Has brand building changed in the digital age?

AdAge had an interesting article yesterday by Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York office of branding consultancy Landor Associates.  Adamson, who is also the author of the upcoming book BrandDigital, writes about “the impact that digital technology and dynamics are having on brands and brand building.” A few key points really jumped out to me:

  1. The Digital Space has not changed the basic principles of brand building:  While Digital is about more than just new tactics, it hasn’t turned the basic concept of brand building on its head…at least not yet.  Brand Building is still based firmly in the WHO, otherwise called your customer, target market or any host of other words.  It is about understanding what makes that person tick, what motivates them and who they are as a person.  Likewise Digital has changed the importance of Brand Equity.  Your brand still needs to stand for something meaningful in the hearts and minds of the consumer.  And you need to stand for this something in every way that you communicate with your consumer.
  2. While Digital hasn’t changed the basics, it has “magnified” them:  The digital age has made it easier than ever to find “instantaneous feedback” about your target and what they think about your brand.  In this “transparent, shareable environment”, you don’t need to wait for a focus group to learn more about your customer.  You don’t have to wait for a Brand Equity Scan to come in every 6 – 12 months.  Instead you can listen to the conversation from your customers about your brand online with blogs, Twitter, and any other number of tools.
  3. With Digital, consumers can become part owners in brand development:  With the digital space, it becomes less about orchestrating a giant mass media campaign through TV and Print with a control message, and more about giving consumers the tools to make a brand their own.  With digital, consumers can quickly spread word about a brand…the control is out of the hands of the company.
  4. Success Fators of Digital Brands:  Adamson also interviewed Gary Briggs, former CMO of eBay, who outlined 4 success factors of Digital Brands including A.) Comprehensiveness, B.) Playfulness/Fun, C.) Ease of Use, and D.) Trust.  Of these, I think Playfulness is the most interesting one, especially if fun is at the heart of your brand equity.  Subservient Chicken worked so well for Burger King not only because it was a fun digital experience, but also because it built BK’s equity of “You Can Have It Your Way.” 

The challenge of building our brands in a digital world will grow exponentially in the future.  The winners are going to be those brands that not only recognize the branding opportunities of digital but also capitalize on them.  Adamson wrote that in his research:

“It was fascinating see which traditional branding organizations were highest on the digital-learning curve in adopting new technology to further their branding efforts and which were taking their time getting up to speed.”

That quote perfectly captures the opportunity in my career at P&G that I will be talking about in tomorrow’s post.

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7 Responses to Has brand building changed in the digital age?

  1. BIG Kahuna says:

    Dave, good article. #3 is where most companies are struggling. Losing control is a tough pill to swallow.

  2. Dave Knox says:

    Very true. But those brands that can figure out “co-creating” end up the winners. A tough pill to swallow but every time one of those companies say “I want to be more like Apple”, they are reinforcing the value of “letting go”. Like you said, tough to accept.

  3. Marji Chimes says:

    The challenge is that the brand is going to mean something a little different to each person that engages with it and therefore it gets even harder to manage and measure. It is interesting to think how/if this will impact what brand awareness studies will meaure in the future.

  4. BIG Kahuna says:

    Most of the clients I talk to say ” Yea, but what if people talk about us poorly”. My response…

    What’s stopping them from doing that on their own blog? Or someone else’s blog? Or via Facebook, twitter…

    Things are changing for sure so I think it’s better to have discussions where you can listen, empathize and respond vs saying nothing or doing nothing.

  5. Matt Carcieri says:

    I’m going to weigh in against point #1. I come from the Thomas Friedman “The World is Flat” camp that says everything has been turned on its head by the web. So much so that I think we need to reconceive the very nature of “the brand.” Where it was once a mark of quality (representing a differentiated benefit), it is now a symbol of ideals that enjoins like-minded souls. This new reality requires a new set of capabilities that “traditional” marketing hasn’t yet fully embraced.

  6. Dave Knox says:

    Matt – Very, very interesting point. So instead of a brand being about it’s functional benefits/equity, it is about something more meaningful….ie ideals. I am also more in the camp that digital has turned everything on its head, but not sure if all “brands” will ever be about ideals instead of benefits. Yes, the best brands…the ones that want to be category leaders will be there. And the ones that want to innovate in a category (for instance Method) will be about these ideals. But will the second tier players ever get there? And if they don’t, will they completely disappear from shelves. Not sure but one hell of an interesting debate

  7. Hard Equity says:

    It is about understanding what makes person tick.

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