Just over a year ago, I met some creative minds from Isobar, one of Nokia’s digital agencies. One of their strategic leads used the term “built to live” in his presentation, to describe the right kind of presence that brands should have when going online. Around a coffee table discussion, we would all agree that you can’t just “copy->paste->print->web”, but sadly enough, that is often the case.
Since the birth of the internet, companies of all sizes have been entering this exciting “always on” media with different levels of “corporate ambitions”. This new environment forced companies to re-think their definitions of media, but also brought more fundamental questions to the core attributes of the brand itself.
Although technological innovation has accelerated insurmountably in the last 10 years, i feel there are still certain building blocks that remain relatively unchanged, when it comes to a successful brand presence on the Web. I’ve taken a stab at defining these in more detail below.
In the digital space, the experience IS the brand. Edward T. Hall, a non-verbal communication genious once said that verbal communication (in terms of words) accounts to only a fraction of the actual meaning delivered in a conversation. All the non-verbal ques such as gestures, tone of voice, bodylanguage and cultural/social context comprise of the largest part of the deciphered message. Analog brands are used to talking at consumers. Brands in the digital space are the brand they express through their actions. A great creative mind at N2 Helsinki, recently made the comment on how brands used to be the the visual objects that talked down to consumers. In this time and age, brands in the digital space are equal to any personal brand. Barriers are broken, people have the power and successful brands need to be “good people” if they want to succeed.
In practice, this implies that corporations need to think about the meaningfulness of their brand in the digital space. Meaning is derived from values, self-esteem, character and composure; all attributes that can be found (in one form or another), in the brand guidelines of the company. The interpretation/implementation of these guidelines, is what often goes wrong. Analog brands PRESENT the brand. Digital brands ARE the brand and deliver on the brand promise through good behavior and useful doing.
Another cornerstone for success in the digital space is built around the notion of continuity. John Willshire created a great presentation in which he referred to advertising as being like “fireworks”. They come in a nice package and you just light them up and shoot them off to the sky. You get a lot of reach and at best, people say “WOW! Nice firework” and then return to whatever they were doing. Bonfires are social gatherings. People are at the heart of them and the process takes time/effort, but the fire can be infinitely re-ignited from the burning coals in the fireplace. Fireworks are just as common in the digital environment. Campaigns are in essence “built to die” as they have a window of 2-3 months after which they are taken down and planning starts for the next “firework”. Good brands think about continuity and sustainability in their marketing efforts. Ask yourself, what’s the “red thread” between the communication streams i’m creating. Do i just shoot off fireworks or do i build bonfires and actively participate in them?
With such great web 2.0 tools available, there shouldn’t be an excuse for shooting fireworks. Stop replacing time with money, hire some community managers and social media optimizers and start building a sustainable presence for your brand. Your advocates will love you for it.
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, establishing a scalable presence on the web takes time as well as “machinery”. When i refer to scalability, i mean 2 different things: platform & presence. Platform scalability in terms of using technology that is easy to use, deploy, expand and build upon. A few months ago, i had the privilege to meet Raanan Bar-Cohen from Automattic, the company responsible (amongst many things) of keeping this blog up and running. Raanan mentioned how the core of WordPress is only a few megs and how everything else can easily be built onto plug-ins, thus allowing easy customization that can be scaled when new platform releases come out.
Although scalability from a platform perspective is important, it’s the presence side that i feel is even more vital. Many of the platform related scalability issues fail when the web presence is treated as an end destination. In today’s web, there is no end destination. Consumers navigate through purchase funnels that are not linear, and investing in brand presence scalability should have an emphasis on expanding the brand’s presence across the internet. In practice, it means leveraging both man & machine. “Machine” in terms of mechanical SEO, SMO, SEM, and “man” in terms of active community, content, editorial and analytics management.
A digital marketing manager cannot have the excuse of saying “50% of my advertising works, i just don’t know which 50%”. Investing and using measurement tools as a standard indicator of the performance of your web presence is critical. Often marketing managers get caught up with the “key selling points”, “tone of voice”, “messaging strategy”, “visual language” and “creative concept”. In many cases, you can just let the data tell you the truth as a large part of digital marketing really begins once the campaign or initiative is out there. You can even see this in the way internet services are brought out to the market. They are often released as closed alphas, then expanded into invitation only betas until expanding to the “final version”. Similarily, marketing managers obviously need to think about the concept and strategic intent of the initiative, but significant effort should also be placed into the actual “tweak it as you go” initiatives. AB testing, weekly/daily paid media optimization, changes in ad copy, reactive spin-offs generated through consumer responses etc etc. This obviously requires investing in the right measurement tools and training your staff to make use of them and have the flexibility to react rapidly to changes.
In the end, many of these streams and thoughts are very straight forward and simple to implement within any corporation where there is the desire to do so. Having the desire and courage to do the right things is the final (and often) most challenging piece 🙂