to tap into the benefits, we can already see other organizations trying to distance themselves from the very same identity.

Jennifer Gebhardt is a regional Brand Design practice area leader and works with her clients to understand their culture and values. She communicates those ideals to both brand and workplace design teams, assuring brand is an essential piece of every project. Contact her at Jennifer_Gebhardt @gensler.com.