Digital transformation is happening at every organization whether it’s under its leadership’s control or not.
Brand communications no longer travel on straight lines. The audience is not a silent recipient of an inspirational slogan and a striking visual cue. We talk back. Any given message is quickly diluted in a massive digital ocean. We create more content, more consistently to rise above the white noise. Paradoxically, this feeds more fat to the white noise. It’s loud like Interstellar. The landscape changes under our feet. Mapping a territory quickly loses its relevance.
A brand’s digital presence is a big bad growing knot.
Although it seems we are in a dystopian present, I do see some beauty in this chaos. There are pretty patterns hidden somewhere in that nasty knot.
Yes, we can make sense out of the chaos of interconnectedness. This is a user experience problem.
My work at Fake Crow ping pongs between startups building their brand from ground up, and established organizations shedding old skin to rekindle their innovative mojo. In both realms, I find myself confronting these three forces that pound upon a brand.
Force #1. The diversity of the audience
We are in the era of post-demographic consumerism, and humans operate in silos of interest that change quickly. The message is bait, no fish wants to bite. Brands need to reach their audience through the right channel, at the right time, at their individual wavelength.
The question is an eye-rolling cliché. If “everyone” is an obvious wrong answer, who is your audience?
The Internet is full of resources that discuss personas, research methodologies, targeted messaging, the scientific perspective so on and so forth. Force #1 is the flashiest. You cannot miss it.
Force #2. The sheer volume of traffic
The Third Wave of the Digital Revolution started off with entrepreneurial ventures inventing more ways to shout louder into the ether.
Innumerable distribution channels, social networks, digital formats, content management tools, adtech platforms, SaaS products, and ways of making sense out of exponentially growing data are introduced to brand communications every day.
We are all hit with a choice paralysis among tools and resources that can advance our digital game. Every choice leads to a new mountain of work.
Force #2 is not very sexy. It’s like your least favorite house work. The knitty gritty. The dust in the crevice. The fibers of the knot. The side effect of growth.
And it must be spring cleaned.
Force #3. More brand stakeholders at play
From leadership all the way to direct customer relationship level, the responsibility of carrying the brand’s message is now highly distributed across the organization.
It’s no longer just marketing and communications teams that uphold branding. Branding is how organizations unite under the same values, towards a common destination.
There’s more. The biggest brands of the world are now held accountable for the ecosystem they serve and benefit from. From their human resources to their vendors, utility providers down to the waste they create.
Force #3 is the tricky one. If left in the darkness for long, it may surprise you. For this exact reason, most companies shy away from dissecting it as a part of the branding process. Because it’s vulnerable. Yet, undeniably, here lies a brand’s truth. It’s inescapable.
Brand communications are entangled with all aspects of the operations.
These three forces clash, mold, and unfold a zillion variables forming the ever changing matrix of the reality. They set an atmosphere of uncertainty.
Every brand today is headed towards suffocation by its digital interconnectedness. Its archival data on one side, its potential destinations on the other.
When a VP of Marketing or a Communications Director comes to me, they are very aware and alert about the weak links, immediate goals, must do’s. They also have aspirations for an ideal world.
We put our war paint on and face all three forces without fear. To see things as they are. Without judgement of the past or the future.
There might be a monster hiding in the crevice. Maybe a hero. Maybe a villain. If we are very still, very patient, we might see the pretty patterns painted in the digital ocean.
With creatives and clients who become a part of Fake Crow projects, we often philosophize about our work. Then we snap back to reality and get to work.
In early 2017 we studied the changing realities of branding in this deep analysis “Rethinking Style Guides for Global Brands’ Digital Transformation”. Our findings hint something hopeful for the future. This post is a bite out of that massive case study, and there will be more to come.
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Appendix: For all image credits, related online reads, books and videos that helped shape my thinking, click here.