Brand Identity is a conversation, an interaction–a brandversation. Like any
conversation, it leaves an impression. Of course, the nature of the impression will depend on the value of the interaction, the way it has been communicated, the way it has been received, and the extent to which it has been engaged.
By the mis-1990s, the Internet had changed the way we worked: the way we were
educated: they way we played, shopped, and communicated. And it promised more.
For anyone involved, this transformational time was exhilarating and exasperating.
The learning curve was no longer a curve but a straight line moving vertically from
its base. The future was again upon us with predictions of revolutionary change and
rapidly developing evidence of that change. Movie theaters would cease to be, the
Internet would bring the demise of radio and television, there would be no further
use of the Post Office, the corner video store would be replaced by online, on-
demand subscription services, and every brick and mortar store would become click
Corporations rushed with a vengeance to grab history and launch their websites.
The first-generation websites were little more than electronic brochures, and were
commonly referred to as brochure-ware. These sites usually contained an “about
us” statement, some corporate philosophy that had been resurrected from the
company’s archives, dusted off, and lightly rewritten. Descriptions of the company’s
products and services, a careers section, and a “contact us” link were included to
finish of the site. Branding was considered to have been addressed if the company
logo and slogan were in a prominent place and appeared in, as close to the
corporate colors and the web would allow.
Evolution into more adventurous territory spawned the birth of second-generation
sites: interactive sites. Here a company’s hope was to mine data, with the intent that
this information would help it better understand the consumer. This collection of
data would build a profile on a consumer and, in theory, provide the company with a
rich understanding of the consumer’s lifestyle and spending habits. The hope was
to benefit both the consumer and the company. Usually this was accomplished by
giving something to the consumer in exchange for filling out a brief customer
profile. Case in point: The New York Times gave free access to its online edition to
those who completed such a form. The form requested personal profile and asked
permission to e-mail information that the company thought might be relevant to the
user. Once this was completed, the user had daily access to the news and the Times
had a “cookie” (an informational retrieval) embedded in the user’s computer. In
theory, this cookie could provide a stream of information, including following the
consumer’s online navigational history.
Attention was paid to the brand experience, but only as it applied to the content of
the product or service offered. If a company had a fun product or service, the
experience was made more playful; more businesslike products or services gave a
more straightforward experience. Although a plethora of data was collected, many
companies did not know where to go with this information, where to store the ever-
increasing supply being poured into their system or how to use it.
What was emerging was an exploration into the user expectations and, in fact, into
the way future business would be conducted and branded. Great effort was taken to
ensure that consistent branding and brandversation emerged between the content
of the product or service, but contextual branding was only hinted at.
Soon third-generation, transactional sites appeared. Business could actually
Be conducted as information was harvested. For a brief moment in time, the idea of
a web centric environment revealed a future where much more was possible.
However, the original hope of having a low-cost media vehicle proved unreachable,
as the drive toward web advertising proved that bringing traffic to a site was a costly
affair. The heavy lifting of driving eyeballs to sites proved to be a Herculean task.
The promise of web centricity proved to be the downfall of many sites. Only a few
web-only business prospered, although not necessarily financially. Companies like
Amazon, which had developed a business model based on retaining each customer
and refining customer profiles over a significant number of years (as long as 12
years), built better customer loyalty. Not only did their plan provide a model for an
extended brandversation, but their ability to harvest information on their customers
also permitted them to develop a richer brand experience. Contextualizing created
rich experiences for customers and other suggestions in their category of interest.
By taking the legwork out of the customer’s research and showing interest in the
customer’s request, Amazon built a brand that is customer centric. Contextualizing
the customer’s experience actually builds business for Amazon.
The destination site or destination fulfillment business model is undergoing a
colossal evolution that goes beyond web centric or brick-and-mortar-centric
models. It is a profound change that has refocused many corporations from a web
centric perspective to one that is customer-centric. Simply providing an
environment as a platform for the content is not enough. The user wants more, and
is being given more, and this has put more pressure on the brand promise. The user
is demanding content and an experience that is relevant to and engaging to him/
The expanding digital bubble that surrounds each consumer also increases the
pressure on every brand promise. Content is expected, but content alone does not
constitute or guarantee success. Content must be delivered in a contextualized
environment. Contextualized branding links touch points throughout the user’s
experience, making the experience more relevant and rewarding.
The Internet continually reconfirms that its power lies in the ability to connect
people and ideas. The popularity of the chat rooms, user groups, e-mail, and other
forms of social networking are but a few everyday examples. Brand must also make
that connection to the individual. Today, companies must act as though everyone
has been wired into a wireless world.
Narrowcasting versus Broadcasting
Contextualized branding does not look at communicating a general message to a
large group of people. Quite the opposite: it narrowcasts a message, personalizing
that message for a specific audience. By building an audience of ones with a
targeted message, every message adds value to the brandversation between the
brand and the user. Johnson and Johnson’s Tylenol banner campaign explored this
concept by running banner advertisements on the financial sites: the ads for Tylenol
appeared whenever the market dropped 100 points or more.
