05/11/2011 04:11 pm ET | Updated Jul 11, 2011

Why Greentech Needs Strong Brands to Survive

This article is an adaptation of a Canadian Cleantech Summit webinar.

I'm a creative director with a passion for building strong Greentech brands.

Greentech companies are an interesting study. They're dominated by logical, linear thinkers who enable great innovation, but often fall short when it comes to building brands. I personally believe the world needs Greentech to succeed. By sharing my brand learning, I hope to enable a better win record in this vital sector.

Great Brands Are Intuitive

So what goes into a good brand?

Let's step outside the tech paradigm for a moment. Way outside. The crusaders, in my opinion, had one of the most successful brands in history. Why? Most would say it was the great logo. Big red cross, bright white background. But that's confusing logo with brand. The real brand wasn't painted or stitched. It existed in people's minds.

First, the mind of the knight wearing the cross. When you donned that red logo, it gave you a sense of purpose and inner strength. And just as important, the mind of the hapless peasant who encountered that knight. The red cross inspired instant respect, or abject terror -- depending on which side of the religious fence you found yourself on.

What's important was the logo inspired these feelings intuitively. The audience simply had a space in their head filled with perceptions of what that logo meant. And that perception was strong enough to move them to action.

Great Brands Create Movement

Ad giant David Ogilvy had a wonderful quote -- "When Aeschines spoke, they said, "How well he speaks."  But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, "Let us march against Philip." I'm for Demosthenes."

This is what powerful brands do. They incite action.

Simon Sinek talks about why some brands continue to create action, innovation, and loyalty - while others don't.

He believes most companies know exactly what they do. They know how they do it. But they haven't a clue Why.

Let's take computer companies, for example. Their standard pitch goes something like: "We make computers (what). They're shiny and fast (how). Buy one." Hardly inspiring.

Contrast that with Apple. A company with the same access to innovation, but a highly developed brand. They start their pitch with the why.

"We exist to challenge the status quo in everything we do (why). We do it by rethinking tech to surprise and amaze (how). You'll find this in every computer we make. And phone. And music player. And TV tuner (what)."

Powerful stuff. And if you share Apple's why, you'd probably be happy to buy an Apple car or frying pan if they made one.

That's the way beliefs work. Starting with why liberates your thinking and allows you to transcend categories.

Compare this with Microsoft -- the ultimate what and how company. They tried, and failed, to launch a competitive music player. People simply couldn't see where they were going with it. Who would buy a music player from a computer software company?

Truth is, you're doing it every day, with Apple.

Great Brands Start With Empathy

How do you create power like this?

Well, Steve Jobs intuitively knew what consumers were looking for. It was what inspired him.

For the rest of us, though, we need to consciously develop our empathy skills.

Empathy is the ability to see the world through someone else's eyes. After all, if we we don't see eye to eye with them, how can we create something that inspires them?

Clare Graves can help us get there.

Graves was a psychologist who helped us understand how people understand the world. This knowledge enables us to form empathetic bonds with them.

He defined four worldviews -- absolutistic, opportunistic, humanistic, and systemic -- that are particularly instructive.

Absolutistic people seek order. They have strong faith in a greater power. They believe in sacrifice today, for a reward in heaven.

It's the predominant worldview of the politically conservative, and religiously devout.

The Opportunistic thinker, on the other hand, sees the world as a game they're smart enough to win at. They believe they're justified in taking advantage of those who don't grasp the same opportunities. If things get ethically uncomfortable, they talk about ends justifying means.

Opportunistic thinkers enabled the great wealth of the 20th Century. And they're alive and well today, personified by entrepreneurs like Donald Trump.

As a reaction to the inequities created by the Opportunist, we saw the rise of the Humanist. Humanists believe there is more to life than money. They recognize the karmic importance of treating others well. You'll find humanists among the ranks of hippies, liberals, and 'new agers.'

From the Humanists and Opportunists evolved the final worldview we want to discuss -- Systemic thinkers. Systemics believe everything in the world is interconnected. Like Opportunists, they see through the veil of money. Like Humanists, they understand that there is a connection between the happiness of others and their own happiness. They also see sustainability of the planet as key to their own self-preservation. Think Richard Branson or Barack Obama.

When Worldviews Collide, Brands Fail

So now you understand the concept of worldviews.But it's key to understand the importance of aligning your brand with the worldview of your audience.

Let's bring this close to home by talking about you -- the greentech innovator -- and your potential buyer.

You're a creative thinker. Your buyer is probably an order driven thinker. You're doing this to make money, but also to make the world a better place. Your buyer is trying to keep his family, and his company safe.You believe in unleashing a new reality. Your buyer, not so much. In short, you're probably a systemic thinker. He's probably an absolutistic thinker.

So what does this buyer think of you?

Well, first off, he probably doesn't trust you, because you're not like him. He might think you're a bit dangerous, or unreliable. He might see your product as innovative, but risky. Now you understand why innovators have a hard time selling product. And why you have to build a brand for your buyer that will create an empathetic bond.

What would the hallmarks of that brand be?

Let me take a slice from one of the tech companies I've worked with. Their brand attributes, interestingly, have little to do with their technology. They are: customer service, the passion of real people, shared team vision, commitment, integrity and loyalty. Precisely the values of their best buyers. Coincidence?

Get Started

We've spoken about building powerful brands, and tapping empathy to inspire your buyers to action.

So how do you get started? By getting an outside perspective of your brand.

Write down the following questions.

  • What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of my company?
  • Does my company share your beliefs?
  • Do we live those beliefs every day?

I want you to ask prospective clients these questions. I'll guarantee the answers will surprise you.

If you'd like to know what to do with the information, drop me a line. I'd be happy to provide you with thoughtstarters.

After all, we all need you to succeed.