SMPL Q&A is a new blog feature, in which we interview our experts on all things relevant in branding, design and simplicity. With the digital age giving rise to new customer experiences, we talk to Ahmad Badr, strategy director, about translating brand authenticity for the digital space, and pushing smart brands to be true to who they are.

What is brand authenticity?

Brand authenticity is a reflection of competence, character and story. It is achieved when brands deliver on what they promise, whether in products, services or experience.

What issues do digital brand experiences pose to brand authenticity?

Brands that lack authenticity are those brands that do not perform, behave out of character, or contradict their heritage. In a digital era, it has become harder for brands to control the elements that drive their perception. Often the business models today hold organizations back from taking ownership of their digital experience. It is easier for most startups to reflect who they are in the digital space because they were conceived as a service-led digital business.

However, businesses that have achieved success by establishing a strong connection to consumers through their physical presence first are often playing catch-up in the digital world. We find that their digital platforms are either IT’s responsibility or exist in isolation from the marketing team. Siloed thinking prevents these organizations from holistically looking at the customer journey. As a result, digital platforms are designed and deployed inconsistently and incoherently and do not reflect how brands are perceived by customers in the real world. This is when the brand authenticity is compromised.

How can organisations ensure coherent brand experiences across online and offline platforms to maintain brand authenticity?

Ensuring the online presence is harmoniously connected to the brand persona requires:

  • Centralized marketing team oversight on brand strategy development and execution across all online and offline touch-points.
  • Looking at the customer journey holistically to see how the brand can add value through digital innovation.
  • Applying brand assets across online and offline platforms in a consistent way.

Eventually, the intention for brands is to create a seamless connection between the online and offline experiences. Through this connection, the brand should aim to deliver comparable levels of competency, express a consistent character, and demonstrate a connected story.

How can a website offer a brand experience that is as immersive as a physical destination?

To be clear, immersive does not mean identical. As with the case of other touchpoints (call centers, showrooms, etc.), the website is meant to complement the customer journey and may have a different objective than the physical experience. Some websites are intended to inform while some others are meant to entertain. This role varies depending on where the website lands as a touch-point on a prospective customer’s journey—is it at the start of the journey, its middle, or all throughout?

That said, immersive online experiences today mean three things:

  • Interactive: Online experiences that captivate audiences invite users to become participants in creating the experience. Whether that means playing a game, answering a question, giving an opinion, or conversing with other customers, the ability to place the user in control influences levels of satisfaction.
  • Sensorial: New technologies like virtual reality, digital scents, etc. take the level of interaction up a notch, promising a three-dimensional experience that mimics real life. The theatrical dramatization of sound and sight helps transport users into a distinct universe, disconnecting them from their real environments.
  • Personalized: The ability to tailor an experience to an individual drives active engagement. Data, whether voluntarily given or gathered based on web usage allows brands to anticipate user needs. Predictive suggestions enhance the experience by providing smart recommendations at every step of the way.

In addition to the above, removing friction and disruptions from the experience enable an even more immersive experience that keeps customers coming back for more. Simplicity, ease of use and navigation are prerequisites in any digital experience design.

How do you ensure that a digital space “feels” like the brand?

The brand itself must have clarity on its identity: purpose, promise, and voice. This identity is developed in alignment with the business objectives and must be applied consistently across platforms to maintain brand authenticity. This means all forms of expression, from visual identity, communication, experience and sometimes service, are coherently connected through core voice attributes. For websites, that means:

  • Visually: a rich visual system that allows flexibility on digital platforms (images, patterns, symbols, colours, etc.)
  • Brand Messaging: a set of key messages strategically embedded within the website’s content, articulated and narrated utilizing the brand’s tone of voice

Ahmad Badr is a strategy director at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter: @ahmadb84