Digital Brand Experiences
We asked our design team about their point of view on building resonant digital brand experiences today. Here’s what they said.
Historically, brands used to rely heavily on brand marketing and advertising for awareness of their products and services. But in the digital age, many brands are born solely online or as an app. In essence, screen only experience(s). What makes some of these brands good vs. great?
Great digital brands are true utilities. Once you get into someone’s life and seamlessly integrate into their every day, that’s when you find success as a digital brand. Venmo comes to mind first. It’s a brand that made paying people back—something we do every day or every week—fun. PayPal started P2P payments and acquired Venmo as a next generation digital experience. PayPal is good, but Venmo is great. Fun, easy, fresh, and simple.
A testament to a great digital brand is the number of “super users” the brand has acquired, as in the number of people that can’t imagine not using them every day. Moving beyond marketing and advertising, it’s brand awareness through repetition and word of mouth. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google are all very prominent digital brands today. Most people are “super users” of all these experiences. Now that’s true utility.
What’s the real value of being a digital brand today?
Consumers today expect a lot from the brands they buy from and/or show loyalty toward. They expect brands to understand them perfectly. They want personalized experiences and brand experiences that are tailored to their every moment.
And digital brands have the opportunity to give just that—to get down to that person, that place, and that unique moment. They have the data to serve up relevant content and experiences in a personalized way—essentially wrapping around a person and his/her environment at the perfect point in time. That’s what it’s all about. And when you pair that kind of deep knowledge of the audience and what they’re doing with utility, you have a very powerful thing.
The question every digital brand should be asking is, “In today’s busy world, what value does this thing add to a person’s life, right now?”
Where do you see digital branding headed in the future?
There’s absolutely no doubt that digital experiences are going to become way more powerful over time. That means less paper, fewer stores, more connectivity, more automation, and more machine learning. But it’s important to remember that as brands get more advanced and even more connected, they also need to behave more humanly. We see a lot of attempts to humanize the digital customer experience for a reason. Chat/Messenger bots are an example. People, for the most part, don’t want to talk to computers or be trapped in a world that feels separated from their own.
Moving beyond sites and apps, VR/AR is here, but not here yet. It’s going to be a long transition to truly integrate these digital experiences into our lives at scale and in meaningful ways. No matter what the form factor, digital brands can champion the human side of technology as it gets more powerful. SnapChat is a perfect example of using AR in a fun and simple way before we even knew what AR was.
Another fast-moving area is IoT and AI-connected devices and services. Think Amazon’s Alexa—she’s basically becoming a brand within her digital self. The Amazon brand has a digital voice that can have real conversations with us. Apple’s Siri has new friends. Our TVs are smart and we can control things in our homes like our cable, thermostat, light bulbs, door locks, etc. from anywhere. Brands will need to be confident, trusted, and safe in their design, feel, language, and approach.
What are some tactics that brands succeeding in the digital space are adapting?
Today, with more mass in the digital space it’s harder for people to remember who to go back to and why. It’s a crowded space and building brand equity is a big challenge. Everyone’s advertising and spending and it sometimes seems near impossible to gain that mass adoption. That explains why loyalty programs are finding a lot of success in the digital space.
The Nike Plus platform is a great example of this. It basically lifts a physical act such as a sport and surrounds it with a digital layer of data, engagement, competitive feel, and game aspect. It’s a non-commerce loyalty play that can eventually lead to commerce. It can also be considered a utility as well—your digital companion to your everyday fitness.
In the end, it’s the brands who’ve figured out strategically how to make people feel good and give them some sort of differentiated value that end up on top. So it’s about the emotional coupled with the rational.
Speaking of challenges, what are some other challenges brands trying to build resonant digital experiences are facing right now?
A lot of the times when brands fail in the digital space it’s simply about too many people trying to do the same thing. Like circling in on too small of a segment or trying to solve something that never really needed solving. The home delivery meals category is a good example of a category that is simply too competitive and brands are struggling to stand apart.
As designers, the big challenge is creating a brand story and experience in these predefined, digital spaces. The brand needs to work and be compelling screen after screen, frame after frame, pixel after pixel. And the thing is that people don’t look at it for very long. We have very short digital attention spans. Our hands are moving faster than we can even process. It’s a real challenge to stop a user in their tracks, but that’s the goal.
Then there’s also the challenge of balancing how much you push your digital experience into the future. Digital brands always have to be one step ahead. But at the same time, the experiences have to resonate with people. You can’t push too far or not far enough.
As a designer, what’s the most exciting part of building digital brand experiences?
The digital world is in a perpetual state of redesign. Think about how often Facebook updates its platform. There’s more opportunity for change when everything is happening digitally.
As designers, we constantly fiddle and shift—continually tailoring a brand moment to better fit a person and his/her world. And that’s exciting in a brand world where consumers are at the center of everything.
Also, digital always looks forward. It never looks back. It doesn’t even stay the same. And it’s not slowing down. It’s a big, growing train, moving forward—full speed. That’s both an inspiring realization and an exciting challenge we have to accept and let fuel our creativity, innovation, and design approaches moving forward.
Emotive Brand is an Oakland brand strategy and design agency.