According to the fourth meaning of the RAE, digital is an adjective that refers to everything that “is carried out or transmitted by digital means”.

Therefore, today, when we talk about Digital Branding* we are referring to those brand strategies that are made specifically for digital media.

*We are not talking, far from it, about the concept as it is usually explained (among others by online marketing agencies and even by Google itself) as online brand notoriety and visibility. (We recommend reading What does branding mean to you? to understand the confusion with this term).

However, it is quite possible that we will end up using this concept for two reasons:

1. The digital transformation and mutation of the world: the shift from off to on and vice versa.

Currently, we continue to differentiate all online media and points of contact from offline and traditional ones. It’s easier for us to identify them separately to easily understand each brand strategy and tactic. Still, as digital transformation progresses, we realize that the line is getting thinner and thinner.

This digitalization arises with the birth of the Internet, which is nothing more or less than an evolution in the way in which human beings connect, converse and relate to each other (we include brands here because, as the Cluetrain Manifesto indicates, “Markets consist of human beings”) and even with other objects.

As Genis Roca explains in his talk The Digital Society, the evolution of this connection goes through 3 phases:

(1995) Business Internet: Only companies used the Internet to communicate their products and services.

(2005) Internet of People: it is people who begin to use the Internet to communicate with each other with blogs, social networks, etc.

(2015/2020) Internet of Things (IoT): it is the objects that will have access to the Internet to exchange information and automate processes.

millions-big-dataLet’s take a look at an example of what this evolution means in the communication between people, brands and objects.

In 1995, a company reported an accident on the road through a local newspaper and television.

In 2005, a Twitter user reported an accident on the road. And then another, and then another, and it becomes a trend.

In 2020 the car, which is connected by GPS, automatically reports the accident to the road network, publishes it on social networks and informs other cars in turn.

As the years go by, the data collected by brands is indeed transmitted digitally, but those involved in the event and the recipients of the information are still natural persons. Communication is one, people are the same, and the world is the same. The goal of brands is unchanged: to communicate and deliver a satisfying experience.

A Cisco study estimates that by 2020, 37 trillion smart objects will be connected to the internet. The Internet of Things (IoT), according to Cisco, will give way to the Internet of Everything: “As more things, people, and data become connected, the power of the Internet (which is, in essence, a network of networks) grows exponentially.”

Let’s think about how nowadays the smartphone can be considered almost another limb of the human being. Let’s observe how this digitalization and fusion of the on/off world continues to evolve exponentially thanks to instruments such as wearables or immersive experiences such as Virtual Reality. Let’s reflect on how human beings will live and communicate on a spectrum full of data.

It is demonstrated, therefore, that it is no longer, nor will it be, so much a question of transformation from the off to the on as an evolution of communications and experiences. Which, in fact, on many occasions, curiously occurs the other way around: an online situation transcends to the “physical” world.

If we add to all this the data on the level of connection of the world’s population (the graph is from the
Digital in 2016
report by We Are Social) we will get an idea of the magnitude of this transformation of the interactions between human beings, data and objects.

Global-Snapshot-Jan-2016

Let’s remember that Facebook is still working on different projects to bring the Internet to two-thirds of humanity who do not have access to the network of networks through lasers. More info in this statement from Mark Zuckerberg himself and on the website Internet.org.

In short, the concept of digital will change as we know it now. Until then, let’s see how it will gradually become more complicated to use it to explain the transformation in which we are immersed.

2. Brand strategies need to be holistic and consistent across all touchpoints.

As we have already seen, brands are going digital because they are adapting to the changing consumption habits and ways of relating and communicating with their audience. But, really, the person is one and lives in one world. If we draw up a current Customer Journey, it will include a multitude of points of contact and the brand will be perceived in one way or another, whether or not it crosses paths with the consumer.

