Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

What is becoming apparent in this new digital world is that the traditional approach to corporate identity or brand systems and rules is becoming defunct.

A traditional style of brand management meant that brands had very firm and non-negotiable controls around what they stood for and how they were perceived. These rules were largely static and cast in stone, subject only to periodic review. That’s no longer possible in a digital world, which requires brands to be present on multiple platforms at the same time and answering to the fickle needs of their consumers daily.

The challenge with this multiple presence reality – and of concern to many brand owners – is that brands have less control over how they are portrayed in a rapidly evolving digital ecosystem.

This covers not only the visual representation of the brand, the logo and visual language, but also the purpose, personality and values of the brand. Everything is being forced to respond in an agile manner to a fast-changing and fickle environment.

By way of an example, think of a brand that for years has been trading and living in an offline environment. The digital revolution already made it shift its paradigm and adapt at an unprecedented rate to an online world with multiple audiences and reference points, not to mention screen sizes and form factors.

Now imagine that same brand that is shifting from a traditional business selling goods or services (in store and online), to one that is rapidly becoming a platform business.

In a platform business, your control is limited to literally your platform and the communication you issue to promote it. A platform business connects merchants and customers and facilitates their transaction in a simple and uncomplicated way.

Essentially, the platform business lends its brand to convey trust and accountability in the process, but not in the delivery or execution of the goods being bought or sold.

As the platform business, your brand experience is now in the hands of the merchants and partners that use your platform to conduct business.

The challenge for brands is that they have traditionally been set up to cope with a very linear way of doing business. In a disrupted world, however, platform businesses are rapidly deviating from this way of operating. Think Uber or Airbnb, for example, both of which have created a platform for willing buyers and willing sellers, but which don’t actually own the product or service being sold. These businesses, set up specifically for a digital world, are built on fundamentally different business models and operate according to a fundamentally different set of rules. For brands set up to operate according to a more traditional linear approach, the challenge is how to adopt and adapt to a nonlinear platform and retrofit their brands into this digital ecosystem.

The big take-out:

The traditional rules of branding no longer apply in the digital era.

In this new digital era, the role of branding consultancies and advertising agencies has changed from one of a somewhat static custodian to a far more proactive and flexible brand guardian. While ensuring they don’t lose control of the brand, brand guardians need to have a clear understanding of how the brand lives on various platforms. They need to be responsive to what platforms require of brands and how they require brands to communicate. They need to ensure that brands are far more dynamic and fast-paced than they have been in the past.

Not only do brand controls need to be more accessible, but brands must find a way of entrenching their values and purpose more openly and outwardly. And while their look, feel and sound must be as consistent as possible across all platforms, they need to understand that 100% consistency won’t be possible all the time given that platforms change. However, what will remain in their control are tone, purpose, values, proof points and expression.

Given the rapid pace at which platforms are evolving, brands have to upweight the message, and ensure that their message is consistent, even if the look of their brand changes slightly.

The traditional rules of branding can no longer be forced in this new digital era – it’s time to rewrite the rulebook.

  • Houston is general manager at HKLM.


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