While some may think that branding—at least in the traditional sense—is not nearly as important as it once was, it’s still essential to the long term success of your company. But while fundamentals remain the same, branding in a digital world has evolved considerably.
The fact is, the proliferation of the Internet, social media and mobile—and their vast impact of society and consumer behavior—has changed things substantially for marketers. Successful branding is no longer simply creating a great logo (while still very important) and developing the most clever advertising campaign possible. Successful branding involves a myriad of strategies, concepts and channels—a mixing of tried and true principles and an ever-evolving, agile adaptation to the digital age we live in.
What is a brand?
A brand is more than a name, a logo or a product, but rather an idea and a position that exists in the mind of your audience. It’s the gut reaction people have when they see or hear your company name—the collected sum of their thoughts, feelings and experiences with your company. And how they think and feel is a result of both the tangible and intangible attributes of your brand that they perceive through their interactions and experiences.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, really sums up the concept of a brand: “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” I really like the second half of his quote because it nails the fact that a reputation is really built on quality in the details. And building and maintaining a brand without a doubt is hard work, but those that do it well instantly stand out in our minds.
The goal of branding
Branding was originally a very simple and practical concept: distinguishing your cattle from the cattle at the ranch next door. But while the idea of simply distinguishing your company from the competition is still at the heart of branding, it’s a much more complex process. The process of branding is defining, conveying and maintaining your brand’s core value—figuring out who you are, what you stand for, conveying that to your audience and then maintaining it.
But the end goal of branding is getting past the tangible attributes of your company (the who, what, when, where and how) and tapping into the emotional triggers of your audience by conveying intangible attributes (the why factor) that are not easily imitated by the rest of the pack. Because intangible attributes are felt emotions. And everyday, regardless of the industry, both B2B and B2C, people make decisions based as much on their feelings as logic.
How branding has changed
Branding in the past was solely a one-way communication. It was all about telling people how they should think and feel about your brand through exposure—clever advertising and an abundance of frequency and reach. The idea was that if you shouted loud enough, often enough, and in as many places as possible, then people would start to believe what you were telling them. And today there’s now A LOT more ways to expose people to your brand. Traditional media still has a place, but now there’s websites, social media, mobile apps, blogs, video and countless other channels for exposure.
Branding has changed because consumers have changed
The digital age has fundamentally changed the way people research and make purchasing decisions. 89% of B2B buyers use the web to conduct research to inform their selection decision by reading blogs, reviews, articles, websites, etc. Today’s prospects are smarter, savvier and less likely to believe you’re the best choice just because you say you are. And consumers are now in control and have become conditioned to ignore traditional, interruption-based marketing messages. As marketing authority Seth Godin first pointed out several years ago, brands now need permission to engage their audience.
Your website is now a huge part of your brand
Your company’s website is the face of your brand online and it’s arguably your most important brand and marketing asset. According to research from Stanford, 75% of users make judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website. Add to that, research from Thomson Reuters Web of Science, it only takes 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion about your website and therefore your brand. Is that opinion positive? Does your website convey credibility and trustworthiness? Do users find it not only visual appealing, but easy to use and helpful? Does your website reflect your brand the way you want your brand to be reflected? Let’s face it, your website is either working for your brand or against it.
Branding is no longer just about exposure, it’s about experience
Branding is no longer simply about a prospect’s exposure to your company; it’s about their experiences and the various interactions they have with your brand. And there are a lot of interactions: seeing your logo, speaking to one of your employees, browsing your website, interacting with your Facebook page and visiting your office. All of these “touch points” need to be considered as part of the overall brand strategy. Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter put it this way: “Customer Experience is the new marketing. Customer Experiences are the new brand.” In other words, it’s no longer what a firm says about themselves that matters to clients, but rather it’s what clients actually experience that carries weight. Marketing and branding reinforces what your clients experience when they work with your firm, it doesn’t define the experience.
Branding is now real-time
Perhaps the biggest change to branding is that it’s now real-time and consumers are as much (if not more) a part of telling your brand story as you are. Today’s consumers are armed with mobile phones capable of recording their brand experiences in real-time, and they’re quick to share those experiences—good and bad—with the world. Just think of recent examples of brands such as United Airlines that have been negatively impacted because of a viral video, a social media post or an online review. So due to the viral nature of the web and social media, a brand can be built up or torn down in an Internet minute.
How branding is done in the digital age
As mentioned before, branding in the digital age is a mix of tried and true principles from the past and new approaches that are necessary in today’s landscape. So here are some fundamentals for branding in the digital age:
Differentiate – You still have to stand out from your competition. People have to have a clear understanding of what makes your brand unique.
Be authentic – A brand can only reflect what really exists. So make sure your brand promise is something you can live up to.
Connect emotionally – As BMW has said, “We realized a long time ago that what you make people feel, is just as important as what you make.”
Be consistent – Consistency across every touch point and every communication is critical. People should get the same feeling whether they are in your store, browsing your website or on your Facebook page.
Understand your audience – Intimately knowing who you’re trying to reach, their wants, needs, interests, pain points, etc. and addressing those in your marketing is absolutely critical.
Think digital and mobile first – Your audience likely spends the majority of their media consumption online, whether blogs, social media, news sites, websites or email. Purchasing behavior has changed dramatically, with online research becoming a major part of the buying cycle for both B2C and B2B. Traditional now supports digital, not the other way around.
Personalize the experience – Marketing can no longer be to the masses. People want to feel that their interactions and experiences are personalized and directly relevant to them.
Pull them in – Branding is no longer a push strategy, it’s got to be a pull strategy. Consumers want you to add value not volume, so content marketing with a client-centric mindset is the way brand communication should be done today.
Listen and respond – Branding is also no longer a one-way communication, but now a two-way conversation. Listen to your audience, respond to their comments and incorporate their feedback.
Keep them coming back – We all know it’s much easier to sell to existing customers than gain a new one, so creating both a remarkable product or service and remarkable marketing will lead to passionate brand advocates that do the selling for you.
A strong brand is still essential
Every company needs a strong brand and branding is still a relevant process for a company to incorporate in every facet of their business. With so many channels, options and distractions for consumers today, brand building has to be done differently than it has been done in the past.