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Building Your Digital Brand


Livia Hirsch explains the three-step approach to building your visual identity

Building Your Digital Brand

The reason digitalisation is such a hot topic right now is because you can’t escape it. Digitalisation, one of the first revolutions in business history, is the new reality. It has shifted many daily processes into a virtual arena. From automated processes to big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning; digitalisation is here to stay.

One aspect of digitalisation is that it has also allowed brands to reach more people than ever before if you know how to properly harness this revolution. Your pool of potential customers just got much bigger. It’s not only targeting the people within 5km radius of your business, it’s about reaching people worldwide. Moreover, you’re not alone in this. Every brand is trying to reach foreign markets. So, in this competitive and huge market, how do you stand out?

Tell stories that stick

A recent trend is brands trying to reach a large audience by addressing, well, basically everyone. The target audience is broad and therefore (to save time and money) many companies feel like addressing the general public with their content. It almost feels like they have some sort of #FOLO - the ‘fear of leaving out’. However, by creating content that is geared towards such a broad audience which isn’t focused or tailored at all, it's likely that you'll end up with content that’s not really memorable and won’t stick. Because by trying to address everyone you end up talking to no-one. And this shouldn’t be the case. Brands need to stand out; ditch your FOLO and choose to become a single and unique entity. For that, you need a clear, single-minded message backed by a simple yet strong story. 

One solution is to address your various target groups directly by showing them adverts they can relate to on the platforms that they use. For example, why not create many, small ads personalised for each of your target groups? The commercials should showcase a diverse range of people and be geared toward micro-groups rather than your entire audience. The end result is a tailored message which matches a group that will be easier to activate because you are speaking to them personally.

Know your best assets

What defines you as a brand and what separates you from your competitors can be found in your USPs. Although it can be quite difficult to define and characterise your image, it’s not something you have to figure out all alone. Because apart from deep personal reflection, try asking your customers how they perceive your brand. Familiarise yourself with your assets, embrace them and amplify them. Based on that feedback, you can build your brand personality and make sure it reflects in all of your content. For example, use an identifying colour, catchphrase or logo across all your platforms – from social media to the streets and every accessory in between. By doing so you will build your brand recognition and consumers will associate that one trait or aspect to your brand. 

Familiarise yourself with the battlefield

Obviously, brands are competing with each other. However, brands also have to compete with what their customers like: their cute families, their favourite TV shows etc. Within that field, brands are trying to reach consumers from all angles, it's not solely about sponsored content anymore. So the competition is quite tough.

Unfortunately, most people really dislike advertising. They don’t like how it interferes with their daily life. That’s because most advertising doesn’t make an effort to impress. Therefore, brands have to step up their game. They need to be as cute as videos of puppies and babies combined, as caring as their best friends, and as well designed as technology will allow us to be. We have to meet their standards to stand out in the battlefield.

Good and addictive content is built around a specific format, and people like that. They enjoy a fixed construct that they can recognise. That’s why most people will watch the same series, over and over again. After all, they know what to expect. It’s a force of habit brands can learn from. Namely, that people expect marketing tactics to follow a fixed pattern. A brand needs unity and consistency to attract and maintain their followers or else it has nothing worth coming back for.

If you analyse the social media feed of a few brands and look at the general feel of it, many are not consistent. From using different fonts and colours to posting seemingly random images. However, something as simple as a colour, that consistently reappears on your social media feed can increase your brand recognition. As mentioned above, if your brand sticks to its USPs and utilises a catchphrase, logo or colour throughout its marketing campaigns, across all platforms, people will unite behind your brand. 

To attract and keep your target group in the digital age you need to become ‘a nice guy’ and no longer be ‘a salesman’. Ultimately, you are trying to attract people to your brand, not your company. You have to showcase and sell your brand values to retain your audience.

The Magic Formula for Brand Campaigns

It’s difficult to boil down digital branding into a ‘one-formula-fits-all’ concept. However, broadly speaking the answer is: process = progress. 

Let’s break that down. Think about every customer’s journey in a 360-degree fashion, meaning an all-encompassing experience. Each customer journey is made up of separate stages – awareness, consideration, intent, purchase and service – that each need individual approaches. Your customers are present in multiple phases, but not all simultaneously and not all with the same intent. They need different content to adhere to their needs at fixed periods of time. Zero in on how to best reach them during each stage and focus most of your energy there.

How do you go about this? Well, start with brainstorming about concepts which match your target audience whilst meeting your business goals. Think of each stage in the customer journey and how you can communicate and interact with your customer during each step of the way. Customers in different phases show varying behaviour when it comes to consuming content. Therefore, based on behavioural data, you can match your messages to the communication channel and KPIs. The goal is always to help the customer during each phase and move them forward in their journey. 

Monitor available data and KPIs during each stage. This is crucial to ensure your money is going to the right places and your message is reaching the right people. Continuously cross check this with goals, strategies and campaigns to make the most of your work. You should always refine and further optimise your campaigns. This is the progress phase. If you have a clear plan and implementation strategy, you are already doing better than if you didn’t. 

