Innovation isn’t enough: How Australian startups and scaleups miss the message on branding

- May 23, 2022 2 MIN READ
Creating emotional connection helps you stand out from similar brands. Photo: AdobeStock
Scaleups and ASX-listed tech brands need to stop relying on product-centric functional marketing and embrace engaging brand messaging and communications if they wish to succeed. 

This is one of the central findings of a landmark research study conducted by Hotwire and the University of Sydney Business School.

The study, Decoding Tech Brands, examined the use of semiotic codes within tech brands and explored the branding patterns at different stages of business growth.

While providing a host of insights for startups, scaleups and established tech businesses, the research revealed that scaleup and ASX listed tech brands can often flounder when it comes to creating memorable, meaningful, and distinctive brands.

And the problem is innovation. Startups and scaleups have become over-reliant on innovation and the ‘newness’ of their products to do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing. There was a time when this was all a startup needed, and many now-established players rode this wave to success.

However, innovation is no longer enough. With technology an established layer across all verticals and industries, startups need to do more to elevate their businesses. And the answers lie in brand marketing.

Standing out in a sea of sameness 

One of the most significant issues facing startups and scaleups is awareness. However, almost half of all brands included in the research adopted blue logos, resulting in a lack of differentiation, with many scaleups drowning in a sea of sameness.

It’s hardly the most innovative move for a sector known for its innovation. Then throw in the functional and descriptive brand names, slogans, and taglines the tech industry loves to use, and things become really challenging.

According to the research, 70% of respondents could not recall or identify the scaleup brands included in the study. Perhaps more challenging is that a fictional brand included in the study had the second-highest awareness among respondents.

The research also revealed that most scaleups pay little attention to their brand beyond logo and brand name. Clearly, there is work to be done. The competition for people’s attention is greater than ever, but with such low brand recall among pundits, scaleups need to do more.

Creating emotional connections to build brands  

The challenge for Australian scaleups is to move beyond the product-centric and function-based marketing that most startups create. This work is essential for creating awareness, but as companies mature from scaleups to established players, they need to develop strong connections with consumers.

This is where the brand becomes hugely important. The world’s most successful tech brands invest in creating emotion-based connections with consumers to ensure they are memorable.

Tech brands must go beyond product-centric communications to create customer-centric communications that provide the emotional reasons people need to choose one brand over another similar alternative.

The research also found that emotional connection drives greater intent to find out more – and of course, this is of paramount importance for startups and scaleups trying to build traction in the market. The data highlighted a missed opportunity amongst scaleups to increase emotional connection scores by up to 20% using brand identity assets alone.

It can be challenging to justify the investment in long-term brand building, especially when faced with the limited resources and short-term focus of startups and scaleups; however, the research shows that brand building delivers long-term benefits to the business outcomes.

In a tech-dominated world, products come and go, but brands are for the long haul. By building distinctive and meaningful connections with consumers, a business is investing in its growth, longevity, and success.