5 Ways To Build Brands In The Post-digital World

Interbrand’s Jez Frampton offers a roadmap for success in the post-digital world, wherein digital underlies everything and consumers are co-creators of brands.

Simon Smith, our European Head of Digital, has a mantra—“Everything is digital." He also believes that “Digital is the most misunderstood word in business today.”

In 2011 we surveyed more than 800 companies about their digital strategy. Some 16% described their company as "digitally inactive." And of those who had a digital strategy, two-thirds confessed to implementing it in a fragmented way.

Here’s an overview of why—and how—you should catch up and build success in our post-digital world.

Recognize the new power dynamic

Digital media have triggered profound shifts in consumers’ interactions and relationships with businesses. The language of B2C and B2B is no longer relevant. At Interbrand, we use the terms business and consumer (B&C) and business and business (B&B) to describe how businesses and consumers now work together to create brands. And for brand, read: business.

Consumer-created content and conversations are driving organizations’ image, reputation and bottom line. This represents a significant shift in dynamic. As consumers become increasingly influential, businesses are becoming less powerful.

This means that you need to focus more on understanding, engaging and staying relevant to consumers, and less on regimenting or controlling them. Vitamin Water and Pepsi have both demonstrated how stronger engagement with their markets can create more successful products and services. Others would do well to follow their lead. In contrast, BP failed to engage with the debate after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Trying to "shout" back with big budget advertising only served to alienate people and further damage the company’s reputation.

Respond to the purchasing revolution

It’s time to tear up the traditional "funnel" model of consumer purchasing. Consumers now go through a dynamic, non-linear decision-making process. What other consumers say about a brand is becoming the most important input in consumer choice. More than two-thirds of global consumers, young and old alike, seek online reviews or recommendations from others. And we’ve all been put off a product or service by a lone bad review.
A fluid and uncertain market is the new normal, which means traditional marketing strategies are no longer effective. In this world, responsiveness trumps efficiency. The ability to engage with customers one-on-one, particularly after purchase, is vital to long-term business success. Doing this adds value, generates revenue and—most importantly—builds customer loyalty.

Yet a quarter of companies don’t solicit post-purchase feedback from customers. They could learn from the way Amazon uses feedback and digital tools to engage customers through its recommendation system, one-click shopping button, loyalty program Prime, credit card and app.

Image: Flickr user D. Bjorn

Remove the seams/Stick with digital

Just as Amazon simplifies life for customers, digital media can be used to smooth their way through potentially disjointed experiences. Our online and offline worlds are now merged into one ongoing experience. That experience—how audiences encounter and perceive your business—increasingly determines its vitality.

Consumers have become used to buying online, returning in-store and instantly receiving product updates. And they expect each interaction to reflect your brand in a consistent and engaging way. Every aspect of your business, across all departments, experiences, environments and communications (‘touchpoints’ as we call them at Interbrand), should feel the same. Think of Disney’s commitment to magic, Apple’s to humanizing technology or BMW’s to driving experience.

This seamlessness is the holy grail in building relationships with customers, and digital media offer huge opportunities in this quest. So, a fashion retailer can be browseable anywhere, quickly replicate communications across all outlets, offer purchase via QR codes, connect customers to other fans, turn their "likes" into product previews, reward introductions to other customers…

Put digital center stage

Digital media form an intrinsic part of consumers’ interactions with businesses. So it follows that digital should be central to building relationships with your customers and enhancing their experience. Yet rather than taking a holistic approach, many businesses just use digital media as a promotional or idea generation tool.

Many of us have inboxes full of Groupon or CouponsDaily voucher codes. While this may drive short-term sales, over time it can dent brand perceptions, and ultimately business value. In a few cases, these kind of promotions have led to unsustainably high-volume, low-value demand—with catastrophic results for reputation and revenue.

Crowdsourcing can be a boon for business innovation and public engagement—or a disaster. It all depends on whether you have the systems and knowhow to manage a torrent of ideas effectively.

Well-planned digital activities enable more meaningful connections with consumers. Adidas’s engaged its young target audience through its limited edition Originals sneakers in 2010. Each shoe was embedded with an augmented reality (AR) code, which unlocked access to an online gaming environment. In a clever twist, the sneakers also acted as game controllers.

