The Future of Branding: The Digital Dimension

During a recent trip to the United Sates to meet Brandworkz brand management software clients, I also had the opportunity to meet up with people from Facebook, Method, and MetaDesign. It was a fascinating trip, loaded with interesting experiences and stimulating meetings with some great people.

The collective insights of professionals I met, coupled with my own personal experiences of interaction with brands during the trip, prompted me to expand on some of the ideas I discussed in an article last year. So here goes.


1. The UI/UX Axis

Digital user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are key. In more and more areas, the primary way the customer connects to and interacts with a business is digital rather than human interface—though, of course, brand identity continues to feed powerfully into the digital experience.

Here’s an example from personal experience: At New York’s JFK Airport, I noticed that the food outlets featured touch-screen terminals on which customers made selections and ordered meals. Counter staff were there only to hand me the food once it was in the bag. My entire encounter with this brand—until the food was handed over by a human being—relied on the onscreen user interface: how it presented the food and how easy it was to order. In an airport bar, again a screen, not a person, was taking the orders. We selected Budweisers, which duly arrived by waiter.

However, two interesting observations emerged from this experience.

  1. Budweiser packaging design traditionally has masses of intricate detail, designed for the physical world, and it is certainly not ideal when rendered as an on-screen thumbnail image. But therein lies the power of a long-established brand!
  2. Though Bud may be able to cut it in any country, what about a newly established brand, or one that a foreigner may not recognize? I’d have a real problem working out what I was ordering from the on-screen image if I didn’t know Budweiser—unless everything was quick and easy to assimilate.


2. A Clear and Simple Message

It follows from the above that when developing a brand it’s essential that the visual and verbal messaging be kept as simple as possible. If there is no human on hand to guide and persuade consumers, digital sales must begin with a crystal-clear, simple message and visuals—differentiated from the competition and totally consistent with brand identity.

Nothing particularly revolutionary about that in branding terms—but what is new is the need for branding and messaging to work even harder. It must, without any human assistance, persuade an increasingly fickle and time-starved audience while providing a great digital UI/UX.


3. UI/UX and the Branding Agency

In San Francisco we called on Method, an agency majoring in branding, UI, and digital product development. Its clients are businesses that operate in both the physical and the digital space, including Nokia.

It’s significant that Method has recently been bought by software specialist GlobalLogic. The attraction? GlobalLogic recognizes that customers now expect advanced technology and great graphic and UI design in the same package—and that the agency can help them deliver such an end-to-end service.

And consider how world-leading brands have been showing the way in the digital marketplace. Facebook focuses on UI/UX to the point that it is almost anti-brand, while Amazon, eBay, and Apple are well established as UX giants. Even more traditional companies such as GE are building competence in this area because they see the corporate value of a unified UX strategy.


4. Online Reputation

The Sunday of our US trip allowed for a bit of leisure, so we spent some time hiking around Half Moon Bay. When we arrived in the town, we came across two cafés, side by side. Which one to choose for lunch? Should we make our decision on the basis of branding, architecture, environment, or even the food on diners’ plates?

No. We immediately jumped onto Yelp on our smartphones and checked out the customer ratings of each café. After all, almost no consumer today makes a brand purchase decision without resorting to some sort of social media influence. Indeed, for something worth as little as $10, we looked to the opinion of our peers to make a purchase decision. And a great crab sandwich that was, too!


5. Conclusion

The recognition of digital UX’s importance seems to be slowly sinking into corporate culture the way “brand” did a couple of decades ago. Brand thinking has become a cornerstone in many businesses, and real financial value is being assigned to the intangible that is the brand. (However, the financial worth and the ability of branding to generate additional revenue are inexplicably still undervalued in some companies.)

So, branding agencies need to hire or train great UX people—and do it fast, or find themselves sidelined when clients are making agency hire decisions. CMOs must also start managing digital UI/UX as an asset alongside the digital branding asset, because they are inherently intertwined.

I’m not aware of any scientific ways of doing this yet, but keeping things simple goes a long way. For instance you could look at some of the following as KPIs:

What percentage of your customer-facing digital applications or services…

  • Has been subject to a customer review or focus-group regarding UI and look-and-feel?
  • Has had UI/UX evaluated against what the competition is doing?
  • Has had the UI/UX and branded look-and-feel reviewed by a professional during the past three years?
  • Is available on iPad/iPhone and Android?

And, finally, here’s one that could fund all of the above: Have your digital applications been reviewed for missed opportunities of showcasing other services or products you offer, with a view either to deepening the relationship with your customers or increasing cross-selling (or both)?


Originally published on MarketingProfs


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