Taking a digital first approach to brand development: 3 key considerations

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This article originally appeared on CMOEssentials.

As our world continues to embrace digital, brands don’t exist on paper; they live in digital experiences. We’ve already excelled past the need for just a website. For modern businesses, that’s a requirement. A digital first approach means much more than just that. Brands are on smartphones, featured in YouTube videos, communicating on social media sites—digital experiences are everywhere.

In this digital word, what should organizations consider to make sure their brands don’t just appear, but also take on a complete life in a digital environment?

How will brands adapt to digital Darwinism

In this digital era, brands must adapt or face extinction. It’s not the smart or strong that survive, but the most adaptable to change. We already discussed how every brand needs a website. We crossed that branding threshold over a decade ago. But now consumers are not just accessing websites on their desktops. With mobile devices now commonplace and wearables on the rise, brands must think about how an integrated brand experience renders in these environments.   If your website does doesn’t have responsive design, for example, you run the risk of losing customers from a disjointed or unmanageable mobile experience.  Brands need to be nimble and embrace these changes to stay at the top of their game.

As a case in point, Aberdeen research has found that companies using mobile touch points within marketing programs increase their visitor-to-buyer conversion rates year-over-year at a pace that’s 336% faster than their peers (+8.5% vs. -3.6%), and increase their customer lifetime value by 4.8% year-over-year, vs. a 0.3% rate for non-mobile peers. This objective, of course, is easier for large scale brands that have the budget to hire designers and developers to ensure their site is mobile optimized. But what about small and mid-sized brands? Because adapting to mobile devices is so important, multiple companies have popped up to help companies design  simple, modern and easy to navigate websites  optimized for smartphones and tablets in more cost-effective, self-service products.

The point: when new advantages arise, don’t let costs get in the way of your ability to adapt.

How will brands enhance customer interactions through digital channels?

Digital platforms enable a brand not to just exist, but live by interacting with users in new ways—a user experience is now an extension of a brand’s personality. The ways brands interact is becoming increasingly more sophisticated with tools such as motion, animation and responsive UI to create digital experiences that provide clarity and personality that is unique to the brand.

Some brands, such as Facebook, are exemplars at this. The extremely popular social media network stepped up its UI game with the release of Facebook Paper–a mobile app released on iOS early last year. The visual design is relatively basic and simple, but how content slides, expands and opens defines the experience and makes it completely immersive. Consumers can move seamlessly from written words to high-res photos with just the tilt of the wrist. A quick swipe tells a new story. How the app lives and moves helps to reinforce the Facebook experience and define the company’s identity.

The modern digital experience no longer means scrolling through stagnant images and words on a screen. Instead, new UI technology can redefine and better communicate a brand’s identity through a more interactive experience.

How will brands remain flexible

Building an identity that is flexible for future growth is essential for creating an identity that will endure in a rapidly changing digital environment. In fact, customer experience research already shows that Best-in-Class firms are 85% more likely analyze historical customer interactions to determine what contributes to loyalty, and these factors often require brands to change accordingly. Gone are the days when a brand identity had to be carved in stone and remain stagnant for decades to come. Instead of aspiring to absolute consistency, brands need to consider newer approaches to identity systems that are flexible and allow for a broader range of expression across a wider array of digital platforms.

Just look at some of the established brands that have embraced Instagram. One might not immediately assume that a respected credit card company would find a home and a voice on the photo-sharing app, but American Express has created a unique and playful identity, amassing over 50,000 followers. Their photos don’t talk about credit cards or financial education, but instead, show images of trendy diners, exercise classes and travel locations to inspire and paint a vivid picture of the lifestyle American Express can help create.

As digital platforms bring brands more opportunities to explore and share their messages in new ways, brands need to remember to be flexible and modify their brand identity for each platform and for what it specifically has to offer. As long as the core-branding message remains consistent, the overall brand will benefit from a little flexibility.

Robert Hegeman is digital creative director at Siegel+Gale. 


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