The brand promise is an experience, a journey, and a friendly walk that always adds
new value to the experience. It can bring consumers back or send consumers
searching for another experience to meet or exceed their expectations. The more
the brand promise considers the needs of the individual consumer, the deeper that
consumer’s loyalty to the brand will be.
Theme parks are exploring ways to improve brand experience by giving users smart
cards that allow them to avoid waiting in lines. By swiping a smart card at a card
reader on the ride of choice, the user registers a place in line and is given a time to
return. In our wireless environment, we will soon be able to do
this from cars on the
way to the theme park. Once we arrive, there will be no need to stand in lines, as
the schedule will have been preprogrammed from our cell phones, ensuring more
fun -a better branded experience.
Furthermore, knowing a customer’s schedule would enable the theme park to send
him or her relevant targeted messages. He/her could receive instant messages as
he/she moved through the park, suggesting places to eat and offering coupons or
discount for eating at certain times at certain food providers. Not only does this
richen our user’s branded experience, but also it helps draw customers into places
in the park that may require traffic at that moment, improving the user’s experience
as well as the park’s overall business.
Brand is a conversation that can take place at any of the encounter points that exist
in a consumer experience. At a theme park, the user could enter the experience at
any point though a phone call to the park or travel agent, or a purchase at a
souvenir stand. The user picks his/her point of entry: the user is in control.
A credit card owner has multiple entrance points into a brand. The card owner could
enter her experience by paying a bill online or making a purchase at a store.
Wherever she enters into the experience, she will be touched by the brand. It is the
responsibility if the company to ensure a meaningful contextualized experience if it
wants to retain the customer.
The speed at which the Internet has evolved has highlighted the importance of the
brand experience. It has also revealed that the experience must be relevant and
Brand experience is a one-fold proposition: brand and experience cannot exist with
the other. For a band to survive, it must display a very clear, distinguishable brand
promise, focus and goal. Brand attributes go beyond the immediate benefits of a
product or service and are influenced by the attributes of the brand promise, as it is
contextualized throughout the touch points of the consumer experience.
Contextualizing the consumer experience means developing a branded experience
that constantly exceeds a customer’s expectation. Imagine a scenario in which you
are connected to a true brandversation. Make it simple, a scenario booking an
airline ticket for a business trip. You want to arrive in New York and return a week
later. As you book the ticket, you are given a list of car rentals, hotels, restaurants,
and special events happening at the time of your visit, personalized to your own
preregistered preferences (sports fans get a list of sports events, geeks find the
latest techie exhibitions and hot spots in the city); a reminder to send a gift to your
dad for his birthday (with a suggested selection of gifts); a wake up and weather
service call. It was the Internet space that reconfirmed what was previously known
but has been somewhat forgotten. Branding means a great user experience. Good
Internet branding went beyond logos, taglines, slogans and corporate statements
into real-time interaction for an online experience that is meaningful.
does not stop there. Developing a contextualized experience may include doing
more than one company is able to provide. Coalition programs, partnership between
companies with the purpose of providing a seamless consumer experience,
recognize the importance of granularly defining a company’s brand relationship to
other companies in the emerging wi-fi environment. As consumers settle into their
digital, wired bubbles, the demand for personalized experiences will intensify.
Don’t leave Home Without it
Our communication technology has us wired to the world, exposing the user to the
branded experience 24/7, anywhere, any time and all at their choosing. The more
robust the technology becomes, the more creative minds find ways to employ it. M-
technology notifies us when we are in the vicinity of a friend or business contact. It
offers us coupons redeemable at restaurants we are passing by. It notifies us when a
book we are interested in has arrived as we pass by a store.
Today in Japan, DoMoCo has put all of this in place. Teenage girls have totally
embraced this technology, turning their mobile phoned/e-mail/entertainment/wi-fi
environment into a fashion item worn as a necklace.
Salarymen are wired in and out of the office as Gen3 mobile technology becomes
ubiquitous. A man looking through the car showroom window at the latest Mercedes
after the dealership has closed can use his phone to scan a QR code on the window.
This can activate a commercial on his mobile phone broadcasting a commercial
demonstrating all the features of the vehicle of any car he is interested in. NNT
DoMoCo’s success lies in its creative ability to align its brand with thousand of other
Cell phone ownership among teenagers in Sweden is 100 percent. The opportunity
to immerse an audience in a deep branded digital communication is limited only by
our ability to creatively use current and future technology.
Today’s branded experience is an interconnected experience that links the user with
a robust, meaningful, personalized, prioritized experience. It requires a brand vision
that is creative, customer-centric, and globally encompassing. The user is in control
they want information when they are ready to receive it. The digital environment
provides us with the technology to meet this demand. From blogs, podcasts, social
networks, destination sites, he user has more touchpoints to interact with and each
one offers an opportunity to deepen their loyalty to a brand but it requires a
brandversation that is imagination and compelling. It requires people with a
relentless creative vision and imagination to continually evolve the brand
Article by Ken Thurlbeck
From The Digital Designer ISBN 0-7668-7347-1