Thoughts On Brand Equity In The Tech Industry

Brand equity is a powerful force. It can deify or debase a brand. It takes a long time to create a reputation, either good or bad. But your brand has to perform consistently to keep it’s aura of quality. And if the mere mention of your brand holds bad connotations, that too can be rehabilitated, with a lot of work and long-term consistency.

While the examples I’ll use in this post are part of the tech culture, the ideas can be applied to brands in any industry.

brand eq·ui·ty


the commercial value that derives from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service, rather than from the product or service itself.

Brand equity is the positive negative vibes that surround the perception of a brand. Whatever qualities a brand ultimately becomes known for, that perception travels forward in time, even if the brand products are different in the present day.

Positive equity works to the benefit of brands that have become known for quality, dependability, and utility. Negative brand equity works against brands that have become synonymous with frustration and unreliability.

Examples of Positive Brand Equity

There are plenty of examples of positive branding resulting in consumers being happy to pay premium prices. Nike, Beats, Rolex, BMW, and Nest are just a few that spring to mind.

Apple is one of the strongest examples of positive branding done right. For over three decades, they have crafted a culture of innovation, quality, and ease of use. They charge a premium price because they are a premium brand. Their products have been designed to work intuitively and reliably — so much that glitches are never even anticipated.

The recent release of Apple’s new operating system, OS X Yosemite, came not long after the release of the last operating system, OS X Mavericks. There were glitches and unexpected bugs.

Lifelong Apple users don’t anticipate a bad experience. There is so much good vibes built up around their brand that one-time blips don’t phase their brand champions.

But recently, there have been more rumblings that maybe they are rushing things too quickly. Maybe they should just slow their roll a little and just make sure things work before they release them.

For a lesser brand, glitches and bugs on a production release would open a firestorm of criticism. Because on the internet, criticism is as easy as breathing. But even those who publish criticism quickly change their minds. People who work in that ecosystem have unwavering faith that things will get back on track.

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Adobe is an example of positive brand equity that is in a bit of decline. Photoshop and other Adobe products have been the industry standard since the industry began. For years, they have been known as the most robust set of tools with the most integration. They have been the best for a very long time.

But in the last couple of years, I have seen numerous designers complain about Adobe Creative Cloud, and express frustration at Photoshop and Illustrator continually crashing because of inefficient use of memory.

Adobe is advancing, but is facing serious competition from Sketch and Pixelmator.

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If you have a great product filling a genuine need, it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes along trying to do what you do even better.

Negative Brand Equity and Rehabilitation

Note: The following examples are from the perspective of the web development community only. These two brands have some negative brand perception from regular consumers, but have drawn much of their ire from web professionals, who hold very long grudges.

GoDaddy is one of the top domain name brokers on the planet. But for years, they were known for notoriously slow web hosting, relentless upselling, annual Super Bowl commercials that degraded women, and an elephant-shooting CEO.

The web community’s loathing for GoDaddy was deep. When it was announced that the web industry’s favorite hosting platform, MediaTemple, was being sold to GoDaddy, some people couldn’t move their sites from MediaTemple fast enough.

But then a funny thing happened.

GoDaddy changed their CEO from Bob Parsons to Blake Irving. They got rid of the T & A ad campaigns and started focusing on small businesses that kick ass.

GoDaddy started recruiting some of the best and brightest in design. They overhauled the design of their website to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. The upsells became a bit more subdued. Even GoDaddy’s VPS hosting is much improved. (Their shared hosting has improved, but still throttles if too many requests from the same IP address come in at the same time).

But there are years of bad brand aura that will linger around GoDaddy. Web professionals may give them a chance, but most are still going to be reluctant to trust them.

Similarly, the name Internet Explorer will incite strong feelings among a roomful of web professionals. For years, developing for the web meant working with the legion of IE hacks that other browsers didn’t have. Firefox was a godsend, as was Chrome. Even the consumer share of IE dropped as the years went by.

Microsoft knew they had to work on their reputation inside the web community, in order to recruit the best developers. They had to innovate to keep pace with other browsers. People no longer thought of them as being on the cutting edge.

Internet Explorer 11 was more adherent to W3C standards, but that wasn’t enough by itself. Microsoft set up to show what things IE was capable of. They launched to give developers a way to test IE through a partnership with BrowserStack.
also gave developers access to compatibility testing and virtual machines for IE6 through 11. (Most developers use Apple, which has a different operating system than Windows. This makes it difficult to test Internet Explorer.)

These things were done as a show of good faith that Internet Explorer still wanted to be relevant in the web community. My own favorite part of this campaign was this self-deprecating ad which shows they knew what people thought of them, and they were okay with working hard to come back.

Even with all this work, the negative connotations associated with the IE brand are still hard to overcome in the developer community.

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What You Can Take Away From This

These lessons don’t just apply to companies in the technology space. They apply to every brick and mortar company, every mom-and-pop shop, and every mega-corporation as well.

Everything your business does adds to or detracts from the perception your brand. The way you do things contributes to your brand perception. Who you do things for contributes to the equity of your brand.

My challenge to you is to do more than simply avoid negative brand perception — don’t just aim for being like everyone else. I’d like to see you aim for excellence. Aim for something people can believe in, not just in your products, but in your culture, the way you treat people, and the reason your company exists at all.