4 Dec 2020

A vaccine won't reverse the digital tsunami for brands

Ian Culley, Creative Technologist NY, writes in Media Post about the need for brands to develop genuine digital experiences for consumers and rethink how they tell their brand stories in a digital environment.

The promise of a COVID-19 vaccine has resulted in waves of optimism across the world. 

Share prices are bouncing back up and there is a general sigh of relief from marketers who can restart their brand-building activity in earnest, knowing that consumers will be looking to g out to shop or to enjoy hospitality, entertainment and travel offerings sooner rather than later. 

And yet the idea of a total return to pre-pandemic "normality" is really not in the cards for brands. 

The vaccine might deliver a newly liberated audience - but that is the extent of its impact for brands. 

The past year has resulted in such a seismic shift and awakening in how consumers and brands function that our behaviours and expectations have been altered for good. 

The transition from a physical to a digital economy was happening long before the current pandemic. However, this year's lockdowns have highlighted the need for brands to develop genuine digital experiences for customers that can replicate physical ones. 

These experiences need to bring surprise, delight and real utility to interactions and weave marketing, commerce and personalized moments together to build a rich relationship between brand and consumer. 

Brands have had to evolve at speed to achieve this. Some have managed it well and others not so effectively. But no vaccine will restore the previous balance which consumers held between the physical and digital worlds. 

Brands are now looking at an increasingly digital brand-building environment. Whereas a robust digital presence was good to have pre-pandemic, it is now essential to the growth. A brand must exist within the content in which consumers are actually living. 

That has meant businesses have had to rethink how their brand lives and the stories they are telling in a digital environment, from communication channels to the consumer experiences within their products. 

For many businesses, evolving their brand for digital media presents a whole host of brand-building opportunities. 

Beyond ecommerce platforms and digital marketing tools, digital provides new ways to understand your consumers and how they interact with the brand. 

Take Gucci - it recently made its first steps into the digital goods economy by understanding the increasing importance of digital ecosystems. By launching avatars in its app, it has opened up an important revenue stream and it also gives greater access to customer intention data. 

By designing an engaging virtual world, Gucci knows what products customers aspire to own and can then curate a personalized experience that builds a much deeper connection with its audience who are looking for inspiration. 

But the challenge for many brands - particularly those with lower levels of digital maturity - is understanding how and when to tell their stories cohesively across the multiple channels that exist today. That's why it is important from the outset to create a brand that can be flexible and nimble in the first place. 

Brand needs to remain a focal point given its ability to link up with all elements of a business - content, experience and product. This will make any pivot or translation across different media and contexts much easier. 

Simplicity and focus through user experience and design is also essential for creating positive digital experiences for day-to-day customers. Within digital environments, impressions are formed immediately. 

If consumers find the experience hard to navigate or detached from the brand experience they are accustomed to within a physical environment, they will leave without the brand ever knowing they were there. 

This has been exacerbated by the fact that the threshold of trust becomes higher when a consumer can't physically interact with a brand. 

Fortunately, a clear, consistent and personal message and visual expression that reflects the mission of the brand at every touchpoint helps consumers overcome the trust barrier. 

This simulates physical interaction in a digital context and is instrumental in building brand love as they start to develop new digital purchasing habits. 

Digital has quickly become the dominant choice for people and businesses alike. 

And it will be those businesses that can tell those brand stories successfully across the entire customer journey, from discovery to engagement, that will find the cure to unlocking long-term brand building. 

First published in Media Post