On the surface, this may seem like a straight-forward blog topic; write about how marketers are utilising digital media platforms as part of their brand-building toolkits. But dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see that there’s a bit more to it.
There’s another, subtly different interpretation to consider, which is more to do with how the digitisation of communications has affected the way marketers build brands. This post considers both angles: changes in brand behaviour relating to the use of digital media for brand-building purposes, and changes in consumer behaviour enabled by technology—the latter providing essential context for the former.
In today’s evolving digital landscape, there are myriad opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences, build meaningful relationships, and forge lasting impressions. All essential qualities for brand-building success. And whilst traditional methods of engagement still have a vital role to play, leveraging the power of digital media has become imperative for any brand looking to thrive in this new era of connectivity.
A paradigm shift in the brand-consumer relationship
Perhaps the most profound and far-reaching impact of the rise of digital media is how it’s transformed the brand-consumer relationship from a one-way monologue to an interactive dialogue.
Consumers are no longer passive recipients of brand messages; they have become active participants in the brand-building process. Digital platforms empower individuals to voice their opinions, share experiences, and shape brand narratives. As a result, successful brand building requires an understanding of this paradigm shift, and a willingness to engage with consumers in a more authentic and meaningful manner.
However, regardless of the changes or channels, and forgetting the word “digital” for a moment, there are some fundamental principles of brand building that apply universally, and agnostically of the methods of communication chosen.
1. Consistency in your brand strategy and identity
At the core of any brand-building exercise lies a strong and well-defined brand identity and a brand strategy for delivering it. This includes elements such as your brand’s mission, vision, values, and personality, as well as a coherent and coordinated plan of action for delivering it consistently across all aspects of brand communication. In the digital realm, this involves crafting a compelling and consistent narrative that resonates with your audience, incorporating your brand’s core values into your content, and infusing your digital presence with the personality and positioning that sets your brand apart.
However, a word of caution here: notwithstanding the clear differences between “digital” and “traditional” communications channels in terms of the audience behaviours that set them apart, the “digital” classification doesn’t warrant a separate “digital strategy”. Not for brand building nor any other objective for that matter.
Brand building is about creating and reinforcing memory structures. Consistency is the key word here. After all, the consumer doesn’t see the difference between “online” and “offline” media or “digital” vs. “traditional” or “brand” vs. “performance” or any other of the false boundaries that we love to create within our industry. All they see is one single, connected, and (hopefully) seamless brand experience.
Therefore, successful brand building requires a holistic approach that eschews false boundaries and specialist silos, delivers a consistent brand narrative throughout the entire end-to-end customer journey, and mirrors the way consumers think and act in the real world.
2. Understanding your target audience
A deep understanding of your target audience is essential for successful brand building and a critical component of brand strategy. You need to identify their needs, preferences, behaviours, and aspirations alongside a thorough diagnosis of market dynamics and the major influences of brand choice in the category.
Digital media offers unparalleled opportunities for audience research and insights. Through social media listening, analytics tools, and online surveys, you can gather valuable data to formulate a much more detailed profile of your target audience that, in turn, informs your brand strategy. Leveraging this granular-level data enables brands to tailor their digital communications to resonate with their target audience, ensuring that their messaging is relevant, personalised, and impactful.
At a tactical level, digital media offers clear benefits and advantages over traditional channels in the way brands are able to connect with their audiences.
Crafting compelling content and storytelling
In the digital age, content reigns supreme. Brands must curate compelling and authentic content that cuts through the noise and captures the attention of their audience. By adopting a storytelling approach, brands can connect with consumers on a deeper, emotional level, transcending the transactional nature of traditional advertising.
Digital media platforms offer a multitude of avenues for sharing your brand story, from blog posts and videos to social media posts and podcasts. Through compelling content and storytelling, brands can convey their brand’s values, purpose, and unique selling proposition across an array of consumer touchpoints, forging a genuine connection with their audience.
