7 Principles for Strong Digital Branding Strategies in 2021

A large part of brand consultancy these days involves educating brands themselves on what they need for lasting success. Often that comes down to explaining some elemental problems with the intuitive sense that guides effective branding.

It’s easy enough to show people that brands can represent more than a physical product: the main function of brands is to consolidate and package a collection of ideas about some distinct thing out there in the world. Yet oftentimes, expressing how brands construct their meaning takes a bit more work. 

We believe the atomic equation for branding is fairly simple: brands are the sum of identity and reputation. B=I+R. While that’s simple enough, BIR doesn’t always fly in a boardroom. We spent some real-time parsing out better solutions and came up with seven core principles to redirect consultants’ focus and guide new conversations about building great brands.

Here are the principles for strong branding we’ve learned to lean into:

1. Brands Are Not People, but Rather Technologies of People

Effective brands are more than trademarks: they embody people, their teams, shared causes, passions, and sums of focus greater than their parts.

Thinking of the brand as a person, though, ignores what makes them force multipliers in the first place. Reminding brands that they are singular even while they are collections helps identify what is so rare about their combination of assets. That singular core is what must survive as the body of the company builds, arranges, deconstructs, or refurbishes itself for different functions because the core’s uniqueness is what people are looking for when they choose a brand.

There may be no accounting for taste, but there should be accountability for people’s perceptions and feelings about that technology. Acknowledging that brands are technologies also means learning to treat branding like any other toolbox, maintenance and all. We prefer to embrace the people that make up a brand alongside equally rigorous, healthy critique of the brand’s limitations as a mechanical device.

2. Authenticity Is Fleeting; Soul Is Forever

Maintaining focus is also important for managing the flow from intangibles to actionable. Whether in its identity or outputs, every brand projects stances and perspectives. How does their decision-making process relate to their sense of self? What steers a brand’s ethics? Who is really at the helm? Those questions define a brand’s soul, and no amount of consultation makes up for ignoring them.

Sustainable brands are more than mere seals of quality. Once people have a clear sense of the brand’s interior, the exterior forms more organically. Authenticity can become a byway if needed, but no longer takes up space as a discrete goal. Attention can then shift away from finding that next temporary monopoly. Instead, more useful questions become more immediate: which niche is served best by our soul? How do we define that as exclusively ours? Are we fully equipped to own that space now?

If you build it, they will run.

3. Feelings Are Sacred

Maya Angelou was on the money here: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” For brands to educate consumers, they need to trigger emotions on both conscious and subconscious levels. That also requires a certain level of respect. Triggering the wrong feelings is the same as raising objective expectations, so if a brand cannot follow through on feelings, they come off poorly. We aim to avoid what cannot be delivered and drill down on what we want to offer to them.

That respect can turn into a two-way street. Uplifting audiences uplifts the team! If that isn’t happening, look within instead of without, and try to find what’s missing from inside. Make those changes you want to see out in the world, so customers can shine their respect back onto you.

4. No Community? No Context. No Brand!

Since you cannot please everyone, and you will never have time to even try, finding your community should take priority. If you talk to people in your community and really listen, then creating for them is much easier.

The talking part looks easy from a distance. Making something people will actually hear? That takes a good amount of listening before you finalize plans. Harmonizing that plan with consistency is what makes a brand feel effective.

Communities often mark the difference between a good product and a sustainable brand. Creative teams more often slow down when they have to wonder about target context, the time they could be spending on innovating, and, well, creating. Why waste energy on things that aren’t your specialty? Go get that info from the horse’s mouth!

5. Actionables Beat Thoughts and Prayers

Developing a brand into something that will connect takes a lot of consideration. Factoring in reputations, contexts, even plain dumb luck, there is as much entropy in branding as anywhere else in our expanding universe. Hoping something will change in your favor ignores the chance to turn a gamble into a game plan. The difference for marketing is that brands do not happen alone, so there are infinitely more possibilities for solutions through connections.

In other words, we never ignore the power of empathy. Measuring empathy is difficult, except by its implication in other metrics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to project empathy at the same scale as more tangible operations. Constant dialogue helps us stand out and shine brightly! And you cannot pray the gray away.

6. Agencies Are Not Silver Bullets…

Figuring out the basics of an organization’s identity is a science. Translating that alchemical formula into a brand is an art. Balancing sincerity with styling? Find that on a spreadsheet, if you can. Marketing and branding agencies certainly offer new options for enacting change and enhancing creative assets.

Expecting or promising for those solutions to drive innovation across the entire brand machine misplaces the agency’s real value.

7. ..But Those Collaborations Can Strike Gold.

To the client, our best successes happened alongside brands eager for us to work with them, rather than under them. Our most frustrating failures all stem from disinterest in real partnership.

On the scales of collaborative trust and branding success, that chart plots a straight line. It’s easy to forget that at the end of the day, cooperation is the make-or-break activity of businesses that last. So open up!

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