To marketers, framing a company as a technology business has clear advantages. After all, consumers increasingly interact with businesses through technology platforms and devices. Tech has also become a byword for innovation, and aligning with this movement is a straightforward way for companies to connect with those who take interest in all that is new and shiny.
Despite knowing most of the tricks marketers use to target different audiences, I must confess that many brazen targeting strategies to “tech-up” a perfectly non-tech company have worked on me. From the “technology revolution” in biking socks, to the (unashamedly: multiple) coffee-as-a-service businesses that count me among their customers, I am walking, coffee-sipping proof that the power of tech marketing is real. Aligning yourself with - and investing in - good technology has other benefits too, like improving prospects for hiring the tech-savvy.
But as more and more businesses take this path, I for one am feeling tech fatigue.
Overuse of the language of technology is starting to feel inauthentic, stale, and hackneyed. Virtually every business, from banks, to retail outlets, to manufacturers and power plants relies heavily on technological innovation. So what makes your food delivery service, your car-sharing service, your music-subscription service or your soft-drinks company a “technology company”? I don't buy it.
A High Court decision from earlier this year recognises the point well, suggesting that software is so ubiquitous that trade mark registrations claiming a monopoly over all software might be invalid for failing the requirement of clarity. The idea here is that a competitor should be able to understand what a trade mark owner is trying to protect, and there’s seemingly no end to what software can be. The decision is subject to appeal, but sent reverberations around the trade mark world as businesses began to question whether they had valid protection for an important category of goods or not. For many businesses, though, the issue may be overblown. Unless you build technologies for other business’ use, tech probably isn’t what you’re selling, as much as how you’re selling it. S&P Dow Jones seems to have recognised this fact when it recently moved multiple stocks (including in Alphabet and Facebook) outside of its “information technology” category and into “communication services” instead.
As an overzealous consumer of tech products, I’m increasingly drawn to those brands which are straightforward in their messaging. As a brand lawyer, the case for being clear about who you are may be stronger still. Clarity about what your business is (and what it isn’t) can save you from costly legal disputes and strengthen your rights in the area of business you actually engage in. Further, if what you do is clear to your competitors, they’re less likely to tread on your toes, or to take costly action to restrain use which – if you are unclear - they may wrongly identify as treading on theirs.
a company that merely tries to pass itself off as something it is not risks annoying, or worse, confusing, its front-line staff and customers. Common sense says most users of banks, carmakers and athletic wear want to save or borrow money, to buy a reliable car, or to find some comfortable leggings. If they start to worry about how the technology works, it has either gone wrong ( banks, please note), or is somehow obscuring the core product.