9th Nov 2022

Purposeful brand building for tech start-ups

How can tech start-ups build stronger brands? Signal AI's reputation ranking reveals an opportunity you can't miss.

Tech start-ups are by nature focused on innovation. Showcasing exciting new technologies and cutting-edge product features offer a path to customer acquisition as well as differentiation against competitors.

Any founders know that marketing is a critical component of the journey. Feature launches and continuous innovation have become core components of the brand identity. However, with consumers becoming more value-driven, purpose has become the new commodity in demand. That is why I found Signal AI’s 500 Global Reputation Ranking particularly interesting (note: MMC first backed Signal AI in 2016).

By using AI and big data, Signal AI benchmarked companies’ reputations on hundreds of topics, including the importance of innovation, purpose and performance in their narratives (full study found here).

A quick glance at the 31 ranked tech and enterprise tech companies, shows that the sector is overall doing well in terms of brand building. Google snags the first position, closely followed by Apple, Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Amazon, and Salesforce. Yet, there is a missed opportunity – communicating more on purpose.

Purpose is defined by Signal AI as “storylines like DE&I leadership representation, wildlife protection, and political advocacy”. Or in other words sustainability, culture and CSR. On average, purpose represents 17% share of conversation for the tech companies ranked.

“14% of start-up businesses fail due to not having the right marketing and brand image.” CB Insights, 2019

Unlocking the power of purpose

A brand proposition that includes purpose affects the limbic brain and drives an emotional (stronger) connection. Emotions build loyalty and trust.

A strong brand can help start-ups to:

  • Fuel customer acquisition and growth
  • Attract and retain talent
  • Draw investor interest

As a start-up, it is often easier to lean on the list of product features and user benefits. Innovation is newsworthy; it generates attention. Simon Sinek said it better: “Volume is reasonably easy to achieve. All it takes is money or stunts. Money can pay to keep a message front and center. And publicity stunts are good at getting on the news. But neither plants seeds of loyalty.”

But looking at Uber and Airbnb, ranked 175 and 192 respectively with 40% share of conversation dedicated to purpose (compared to the 18% average), it is clear that turning purpose and values into action is an ample opportunity for brand building.

Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer further supports this statement, pointing out that business’s societal role is here to stay.

and… Action!

In order to connect the dots between purpose and product, tech start-ups must create emotionally engaging messaging and content. To make it more tangible, let’s use diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as an example (one among many worthy ones). I’ve also included some practical examples from MMC’s portfolio.

Here are five tips to get you started:

  • Be authentic
    This might seem obvious, but don’t tap into a topic just because it is the ‘flavour of the month’. Connect storylines on DEI to your own narrative by identifying the issues that are relevant to your business. Explain why you care. Integrate it on your website, speak to journalists, and contribute as a guest on podcasts or conferences. Here is a good example from Tyk explaining why they care about providing an inclusive working environment. Another inspiring example is Peak, asking a few members of its team why DE&I is important to them
  • Be accountable
    Your start-up may not have achieved ‘best in class’ when it comes to DEI (yet!), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make your voice heard. Being transparent about your goals, on your website or in your annual report, creates an opportunity to build trust. Safeguard Global annually reports on gender pay gap and its action plan and Ably has published its inclusive parental leave policy
  • Be personal
    Both founders and employees alike should have the opportunity to share their own experiences and views. Whether it is a short-form video interview or a first-person point-of-view blog post, personal stories are memorable and inspiring. For inspiration, check out Snowplow’s 30 seconds video shining a light on ‘Snowplowers’ around the world speaking their mother language
  • Be social on socials
    Don’t be afraid to engage in discussions on LinkedIn or Twitter, especially if linked to the brand values. Steve Roest (CEO & Founder of PocDoc) and Dr Bea Bakshi (CEO & Co-founder of C the Signs) are frequently posting on topics related to diversity and inclusion. Check out Bea's post on the imbalance of cancer care (using a quote by Martin Luther King Jr to emphasise her point) and Steve's post on health inequality
  • Be relentless
    Publishing a post on International Women's Day or during Black History month does not have a positive brand impact unless it is seen as authentic. Communication on purpose must be a continuous effort. Let others learn from your successful initiatives, share your current challenges, and contribute to the ongoing debate. YuLife’s blog is full of content connected to their purpose, from ways to support LGBTQIA employees during pride month (and beyond) to how to make menopause matter at work

Are you a start-up founder or CMO thinking about purpose and brand building?

Share your thoughts with Mikaela
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