Brand Strategy

What Does it Really Mean to Be a ‘Tech’ Company?

By Blair Poloskey


Many years ago, a Texas craft brewing legend, Real Ale, came knocking on our door looking for communications support. At first blush, we didn’t think it was a good fit – we were a tech PR firm, not a food and beverage-focused agency. But what we found, while doing our due diligence over a few cans of Hans Pils, was that Real Ale wasn’t just a craft brewery – it was a tech company. That’s to say, it was a company with an innovation story to tell. To this day, Real Ale is taking a unique approach to brewing and distribution to create products unlike any other in its market.

In the years since that meeting, the proliferation of technology, influx of investment in the technology sector, and companies like Domino’s finding success in shifting to tech have made it possible for almost anyone to claim they are a technology company. But, as the Washington Post has pointed out, “When everyone is a tech company, no one is.”

Myths Behind the Technology Company Label

So, who counts as tech? Does Real Ale? Burton? Nike? Stitch Fix? Schlage? Neutrogena? Any startup in Silicon Valley?

And what qualifies the tech label? A mobile-first strategy? A SaaS model? A tiny Bluetooth sensor embedded in a previously “non-tech” product? Wait, I know! If they use a 3D printer? Or work with IBM Watson for BI? Nope. That isn’t being a technology company. That’s just using tech. And everyone is using tech.

Is it funding, then? If you can get venture capital (VC) on board with your business, does that make you tech? I would, again, argue no. Maybe in the early aughts, it was safe to say VCs were only interested in tech or healthcare. But the wild success of companies like Lululemon have proven that VCs are interested in market fit and potential returns, not whether you can justify calling yourself tech or not.

Is it where you tell your story? The Impossible Foods team had a wildly successful launch at CES 2019 for their Impossible Burger 2.0. They were an unexpected hit, handing out over 12,000 sliders and garnering loads of press in the process. They came back for round two in 2020 to launch Impossible Pork. Does its success at the largest technology show in the world make Impossible Foods a tech company?

With 15 CES experiences under my belt, I can say with 100% certainty that exhibiting (even successfully) at the show does not make you tech.

But we’re getting warmer.

Technology Is Synonymous with Disruption

Impossible Foods didn’t go to CES claiming it was tech. It was claiming to be a disruptor. In both 2019 and 2020, it focused its narrative on the science and innovation (the tech) required to deliver its product. But what made it stand out from the melee of wearables, and hearables and rideables – not to mention artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and TVs galore – was its newness, innovation, and obvious disruption.

The reason companies want to hitch their wagon to tech is not because of the silicon or the sensors or the cloud or the AI. Companies want to be tech because that is where the disruption is. And disruption stories are exciting. Disruption means growth, speed, forward momentum – being ‘tech’ is simply more interesting.  

How to Tell a Disruptor Story Like a
Tech Company

A powerful innovation story won’t land in your lap. There are four foundational elements you need to have locked down before setting out to tell the world about your disruption.

  1. Focus. What exactly are you disrupting? This can be the status quo of pizza delivery or the complex logistics of freight shipping, but it has to be specific and clear. Hazy visions and ideals lead to confusing products and corporate missions that don’t align when scrutinized.

  2. Future Impact. It isn’t enough to solve a current problem. To really be disruptive, you have to understand and articulate a desired future state. This not only requires intimate audience knowledge and understanding, but a calloused ability to disassociate from the immediate pain points and see the long-term potential over short-term gain.

  3. Unique Expertise. This doesn’t have to be years of education or technical prowess. Those things can be acquired. This is more ethereal but still imperative to understand. Why is your company the one to forge this path?

  4. Tech. More than creating technology, this is about embracing technology. Technology can be the greatest differentiator until it becomes the greatest equalizer. Disruptor stories use tech in new ways, capitalize on improvements, or invest in and understand emerging technology before it comes mainstream. You don’t necessarily have to be first, but you definitely cannot stand still.


If the Shoe Fits

While we pegged Real Ale as tech for its innovative brewing process years ago, the real reason why we were able to tell its story was not our technology experience. It was decades of practice telling disruptor stories. Yes, that came hand-in-hand with companies in the tech industry. But as we’ve seen time and time again, these stories don’t end there.

The reality is, you’re either a disruptor or the one getting disrupted. So reconsider your potential as a ‘tech company’ – and get comfortable with a new label. Or better yet? Embrace it.