Building authentic relationships through social media
Social media has revolutionised the way brands and consumers interact, offering a direct line of communication and the opportunity to build authentic relationships. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn have transcended their initial purpose of connecting people and have emerged as powerful channels for brands to engage with their audiences, with many other platforms joining the line-up. These platforms enable brands to build communities, share their values, and create emotional connections that resonate with consumers, as well as engage in conversations, respond to feedback, and provide customer support in real-time.
By adopting a human-centric approach and actively listening and responding to their audiences, and being transparent and authentic in their interactions, brands can foster trust and loyalty among their followers. Both essential ingredients for brand-building success.
Harnessing the power of influencer marketing
There’s little doubt that influencer marketing—and more recently micro influencer marketing—has emerged as a powerful tool in the digital age. Collaborating with influencers who align with a brand’s values and have a genuine connection with their audience can lead to organic and impactful brand advocacy. By leveraging the trust influencers have cultivated with their followers, brands can tap into new audiences, boost brand awareness, and drive conversions. However, it’s important for brands to prioritise authenticity over vanity metrics when selecting influencers, as genuine engagement is the key to success in this realm.
Leveraging data for personalisation and optimisation
One of the main powers of digital media is that it provides an abundance of data that can be leveraged to optimise campaign performance. This is as relevant to brand-building efforts as it is to performance-related objectives as it relates directly to the earlier point around the importance of delivering a consistent and connected brand experience for the customer.
By analysing data on consumer behaviour, preferences and engagement, brands can optimise the impact of their digital brand-building activities ensuring that, wherever possible, communications are targeted, personalised, and aligned with the evolving needs and expectations of audiences at each stage of the customer journey.
Limitations and the “attention economy”
However, despite its many advantages, there are also a few notable limitations that put into question the overall suitability of digital media as a brand-building vehicle—not least the comparatively low exposure time for digital media placements. There’s been a lot written about the “attention economy” over the past few years, with numerous studies showing that ad content that can hold a viewer’s attention for longer leads to greater engagement, enhanced brand recall, improved trust with the consumer, and, ultimately, more sales.
In one such study, linear TV ads were found to catch almost 14 seconds of average “eyes-on” attention. In contrast, digital display and social media ads failed to break the two-second mark.
Separate research by Amplified Intelligence, a company at the forefront of quantifying the importance of attention in advertising, suggests ads need to reach at least 2.5 seconds of attention to even begin building the necessary memory structures for brand-building.
So, when it comes to the level of attention consumers pay to ads, it would seem most digital channels are a lot weaker than linear TV, to the extent that some are borderline ill-suited to brand building altogether.
Conversely, according to new data from Marketing Week’s Language of Effectiveness survey, digital media is considered more effective at building brands than offline media by the vast majority of the 1,300 brand-side marketers surveyed. “Overall reach”, “quality of reach”, “precision targeting capabilities”, and “ease of measurement” were cited by respondents as key drivers of increased investment in digital.
The answer is to ask the right questions
There’s little doubt that digital media has had a profound and far-reaching impact on the way brands engage with their audiences and has established its credentials in the brand-building space alongside traditional channels.
Both have their advantages and their limitations. The conversation as to which “side” is better at delivering brand-building effectiveness will rage on, but is one that, in my opinion, is entirely missing the point.
The real insight (and recommendation) out of all of this is, of course, “different strokes for different folks”. As with many other media comparison discussions, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that can be applied to all brands in any and every situation.
Is digital superior to traditional media at building brands? The answer is that it depends. The real, and far more appropriate (and useful) question, is: “Which channels and tactics, digital and/or traditional, are best-suited to my individual brand, my particular category, and my specific strategy?” Chances are it’ll be a combination of both.
Regardless of which channels you use, be it linear TV or Instagram, by far the most important thing is to deliver a consistent, connected, and holistic brand experience for the consumer that combines to build and sustain a level of brand equity/salience that exceeds that of your competitors. If you can do that, you’re winning!