Branding in the digital age

The impact that mobile devices and social media networks have already had on society and therefore on culture is significant, and it is rapidly evolving.

It has changed the way in which people identify with each other, and the way they interact and behave. As such, the rules that governed traditional branding and marketing have altered beyond recognition.

Today the “Experience is King.”  The millions of touch-points are all opportunities for people to experience your brand. These small “usage” interactions are all brand “moments of truth.”

The greater the user participation at each interaction, the more likely they are to buy and recommend your brand.

Over the last decade, Branded Content was the holy grail. Look at Consumer brands like  Red Bull, Coke, BMW that spent millions creating high-quality content for YouTube and Facebook. Even for B2B businesses, there has been the insatiable quest to produce thought leadership content. But aside from the near impossible task of keeping up with the production demand for content, there are real questions over the conversion rate into sales and revenue.

Interestingly, the use of brand ambassadors has been a long-standing go to in the industry. They embody the brand identity in appearance, demeanour, values and ethics, and use promotional strategies to influence a large audience to create brand awareness, buy and consume more.

The use of brand ambassadors has sky-rocketed in the Digital Age, expanding from the traditional area of famous movie stars, models, singers and sporting heroes, to now include “YouTubers” — people only famous on YouTube and Instagram. Think about the gamer PewDiePie with 41 million subscribers, the makeup stylist Michelle Phan, or the Instagram couple, Jay Alvarrez & Alexis Ren with 9 million followers. A corporate brand on its own cannot compete with this level of engagement.

There are so many people who are famous only because of YouTube or Instagram — they have a cause, or a passion and found a voice. They actively participate and create followers. Whether its about art, fashion, comedy, gaming, makeup, toys, food, exercise, the environment, artificial intelligence …well the list goes on!

This is where the sub-cultures and ideologies of today’s society are born. It will be key to understanding the levers that influence the behaviour of larger audiences and market segments.

Corporates need to think differently about how they engage — how to identify new sub cultures and tap into the ideology.

Impact of Automation & AI on Branding

Given the rapidly accelerating pace of change that is happening as a result of technology, automation and artificial intelligence, we know this will have a profound impact on what products and services will continue to exist, how they will be delivered and who will consume them.

The road transport industry is a good example. Thanks to the rise of self-driving cars, PwC has projected that by 2030, the number of vehicles on the road in the United States will have fallen by up to 99 percent. It’s an astonishing figure, and if the prediction holds, the flow-on effects would radically transform society. They would be felt by professional drivers; car makers; fuel, finance and insurance companies; infrastructure providers; and governments. The broader impact on society in general is almost impossible to predict but will surely be transformative.

New sub-cultures and new groups form around new services, as well as the lost services and lost careers. So Corporates need to reimagine their industry, reimagine their identity and future proof their brand so it can withstand this massive upheaval.

Even today in Enterprise IT sales, there is an expectation that IT services are simply ready for “trial” experiences online — turn on and off. Or, worst case, for those more complex solutions, they expect that you are able to visually prototype a digital solution within a week, and build a minimum viable product prototype within a few weeks. They expect a fast, simple way of proving value, as well as “experiencing the service” and the brand. In this case, the Marketing & Design team need to work side by side with the Developers & Data Scientists, to deliver a just in time “digital experience” that lives up to all expectation — and drives an agile sales process.

In this B2B example, this requires a total rethink about the sales team structure. Typically, marketing, sales and technical teams have their own distinct place within the sales process. But in an automated and AI world, they must act as one to become the branded experience.

Corporates need to think differently about the experience they want to be known for. It must be able to not only withstand the test of automation and AI, but also excel at identifying the sub-cultures, integrating different technology and  different people to craft a singular experience.

Impact of Collaborative Models on Branding

Business models will change in the digital age, and so does your brand.

If you are an eco-system driver, like Uber or Amazon, then you will create a branded destination platform to assemble and curate a seamless consumer experience. This relies on being highly collaborative, sharing API’s and crowdsourcing innovation. This is a very different brand proposition to that of an omni-channel business model, that aims to control the value chain, where innovation occurs within the organisation.

In the B2B space, you might embrace collaboration using the Plug & Play model — opening up and sharing your APIs to plug into other platforms. This model is very different to the traditional supplier model, which will reflect in the different brand identities.

As we have seen in recent history, there are some very significant new brands that have been created via the collaborative business models eg. Uber, Amazon, PayPal and totally disrupted incumbents.

The question is how many existing corporates will be able to undertake such a transformationt? To open up their business to the outside and, at the same time, ensure that their brand identity and reputation is able to lead the way.


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