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By Gustavo Espinoza | 07 September, 2020

Branding in the digital age: Beyond aesthetics

With a powerful story, strategy, and creativity, branding not only will it be your ally to help you stand out from the competition, but also to create memorable impressions and build long-lasting emotional connections with your audience.

Have you ever wondered what drives you to purchase a product time and time again? Or perhaps, why do you prefer certain brands over others even though they seem relatively similar to each other? Well, it all comes down to the importance of constructing a solid foundation for your brand.

Branding is one of the most critical aspects of any business and should not be underestimated. It is your cover letter, and the identity your customers come to know across many touchpoints. With a compelling story, strategy, and creativity, branding not only will it be your ally to help you stand out from the competition, but also to create memorable impressions and build long-lasting emotional connections with your audience.

In our times, the term branding has come to be used primarily to refer to the visual identity of a brand, but it is certainly much more than that. It goes beyond mere aesthetics. Instead of having your full attention on creating a memorable logo or a vibrant color palette, it is crucial to take a couple of steps back and work on the backbone and purpose of your brand.

A solid strategy must be data-driven

Every strategy nowadays needs to start with data. Not assumptions or hypotheses, a meaningful long-term brand strategy today needs to be based on hard facts and data. While it is a good starting point to formulate ideas and premises, it is vital to make the most out of technology and digital media to gather valuable market and user information.

There are many techniques out there, but it is recommended to begin with exploratory primary research of your target segment and product category, some ethnographic research, and running social listening on your channels and those of your competition. After condensing and defining initial insights, it is crucial to collect data about your audience based on your findings and related to their behaviors and preferences. This is called response-based or post-hoc segmentation and will help identify and clarify your audience’s key value drivers.

You can gather a response sample through online tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, and offline techniques like in-depth interviews. After compiling this behavioral data, you can then profile your target segment based on specific variables such as demographics, media habits, lifestyle, and purchase behaviors, among others.

It all starts with the customer

Now that you have factual data, a solid understanding of your client persona, and their essential value drivers top of mind, it is critical to align your brand strategy to the experience journey of your target audience. Something to always keep in mind is that ultimately, your clients are looking for answers, so it is your role to provide them with the solutions that will align best to their needs and demands. According to Professor Sawhney from the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, consumer experience is a “blend of a company’s physical performance and customer emotions across all touchpoints and moments of truth.”

While it is evident that every brand will have particular business objectives and no customer journey is the same, it is important to map and align your strategy to the key actions and emotions of your target audience. This way, you will ensure to be nurturing intent, passion, and pain points through timely, relevant, and meaningful content. There is no dictated way of doing it. Still, a good starting point is to think about the specific moments in which your consumer sees (awareness), thinks (evaluation), acts (purchase), and cares (advocacy) about your products or brand.

It is crucial to also use the right channels for implementation and only focus on the most relevant to your customer. Every platform has unique traits and benefits, and particular moments across the journey of intent where they are more suitable. For instance, you could prioritize social media like Instagram or LinkedIn, email marketing, online webinars, and podcasts as your key brand and content touchpoints.

Customer Journey Map –

Providing valuable content to your audience

The next step on the strategy journey is to plan and create your brand communication and content based on ROE (return on engagement). As mentioned before, your full strategy must be client-centered as much as you may have particular business goals. Audiences are expecting something in return from the brands they choose to interact with, so it is essential to lead with useful content that will sequentially help them solve problems or achieve goals.

There are mainly six types of ROE that will provide real value to your clients: informational, convenience, social, entertainment, inspirational, and community. For example, by delivering convenience value, you will be contributing to making your customer’s life much more practical and easier. Or social value, where you will be tackling their needs of capitalizing and growing their social connections. Also, it is critical to think of brands as journalists and media producers, as by sharing useful, appealing, and timely content, they will be adopting the attributes of a real-time, data-driven contemporary newsroom.

Another vital aspect to take into consideration in a consumer-based strategy is that brands must benefit from the power of storytelling. A robust and compelling story will ensure deeper connections with your clients at an emotional level. It is crucial to center this story on your customer’s fundamental values and that your brand remains present in a very seamless and subtle way. Just as Professor Sawhney put it, “A good brand story is like the oxygen, present everywhere, essential to the story, but not visible and not in your face.”

Bite Squad – Branding by @tbpmx

Dmanna – Branding by @tbpmx

Brands must be agile

Lastly, brands must continuously evolve. Although it is critical to stand firm to your long-term strategy and stay true to your values, there needs to be a mindset shift of continuous testing and improvement. Just as customers are quickly changing and adapting, brands must be forward-thinking so they can make the smartest decisions. The term agile has been ringing a lot lately. It is fundamentally a methodology that fosters a culture of active experimentation and innovation by working in sprints and microcycles. Brands must adopt –and adapt to– this new approach by regularly auditing and testing their content and strategies for continuous innovation and improvement. It is also crucial that companies focus on cultivating a growing work culture of keeping data, experimenting, and learning from failures.

Staying ahead of the game

Branding in the digital age is much more than creating impactful visuals for the pure delight of your clients. A solid brand strategy is substantial for adapting to the demanding and ever-changing consumer of today. Brands must work on a data-driven, consumer-centric approach, construct properly targeted communications, and deliver timely and relevant content to their consumers. Brands must be evolutive and switch to a culture of constant optimization and adaptation if they want to be transcendental with their key audiences.

Although aesthetics and visuals are undoubtedly important, what will drive engagement and deliver value to your customers is the foundation you forge. Putting substantial efforts on creating and improving your brand’s strategy based on the principles we covered will ensure you’re on the right path to generating powerful and meaningful connections with your audience. It will set you apart from the sea of competitors out there and will help you stay ahead of the demanding digital game.