Setting the scene
This is the first of three articles in which I look at branding, offering a first-hand perspective on what it means to create a successful, meaningful and engaging brand in our increasingly digital world.
We start by looking at what branding truly means (and conversely what it doesn’t). From there, we move on to look at the impact digital is having on our relationships with brands and what this means for both creating and sustaining a successful brand presence today.
To guide us on our way, over the course of three articles we’ll put forward a new model for branding which we believe is reflective of the modern reality of branding. Then, with these more theoretical constructs in place, we’ll venture on to look at this approach from a very practical and first-hand perspective.
We’ll do this by sharing some of our branding methodologies for those of you may interested to discover more in due course.
So, let’s get started by setting some basic context for our branding thinking and approaches.
What we mean by branding (and what we don’t)
Setting appropriate expectations around what we mean by brand constitutes a valuable starting point. It will help to dispel any misconceptions around what branding means, whilst building a clear picture of the areas branding will need to encompass.
This all starts with the fundamental assertion that branding is more than a name and a visual identity.
Effective branding has never been solely about superficial aesthetic connotations. A brand needs to reach much deeper into the hearts and minds of those it seeks to connect with for it to be truly successful.
This means embodying and reflecting the sum total of our own beliefs and values. These beliefs and values are then exposed to a wider set of social, cultural and societal influences as they take their place in the world.
This also means that brands have to continually strive to retain their meaning, value and salience as our own tastes, beliefs and attitudes ebb, change and flow over time.
Quite rightly a number of brand-makers and commentators have likened this to our very own journeys through life. Take Lisa Buyer of the Buyer Group for example:
Like when a child is born and given a name, a brand needs nurturing, support, development and continuous care in order to thrive and grow. Some brands have a life cycle and grow old like people. Some brands are timeless and never die, some are “born again” or reinvented, while some brands live a short but powerful life and have an iconic legacy.
I personally regard this analogy of a brand to a child and the path travelled to be a particularly apt one. It’s one which I firmly believe has a number of interesting implications in today’s increasingly digital-first world.
Role of experiences in driving brand perception
Whilst the ever-increasing prevalence of digital has been radically reshaping the daily interactions of our digital native progenies it’s also been hard at work playing a transformational role in the way we now encounter and interpret brands.
It’s therefore no longer appropriate to talk about brands as abstract entities.
The quality of interaction provided at digital/digitally-informed touchpoints is naturally increasingly synonymous with brand experiences and the enduring customer brand perception arising from these interactions.
A natural evolution of this rise in prevalence, is that businesses will increasingly look towards digital and digitally-related experiences to inform what, how, why, when (and even where) a brand is experienced (and made sense of by those on the receiving end of the experience).
This is heralding something close to what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm shift and will heavily influence our approach towards branding and how we need to consider this in the future.
It also reflects a deeper change at a more fundamental societal level, namely ‘What does it mean to participate and live in a 21st Century developed economy and society?’
At the heart of this shift lies a powerful combination of technological and attitudinal changes, in which technology continues to ply its influence as a catalyst and a magnifying force to both speed up and extend the reach potential of these fundamental changes in how we view and relate to brands (and to authority figures in general).
Redefining trust relationships and influencers
Those we perceive to be like us, those we’ve never met, but in whose social digital presence we feel comfort and a ‘connection’ are those we’re more likely to trust.
For me this is akin to what we might call a vicarious experience. As, for many of us, it’s the next best thing to having experienced something first-hand without ever having to divert our attention away from those little worlds we carry around in our pockets.
Herein I also believe that there’s a large misperception going on here. That misconception is that we trust others over brands themselves.
Over a decade ago, the Edelman study reported a 300% increase in reported trust between ‘people like me’ respondents in the space of three years.
However, if we look more deeply the realisation will come that what we trust is our ‘perceived similarity of situation’. To my thinking it would therefore be more accurate talk about ‘people who on the face of it look to be in a similar position to me’, but then that wouldn’t be quite so catchy, right?
So where does this leave us?
In short, it puts us in a great place to start exploring what this means for a new model view of brand relationships.
In the next article we look more at digital’s part in the disruption of traditional trust relationships, before looking at a new model more pertinent to the prevalence of digital society we live in today.
In the meantime, you can read about the work we did building the nimbl brand. nimbl, the story of how we created an engaging award winning brand for a consumer finance product.