Identifying technology and a technology brand or company used to be easy. There was really one question to ask: Does your primary product plug into a wall? If so, that was technology. In the late ‘90s, the question evolved a bit: Does your main product plug into a wall OR operate primarily on the internet? If so, that was technology.
As the web evolved beyond a single physical device in homes or offices to tiny computers in our pockets and many computer-ish things in our homes and offices, the nature of work changed, and our definition of technology followed suit. Adjacent yet clearly identified tech subsets emerged during what I call the “-tech” era: ad-tech, fashion-tech, food-tech, etc. Suddenly, every major category had a cottage industry of -tech companies looking to either support or disrupt it. Larger brands that were open to change evolved, while new smaller players grew in prominence. Those that stagnated ultimately moved on to obscurity.
But for communication and marketing professionals, the distinction was clear for the type of work we did, at least within the four walls of the ad/marketing community.
In recent years, the conversation has shifted. The toaster on your tabletop could be a small appliance (aka consumer product) or technology because it’s intelligently connected — to the internet and an app on your phone. Which is it? How about the social app on your phone that allows you to follow the latest fashion trends — is it actually tech? Are big brands that operate primarily on the internet actually tech companies or typical corporations? These are now regular conversations I have with colleagues.
Tech is no longer clearly definable; technology underpins many of the things we use every day that almost every company has some kind of technology story. This simple truth makes it even more important to tell your tech story in a way the people using your product will understand — whether they use that product in a kitchen, an office or out on the factory floor.
Numerous studies have shown people care about the impact your brand or product has on their lives, and the larger impact it has on the world. Company executives and marketers understand this, but when we get down to brass tacks, the push/pull still exists. Our recent study showed this in spades. Too many speeds and feeds wind up in announcements, or worse yet, on stage at presentations. Yes, specs are important. But your brand having a purpose also matters, and that should lead the conversation at the highest levels.
As we kick off CES in a few weeks and possibly return to some form of in-person work, now is the time to turn the page and make your brand matter. This doesn’t mean abandoning your playbook; if you’re an established brand, you have a legacy. Learn from it, but put a fresh lens on it.
You can’t make brand matter by brute force. Brand must be built over time, but the first brick needs to be laid at some point — and grabbing a moment at CES is as good a time as any. That assumes you already plan to be at the show and expect to talk to reporters, analysts and influencers in attendance. Yes, it helps if you have something cool, new and unique to show them: Grab their attention with product but don’t miss the opportunity to layer in some meaning that ultimately ladders up to your brand ethos.
Learn from the past, build for the future and show the world the vision for what we could be. Today, better than any other definition, that’s technology.
Jordan is a partner at Allison+Partners helping brands tell their technology stories with the ultimate goal of driving adoption. In her more than 18 years with the firm, she has guided programs large and small to drive business results for the likes of Niantic, Qualcomm, YouTube, Mozilla and Samsung.