Branding in a Post-Digital World – Relationships


As with people, brand relationships are a two-way thing. However much we like to think we make rational decisions, humans are emotive and social creatures, who naturally identify with certain groups.

Brands have always needed ways to support this emotional decision-making, to give people powerful reasons to join our ‘tribe’. But the traditional idea of brand loyalty, that could be hammered home by repeating an ad slogan on TV, is something that has made brands lazy.

In our socially-driven world, advertising is increasingly seen as a last-resort, or at least a smaller part of the brand-building mix. Geek Squad’s Robert Stephens went as far as saying, “Advertising is a tax on having an unremarkable product.” This kind of one-way conversation becomes less relevant, because people are increasingly interested in getting involved with brands, in making them theirs.

Give people a voice

This is certainly true in the various crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Crowdfunder, where people literally have a stake in getting a project started. But it’s about all brands being more collaborative, and more consultative. As with Instagram, it’s about finding out what people are interested in – or what they’re having problems with – and responding to it. That means two-way communication and ‘co-creation’, not just broadcast.

Mega-brands like Starbucks have learned from this. The website My Starbucks Idea sees the company suggestion box given a shot of caffeine. Customers can submit ideas and improvements, and everyone votes for them. It’s a simple mechanic, but gives everyone a small say in the future of Starbucks. People talk about modern brands needing to be ‘always on’, but I wonder if it’s more about being ‘always there’ – and that means providing a framework for conversations that can run and run.

Continue the conversation

Freed from paid media channels, brands are becoming content creators, often with mixed results. But sometimes a brilliant idea spreads way beyond potential customers. Last year, Google explained their recommended approach to content strategy on YouTube: ‘hero, hub & hygiene’. Their favourite case study was Volvo Trucks, whose ‘hero’ Live Test Series included action hero Jean-Claude Van-Damme doing an ‘Epic Split’.

This gets them talked about, associating the brand with something funny, and quite spectacular. The heavy lifting is done by the ‘hub’ content. ‘Brian’s Truck Reports’ are low-budget, informative films, uploaded regularly to Volvo’s YouTube channel.

The hygiene content takes place in the comments below, where people can give their feedback and know it will be listened to. Here, Volvo get a constant stream of interesting and useful dialogue. They can use this to really understand what people want. It feels like a genuine conversation, and it’s a way of sharing your point of view. In the next post we’ll see why that’s important.