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Branding for tech companies: how to avoid common pitfalls

10 May 2022
Australian-first marketing study reveals branding wins and fails
The University of Sydney Business School and Hotwire Australia partner to explore the fundamental role of brand in Australia's digital economy.

The University of Sydney Business School and Hotwire Australia, the global technology communications consultancy, have launched ‘Decoding Tech Brands’, a first of its kind report and extensive study into the use of brand and communication materials by Australian tech brands at different stages of business growth.

The report found that getting the semiotics of your brand right can deliver a series of incremental gains to improve performance. With the tech sector being the third-largest contributor to Australian GDP and a key accelerator of our nation’s economic growth, there is a huge opportunity for Australian scaleups (companies that are larger than a startup and rapidly expanding) to capitalise on the power of brand building.

The study explored the representations and meanings of verbal and visual signs and symbols within Australian tech and global brands, and how they shape consumer associations, perceptions and expectations at various stages of growth. For example, why do so many tech companies use the colour blue?

an image of lots of different blue logos

Many tech companies are using blue and failing to stand out.

It found that there’s an overreliance on functional branding – telling the consumer what the product does rather than the consumer benefit or experience – among tech scaleups and ASX listed tech brands. By connecting on a more emotional, human level, tech scaleups can improve their bottom lines by increasing consumer curiosity by up to 20 percent.

Findings include:

  • Scaleup tech brands fail to stand out from the crowd: 50 percent adopt the colour blue, and 50 percent use logo graphics to visually depict their product’s function.
  • 43 percent of tech scaleups adopt Functional Naming constructs - these describe their product function or feature. In contrast, no tech brands adopt Experiential Naming strategies—which emphasise human benefits over product function.
  • 75 percent of tech scaleups and ASX listed tech brands adopt functional brand taglines and slogans, compared to only 18 percent of global high performing non-tech brands who adopt the same approach.
  • The experimental phase of the study using a fictional brand proved the most successful combination of brand assets include a descriptive name, the colour green, a curved logo, and an emotive tagline. When combined, this rendered the fictional company 10 percent more emotionally compelling than the average real scaleup brand, and 20 percent more than the lowest-scoring brands.
photo of two researchers standing together, Drew Usher and Stacey Brennan

Researchers: Dr Stacey Brennan from the University of Sydney Business School (right) and Drew Usher from Hotwire Australia.

Dr Stacey Brennan, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Sydney Business School, said: “The research provided strong evidence that there are key learnings for tech companies at all levels to better utilise and build their brands.

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

Drew Usher, lead researcher and Brand Strategy Director at Hotwire Australia, said: “Our study found that tech scaleups focus on traditional and rational ways to communicate their brand. The risk is that it is holding them back from reaching their full potential.

“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.

“For example, if a scaleup were to change certain levers within its brand toolkit, it could see a 20 percent increase in interest from people.”


The study involved analysing both tech and non-tech brand assets, as well as primary research and in-depth interviews with senior marketers in tech companies:

  • Phase one: semiotic analysis of brands at different stages of growth, including scaleup tech brands (Series B/C funded), ASX listed tech brands, global high performing tech brands, and global high performing non-tech brands.
  • Phase Two: an experimental study with 1,500 Australians aged 18-70, using a hypothetical test brand positioned in the Buy Now Pay Later category.
  • Phase Three: in-depth interviews with experienced tech marketers, discussing the common brand building challenges facing scaleup tech brands today.

Declaration: This study was funded by HotWire Australia. Top image: Unsplash

Read the research: Decoding Tech Brands

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