Branding in the Digital and Social Media Age
Abstract: Every era brings a new set of challenges and opportunities. The current explosion of the digital space and social media has deeply affected the marketing scene and how brands are behaving. We wonder whether the core principles of branding have also changed.
Branding and the Digital Age
Branding, which is the art and science of building and managing brands to deliver more value for businesses and consumers is “in theory” media-neutral. However, the “how” we connects and interact with people and brands is practically defining many aspects of who we are and where our society is heading.
Strong brands are built on a foundation of meaningful brand strategy and distinguished identity systems that makes them attractive and unique to certain groups of people. Whether the interaction with customers is happening in the physical world or online, through one channel or many channels, the core principles of branding are not supposed to change. However, the manifestation of the brand and its connection with consumers have taken a totally new dimension in the digital age.
Suddenly it is the 1990’s again when every brand wanted a website. Now every brand is looking to have a presence on all the main social media networks and to have a smartphone application.
This is adding many layers of complexity to the brand communication system, but also creating new markets and adding new opportunities for brands to interact and connect with consumers and online communities.
With the new horizons that Digital and Social are opening for brands and businesses comes a clear challenge for these brands to be up-to-date, attractive, interesting, and consistent in all their online and social networks interaction with their target groups.
Control ShiftIn the traditional communication world, brands and their advertising agencies controlled the communication process and TV had the central and most influential role in building brands and forming public opinion about various topics through the delivery of news, entertainment and advertising.
The theoretical distinction between the interests of advertisers and media was probably a myth – the same applies to the demarcation between politics and media where interference presents serious damage to the concept of democracy and free public opinion.
One of the main characteristics of the present online times is the shift in control from companies to the consumers and users. Brands and businesses do not control what they want to communicate about themselves anymore. Instead of the tightly controlled one-way and single-channel communication activities through traditional media, brands are now in continuous contact with consumers through a growing number of touch points and channels around-the-clock.
Moreover, it is not the brand that decide the time and channel of communication anymore; consumers are now taking more control and the initiative in searching for information and looking up brands online and offline. Besides the information aspect, consumers are having powerful means for sharing and forming opinions and experiences about brands in social media and across the online and digital space.
The Way AheadWith the continuous development of technology and broadband, the digital world will continue to gain in importance and influence as the main source of information and interaction where brands have to exist and interact with their customers and consumers.
The near future will add another layer of complexity to the equation where the “Mobility” factor will be in sync with digital and online. More people are accessing the internet through their mobile devices and very soon, cars and all other mobility vehicle will be continuously connected to the digital world. People will be connecting their smartphones to smart systems in their cars that will put them “online” all the time with all the possibilities that will be added for social and work activities. To complete the picture, we need to add the “mobility” factor to the equation. Therefore, the future is going to be Digital, Mobile and Connected.
Businesses and companies will have very little control over their communication with customers, but will have to enter the game of digital-mobile-connectivity according to new rules that are based on more transparency and truth. Here branding will have to adapt and evolve to the dynamics of the new digital world. The schizophrenic approach between what brands use to put in their Vision and Mission statements and what they do in reality will have to end – This applies to all sorts of brands, commercial, artistic and political as well.
Brands are using a considerable part of their communication budgets to create an online and digital presence; but this will not necessarily secure for them online and digital success.
People and brands are spending more time online and on social media networks, which is expected to become the norm for an important number of people and for a whole new generation.
Brand TruthIn the new world, all brand activities have to be true to the brand 24/7 as consumers are continuously checking the brand and its activities. In this context, the best advertising for any brand is its true self.
The more touch-points we have, the more consistency, transparency and truth are needed from brands – this is the only golden rule.
Since “branding” has always been a very human concept, the answers to branding questions for the present times can be always found in very basic human behavior. The best strategy not to be caught lying, is to always say the truth.
Branding 3.0Branding that flourished in the physical world of design and communication will discover unlimited opportunities to connect and build brands and communities online. Like advertising and other brand services, branding has to adapt to the digital world and embrace the great opportunities that are made possible.
In the Digital Age and Social Media reign, the role of branding is becoming even more important. Facing the proliferation of media and the fragmentation of the connection channels, brands will have an increasing need to have a very clear and differentiated strategy and identity to stand out and appeal to their various target audiences.
This clear and differentiated identity will be delivered by both the strategic and creative sides of branding. One clearly defined and expressed brand “Truth” will be able to create a stronger and more enchanting connection with customers and consumers across different media and social networks.
Strategic branding is not going out fashion in the digital world; on the contrary, it is becoming more important and needed to cut through the noise and the over-communication in the market place.
One more time, technological advances and market dynamics are working for the benefit of the consumer by forcing brands to be more transparent and genuinely good in order to be allowed to enter people’s life and their social environment.
This new and enhanced Branding will have a new set of rules to better deliver in the digital age.
The 7 rules of branding in the digital age
1 – Brands should be always ready to connect online and offline 24/7.
2 – Brand experience is the final judgment for brands – brands will always be as good as their last delivery on brand experience.
3 – Online, “Free” is not enough; you have to be “Interesting enough”.
4 – Unless you are already a mega brand, do not expect mega success online. For good brands, it will eventually happen.
5 – Online is Ongoing – brands need a very high energy level to cope and deliver 24/7. If you are not ready or do not have enough content and resources, better to be very selective.
6 – Always innovate, but always stay relevant to the brand core promise – It is possible.
7 – Brand identity and manifestations have to work equally good online and offline.
A brand that is always consistent, always delivering on its promises, and always true to itself and to its customers and consumers will be recognized and praised online and offline. This is a basic expectation from big brands, now it is only more urgent and necessary for their success and survival.
The core principles of brand building remain the same, but branding manifestation and applications have to adopt more transparent and innovative ways partly because of the huge development of the digital realm and social media.
It is true that the past few years have brought a lot new elements to the branding and communication marathon. However, we would like to remind brands and businesses that social media might have invented a very sophisticated running shoe, but it has not invented running.
Jean-Claude Saade (firstname.lastname@example.org)
manifesto is a consulting firm specialized in brand strategy, innovation and communication.