We are firmly in 2019 and the number of months before the futuristic year 2020 is dropping fast. While we don’t have flying cars or super assistant robots that can give us foot massages, we do have all of the world’s information at our fingertips, delivery services that will bring you anything in a matter of minutes or hours, and countless hours of videos of teenagers lip-synching to today’s hits.
All of this is possible thanks to the Internet, of course, and while it continues to upend traditional business models, it is also an endless realm of opportunity for brands to connect with more and more protential customers. Not only can brands reach more customers, through targeting on powerful ad platforms or attracting them organically from any corner of the Earth with great content marketing, they can also often deliver their products or services to them as well.
We are living in a truly unprecedented age.
Brands might not find this optimism reassuring, however. More often than not, traditional businesses that have been slow to adopt digital strategies have found themselves on the sidelines of growth. While they spent a decade deciding to wait until “digital has proven itself” they watched as competitors racked up followers and online business. Now the cost of investment to get into the game might be prohibitive, and so brands apply digital solutions to their problems like band aids across a severed limb.
If the metaphor is a bit violent, the reality is worse. Brands can no longer afford to rest on their laurels. There is no industry that is not reliant upon digital as a fundamental part of business operations. And while digital transformation applies to three different axes of business, in this post I am going to focus on digital as a brand strategy.
Digital brand strategy is a 360 degree approach to marketing and selling your brand through digital channels. It can be dependent upon, independent of, or intertwined with your offline brand strategies, but for it to be effective, it should be able to stand on its own.
What do I mean by standing on its own? For a true digital brand strategy to work it should generate a positive ROI, meaning that it could be a business unto itself. It might not generate that ROI immediately, and there are upfront capital expenditures, but over time the money earned should surpass the money spent, otherwise it’s safe to say you’re doing it wrong.
The three pillars of digital brand strategy
The simplest way to think of digital brand strategy is to divide it into three categories, or pillars. Content is what you say, or really, who you are. Amplification is how you get the right people to see this content. E-commerce is the means for how you get people to give you their money in exchange for your product or service. I say e-commerce and not something more vague like “transaction” because for it to be true digital brand strategy, it should be able to stand on its own.
What you say goes far beyond words and images. Content defines who you are as a brand. Content makes your products desirable and makes people stop their thumbs. When thinking of brand content, you should not think of the content that you can create today to reflect your brand. The creation of content takes time, energy, and a lot of foresight. Content needs to reflect what you want the brand to be, not just what it is today.
You must also forget about the idea of viral content. Viral content no longer exists. As a brand, people will no longer share your content. People share music, they share funny videos, pictures of themselves, social causes, and cats.
You must also remember that you are trying to sell your brand. Brand-building exercises are very important to establish desire, but never foresake the fact that if you capture someone’s attention and they don’t see your product, you have missed an opportunity.
Content is the biggest reason why people make a decision – and a purchase decision in particular. Do not skimp on your content if you can help it, quantity will not win over quality in today’s battle for attention. My advice is to focus on creating one or two amazing pieces of content than worrying about creating 20 mediocre pictures.
The last thing to mention about content is that it needs to be complementary across your touchpoints. If you want to take a consumer on a journey down the path to purchase, you will need to harmonize and surprise. You cannot use the same content everywhere and expect it to work. Social platforms are different from each other and are different from websites and are different on different devices. Content must be optimized for each touchpoint to be as effective as possible.
Like I said, the days of viral videos are over. Unless you are one of the few Instagram accounts to have millions of followers (and in that case you are probably not reading this) you will need to put your money where your mouth is.
Organic reach is declining. More and more brands are getting into the game. Ad platforms are consolidating. All of this points to one reality: you have to pay to get your content seen.
Paying to get your content seen harks back to the olden days before the Internet, when only brands with a space somewhere could get their message out at all. But paying is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact paying opens up a big possibility that is a requirement for any brand looking to compete: targeting.
Targeting has never been so easy and so powerful as it is right now. You can find people based on age groups, income, affinities. You can target people who follow other brands. You can target people who visited your website. You can exclude people from your targeting.
In order for amplification to be successful, you need to know who you are targeting. By finding out the types of people who buy from you already, you can go out and find people that look just like them, and thus have the highest probability of buying from you.
All of this effort would be for naught if you can’t capture people’s energy until they convert and become your customer. Not all brands sell their products online. Many don’t have the infrastructure or many sell through distributors.
Those are all excuses.
Any brand can convert online, they just have to be smart about it. Don’t sell your couches online? Fine, get a customer to pay $50 for an appointment with a salesperson at your store, and give that person a $100 discount on their final purchase. Hook them and get them to commit. Find partnerships with distributors and e-retail sites so that you get people to convert there.
I currently work in the beauty industry selling fragrances. You know how hard it is to sell fragrances online without people smelling them?? But there are ways, there is replenishment, there is gifting, there is e-sampling coupled with e-retail offers. It is possible to create digital brand strategies that go from content to e-commerce without anyone having to get off of their couch.
Too often brands think of digital as a terrain designed only for awareness building and community management. Sure, social media is a great addition to customer support channels, but it can be so much more than that. Not finishing the user journey with opportunities to purchase is like building a house and not adding a roof.
If you do not transact online, it is nearly impossible to establish your digital ROI, and you are therefore dooming any digital strategy to failure.
Putting it together for the digital customer experience
These three pieces of strategy – content, amplification, and e-commerce – fit together nicely into a virtuous circle based around the customer experience. When all three work together and are conceived to work in harmony, a digital brand strategy can produce a positive ROI and represent a big opportunity for a brand.
A successful digital brand strategy can also have a halo effect onto other non-digital channels, creating desire and demand and enabling things like drive-to-store. What’s important is to use digital as a business drive and not to do digital just because everyone else is doing it.