For example, according to data collected in the Digital Transformation Whitepaper by Territorio Creativo, 84% of people who buy in a physical store use their mobile phone to obtain information about the product (searching for reviews on Google, asking their acquaintances on Facebook or Whatsapp…). From those people, we will differentiate those who decide to buy that brand at that moment, those who will buy it from their mobile phone through other online platforms such as Amazon, those who will return home and buy it from their PC, those who will continue to compare it with other brands…

The brand remains the same, but everything it demonstrates and communicates (and everything it doesn’t) at each touchpoint will affect the construction of its image, which may or may not coincide with its essence and positioning. As we already explained in the article Why hire a brand consultant in Spain? A brand is a set of meanings, perceptions and experiences that are created in the mind of the audience and that allow you to identify an organization, why hire a brand consultancy in Spain?ation (or individual) and its activities, products and services. Therefore, if a brand wants to build a clearly defined identity and facilitate the construction of meanings, it must present its essence and positioning in a coherent way at all points of contact. Provided, of course, that you don’t want to be a different brand every time your audience stumbles upon it.

In short, branding must respond to the creation of unique, relevant and consistent brand strategies in the same universe to facilitate the construction of brand image for the audience. Therefore, there should be no Digital Branding understood as a branding different from the offline world. There is only one brand and its construction must be holistic.

digital-branding-branward-body

Keys to an effective brand strategy in the digital realm

Taking into account the digital transformation as explained above and understanding the role of branding in this evolution, we are going to expose the main keys to be able to develop an effective brand strategy in this digital maelstrom.

1. The brand strategy must be holistic and consistent across all touchpoints (omnichannel).

As we have seen, digital transformation has increased the points of contact between the brand and its audience, but this should not influence either the essence or the positioning of the organization itself. Brands should not act for the sake of acting, or being about to be, in all online media and channels. Each action must respond to a previous strategy and positioning.

Brands such as Media Markt, Mixta, Vueling, Oreo or Lowi demonstrate in all their communication (and especially their Social Media strategy) that they have a fun and even provocative personality. However, why do other brands such as Alcampo, Renfe, Air Europa or Pans & Company decide to apply the same techniques in their Community Management? Are they really being true to their essence and positioning? The main thing is that at all points of contact the audience has a perception of the brand that matches as much as possible with the identity and positioning of the brand.

That is why it is not advisable to outsource brand strategy to online marketing agencies. The responsibility for building the essence and positioning should be in the hands of founders, CEOs and senior managers. It is they who have to lay the first stone. To this end
, branding consultancies
act as guides and managers of brand coherence at all touchpoints.

2. Flexibility and liquidity

Regardless, it is necessary for the brand to be more flexible than ever and adapt to any scenario. Psychologist Walter Riso states that society is divided into 3 types of mind:

Rigid (with clear ideas but immutable and eternal)

Liquid (doesn’t put up barriers but doesn’t have clear ideas)

Flexible (with clear ideas but willing to change for change’s sake)

Brands must find the balance between the 3.

For example, the Jeep brand has been able to evolve throughout its history (military vehicles, 4x4s for adventurous families…) but it has become an icon without giving up its essence: off-road.

3. 24/7 availability: ability to act, respond and rectify immediately

Digital transformation has brought with it an increase in the value of current and real time. The time is here and now. Just think about the lifespan of a tweet or Snapchat post. So much so that phenomena such as fomo: the fear of not finding out what is happening on social networks have emerged.

Consumers want their brands to be available anytime, anywhere. Reputational crises need to be addressed sooner than ever. The key is to solve the incident as immediately as possible, accept the mistake and take advantage of the event to re-adapt communication and even brand strategies.

For example, Zara recalled a T-shirt as many users protested that it was too similar to the uniforms worn by Jews in Nazi death camps. The brand apologized, arguing that the garment was inspired by that of the sheriffs in classic Western movies.

4. Cube transparency

It doesn’t mean that in the pre-digital transformation era, people didn’t demand ethical values from brands. It means that opacity is now almost impossible to sustain in the medium/long term and is exponentially more penalizable. Transparency is killing liars. The brand must pay close attention to what it promises and pay more attention to what it demonstrates because words are carried away by the wind… But they stay in the cloud.

Being transparent is not a way to do marketing. As Andy Stalman says , “principles become real when they are born out of a true intention to be ethical.”

For example, the Gap brand published the results of a study that assessed the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in its supply chain.

5. Analytics: efficient and effective management of Big Data

According to Virgina Rometty, president of IBM, 2.5 billion GB of information is generated in the world every day. Indeed, words are carried away by the wind but remain on the net (data). But, what at first seems like a disadvantage, becomes an opportunity: having such a large amount of information will allow a more in-depth analysis of the reputation and brand image. The goal is to know how to effectively and efficiently manage Big Data in order to interpret the relevant insights and optimize the strategy.

