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By Michael D'Antonio

What does it mean to be a “tech company” – if indeed it means anything anymore? Like almost any other slang term that enters popular dialogue, “tech” and “technology” have started to lose their meaning through overuse. From bankers to ball bearing manufacturers, companies of almost every type have started to apply the term – or the broader lexicon around it – to their businesses, with widely varying degrees of relevance.

In one sense, this trend is just the latest symptom of an old disease: the over-application of business jargon. Terms like “agile,” “solutions,” “focused” and “lean” have taken serious beatings in recent years as they’ve assumed permanent resident status in ads, brochures, taglines and annual reports. (Indeed, a quick Google search for sites containing all four of these terms returns over four million results; here’s wishing the best of luck to the next “agile, lean, solution-focused” firm that tries to differentiate itself.)

“Tech,” though, is arguably a special case by virtue of being both so prevalent and being so inappropriate most of the time. Is there really an advantage to being a “tech” banker or ball bearing maker – or is it better to simply offer better banking service, or better ball bearings? The motivation for adding the “tech” tag seems clear enough: to capitalize on a current trend in order to make the business seem modern and relevant. The actual effect, though, is often something quite different. Leaping on the technology bandwagon most often appears to be precisely that; what’s worse, it serves to distract and confuse audiences who are unfamiliar with the actual advantages of the company’s product or service. “Tech” banking or bearings don’t mean anything; reliable banking and precision bearings, on the other hand, mean quite a lot.

What too many companies don’t understand is that there is a big difference between being a business that uses technology and being a technology-based business. This is the 21st century: Customers expect – and have every right to expect – that the companies they do business with use the latest tools and techniques to conduct their business. That’s a far cry from being a firm whose core function consists of conducting the research, refining the processes and developing the intellectual property associated with technological innovation – a true “tech company.” When a company that actually does the former positions itself as the latter, confusion is the most likely immediate result – as well as the appearance of being disingenuous.

Brand loyalty comes from brands who know who they are, to whom they are talking and why they are doing it. In a cluttered marketplace, the medium by which one delivers or supports its product isn’t what ultimately sustains them. Companies whose profiles rise above all of their competitors are those who have purpose and offer a value proposition that directly connects with their customers’ desires.

While integrating technology to create a better customer experience is valuable, slapping “tech” framing inappropriately onto a brand only serves to diminish its core DNA. As the digital universe continues to grow around us, consumers are starting to catch on. Despite the endless tech-hype in blogs and the business press, consumers are still human and humans still make decisions based on emotions. If you really want to connect in a certain marketplace, make sure you focus on values and character that inspire people.