In 2011, Tesco created a virtual supermarket on a South Korean subway billboard. Waiting commuters could scan the QR codes of products on the billboard, purchase them and have them delivered within 24 hours. This reinforced Tesco’s focus on convenience and brought real benefit to customers. Interestingly, the retailer has had a bumpy ride in the UK during 2011/12 because it resorted to old-fashioned price cuts rather than adding value.

Create a digitally based culture/Bring the outside in

So digital has changed the way we all live our lives and make consumer choices. It also has far-reaching implications for business communication, decision-making and structure.
There is a growing disconnect between the increasingly flexible social networks we all enjoy and the rigid structures and hierarchies in which most of us work. Departmental and divisional silos made sense when efficient production was key to business success but responsiveness is the name of the game now.

In today’s world, anything that hinders speed and agility contributes to failure. To keep up with rapidly changing markets, businesses need to gradually move their structure from a "vertical" approach to a more "horizontal" one.

The way forward is to use digital innovations to bring the outside in. The brightest businesses are creating tools and processes that enable employees to connect and collaborate across the organization. Procter & Gamble’s Clay Street Project, for example, creates multi-discipline teams that focus on market needs, rather than divisional performance.

In terms of business innovation, IBM has developed Beehive, an organization-wide networking and idea-sharing hub to facilitate employee contributions. And Innovation Pipeline, AT&T’s internal idea generation tool, has significantly changed the company’s structure. It has also resulted in around 50 new patents.

Summary

Just as business success depends on brand strength, digital is central to successful brands. Brands create value and drive business success. And you need to use digital to make this happen. So Simon is right—“Everything is digital,” and digital is here to stay.

It’s easy to be put off by the apparent complexity of digital media, but success comes down to understanding people and behavior. If you can engage consumers and enhance their experience, you will build long-term business sustainability and value.

Jez Frampton is Global Chief Executive of Interbrand, the world’s leading brand consultancy.
Twitter: @Interbrand @jezframpton

Add New Comment

14 Comments

  • 潤 田中

    I totally agree with Jez.  It goes without saying that in our Digital world Web 3.0 and beyond, the landscape of customer engagement has changed drastically.  Any business owner should pursue full advantage of this dynamic ecosystem to seek incremental earnings by redefining their lucrative business model.  Any Brand Marketing service providers not obtaining full advantage of this momentum will be kept in Silos missing growth opportunities.  Time to change!  Digital Marketing should start with Digital Branding.  Thinking of an ideal digital touchpoint in eyes/mind of customers should be at the core when strategising corporate decision making.   

  • Joe

    Article feels a bit redundant. Every single point made is common knowledge, although they are expressed neatly enough. Anyone that doesn't know how to navigate the digital landscape needs help - but probably not from Interbrand unless they want it to be very, very expensive...

  • Melvin@Vestiigo

    The digital world has blurred the realities of what is real and what is not. Consumer perception is now an important factor in branding as the power of the masses can shift a businesses image. If a brand is an object, then consumers are the pressure which can shift the object to any shape it wants. Truly powerful stuff

  • Spend for Africa

    This article brings up some very good points.  Since we are a new to digital, it would be nice if this aritcle had some more concrete ideas and examples.

  • Joel

    was there really absolutely no data the author could reference?  Fluff vision pieces, with no research behind them is the kind of practice that led to erroneous predictions of TV's demise by Forrester and Garfield (and others who serve up the Kool-Aid.)

  • Richard Lipscombe

    FAST COMPANY has hit a new low with article....as a long, long, long time reader and occasional contributor I expect, no demand, better content than this...

