I believe that the answer to this question can only come from focusing on the last part of the question, ‘brand in digital’. Having worked in this industry for a long time I have realised that there are a million and one explanations as to what brand actually means. So for the purpose of this article let’s just agree that brand is nothing more than how our customers feel about us, i.e. it’s not one thing. It’s the amalgamation of all things, and the experience that comes together and is provided to consumers.

OK, now that we have that, let’s talk about digital. This is a little harder. In the late 90s digital was the revolution. In the mid-2000s it was nothing more than another channel, and today, it’s everything. It’s a channel, and it’s the thing that feeds content into the channel. I mean, just trying to figure out what digital is is hard enough, let alone trying to figure out what brand in digital means.

I’m not sure if any of us really ignore our brand in digital. How can we? We barely know what the hell digital means. I think that we need to refocus the question, and maybe the answer will come to light when we have that new focus.

I don’t think the question is ‘brand in digital’. Rather, the question should be ‘How do brands express themselves in a digital age?’ Now that’s clever! OK, now that the shoulder patting is done, let’s get into it.

On a number of occasions I have heard buzzwords used when referring to brand experience in digital. Maybe some of these sound familiar to you… ‘engagement’, ‘brand interaction’, and my all-time favorite ‘brand fan’. None of these terms are truly digital – they just seemed to become the flavour of the digital industry.

The fact is that a brand is a representation of the company, and companies (most of them) are there to create profit. Brand is there as a function to help deliver perceived value. And that value is attached to the product, service and/or company, even before the customer has been engaged. Apple and Nike are the most obvious and basic example of great brand-based companies.

So, the real challenge for brand is, ‘How does brand help contribute to the perceived value in a digital age?’ The answer comes from the objective of delivering value to customers. This is the key! Most brands focus on matching luggage. They focus on repetition and disruption. In a customer-controlled world, these mechanics no longer work. Hence why brands struggle with building a brand in digital.

We need to refocus our effort and attention on creating brand value in a digital age. Brand value is built on a new type of communication. A new type of customer engagement and perceived value. Let me give you some examples of what I mean, then let me give you some thought starters.

A good example of how brand can help contribute to perceived value in a digital age is Nike+. Oh, you’re sick of Nike examples… OK, how about Kraft’s menu app? With over one million recipes, the app gives consumers online tutorials and helps build recipes with what they have in the pantry. It then guides the customer through the grocery store to pick up the missing ingredients.

Another great example is British Airways’ Metrotwin. This is a very cool digital initiative. Basically, it’s an online asset that allows travelers to log all the cool places they have gone to in the towns they have visited. Travelers can log on and get helpful hints and tips from other travelers who have visited that city – now that is brand in digital.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is, don’t look at your communication and brand building as matching luggage. Stop forcing square pegs into round holes. Start using digital as an extension to the brand experience. The way I explain it to my clients is think of digital as the movie and traditional media as the preview to the movie. Use your matching luggage in traditional, and when you drive them online, extend the experience.

So where can you start? Firstly, take into account that I don’t know your brand or your comms plan. But with that in mind, here is what I want you to do… And you may want to get your agency to answer some of these for you:

  1. How does my brand experience extend online?
  2. Does my digital brand get the customer involved?
  3. How does my digital assist the sales process (measurably)?
  4. Is my digital brand activity a utility, entertainment or matching luggage?
  5. Is my digital brand activity a number of interconnected assets, or is it just a website?

So, I’m not sure if that will help kick start you into action, however, it should certainly get you thinking on the right path… But if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate ask.


Nima Yassini
BY Nima Yassini ON 17 August 2012
Founder and CEO, New Republique