As we say goodbye to 2023, it's time to reflect on what has been a volatile year. It has been a year of challenges for early-stage science and technology companies but also one of opportunity to react and evolve at speed to meet the changing nature of the consumer and investor landscape.
In this end-of-the-year post, we delve into the branding trends that have defined the industry's landscape. From groundbreaking innovations to shifts in audience preferences, 2023 has been a year of significant transformation.
As an agency working with companies often at the start of their journey, we've witnessed firsthand how branding and communication strategies have adapted to creating new paradigms in engaging and resonating with audiences. Read on to discover the developments we see as shaping the narratives for an exciting 2024.
Working with brands with highly technical products has typically required us to find easy-to-convey ideas in simple, understandable ways but this year we’ve seen brands embrace their complexity as a way to differentiate but also remain true to what they do and the types of customers and investors they are looking to attract.
This was reflected in value-driven messaging and communication efforts that many successful science- and technology-forward companies embraced in 2023.
Value-driven messaging translates product benefits or functionality into value for the audience, for example: “what does the product do to improve the customer's life or experience?”.
Phycoworks - one of our clients - brought this to life with an approach that doesn't shy away from the deeply complex technology and utilization of AI that makes them unique in uniting biology and technology. Linking clearly explained complex ideas to simple solutions with real-world changing value helps audiences, both customers and investors comprehend the vast potential.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out in the science and technology sectors when innovation is evolving so rapidly. As such, being clear about what makes a brand different is critical. StackBlitz, which has seen significant growth in 2023, brings a fresh take to a complex world by connecting to a clear audience need and insight. By providing new tools for web development they help developers find the lost joy in the work they do.
For 2024, we expect to see a balanced approach to push complexity when it makes sense to and to simplify in other areas. The trick here will be taking a more nuanced approach to speaking in different ways to different audiences. Value-driven communication is going to be even more critical as companies enter another year of economic volatility, particularly in an investment space that is more cautious and measured in terms of the types of technologies and companies they are investing in.
Strengthen visual presence
With complex and value-driven communication strategies, we see an even bigger reason for brand strategy to inform brand design and visual identities. With that comes the need for early stage tech companies to understand the value, and importance of using the brand's strategy and verbal identity to influence and steer the visual identity.
Ensuring these two parts of the branding process are working in unison provides cohesion and consistency, and ultimately allows customers to understand a brand's communication more easily.
In addition to that, complex products require a special approach to visual communication. Oftentimes visualizing these products and concepts literally would confuse and alienate a lot of viewers—including potential investors. It's important to translate these concepts and systems in simple, creative ways, so they're not only easily digestible but also feel consistent with the brand's visual language.
As such, BioLoomics’ use of a grid of circles and lines to represent their goal of discovering ‘outlier’ cells has ensured a visual language that stands out in the sector but also, and more importantly, directly links to their business offering and technology.
Or another great example - Eigen’s use of both standard animation and on-scroll animation to visually convey what they do and how they do it, in a simplified and engaging way.
In 2024, we see more companies employ the use of visuals and graphics to help translate complex technologies and concepts without dumbing them down. With that, comes focus on custom infographics and data visualization as the best tools to approach this challenge.
Bet on authenticity
Authentic brands made an impact across industries this year and will continue to do so in the future.
Whether it be through using unique verbal or visual themes under-represented in the industry, an illustration style that provides differentiation, or interactivity and animation in the visual elements, more enterprise brands are starting to see the benefit of standing on their own and providing visual and verbal excitement within their category.
Candidly, a B2B2C solution for the management of student debt is built on the premise of helping students find financial wellness. An authentic understanding of what can be a highly emotional topic helps shape their visual and verbal execution to create a brand that consistently delivers innovative solutions through compassion across every touchpoint.
Additionally, Buffer - a social media management solution - is known for its dedication to transparency both internally and externally. This starts with the values and continues throughout every part of their company culture, product, and communication with customers.
Be guided by purpose
Across all the sectors we work with, we try to elevate what startups bring to the world. By working on visions and missions we help illustrate the potential of complex technologies and what they can do not just to improve the experiences of their audience but the macro impact of what they do. This year has been no different with brands wanting to set clear foundations that speak to the scale of their potential.
With that, sustainability and ethical considerations are integral to most brand strategies. Consumers are increasingly conscious of a brand's environmental impact, ethical sourcing, and commitment to social responsibility. Brands that prioritize sustainability are likely to gain a competitive edge.
For 2024 we may see more targeted approaches to what greater value the startups can offer. Whether it’s climate, social, or political, today's issues are inescapable and while not every company can make a tangible difference, we may see greater acknowledgment or to a degree activism in brands being clear about their role and what they can do to solve the challenges the world faces.
This is particularly evident in underserved categories. Ameelio builds communication technologies for a more rehabilitative corrections system. Where the connection between family members and inmates is critical for rehabilitation, leading with a clear purpose of how the brand facilitates that connection and why has been instrumental in the brand's success.
On the flip side, Rocket Companies, a provider of Rocket Loans, Rocket Mortgages, etc leads with purpose but for a much wider audience. By creating certainty in life's most complex moments, the brand speaks to a more individualistic but no less important purpose to help people feel more secure and in control.
Introducing a human touch in the brand's verbal and visual language helps connect with the end-users at a personal level, an important leverage even within technical and enterprise industries.
In 2023, we have seen those easter eggs being introduced in many communication channels and assets, and as the need for a human-to-human connection in the workplace grows, so will the need to create brands that are humane and approachable.
Across the board, user-centric design approaches have been driving the progress: either applied to the product interfaces or extended to the overall brand experience. They ensure the brand resonates with empathy and prioritizes the preferences of its end-users throughout their entire experience.
Additionally, in the past year, we have noticed the use of a brand mascot to add playfulness, provide further differentiation, and bring about a feeling of warmth and humanization. Mascots work well when used in marketing and comms but really come to life as part of the user experience in apps.
In social communications, influencer marketing and user-generated content continue to play a significant role across enterprise marketing strategies. Brands collaborate with influencers to reach specific audiences, and user-generated content is harnessed for authenticity, fostering community engagement.
A note on Artificial Intelligence
Naturally, AI gets a mention but what we’ve noticed with some of the companies we’ve worked with and more broadly in the industry - particularly biotech - is that the use of AI as a product or feature is being more and more positioned as one element of a wider solution.
Companies are finding their confidence in terms of where AI sits as part of their product story. The hype is reducing to the point that it only gets a brief mention for some of our clients as part of a much more unique and differentiating solution.
When it comes to visuals, AI has been on the rise and will continue in the future. We mostly see it used to generate personalized imagery, assist in applying design styles, or to optimize layouts and compositions.
For 2024, AI will still be hyped in verbal and visual communications and it will continue to evolve as a leverage to the solution, rather than a centerpiece for most of our clients and their brands.
This year has taught us the value of embracing complexity, the power of value-driven messaging, and the importance of authentic and purpose-driven branding. We've seen how visual presence and humanity can create deeper connections with audiences.
The challenges and opportunities for early-stage companies in the science and technology sectors remain immense. The evolving economic climate and investment landscape will require brands to be even more strategic and nuanced in their communication approaches.
As we enter 2024, the need for brands to be clear, compelling, and connected with their audiences has never been greater. It’s a challenge we’re ready for and we look forward to a new year full of potential and continued partnership with companies at the forefront of innovation and human impact.