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Tech Utility Vs. Brand. Which One Is Right These Days?

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

At my core, I am a strategist. I started in the advertising business as a client services person and then while working in Tokyo, Japan, as MD of a 600 person agency and the internet was exploding (but not all other markets) I thought as advertising agencies, the madmen, the marketing departments before clients marketed, we had to get ahead of this. But agencies were asleep at the wheel. So when I left Japan, I pivoted to strategic planning.

Now, after spending time in an agency as a strategic planner, then five years as a co-founder of a SaaS, location based mobile marketing platform, I've learned a few things. I humbly offer those now:

The New Challenge

Currently, my day job and passion is to help companies and brands navigate this new world of tech. and as Klaus Schwab would call it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. His premise is basically that our current societal organizations, public and private, and systems and processes are not set up to deal with this new reality. And I couldn't agree more. But how do I help brands navigate this? Some thoughts:

1. Early KPI of Success: Leading vs. Trailing Indicators?

With the rise of tech, you get coders and developers, those super savvy tech geeks that can build something, because they can, and at the time, it made sense. Some great platforms have arisen because of this new stakeholder group i.e. facebook, google, other similarly small companies etc. and good for them. But they had an insight, they grew by testing MVPs, looking at leading indicators vs. trailing indicators and harnessing the power of many more tools.

2. Don't Be Afraid Of The New - Understand It And Potentially Leverage It

And if you are an established, legacy brand, the challenging question is what do you do about these new brands and tech. platforms? Are they assets, media channels, partners, frenemies? And god-for-bid you are an agency, you are asking yourself what are these new business models, and mostly, new competitors doing in our space that our clients have appetite for? (we'll save that for another post).

But my original hypothesis stands: Is providing utility through a technology, vs a brand, enough? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?


My answer is this: in the early days of any new category when there are few competitors, brand is less important. You are in a crowd of one, or two. But as the market evolves, and there are 7,000 MarTech offerings for example, seven of which are in your segment of programmatic advertising space for example, brand becomes more important.

The one company that comes to mind that did it well was Marketo. They had their Marketing Nation, I suspect they new they had to stand for more than their competitors. And then they were acquired. This unto itself is not a sign of success, but sort of.

Something to think about. Ask your agencies to look at this for you. Have work sessions talking about this, There has never been a time in business like this. The inquisitive, the brave, the humble will excel in this space.

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