Opinion – putting on the right face

Published: 16-Jun-2011

Taking your brand digital requires a whole new way of thinking about design and marketing, says Vicky Bullen

Taking your brand digital requires a whole new way of thinking about design and marketing, says Vicky Bullen

Imagine that you are going out tonight to a really important do. It could be work, it could be social. The one thing you are sure of is that you need to show your very best face to the world.

So who is going to do your make-up? The brilliant boffin from R&D who developed the stuff in the first place, who really understands how the molecules work and knows the chemical formulae of all the ingredients? Or a beautician who understands how to apply the products in a way that will make you look as good as you possibly can?

I’m guessing you’d choose the beautician for her superior ability to plan, design and execute a look that reflects the best possible you.

But I bet that when it comes to the increasingly important business of digital brand design and marketing, your face in the virtual world, you still leave all the work in the hands of boffs and techies who understand the science but don’t necessarily have a grasp of the art that makes it effective.

With Web 2.0 in full bloom the internet offers marketers hitherto unimagined opportunities to build relationships with consumers and provide precisely targeted advertising and brand impressions at exactly the right moment in the purchase process. Faster speeds, dynamic pages, interactivity and collaboration have combined to make digital an irresistible marketing tool – it’s no wonder that £1 in every £4 spent on marketing and advertising by UK brands is now spent online.

But it is becoming increasingly obvious that when it comes to branding, the potential of the digital world is not being fulfilled. Web developers may make technically brilliant websites but they are not always tuned into communicating the nuances of brand values, experience and emotion – the very things that bring brands to life online.

The problem is at its most glaring when it comes to what the internet does best – direct selling. It seems that one day about 18 years ago a technician designed the first ecommerce site and ever since nobody has bothered to engage sufficiently with the idea of branding to change it one jot. That’s why apart from superficial aspects like colour, most ecommerce sites are so poorly branded.

You can’t help wondering why for instance retailers don’t employ some of the brilliant techniques of games designers to present their offerings in an intriguing and engaging way – more like their stores than a list.

Another example of a lack of brand thinking is the way digital handles logos. Logos were originally designed for the static environment of stationery and packs. How many brands take advantage of the dynamic opportunities offered by the internet by adding movement, shape and even colour change to their logo?

A more brand-led approach will focus on the concept of ‘equities’, the array of visual, aural and even physical properties that exclusively identify your brand. Brands are rich and emotional, and one of the great things about the online world is that it’s a perfect place to leverage all your existing brand equities – and to create new ones.

There are three clear points at which brand thinking needs to inform the digital design process. The first is in the planning phase of online activity. In the offline brand design world this is called ‘visual planning’ and it is crucial to understanding what the brand is and isn’t, what it can and cannot do online as well as offline. It provides a visual blueprint for the brand, a hymn sheet containing its meaning and its equities. This vision or understanding needs to be shared among all its stakeholders.

The second point is the generation of digital equities. These are brand equities that relate to the digital world first and foremost. They may be an adaptation of offline equities moved into the digital realm, or they may be specifically created for the digital world.

They might include any of the little tics and devices and behaviours that surround a brand and its use. For instance you might be able to introduce three dimensionality and movement to previously static, flat brand icons. You may be able to tease your audience’s senses through, for example, the sound of a Coke can being opened, or little animated bubbles of fizz for Schweppes, or the snap of a Kit Kat being shared. The list is endless and limited only by the imagination of your creative department.

It’s not just the colours, layout and typefaces that need thought. Marketers also need to address the minutiae of how the internet works. The transition between screens, how the menus work, the drop downs, the movement and even sounds of the brand manifested digitally should be thought through and designed to communicate the brand.

The third area is that of creating a digital section for master elements within the brand guidelines. All too often brand guidelines don’t include the digital dimension. Given the technological possibilities and the unique qualities of the digital realm, this is a damaging omission.

If the brand was originally developed offline, real brand-led thinking means considering how those offline equities, assets and elements translate to the online world, and what opportunities the dynamic digital world offers you to create more.

You can leave your digital presence solely in the hands of technical people if you like. But the days when people marvelled at digital for its technical innovation are over. For marketers the next phase of the internet will be about differentiation – and that means branding. It’s a party you really don’t want to attend in anything less than full war paint.

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