Building Blocks for your visual identity

In this digital day and age, one might easily overlook the importance of a strong visual identity. But once you’ve established yourself on the market and know where you stand as a brand, a visual identity is needed. It comprises of your logo, company colours, typeface, grid, photography and tone of voice. Those need to match your brand personality and positioning. Ideally, they cause an emotion or a stir in people’s minds when they see it. Although many companies might opt for an entirely new visual identity, building on what you already have and perfecting that is often a better idea. Once you have the above mentioned ironed out, you can apply that to corporate material, your online presence, signage, promotional material and campaigns. 

Luckily, as all the best things come in threes, there’s a three-step approach to building your visual identity.


1) Create a distinguished brand positioning

Another recent trend is that companies tend to copy market leaders. Meaning that ultimately all brands will start to look alike. Now, picture a pack of zebras. You and your competitors are each a zebra and your stripes represent your marketing tactic. Unfortunately, many companies have similar, generic branding values and look like all the other zebras. The thing is, individuality in branding is beautiful. So instead of being an ordinary zebra, dare to be the purple striped one.

To start positioning your brand, look at the heart and mind of your company. The mind is the logical side: your mission and vision, your strategy, business goals and KPIs. The heart is the culture of the company, the look and feel and the tone of voice used. Combine your company heart and mind to identify your brand and its positioning. If you apply it consistently throughout all your touch points, it will allow you to stand out and be more recognisable. You will become that purple striped zebra.

Take Transavia airlines for example. They are a low budget airline, but when rethinking their brand positioning they figured that they didn’t want to compete with the likes of EasyJet. Therefore, after analysing their position in the market and their company strategy, Studio Dumbar came up with the phrase ‘it’s a pleasure’ as the leading principle for the company in addition to a new playful, accessible and flexible design. This new motto and design are applied to every step of the customer journey, from uniforms to in-flight amenities. A symbolic feature of theirs is the word ‘Welcome’ written next to their plane entrances written in all the languages of the countries served by Transavia. This strong brand identity and positioning allowed Transavia to stand out from their competitors.

2) Design a unique visual identity

During the design phase, it’s essential to bring the mind and heart of the company together. Meaning that you want to create a brand that people love but also one that reaches its business goals. For example, if you look at most travel platforms which compare flight prices, they will utilise an airplane in their logo. That’s very generic. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it never works. Take the Dutch website; they also wanted to use an airplane but in a more fun manner. Therefore, Studio Dumbar took a generic idea and gave it character. This resulted in a shape which resembles an airplane but is still unique, friendly and recognisable. By implementing this idea across all of their communication channels, from social media to billboards and airport merchandise, they became recognisable and ultimately stood out amongst the zebras.

3) Ensuring you have the right building blocks 

Lastly, you need to make sure you have all the tools at your disposal to go live and implement your new vision correctly. Therefore, a 360-degree analysis of your idea is recommended. This ensures that every touchpoint in the customer's journey, from newsletters and social media presence to billboards and company events, matches your visual identity. For example, Request (an online equivalent of PayPal) needed help designing their logo and website. After this process was done, the brand guideline with shapes, a colour palette and various versions of their logo was handed over so they have all the right building blocks at their disposal to take off running.

The Power of Music 

When you think of branding, most people think of visual branding and all the previously mentioned aspects such as logo and company colours. Yet, most people forget about sonic branding which is the strategic use of sound. The power of audio is exploding. Think about it, our lives revolve around the sounds we hear. More than ever before, people are flocking to music streaming services, voice recognition technology and podcasts apps. This is putting audio in the centre of our daily lives. This new habit is creating a massive shift in the customer journey and experience. So, in this increasingly audio-enabled environment, the strategic use of sounds is crucial. You can now directly talk to the consumer, but what does the voice of your brand sound like? It should resemble something that allows you to create culture and meaningful connections. A sonic identity gives brands a heartbeat and personality.

The process of finding your voice is simple: do some in-depth research concerning your brand values, your competitors and how to best reach your target audience. Listen to all of your past audio tracks, do they match? Weed out the sounds that you don’t believe match your brand and style. Next, you translate your research into sonic values. Be ready to do some brainstorming and trial and error before finding your voice. Lastly, build a library of sounds that you can always fall back on.

Let’s look at the example of Bavaria beer, a family owned company who was losing its main target audience. The Sonic Branding Company in Amsterdam analysed the music of the region for the last one hundred years before coming up with Bavaria’s new sound logo. A small tune that they can tweak for every occasion but that remains recognisable at its core. This helped give the brand more consistency, recognition and strengthened their company identity which reunited their base. So, make it a bigger priority to find your voice or jingle that everyone can identify you by as the power of audio is only going to keep growing in this digital age. 


Thus, how can you stand out in this day and age? There are many ways to build a strong brand from a strong visual and sonic identity to being familiar with the market and being sure you connect and meet the needs of your consumer each step of the way. All of those aspects combined will make for a killer brand presence. But for that, you must have a strong understanding of your brand and what it represents. Be confident in your values and project them. It’s bigger than just being a ‘cool company’, it’s about attracting and uniting people behind your brand values.

Livia Hirsch is a marketing intern at Dept

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DEPT®, Tue, 12 Mar 2019 14:09:51 GMT