    This article is FAST FLUFF...(perhaps that is what this magazine should now be called because it prints this kind of stuff)... the FLUFF here is like fairy floss (cotton candy) it looks exciting, big, fun, and is surely full of colour (and movement) but the reality is it is filled with sugar, dye, hot air, and worse of all it sticks to your face in ways that can make you look stupid...

    what you, the reader, need to know - to detox from this FAST FLUFF -  is simple...in the real world of 2012,  the digital economy is brutal because it thrives on disruptive innovation...the simple fact today is that the digital economy is far too brutal for any sensible person to take advice from the likes of INTERBRAND who clearly are full of FAST FLUFF...this emerging digital (global) economy is brutal, in large part, because it is no longer a "value adding" system as per the claim above in PUT DIGITAL CENTERSTAGE...

    the old analogue economy lived off value adding integration of creation, production, and distribution...whereas the new digital economy lives off a networked system of creation, production, and distribution...for any reader who wants to understand the essence of a digital business take a hard look at the Chicago T-shirt business Threadless...

    because this article is full of FAST FLUFF it is hard to unpack... to unpack it, I would have to tell you that the ideas put here about Culture are senseless and that there is no inside for a digital business because it is a network not series of silos...I would have to tell you that digital business is not done one-to-one but one-to-many...I would have to tell you that brands - if they exist in a digital economy - are owned by the consumer not the supplier..

    regrettably, this article has no substance, no clear and present purpose that can be unbundled... it is a diatribe of water cooler talk that is somehow suppose to make sense to you and me.. but like most water cooler talk it is a jumble of facts, fiction, interesting anecdotes, and uninformed rubbish...thus it is hard to pick through this article and all its failings and give you a sense of how outraged I am that you are being served up this kind of FAST FLUFF...

  • Richard Lipscombe

    To MICARL.... May thanks for your feedback... negative feedback is the most important information one can get in our emerging digital economy - which is brutal... it is brutal because it links supplier and consumer directly removing the middlemen - it dis-intermediates ... it is brutal because the consumer is the new talent ...it is brutal because most analogue - value add - revenue models do not work in a digital marketplace...it is brutal because the "groupthink" that use to pass for advanced marketing, no longer works... ask the folk at Facebook if the digital economy is not brutal for a company that is doing all the things recommended in this article , and much more, and yet is being hammer because it does not have a viable revenue model to sustain its capital raising.. MICARL, good luck to you and yours - clearly you have a viable long-term revenue model that works for you and I am always impressed with that fact...clearly INTERBRAND is doing well too...but my comments were for those who want to stretch themselves and find new ways of being in the world as per Threadless, Apple, Skype, eBay, Paypal, Amazon, etc... Cheers Richard.

  • Micarl

     Hmm, let's see if I get this from your note. The world is brutal.

    Funny thing is I have been doing all of the things in the article, and wow, it works - even in a brutal, brutal world.

  • FASHIONOTES

    The Digital Age is really prevalent in fashion - runways, shopping, news, etc. are all on Apps and through viral videos. It's definitely interesting to ponder what could be the next stage after digital.

    Caitie at FASHIONOTES.com

  • James Harley

    Interesting perspectives in this article, but let's not over-egg it. 'Digital' in the context of this article, seems - perhaps unsurprisingly ;) overly weighted towards engagement, social media, communication.

    Q. What about the fundamental, mission critical roll 'digital' now plays in the modern tech-enabled enterprise; in product design, service delivery, data management/business analytics, customer experience. Not to mention business infrastructure and operational mgt - supply chain mgt, inventory mgt, order processing, customer mgt...

    If modern ICT/internet-enabled businesses can't safeguard and assure their IT/ICT infrastructures and deliver against the service/performance expectations of customers, let alone safeguard their customers' personal data - what threat to brands, reputations and dare I say businesses then?

    An over reliance on technology presents new risks to the integrity of such brands. 

    Worth pondering.   
     

  • Richard Meyer

    Digital is not center stage for all brands.  Does the author really think that digital is center stage for products like creme cheese and crackers ?  Digital marketing is best when it's part of an overall integrated marketing strategy but what marketers really have to identify is just how important digital marketing is the conversion from consumers to customer.  Recent research indicates that as much as 70% of purchases at the market are unplanned and are driven by aspects like POP displays and shelf placement. In this case I would argue that digital is not the centerpiece but one of the pieces that support the product marketing.  http://newmediaandmarketing.co...

  • Andrew Shaw

    I struggle with the concept of "post-digital". We're not beyond digital at all but right damn slap in the middle of it.

  • carbaugh

    These points are right on target. Digital communication is extraordinarily powerful today and will only become more so in the future as the next generation enters the marketplace. I don't think most business people understand how much this change will influence their way of doing business.