Welcome to a brand new day

The digital age has influenced how brands communicate. Nick Law and Marc Shillum discover that the rules of engagement have changed

What happens if someone sees a brand’s message but misses the neat and beautifully designed logo at the end? If the message isn’t linear – meaning you don’t have to start at the start or end at the end – at what point should we reveal what the brand is?

Where do you put the logo, if it won’t neatly sit in the bottom-right corner, surrounded by the predetermined amount of clear white space the brand book demands?

If the same document will be viewed in five media, in ten proportions, all at once, are you even sure where the bottom right-hand corner actually is?

What does the logo sound like, or feel like if you touch it? Where am I? What time is it? What is cilantro?

The dawn of the digital age has completely remade the relationship between customers and brands, providing more control and choice about where, when and how they engage.

This has, in turn, redefined the laws of branding. Traditional brand guidelines fall flat when applied to this new digital realm. What’s even murkier is how design needs to evolve. This is what keeps us awake at night, but we have come up with some ideas which may point towards an answer.

Learn to behave. What your brand does, and how it does it, is as important as what colours it wears and the opening lines it uses. That is why we always look to create brand-defining experiences, such as Nike+.

Take care of the interface. Everything in the digital age lives behind an interface. It is a primary branding element – and using an interface is often the first, most important contact a consumer has with your brand.

Always be persistent. In an age of 24/7 Web access and non-stop social networking, people interact with your brand all the time – not only in short bursts when you’ve bought media. Think beyond the immediate campaign.

Make it tangible. Style guides are only so much theory, and are often developed in monastic isolation, separate from thoughts of practical applications. Your brand lives where consumers come into contact with it – in real-life executions.

Start to think dimensionally. Today, a brand system needs to work across a much broader range of channels, executions and applications – including animation, functionality and the little beeps you hear when you click on something.

Don’t be content with the content. One of the defining features of the digital age is that our ability to produce content has outpaced our actual capacity to consume it. Look for other ways to build brands, like actually providing something useful.

Remember that the medium is the message. Using brand-appropriate technologies is key. The way you communicate and connect with customers says as much as anything. For instance, should your brand be conveyed with video and rich-media animation, or relevant information that is more important?

Apply with discipline. It still makes sense for executions to match and be consistent (or to differ from one another in a consistent way). The success of any brand system relies on applying it with rigour. The key is making sure the system actually works across all the channels where it needs to function.

Always be sure to choose the right steward. Brands should be shepherded by consultancies that understand them and can reach today’s consumers across the broadest range of applications available. In the digital age, maybe it makes sense to look to digital groups to take the lead.

Brands live in hearts and minds. A brand is made up of all the thoughts, feelings, emotions and associations that people have with your company. And it exists as an ongoing two-way dialogue that takes place between you and your customer.

Some of this can seem very daunting and abstract, but designers can make a major step towards clarity by learning from each other. Product designers have always been concerned with the intersection of aesthetics and the way people use things in the real world. Retail designers understand that how someone flows through a space can affect their perceptions. Even signage designers are highly skilled at guiding people elegantly towards their destination.

By looking past the divisions of disciplines, we can appropriate the skills we need to turn branding into a unique and engaging experience in the digital age. Cilantro, however, continues to remain a mystery.



Branding for the digital era • Be persistent

• Make it tangible

• Learn to behave and pay attention to the interface

• Think dimensionally

• Don’t be content with the content

• The medium is the message

• Apply with discipline

• Choose the right steward, possibly a digital one

• Brands live in people’s hearts and minds

Nick Law is executive vice-president, chief creative officer, North America, and Marc Shillum is vice-president, director of branding, at R/GA


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