I get why you want every marketing piece to have an ROI. Technology is all about metrics, and you need to fill the top of that funnel. Thinking about spending marketing funds on pure brand-building is upsetting. Are you okay, though? Can I get you a Kleenex?

I meant facial tissue, but you know nobody says facial tissue. It’s like, in England, when people say Hoover instead of vacuum. Maybe they’re just nervous about writing the double u.

Sometimes a brand gets to be so synonymous with a product category, it becomes what is called a generic trademark. Their brand essentially is that commodity.

When Aspirin came out, there weren’t really a lot of alternatives for pain relief – Bayer, the owners of Aspirin, was also selling their new brand name, Heroin, over the counter but it was a bit much for a headache – so, they had a very long head-start on the competition. Sometimes a product gets a foothold on a rarefied market long enough to be the only one we think of. Cellophane, Trampoline, Lanolin, and even Escalator are all examples.

Coke? Try going into a restaurant and order a cola. At best they’ll have to pause for a second to process what you said. At worse, they’ll call you a communist sleeper agent. Even if you want a Pepsi, you’ll probably say Coke and wait for them to ask if Pepsi is okay.

There were no shortages of soda on the market when Coke arrived. They branded well (ingredients aside, those were heady times for new products) and they still brand very aggressively because, as much as a brand does not want to become a generic trademark, we all want to be the first name in our category.

When you’re in the drugstore or supermarket, looking at shelves of facial tissues, what brand pops out first? Almost all have busy, colourful boxes that shriek for your attention. But Kleenex is recognized by your brain. You don’t have to think about what the box says because their brand is synonymous with the product you’re looking for. When you find their brand, you’ve found the product and competitors are an afterthought you have to consciously choose.

Technology isn’t a facial tissue

This kind of brand thinking applies to technology more than anywhere else. Because technology is always changing, there is always the opportunity for your brand to sit at the top of the heap, even if it’s only in your region. By no means am I suggesting you put brand marketing ahead of the functional marketing used to fill your funnel or put bums in seats. That functional work is crucial. Like everything in life, your marketing needs to go beyond the basics to thrive in the crowded tech agora.

You may not expect to be the next Coca-Cola, but you certainly don’t want to risk being pushed out of the marketplace by the company who is the next Coke or Kleenex.

 

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