Branding and Potlatch
(Introduction to a work in progress. Posted November 4, 2003)
In a previous essay Multidimensional
Positioning of Enterprise Technology I outlined a theory of positioning for the
enterprise high technology market. Here I do
the same for branding. Once again,
concepts from consumer marketing need to be greatly transformed before they are relevant
to the enterprise technology market.
Consumer branding generally has one or two basic
branding communicates and supports a products
positioning. For example, Crest proved in
the 1960s that it was the best possible toothpaste for my dental health, so just in case
thats still true I keep buying it today.
some cases consumer branding directly adds psychic
rewards to the consumption of the product.
This serves to increase in some cases greatly! a products value to the customer. Classic examples include Tiffany jewelry, Gucci
handbags, Nike shoes or premium-priced vodka, which by law has to be actually indistinguishable from
Typical branding tools include advertising and other
vehicles for messaging. Also important can be
a distinctive look and shape to the product or packaging, which serves to remind consumers
of a products brand identity.
The emotional and artistic aspects of branding are much
less relevant to the enterprise IT market than they are for traditional consumer products.
Million-dollar software packages are bought
based on the economic and career benefits to the purchasing organization and to the
individual decision-makers, and are delivered on a few nondescript CDs. Psychic rewards branding has very limited
applicability to enterprise technology. And
classical branding techniques serve to support only a limited portion of an enterprise
products complex overall positioning.
Nonetheless, branding does play an important role in
some IT markets. Its reasonable to say,
in enterprise technology and classical consumer markets alike, that branding is pretty
much just a diffuse form of messaging. And so
it follows that enterprise technology branding basically equates to diffuse messaging that is relevant to enterprise IT
In practice, this falls into four primary
Image marketing to create an impression of overall leadership and success.
Brand extension, in which a leader in one category
seeks to leverage that leadership in a related area.
We get it messaging, positioning the
company as particularly clueful about, e.g., the needs of a specific customer industry, or
about a particular computing platform.
Fun-based marketing, often geared to
hard-core techies and hackers rather than to the blander executives who make most IT
The most important of these is the first: Marketing to create an image of leadership and
success. For a number of reasons,
leaders in technology markets are more likely to attract customers, business
partners, and even investors. Indeed, I
suspect that a great deal of image marketing by technology companies can be equated to a potlatch a feast given by Native Americans
in the Pacific Northwest at which chiefs would prove their status by showing how many
valuables they could give away or simply waste. Similarly,
a lot of technology marketing carries little more message than We can afford to
spend lots of money on these ads and parties, so obviously we must be powerful industry
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