Layoffs Sales & Marketing Startups

Now Is The Defining Moment For The Tech Sector To Rebuild Trust 

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By Lisette Paras 

It’s been a bumpy 2024 for the technology sector. Well over 30,000 tech workers have been laid off in the U.S. alone this year, adding to the nearly 200,000 workers affected in 2023. And when the majority of Americans believe that Big Tech has “too much power,” while crowds set fire to a Waymo driverless vehicle, it’s clear that trust in tech is ebbing.

As a public relations professional, I believe that the souring public opinions toward the tech industry is a defining moment.

Building and maintaining a positive brand reputation requires long-term, deliberate attention and — with cutbacks now rampant — there’s never been a more vital time to focus on brand-building.

What’s in a brand?

Jeff Bezos famously quipped that “a brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Lisette Paras, founder and president of Gravitate PR
Lisette Paras, founder and president of Gravitate PR

While communications professionals are typically the stewards of the brand, crafting its positioning, visual identity, voice and campaigns, its power lies in the ability for everyone — both within and outside the organization — to align with what the brand stands for.

The most successful organizations do more than sell products or services; they evoke emotions and experiences that people want to share. If you consider some of the most valuable global brands today — from Apple to Coca-Cola — you’ll likely have a set of opinions, visuals and words associated with them.

Building brands takes time

For early-stage startups, the emphasis is on brand-building. These companies are relatively unknown and need to create the messages, narratives and programs that people will eventually associate with them. Brand efforts set the foundation for who the company is, why it exists, what value it delivers, its purpose and vision, and more, helping to consistently and credibly tell the story that will help it grow and scale.

Meanwhile, for established companies the focus is on “brand defending,” as there’s a well-trodden identity that distinguishes the organization from others. However, this doesn’t mean that the company should rest on its laurels — rather, how does it ensure that it continues to maintain a positive reputation and stay relevant? If an established company branches out into new markets or develops new offerings, there can be brand-building activities required to support this growth.

In both cases, brand initiatives take time. While a specific news event can be the jumping-off point to weave into a company’s messages, activities that improve recognition and trust goes well beyond a one-and-done announcement.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Studies have shown that companies with a strong brand reputation tend to outperform their competitors, which makes sense: People are more likely to do business with organizations they view favorably and have confidence in. Yet when companies experience uncertainty, branding efforts are often put on the back burner. And that’s where so many companies miss the mark — prioritizing short-term cost management for long-term reputation.

This is the case among many technology companies today. They are conducting mass layoffs, only to have to apologize for the lack of empathy in how they were handled. Or they’re paring diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging commitments, then reacting to employee backlash. And the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence is raising fears of how it could lead to further job losses, bias and discrimination, and privacy concerns.

For each outstanding brand or PR campaign, there’s another example of a poor one, and its negative effect on a business — from declining sales and low employee morale to a loss in credibility.

In the midst of a volatile market, ignoring ways to authentically build, maintain and defend a company’s brand is simply something that tech companies cannot afford.

Lisette Paras is the founder and president of Gravitate PR, a marketing communications agency that works with high-growth technology companies.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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