Blue is the new beige: research reveals Australian startup branding is a bit dull

- April 19, 2022 2 MIN READ
Hotwire Australia's Drew Usher and University of Sydney's Dr Stacey Brennan
The branding of Australian tech companies is predictable and bland, compared to global competitors, a first-of-its-kind study into the use of semiotic codes by local tech brands has found.

The report, ‘Decoding Tech Brands’, a collaboration between The University of Sydney Business School, and market consultancy Hotwire Global, found that there’s an over-reliance on functional branding and marketing strategies amongst tech scaleups and ASX listed tech brands.

Scaleup tech brands fail to stand out from the crowd, 50% adopt the colour blue, while 50% use logo graphics to visually depict their product’s function. The combination delivers no distinctiveness in the fight for consumer attention according to Dr Stacey Brennan, co-lead researcher and Associate Professor of Marketing at Sydney Uni’s Business School.

Dr Brennan getting the semiotics of a brand right can deliver a series of incremental gains to impact the top and bottom lines and there is a huge opportunity for Australian scaleups to capitalise on the power of brand building for their long-term success.

“The research provided strong evidence that there are key learnings for tech companies at all levels, whether they be startups, scaleups or established players, to better utilise and build their brands,” she said.

“There is real value in forming partnerships that invest in discovering how the tech sector can greater intersect with marketing practices, and ultimately, enable stronger business decisions for one of the key growth engines of our economy.”

Function over emotion

Analysing scaleups and ASX listed tech brands, the researchers found that 75% adopted functional brand taglines and slogans, compared to only 18% of global high performing non-tech brands with the same approach. The other 82% use emotional taglines.

Dr Brennan said that by connecting on a more emotional, human level tech scaleups can improve their bottom line by increasing consumer intent to find out more by up to 20%.

Meanwhile, the study found that 43% of tech scaleups in the analysis adopt Functional Naming constructs – these describe their product function or feature. In contrast, zero tech brands adopted Experiential Naming strategies, which emphasise human benefits over product function.

The experimental phase of the study using a fictional Buy Now Pay Later brand tested on 1500 people, proved the most successful combination of brand assets include a descriptive name, the colour green, a curved logo, and emotive tagline, which when combined outscored the average emotional score across real scaleups by 10% and outscored the lowest combinations by 20%.

Co-lead researcher and Hotwire Australia Brand Strategy Director Drew Usher said the study found that tech scaleups focus on traditional and rational ways to communicate their brand.

“Branding is a powerful, yet undervalued tool by most tech scaleups which prioritise product over brand. Striking a balance between function and emotion in brand communications is a huge opportunity,” he said.

“For example, if a scaleup were to change certain levers within its brand toolkit, it could see a 20% increase in interest from people. By understanding the nuances of the brand design process, and how visual and verbal cues complete each other, scaleups can positively influence perception and unlock a series of incremental gains to capitalise on long-term growth and stability in their journey.”

The companies examined included scaleups (Series B/C funded) and ASX-listed tech brands, global high performing tech brands and global high performing non-tech brands.

You can download the Decoding Tech Brands Report here.