Branding in the digital age
Our recent blog on the top 100 global brands reflected on Interbrand’s annual brand report which identified that technology businesses occupy over half of the top ten spots including Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung with Apple in the No.1 spot. These businesses have only emerged in the last decade or so but they’ve become so integral to everyday life it’s hard to remember a time before them. At the same time some former household brands, once the big players, have been overtaken and some disappeared completely. There is a great deal more volatility too with brands rising and falling at a much faster pace. Take Facebook for example; it entered the top 100 as recently as 2012, peaked at 8 in 2017 then slipped to 9 and in 2019 fell to 14.
“The reality is, brand equity is being created and destroyed at an unprecedented rate in today’s digital-first world. And where your brand falls is now, more than ever, entirely up to you.”
Sebastian Jespersen, founder of digital agency Vertic which works some of the world’s largest brands including Microsoft, SAP, and GE.
In a recent article published in Forbes, Sebastian identifies that most of the falling brands have only focused on engagement — the buzzword of the last decade, which refers to fleeting interactions. He contest that the ones that have grown have done so by ‘entangling’ - a constant process of developing meaningful two-way relationships with people. These brands have embraced technology to understand and create deeper relationships with their customers. Many of the brands established before the digital age are trying to catch up by going through a process of digital transformation. The way we see brands and their relationships with people needs to evolve so they're putting the technologies and systems in place needed to meet their customers’ new expectations, because a traditional approach to branding is no longer enough.
Brands reflect the personality of a business and are created through a process of discovery and identification. It is enshrined in a business’s ‘why’ and then a characterisation of who it is, what it does, how it does it, how it looks and who it serves. These combine to build an overall - hopefully positive - brand identity, but it shouldn’t end there. Too many businesses think about the development and establishment of their identity as the end game, without realizing that they have provided promises to people that they have not yet fulfilled. In a relationship that basically involves two parties (the brand and its customers), having a singular focus can create an unbalanced impression with the brand as the bigger entity often being seen as unapproachable. This can send out a signal to customers that their priorities are less important, pushing them away. Many brands today invest a lot of their marketing efforts for themselves - on advertising, TV commercials or buying display ad placements that focus on self-promotion rather than crafting the customer experience.
“We need to remember that brands do not operate in a vacuum. They live in a space that is consistently defined and redefined by their relationship with people. And this relationship is not quantified by a straightforward count of brand-people interactions — because, in many cases, that’s just a click. The real unit of measurement we should be looking at is the count of meaningful interactions between the brand and its people.”
We now live in a digital-first age. Technology has given brands a global platform and the ability to interact directly with people at scale. It has changed how we get information, how we communicate and engage with one another. It has, therefore, inevitably changed the relationship between brands and people. With all these digital interactions, brands have much more information about us, our habits and preferences. However, that data in itself is not worth much — especially if it’s just used used to chase people and intrude upon their online experience. We need to accept that the old cliché: “information is power” is only true when the information is interpreted and used to understand people and to establish a closer relationship with them. Through this understanding brands have the potential and capability to become more accessible and personal.
The recent past is littered with brands that failed to 'entangle' with their customers, most notably in retail. One of the classic examples in which technology played a huge role is Blockbuster. We all hated the late fees, restrictions and the inconvenience of going to Blockbuster to browse shelves full of empty DVD cases with the film we wanted generally unavailable. But we didn’t have a choice until Netflix came along with all the latest stuff delivered straight to us on our sofas so we didn’t hesitate to switch. Blockbuster’s customers were a captive audience which they took for granted, what if they’d diverted some their efforts to grooming the relationship with them and to continually improving the experience?
It’s vital therefore, that brands nurture their existing relationships rather than just focusing on campaigns that shout about how great the brand is, or just chasing new customers. Brands spend a lot of money on sales but rarely consider the experience they offer to people once they become customers. Brands shouldn’t take customers for granted or just try and impose themselves upon them, it should give people reasons to want the brand to be a part of their lives. The focus should be on investing in targeting people who would find it meaningful to entangle with your brand. Learn about your existing customers, care about them and invest in them in turn they will become your brand’s strongest advocates and their experience will define your brand’s best moments. They’re already there, all you have to do is reach out and start to get entangled with them.