If you thought successful digital branding was all about coming up with a snazzy new logo or designing a flashy website, you’d be off to a good start, but the idea of successful digital branding goes much deeper than that. In many ways, the game of branding hasn’t changed a bit since 1955 when a young whippersnapper of a burger franchise hoisted a set of golden arches into the air and invented the fast food industry. What has changed is the medium where that brand-building takes place, which sort of changes the game completely. Why not grab a cup of coffee or your favorite cold beverage and let’s learn about branding in the Digital Age?
Digital is Different
One of the first things you should internalize as an online marketer in search of an awesome brand is that it doesn’t matter a bit what you say. The important thing is what “they” say. Who are they? Why the millions and billions of internet denizens, a portion of whom are likely to make or break your business aspirations. Let’s stay with this a moment because it’s an important idea.
Think about your own experiences as a consumer. Let’s use the ubiquitous McDonald’s for a quick example, even if you don’t like their food. Does the reason you decide whether or not to swing by on your lunch hour for a McRib lie in the glowing words crafted so eloquently for television commercials or the opinion already framed in your mind created by a lifetime of personal interaction and word-of-mouth? Probably the latter. It’ll be the same with your digital branding efforts.
The bottom line is that it’s not your job to blather endlessly about how great your business is. That’s a monologue and, outside the Tonight Show, isn’t effective. What is effective is to facilitate the online discussion wherever it may be taking place, not as an annoying or looming presence, but as a participant in the conversation.
Defining Digital Branding
First of all, when we’re talking about digital branding – hopefully obviously – we’re referring to all the brand-building activities that occur online in conjunction with different digital platforms. This isn’t paying some shady guy ten bucks an hour to stand out on the corner with a sandwich board and wave at passers-by. This is a more esoteric endeavor, because you can’t physically lay hands on it.
The potential audience who might be interested in your product or service has their attention scattered all over the internet, hopping amongst probably dozens of different platforms (blogs, social media, forums, websites) through the course of any given day. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to entice them into taking part in a conversation that builds and broadens your brand’s reach.
How to define the branding itself? That’s easy. Branding is the process of creating a positive presence in the digital space, one that tells the story and establishes an identity in a way that connects with the target audience. It’s about using what is unique about your company and differentiates it from the competition. There are two primary ways to establish your digital identity.
The first way to build a brand and create a unique identity in the digital space is through content marketing. Perhaps a quick definition is in order.
Content Marketing: a type of marketing that includes the creation of various types of online material, including a blog or social media posts, video, etc. The point is not to engage in specific brand promotion but rather to stimulate a conversation about its products or services.
How should an online identity be established? Every process is different in the details, but the big picture would involve creating content related to your motivations and goals and how they eventually came to bear on the products or services you offer. For instance, to claim you make the best burger on earth is not only ineffective, but it’s boring. More interesting would be a tale of how you grew up hating square or flash frozen beef patties with every fiber of your being and were motivated to travel to Tibet and live in a high mountain monastery for seven years training the anger out of your system, then, at some point, received inspiration to return home and serve the freshest, roundest beef patties imaginable.
Now that’s a story and one likely to inspire a healthy discussion about bad burgers, long-distance trips, and the meaning of life. And, oh, by the way, there’s a good chance the conversation will also involve how tasty the burgers are at the new joint you just opened. See what you did there? Without actively promoting your business, you started a conversation that would inevitably lead to sneaky business promotion.
And Then There’s Social Media
More often than not, digital branding in today’s world means engaging in at least a few social media platforms. Some of the current hot options are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. The great thing about social media – other than the fact that almost every human being in the galaxy uses it every day – is that it allows you to develop your brand’s voice. You get to decide whether you want to be serious, funny, sarcastic, silly, inscrutable.
Your social media presence is important, because, as opposed to a longer form blog post on your website, you can dip in and out of your favorite platform with shorter status updates, respond to questions, or take part in a conversation. Make sure you understand your audience before going too crazy though. If you want to build your brand and ultimately make more sales, the key is to talk to the target audience in the manner they want to be spoken to. Sarcastic comments might play well to one segment but not another. If you’re unsure about how to start, try being a listener first. Do this by dropping in on a competitor’s social media feeds to get a sense for what works and what doesn’t.
But don’t overlook the fact that uniqueness, done correctly, is an amazing way to build and develop a brand. If you’re still unsure about the first steps, it might make sense to consult a digital marketing agency. These days, almost every town has one. There’s a good chance the initial consultation won’t cost you anything, and it’s liable to blow your mind wide open. In a good way, of course.
Improving your digital branding means you must create credibility in the consumer mind. To do that, you need a brand. Take that to mean digital branding is not an optional activity unless your goal is to languish in obscurity and eventually die a lingering entrepreneurial death. Make this a priority. Go to the places where your potential customers hang out online and tell them about that time you road-tripped to Tibet and ended up with a new vision for burgers. Your business depends on it. Now get out there and build that brand.