Five Tips to Humanize a Technology Brand

Parna Sarkar-Basu

January 17, 2018

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When we hire sales reps, it's mostly about whom they know.

When we research a company, we check out the CEO's profile on business platforms and browse sites like Glassdoor to see employee impressions.

We value user testimonials because they validate products. Do you see the pattern emerging?

Relationship, credibility, culture, and validation�"it's all about people.

People buy technology from people. People influence people with their opinions. People run companies and build a corporate culture.

In short, people buy based on how they feel about a brand. Therefore, emotion and trust play a big role in our purchasing decisions, from cars and watches to software and wearable devices.

To quote Seth Godin, "People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic."

Here are a few best practices I use to humanize a technology brand.

1. Share your CEO or founders' story. Behind every major tech brand, there's a human face. Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk—and the list goes on. The latest CEO brand under development is that of Microsoft's Satya Nadella. This feature in Fortune exemplifies what he's like as a person, how he copes with a tight schedule, and how he makes time to visit future innovators. We also learned that Satya once surrendered his green card for his wife and that he likes to spend time with students. These snippets make him human and likable.

All innovators have had life experiences that shaped their management styles, from being a fighter pilot to a math teacher-turned CEO. Leaders are passionate about innovation, so tell a story that illustrates where that innovation began. Leaders also have hobbies, like playing in a band or rock climbing. Show what makes them tick.

Why not share a small piece of their personal lives with influencers via stories, pictures, or videos? All you need is a handful of well-thought-out narratives in key media to bring out your leader's personality—which could also be an icebreaker in customer meetings.

2. Spotlight the engineers. Generally, it's the founder or founders who had the disruptive idea. However, as a company scales, it's the engineers who are building on that idea, keeping the company innovative, and making sure the product maintains its competitive edge. For example, we hear that robots will take over the world with artificial intelligence. In reality, it's about the people who are creating these cutting-edge technologies and discovering interesting applications.

Why not focus on the engineers and technologists who are developing interesting products? Showcase not just their technical expertise but their hunger for new technology or new experiences outside work. Invite them to do a 30-minute video interview or ghost-write a short blog on their passion. I have had the privilege of working with engineers and developers who are intelligent and adventurous—race car drivers and dirt bikers to kite surfers and beer makers. And it's this passion they bring to work that helps expand a company's competitive edge.

Companies often fear that by spotlighting engineers, competitors will poach their talent. Well, if you keep your employees happy and rewarded, it's hard to steal them. And in case you hadn't noticed, thanks to social media, there's no keeping your talent under wraps anymore.

3. Build and empower brand ambassadors. Employees are your biggest assets. They reflect your culture and are potentially your best brand champions. Each is interacting daily with a variety of people, like friends, family, and potential prospects. Arm them with updated messaging, news, and relevant information they can share with their peers on traditional and digital channels. The more they talk about their company and experiences, the more like-minded talent will flock to your company. Have them attend community or industry events. Let them show their enthusiasm.

I often conduct company-wide coaching on social media on how individuals and functional teams can leverage the power of social media. We talk about how to post thoughtful comments and engage in relevant conversation without overtly "selling." In addition to helping the company, these ambassadors get to build their thought leadership profiles and be seen and heard by their peers.

4. Focus on the human side of technology. We all know it's the people, not the technology, that makes a brand successful. Of course, you need to tell your technology story. However, as tech marketers, we should also bake in programs to spotlight the people behind the brand. Technology for technology's sake doesn't generate the headlines that founders and engineers crave. Sending out data sheets on digital platforms doesn't result in social engagement, either.

One way to explain your product is to focus on customer pain points and show how you helped solve the problem. Better yet, celebrate the product's impact on lives, society, or the planet. Tell a story. Include anecdotes about how the team created the product, including failures and successes. Develop branded and non-branded content that's interesting and inspirational. Add humor to your emails and social cards.
Granted, some technologies are hard to explain, especially complex enterprise software. Create a narrative to tell how technology touches our lives every day, reaching aspects like banking, shopping, or storing memories.

5. Contribute to society. Giving back to the community is a business imperative. Generosity not only humanizes a brand but supports a cause that's important to employees. For example, we often buy from stores that are giving back to the community or schools. Similarly, people expect technology organizations, especially large enterprises, to be good neighbors, doing things like helping improve STEM initiatives and helping during natural disasters.

People like buying from brands that show empathy. Doing simple things like partnering with nonprofits (like food banks), encouraging employees to volunteer in soup kitchens, or conducting a toy drive for the holiday season makes a difference in people's lives. You could promote sustainability or aid a cause your employees care about.

Granted, you may not be selling your product directly. However, the goodwill and accompanying word of mouth helps a business succeed and boosts employee morale.

Incorporating all or some of these steps into your corporate marketing strategy will go a long way to bringing a brand to life, both for startups and established businesses. As you can see, the new Microsoft CEO recognizes the importance of humanizing the brand and has, therefore, shifted the way the company talks about itself and how it engages with its customers.

How else could we humanize a brand and bring technology to life? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Parna Sarkar-Basu is a corporate marketing strategist and founder of Brand and Buzz Marketing. Leveraging her two passions—technology and brand building—Parna has an innate skill of humanizing brands, simplifying complex concepts, and creating industry buzz that elevates companies to new heights. Recipient of multiple awards, Parna serves as a strategic advisor to CEOs and founders. She collaborates with them on a variety of engagements, from launching companies and products globally to reputation management and thought leadership.

A champion for STEM initiatives and innovation, Parna serves as the WITI (Women in Technology International) Boston Network executive advisor and sits on the South Shore Innovation board. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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