Boy in beige hoodie standing in Times Square

This year has undoubtedly forced brands to think much more about their digital experience than ever befrore. Whether it’s brands like Pepsi selling D2C via a new website, or offline stalwarts like Aldi deciding to dive into the world of ecommerce, there’s been a pressing business need for investing in digital. 

But with this comes a risk, and one that is (maybe un-) surprisingly common in digital projects: the tech blinkers. 

Because we know tech is a major part of the solution, we start to see it as the only thing that matters. Consideration for other factors like the brand, and even customers and their needs, can get sidelined in the headlong rush to pick the right bit of shiny tech to solve all the problems. 

We love tech at Organic, but we also understand that the best digital experiences will be grounded in brand and customer understanding. 
My recent webinar For Tech’s Sake: Where Does Brand Sit in Tech-Obsessed Digital Marketing? (which you can access here) delved into this in more detail. But below are four ways you can make sure that brand stays at the heart of your digital experience. These will help you ensure that your customers experience consistency across all brand touchpoints. Why is this important? Because your brand is essential in attracting and retaining customers, whether you operate in B2C or B2B.

Make your digital experience project brand-led

The tendency with any digital or tech project is to leave it all up to the people that understand: the tech-heads. It feel intuitive to do this, especially because digital and technology move so fast. The problem is that being led by the technology team, or your development team, or a digital consultant, brings with it a very dangerous trap: they don’t always think about brand and the role it plays in attracting and retaining customers. Nor do they think about the users outside of the context of the tech. 

Now I know some of you will bridle at this, but there’s a good reason why so many tech startups fail so spectacularly. There’s a mindset especially in software, where the ability to create MVPs and test iteratively can be done at great speed and with less overall cost than creating a physical product, that goes something like this: 

Tech innovator 1: “Hey we’ve got this great idea for a new tool.”

Tech innovator 2: “Oh yeah, it’s sweet. It’s amazing. Nobody else is doing this.”

Digital consultant: “Yes. And if we market it right then people will be sure to sign up. And think about what we can do with all that data!”

Token Naysayer: “But why would people sign up for it?”

Tech innovator 1: “Because it’s a great idea.”

Token Naysayer: “But what value is it offering customers?”

Tech innovator 2: “Well it’s like some other tools out there a bit. But new. So you know…people will like it.”

Token Naysayer: “Why would they choose this instead of a known entity then?”

Tech Consultant: “Because we can just convince them to use it. And if they don’t they’re stupid.”

Token Naysayer: “Have you actually asked anybody if they want or need these services? Or worked out what problem it is solving?”

Tech Innovator 1: “Why would we do that?”

Token Naysayer: Exit stage left. 

I’m being (a little bit) facetious here but there’s a great example of how this tech-led approach can badly backfire: Windows 8 vs Windows 10.

 What happened at Microsoft is explored in more depth at the Harvard Business Review. But the headlines are these: 

  • Windows 8 was developed by the engineering team pretty much in isolation – they thought they knew exactly what people would want from a new piece of technology. After all they’re tech people. 
  • It bombed. Horribly. 
  • Windows 10 was developed with input and feedback from the marketing and sales team, with lots of user testing and feedback throughout.
  • Windows 10 was a huge success.

To be clear, this isn’t about brand leading the show entirely, but understanding that teams who are closer to the customers will be able to offer important insights and perspectives on what will and won’t be useful to people. Being human-centred in your thinking means that the tech can be selected or developed based on brand and user needs first. Remember: the technology is simply a delivery mechanism for your brand experience. 

So brand teams need to get involved in digital and tech projects from the start. Don’t see this sort of innovation as the home of the digital experts, because they can overlook some pretty important things, not least of which is your customers.

Brand experience is about the core, not the cosmetics

For people who don’t work in brand or other creative industries it can be very easy to dismiss brand as fluff, a sort of make-up you slap on at the end to help people identify a product or service. This is especially prevalent in digital, where we love to revel in the ‘data’ (which we often misinterpret or don’t understand, but hey, numbers don’t lie right…except when they do). Check out Kantar’s latest BrandZ report to see the power of strong brands, with plenty of data to back it up.

So it’s essential that there’s a deep understanding of what the brand stands for. What are its values? Its personality? What’s its promise? This all has to be baked into the brand experience across digital. 

Don’t see disciplines like user experience as divorced from brand. In a very real sense, user experience is about developing the best experiences to connect your brand with your customers. So wider brand consideration is essential before the project rolls on. 

Knowing how the brand positions itself, what it is trying to say, and what it is promising to its customers, has to inform the user experience just as much as what customers want and need.

Your digital experience must be about your customers

Innovation cannot be built on nothing. Thanks to the cult of Steve Jobs a lot of people think that innovation strikes like a bolt from the blue, and only ever strikes exceptional individuals, who “think differently”. Disruptors. People who go against the status quo. 

Moments of inspiration matter – but those moments happen when lots of solid information has been internalised. Real innovation relies far more on market and customer research, testing and development, and hard work than many people want to believe. 

Your idea might be incredible or it might really suck, but how would you know unless you spend time trying to understand the people you think will buy or use your product or service? How can you know with any level of certainty how your idea will fair if you don’t understand the competitors you’ll be up against? The markets you’ll operate in? 

So, it’s important to roll up your sleeves and get under the skin of your customers. Build up user personas not just based on stakeholder intuition and a bit of desk research (though that is useful at the start), but by speaking to real customers, or people in your target audience. Using interviews and surveys you can gather a lot of insight. And then you can start testing how people really interact with your website, or a prototype of your app, or whatever you happen to be developing. 

None of this has to take months and months. If you like the fail fast methodology of the tech start-ups these sorts of processes can be done quite rapidly and become a part of the iterative process.

Collaborate or fail

Some of my previous points might sound like I’m trying to give primacy to brand. I’m not. What I’m arguing for is seeing brand as something that is not divorced from digital, but integral to its success. Digital is just a facet of your brand. And we have to recognise that people in different disciplines bring different skills and knowledge to the table, and they are all useful. 

Coming together and recognising these strengths and the value they bring is essential to success. The moment someone in any one team believes they have all the answers and that others should keep their neb out, the whole thing becomes a nightmare. 

So, brand needs to realise that digital isn’t stealing the show, and digital needs to stop seeing brand as some sort of rarified blocker to progress that has little value. Really if you’re doing brand you have to be thinking about digital, and if you’re doing digital you have to be thinking about brand.

Digital is only going to become more important as a way to reach, and interact with, customers. So it’s time brand and digital marketing begin to see themselves as two sides of a coin, instead of bitter partners on opposite sides of the bed.