By Nirm Shanbhag
For the technology sector, 2012 was a memorable—and tumultuous—year. Consider HP’s struggles, Facebook’s IPO, Zynga’s implosion, Über’s battles, Square’s mainstreaming, Dell’s transformation, Google’s push beyond search, Amazon’s push into everything, Apple’s struggles to surprise and BlackBerry’s struggles to survive. If the events of 2012 were any indication, 2013 will be notable not only for the arrival of game-changing new entrants, but also for how quickly once-dominant tech leaders will lose ground. Here’s what Interbrand expects in the year ahead—and what we think tech brands can do to avoid sliding into the dustbin of business history.
SAY HELLO TO THE NEXT NEXT BIG THING
The tech landscape will continue to constantly shift, with new entrants, new thinkers and new business models reshaping the relationships consumers have with brands. Square, for instance, is revolutionizing how consumers pay with an electronic payment service that allows credit card payments to be made through mobile phones. What started as a way for small/micro-businesses to accept credit card payments is now driving a payments revolution at the likes of Starbucks. Similarly, Über, innovators of the on-demand car service app, is turning the tightly controlled taxi and limousine markets upside down, empowering both drivers and passengers. One key to the success of both companies has been finding ways to scale quickly into protected positions to fend off the inevitable next next big thing.
"The keys to success for all tech brands—big and small, young and old—will be flexibility and agility. "
CHANGING LANDSCAPES WILL PUT MANY ON THEIR HEELS
This rise in disruptors, of all shapes and dispositions, will put the incumbents—those brands that saw us through the rise of the PC, the rise of the Internet, and the birth of the app economy—on defense. They will find themselves facing competition from all sides in 2013. Whether Dell or HP, Intel or Microsoft, Cisco or IBM, the barons of the recent past will find themselves being challenged for influence and brand relevance. Some companies will struggle to deliver against their brand promises. Considering how Apple’s iPad mini launch was met with yawns in 2012, how will it awaken the crowds in 2013? Others will find it difficult to maneuver beyond the reach of their legacies. Can Microsoft, for instance, become a standard outside of its PC ecosystem?
Even recent disruptors are not immune. Last year’s video game hero, Zynga, is this year’s laggard, largely due to the difficulty it’s had shifting from Facebook-centric gaming to mobile gaming. Google and Facebook, reigning champs of the tech world, will also find their positions challenged as niche players and old foes look for ways to shake up the new status quo. Companies like Yahoo might very well reimagine themselves into the hearts and wallets of 2013’s consumers.
The keys to success for all tech brands—big and small, young and old—will be flexibility and agility. The winners will have the ability to respond quickly to changes and carefully (re)craft brands in a way that balances roots and vision, respecting where they’ve been and charting where they want to go.
BEING HELPFUL WILL MATTER MORE THAN BEING BOLD
Once upon a time, Yahoo! and AOL epitomized the internet, curating the wild, new frontier and putting everything users wanted on one page. Google later broke the mold, distilling search down to its essence, and producing a new generation of highly relevant results that homed in on what users wanted, filtered out what they didn’t and let people get on their way. By helping users find the information they needed, quickly and easily, Google rose to the top.
The same risks AOL and Yahoo! once faced hold for companies like Amazon whose everything-under-the-sun approach is being challenged by curators like Fab.com and Gilt Groupe. Not unlike Google, curators are helping consumers grapple with seemingly infinite choices and leading them to what is most useful and relevant. In short, companies that use brand and technology to simplify some aspect of life—or offer consumers choices that are personalized, curated or customized—will free themselves to spend less time on short-term selling and more time on long-term engagement, getting more for their brand-building buck.
"To continue driving growth in 2013 and beyond, brands that support the connectivity that defines the modern, post-digital world will need to work even harder to deliver standout experiences and push for broader adoption of new technologies."
WHEN EVERYTHING IS SMART, YOU STOP NOTICING HOW SMART THINGS ARE
Increasingly, we are shifting from an era in which we recognize computer use as a distinct and separate activity to a new era in which computer technology is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of our lives. From healthcare, transportation, communication and agriculture to the way we work and play, everything is becoming “smarter.” Nest, for instance, the startup focused on reinventing the home thermostat, epitomizes the invisible yet radical changes today’s technology is introducing into our everyday lives. Not only more attractive than the old beige eyesore most people once had on the wall controlling the energy of their entire home, Nest’s thermostats can be programmed onlinefrom wherever you are using an iPhone or Android app. They “learn” from your manual adjustments, set their own schedule based on your patterns of living and have numerous innovative, energy saving features. Home heating and cooling will never be the same, yet this change has entered our lives quietly, surreptitiously. It doesn’t feel like a revolution, because smart technology is so ubiquitous.
For tech brands that are traditionally invisible to users like Intel, Qualcomm and Cisco, becoming visible beyond the enterprise and staying relevant is more critical than ever. To continue driving growth in 2013 and beyond, brands that support the connectivity that defines the modern, post-digital world will need to work even harder to deliver standout experiences and push for broader adoption of new technologies.
Though we are living in times that are faster and smarter than any the world has ever known, one thing remains constant: brands that work hard to connect with consumers, become adept at identifying and solving real problems, and use brand and innovation in conjunction to improve upon what’s come before, will be the ones consumers buy into.