Even so, the obsession with data should not condition the brand. The key is to know how to integrate and balance it.

For example, Netflix analyzes all its users in detail: what they watch, when, where, how often, how they rate the content, what they search for… This is how his successful series House Of Cards was born: from the analysis of trends and behaviors on his platform.

Other Big Data success stories.

6. Communication and personalized brand experience: active listening and co-creation

As we have already seen with the case of Netflix, the large amount of data that we can analyze and the active listening that we can carry out thanks to digital transformation will allow us to generate hyper-segmented and geolicized experiences.

“Content is not decided by ten people sitting at a table, but by the habits and behaviour of millions of viewers” Joshua Lynn, President and Co-Founder of Piedmont Media Research.

Following the lean philosophy, all brand resources must be focused on generating real value for their audience, creating and building their own experience with them. Digital transformation simplifies project management and facilitates the development of collective intelligence.

For example, the airline KLM tracked its customers on social media (Foursquare and Twitter) and gave them a personalized gift.

On the other hand, GoPro has been able to create an authentic community and experience around its product. An example of this is its
Video of the Day
section.

7. Media in the hands of people: sharing economy

The digital revolution has made it easier for the audience to access the means of production. In addition, it favors exchange, distribution, and greater collaboration between people from anywhere. Brands will have to provide much more value than before because the competition will no longer be just other companies. Many small producers will offer new products and services, become small brands with new propositions, be able to distribute all over the world, and it is likely that many of them will end up competing directly with the big ones.

For example, spending on 3D printing will grow by 27% annually through 2019, and its use will be widespread. There are platforms where you can share creations and download templates for printing.

Another consequence is the rise of collaborative consumption. People who organize and find each other thanks to platforms created by new brands for home sharing (Airbnb), car/travel sharing (BlaBlaCar) and dinner sharing (EatWith), among other activities.

“We wanted to make it happen because it’s something people want to do, because it’s something that’s not going to stop and because we think it’s reasonable for people to share their homes in this way” Laila Frank, Amsterdam City Council’s councillor on social travel, architect of the agreement that legalized Airbnb in the city.

Conclusions on Digital Branding

As Fernando de la Rosa, founder of Foxize School, says, “there are two types of companies: digital companies and those that are going to have to digitize.” Marco Sanz, director of the digital communication area of E-Media, said at Futurizz 2016 that “the digital revolution has achieved 500 times more impact on our lives and companies in 10 years than the industrial revolution”.

Fernando Polo and Juan Luis Polo explained in their book #Sochialholic that “the Internet is not a medium and we should not think of the only access to the Internet from the traditional browser. The Internet is the largest technological platform for media creation that mankind has ever known. Every internet-based medium is a medium unto itself.”

Immersed in this revolution, we must not forget the essential: the focus is still on people. In the way they communicate and how they relate to each other. In the real value they receive from brands. In the usefulness of brands. At the end of the day, they decide, with their consumption, which brands live and which don’t.

Digital transformation (and the evolution of human beings in general) is not born in technology, it is born in the person.

Brands that are consistently built in this maelstrom are coherent brands with a strong identity, capable of flexibly generating messages at all touchpoints, in a personalized way. It’s not about creating something offline and communicating it online, or vice versa. It is integrating and taking into account all the data and elements of the digital universe to create holistic and transmedia content and experiences. It consists of innovating to always offer more value and utility to people.

People use various screens, devices, and places to interact with the brand. As Samuel Martinez, head of retail at Facebook, points out, “cookies are useless.” A person can initiate contact with the brand at one time of the day, in a specific place through a device, and finally make a purchase of a product or service in another. “If you don’t identify that person as the same person, you can’t make a correct attribution.”

That’s why it’s so important to look at people as a unique and real identity rather than “digital” screens and media. That’s why it’s so important to build a single brand that knows how to adapt to “digital” situations. That’s why Digital Branding, as we know it, will disappear.

 

CTA

 

Ruben Gonzalez-Roman Quignon

Brand Consultant at Branward®

Photos: Shutterstock