Brand Purpose Marketing

Finding purpose in progress: how to drive emotional engagement with tech innovations

By Nick O'Quinn, Strategy Director

Revolt

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March 10, 2023 | 8 min read

Following work to market a carbon-absorbing material, Nick O’Quinn of purpose consultancy Revolt dwells on how to position innovations with dreams of changing the future.

A person silhouetted against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of stars

How can marketers position innovations with progress at their heart? / Greg Rakozy via Unsplash

Technology needs more humanity”, wrote the Washington Post recently, questioning why crypto is still a “thing” and despairing at the tech bros who’ve made it so. In a world that constantly craves the ‘new’, innovation lies at the very center of how we see and drive the notion of ‘progress’. It’s a craving that drives us to fixate on the functionality of new tech, and forget what it’s there to serve.

The marketing community has long been guilty of this fixation. From VR experiences to brands scrambling to ‘do something in the metaverse’, it always comes back to a question – what’s the idea? If Vodafone’s new ‘Together’ positioning last year is anything to go by, real progress lies in the connection of technology with humanity; unlocking the emotion from innovation; finding the purpose at the heart of progress. But how can this humanity and sense of purpose be unlocked?

1. From complexity to clarity

New technology is often complex; communicating its potential even more so. It’s often built on clever science, reliant on foundational knowledge of a problem, or saturated with diverse and revelatory benefits. Take Revolt client Partanna, for example, a building material that absorbs carbon.

It absorbs carbon throughout its lifetime, and it minimizes emissions by utilizing waste materials from other industries in a process that requires no heat. Its one-surface prefabricated manufacturing process lends itself to building efficient, affordable housing, fast. And given the fact it gets stronger with salt water, Partanna presents a powerful solution for building climate-resilient homes in the coastal communities most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.

There’s a lot there. The key to finding human resonance is to be focused: to navigate through complexity, make a choice about your most relevant message, and deliver it with clarity. Apple has been masterful at this – choosing a single product feature to hero and unlocking the human stories that can bring it to life.

Working with Revolt, Partanna focused on the single most revelatory function: its ability to absorb carbon. This single-minded focus laid the foundations for how it could be powerfully brought to life.

2. From function to flair

When innovation has genuinely transformational functionality, it’s tempting to simply say what it is. But the key is to remember to make people feel something. Creativity is our industry’s superpower for elevating a brand message into something memorable.

Oatly’s ‘It’s like milk but made for humans’ is a great example. How to introduce the world to milk made from oats? Not only does it reframe our perceptions of cows’ milk (and in doing so completely reposition an entire category); it finds humor and human resonance in what is ultimately the juice squeezed from a seed.

Back to the Partanna example, its ability to absorb carbon is compelling, but it doesn’t absorb carbon through magic but through simple chemical exchange. The challenge is to find a human way to explain it. The exciting elevation comes in reframing Partanna from ‘a material that absorbs carbon’ to ‘a material that breathes’. It’s a metaphor for the most human exchange there is: bringing flair to function and making it feel both more relevant and resonant.

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3. From innovation to inspiration

With innovation, it’s tempting to only focus on the ‘what’. Not least because its raison d’être is that it brings a brand new ‘what’ into the world. But the bigger potential lies in the inspirational ‘why’ that can guide not only what you do now, but where you’re heading too. Tesla doesn’t make electric cars; it exists to ‘accelerate the advent of sustainable transport’. It’s the radical (albeit, at times, dangerously delusional) ambition of Musk’s vision that elevated Tesla into a pioneer that defined an entire category.

For Partanna, their narrative could have stopped at the articulation of what it is, but the real excitement lies in pushing further. Because Partanna isn’t just creating a material that breathes; it is ‘Building a World That Breathes’. This vision talks about the idea of a new world as much as it talks about the material with which we can build it, ushering in a new urban era against the backdrop of a suffocating planet. It’s a dream of a world where there is greater harmony between our built environments and our natural ones. Where both people and the planet are able to thrive.

Any new technology can feel shiny and exciting, especially for the people who created it. When that innovation has the potential to fundamentally change the world for the better, you could be forgiven for thinking it sells itself. But the usual rules of marketing still apply. Innovation is nothing without the powerfully human storytelling that can bring it to life. Technology is nothing without humanity. Progress is nothing without purpose.

Brand Purpose Marketing

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