Every day I read articles and see comments about how branding (and subsequently marketing) is changing because of digital media, and how this is a necessary change to survive in the world that we now live in. This may be true, but very few brands are making this change successfully. 

Too often companies rush in to establish an on-line presence thinking that the existence of a Web site or a Facebook page means that all of their customers will suddenly flock to them with open arms simply because they are posting news articles or re-purposing their twitter feed. 

They are subsequently disappointed by the lack of engagement. And they try to use the number of followers or friends or likes or page views as a metric to justify the time and effort spent despite the fact that the awareness of their brand is nonexistent and the participation in their programs has not increased at all.

So why is this? Why are brands struggling to make an impact with digital media?

I think there are two primary reasons: 

  1. Companies are using traditional branding techniques, which are inherently less effective in a digital space, and
  2. They don't understand the nuances of a digital experience and therefore do not see what needs to change about their strategy to engage in this space effectively.

The traditional approach to branding, marketing and communication does not work with digital media. No one cares about your logo or your brand promise, no one wants to hear how great your company is (at least from you), and no one wants to take the time to learn about your products or services unless they fill an obvious need that currently exists in their mind or they provide a rewarding experience that engages them on an emotional level.

In general, digital branding requires traditional brand messaging to take a back seat to human interaction. Where as traditional branding was more about core messaging and top-down communication, digital branding is social and emotional with as much content coming from your audience as from you.

Here are a few guidelines to consider that describe the inherent nature of branding in digital media:

1. The value of information is contextual
Information is important when there is a real, established need that people are actively seeking to investigate, or when they are looking to complete a specific task. But if this need does not exist then the value of information often decreases. Understanding when information has value can prevent your messaging from being seen as a distraction.

2. Emotion can trump information
Consider creating a rich, emotional experience as an alternative to just relaying information. An emotional experience can attract the attention of potential customers without needing to rely on direct incentive, and an emotional connection with a brand can often overcome other cognitive hurdles that information alone cannot (such as price). 

3. Relationships can trump emotion
Digital media is often a social experience. The weight of the social circles that people interact with can offset (and sometimes completely contradict) individual values. Targeting a larger social population by looking for individuals with influence can have more dramatic effects on a brand.

4. Flexibility is an honorable trait
Knowing when and where to engage with your customers (existing or potential) is critical. Taking the time to understand their patterns and engaging only when the time is right will often provide more value. Nothing bothers people more than an unrelated message getting in the way of a task at hand.

5. Participate in the conversation
On-line comments, anecdotal information and informal conversations can go a long way to providing insight into the successes and failures of any experience, and can directly impact ROI. Consider using more personal interactions to gather information rather than informal surveys, and show your customers that you value their contributions by acting on their feedback to make your offerings even better.

6. It is not just about the Web
Mobile devices are poised to take over Web traffic in certain situations very, very soon and the rise in tablets and other devices could impact a number of industries in a meaningful way. It is not enough to just be thinking about the Web. Digital strategies need to encompass interactions that go beyond the computer and the browser.

In Conclusion

Digital branding requires consideration of the constraints inherent to digital media, and an understanding of the types of interactions that can successfully meet customer expectations. By and large, these constraints are different then are typically seen in traditional branding activities. And understanding these differences can go a long way to ensuring more successful communications and increasing brand value.

Image: OSU Digital Branding, Winter Quarter 2011, Concept Designs (Sarah Bush, Libby Nelson)

AuthorJoshua David