Branding in transition – four ways to get it right

By Serge Barsotti

You have changed. You, me, we – the consumers of today. We have grown out of innocently accepting everything brands say, and grown into genuinely interested, cross-comparing and critically questioning consumers. We have become aware, talking about brands at any time and at any place – forming communities that serve as credible references. Yes, the consumers of today have become quite a tough audience.

Now, regarding digital transition, what does this mean for brands and brand management? And before you start sweating and nervously chewing your fingernails, we want to reassure you that digitalization is excellent news – for brands, for brand managers and of course for consumers. Forget the old days when communication was sender-orientated and felt like a lonesome monologue – brand communication in the digital world has become an interactive, interconnected, and thus dynamic experience, placing the consumer at the centre. And while some may see risks, we see opportunity – here are four key dynamics currently impacting digital transformation:

From consistency to expectation

The change in consumer behavior calls for a change of mentality. We need to break from the linear form of communication and instead focus on the consumers’ needs and expectations. As Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall put it: “Great content and storytelling are so important now for any brand. As a community-driven company, we don’t want to talk about our product, but instead, put our community front and centre of any campaign.” This means we need to move away from focusing solely on consistency and concentrate more on flexibility and freedom. A brand is not just the result of a company interacting with one target audience, but also the iterative process of consumers interacting with other consumers, creating brand perception and thus shaping a brand. With this in mind, today’s brands need to do more than just define a purpose, values, and their touchpoints. Brand perception is driven by a multitude of factors that need to be considered over and over again; such as topics, touchpoints, and technologies, as well as external content that you cannot influence. As a result, strategic brand management turns into active brand moderation, and empty brand messages turn into the expression of a brand’s attitude and authenticity. However, to make brand management as flexible and dynamic as it needs to be, possessing a strong and clearly defined brand identity is more important than ever.

Never underestimate the power of signature interactions

A neatly folded towel swan on your hotel bed or a piece of chocolate at the end of your flight – these tokens of gratitude are two good examples for easy and yet effective signature interactions – interactions that last beyond the physical experience and define the brand perception. Now your question might be, how to ensure interactions like these in the digital context? The answer is simply, with digital signature interactions. The important thing is to focus on the customer journey: Think about the touchpoints – all the possible interactions your consumers have with your brand – what functions each of these touchpoints have and in what order they should be experienced. If the interaction sequences enable a seamless brand experience, signature interactions become identity-forming elements for brands. So don’t let these potential digital signature interactions be a missed opportunity but instead think of ways to keep in touch – your customers will thank you for it.

Fewer guidelines, more creativity

Contemporary brand design needs to be adaptive, interactive and thus thought of more freely. Strictly defined logos, typefaces, and imagery as we have known them are just not enough anymore. They need to be digitalized and complemented. And with all the possibilities digitalization offers, we need agile and digitally-thought design systems, brand hubs, and UX patterns for the brand to come alive in all sorts of contexts. And most importantly, we need creativity to come before guidelines.

Do big data – but do it smartly

Big data is like taking a look at your fridge. Once you open it, there is a lot of unprocessed material which is just begging to be dealt with before it becomes a delicious meal. The same goes for brands: Big data allows companies to gain business insights, which can be used for optimizing a brand’s customer experience or the product or service itself. Also, big data helps in terms of business decision making, sales, and lead optimization as well as with measuring brand performance and brand reputation. So use it – but use it wisely: A meaningful brand forces a company to reflect on how it wishes to be perceived by society at large. So don’t just act upon everything data tells you – always make sure it is in line with the brand’s identity.

Digital brand management might seem demanding and uncomfortable at first; it requires to leave trusted grounds, hand over control, and enter new territory. But above all, digitalization holds an incredible potential – and not to exploit it would be a missed opportunity to stay a great brand in a fast-moving world.

Serge Barsotti is Senior Consultant for Digital Brand Management at MetaDesign Zurich.

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