Building Your Digital Brand

Online has always taken a back seat to offline in brand building. Yet online offers the best options for building a meaningful brand, options that didn’t exist only a few years ago. Companies without a solid digital brand strategy are literally being left behind as leaders build new digital brands.

Reflecting on the current state of online advertising, the majority of online marketers are doing a terrible job of building their digital brands. Advertisers are fighting tooth and nail to produce the world’s worst advertising, actually destroying their existing offline brands in the digital realm.

For the most part, if one looks at ads that run during top TV programs or that appear in top magazines, one will find quality in the advertising (even if the ads are a bit dry and boring). But if one looks at a top web site and views a few dozen ads, it will be very difficult to find quality advertising. In effect, the bulk of the ads online do more harm than good to the brands they are trying to build.

The concept of an offline agency being a company’s “brand steward” is a popular notion. However, many traditional agencies use this as an excuse to lock out partners and competitors, jealously guarding client relations, which is shortsighted when it comes to establishing and integrating a digital brand. What we really need is a digital brand steward.

These digital stewards would ensure brand consistency throughout any device, browser, operating system, or ad format that’s delivered through an Internet connection. The digital brand and the offline brand, and their respective agencies, should form a partnership to establish and build an integrated brand.

Three broad components make up the digital brand: online marketing, offline marketing integration, and information technology.

  • Online marketing consists of banners, email, affiliates, wireless, interstitials, sponsorships, and the direct advertising side of distributing the brand to online media.

  • Offline marketing refers to traditional outdoor, TV, and print, with a focus on strong integration of online with calls to action, such as URLs or other hooks to digital environments.
  • Information technology represents your company’s web site, online customer service, collaborative filtering, personalization, and any part of the web site that creates an impression to the end user.

Integrating these three elements is key to building a sustainable and effective digital brand. Don’t be deceived, though. It may appear that offline integration and hooks to online components are relatively easy to accomplish by just putting a URL in a print or TV spot. On the contrary, it takes research and planning to determine what online strategy will best support online efforts.

Online marketing is tricky, and it’s getting trickier to understand and harness its true branding potential. As online marketing continues to evolve into new spaces, such as wireless, email, viral marketing, set-top boxes, and many more outlets for ads, brands need to be closely guarded and represented, in high quality, on all formats. When companies get it right, the results can be inspiring.

Consider a banner campaign that collects email addresses, then email campaigns supporting those new addresses with a special offer on a web site. When the customer arrives at the web site, it dynamically serves another ad, using an integrated back-end system, but this time, it’s a microtargeted banner ad that promotes a new wireless content initiative for the company: yet another way for the user to touch the company’s brand.

All of these elements work in conjunction with one another and share a similar brand tone and personality, with cohesive messaging and high-quality content throughout every contact with the customer. The digital brand thereby attempts to move marketing from one to many, to one to few, to one to one.

If one looks at all the various online marketing opportunities that exist, and then looks at how a company’s brand is represented over this landscape, it becomes apparent that digital marketers have not done a good job creating integrated messaging. It’s a very large task for digital agencies to pull off, but it should be a key requirement from the client. Very few companies have well-defined brand plans for representing their brands on their web sites and through affiliate marketing, email marketing, banner advertising, online customer service, and all other forms of digital advertising.

To make this digital integration happen, one can’t rely on offline agencies to champion these new ideas. It’s a challenge for interactive agencies to take the ball and run with this concept to make digital brand integration a reality. The interactive agency should be responsible for making sure the brand fits perfectly with its offline efforts, works effectively across every device, and seamlessly integrates with existing IT infrastructures and CRM solutions. With an aggressive online brand strategy, along with a solid offline brand partnership, the digital brand can thrive.

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