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Tech Recon: Be True To Your Shelf

In general, the consumer tech industry is run by engineering and sales types. Not a shocking revelation I know, but the public wants to believe that at the helm of every company sits a visionary “Steve Jobs” type, challenging the status quo in their tireless quest to make the world a better place. It’s a nice thought, but when you consider some of the missteps we see while walking the aisles of consumer tech retail it would appear that the reality is quite the opposite. 

How do I know this, say you? What gives me the right to make such sweeping claims? Well, for the past eight years we’ve been helping consumer tech companies stand out at retail, and we find the following themes recurring over and over:

1. You can’t be Apple: Why? Because Apple is Apple already!

Once we actually had a client give us a ratio: “We would like to be 80 percent Apple and 20 percent us,” they said. “We’re not a good fit for you,” we said.

Apple has had such great success because they were able to create great meaning in their brand by not doing what anyone else was doing. Steve Jobs was truly brave in the chances he would take with his brand. Would you be that brave? Are you that brave? If your agency pitched you the grammatically incorrect slogan “Think Different” at the same time a top competitor, IBM, had the slogan “Think,” would you accept it?

It’s dangerous and scary business to travel far off the reservation and blaze a new trail like that. The reality is, you might fail, but truth is it wouldn’t be because your marketing was too radical. No company with amazing products, solid funding and an iron-clad distribution chain ever died from being too different than their competition.

2. Resist the urge to just copy your competition.

Performing a competitive analysis at the onset of a project is a great exercise. Understanding where your competition is positioned in the market exposes opportunities to take advantage of, and is an outstanding thing to do. Flat out copying what your competition is doing in hopes of grabbing a piece of their business … really, really bad move.

Let me help by painting you a picture that illustrates my point. The scene opens on a handful of gents wearing short-sleeve polo shirts and khakis, sitting quietly around a boardroom table full of competitive product. A lone marketer is presenting design ideas for their brand new “me-too” product and a conversation ensues. It’s the usual, “make the logo bigger” kinda stuff, and then the lead sales guy says “Just make it look like this.” And he holds up the product packaging from their main competition and leader in the market. He assures the group that’s what the buyer from [insert big-box retailer name here] wants, and for differentiation, “We can just change the accent color to red, because my wife likes red.” And, close scene.

The problem with copycats is they dilute the market, but the good news about copycats is … they dilute the market. Be true to why you got into business in the first place and create an authentic retail presentation around those ideals. Then if someone tries to copy your direction they’ll come across as pandering or contrived.

By the way, if your answer to the question “Why did you start your company?”  is “To make money,” then don’t call us, we can’t help you. If you can’t answer the question “Why do you exist” with a meaningful statement then there’s nothing that anyone can do to convince the public otherwise.

Jamie Capozzi is the founder and creative director of Theory Associates, a strategic branding agency that “creates crave” for some of the world’s leading technology brands. He can be reached at (415)904-0995.