The parallel universes of brand and digital strategy
Brand strategy and digital strategy are similar in many ways—they share the same goals, perspectives, and tools—but because they live in different “worlds” the disciplines rarely cross paths.
Most digital strategists (and many designers as well) all too frequently think only of “the brand” as a logo and sometimes a set of visual design guidelines. Brand strategists and designers, on the other hand, often neglect many aspects of the digital world from their work because they are uneasy with technology.
Similarities in brand and digital strategy
Brand strategy and interactive or digital strategy share a number of similarities including:
Commonly used definitions of a brand (there are many) and the user experience center around the concept of “perceptions”:
- “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company…” (source)
- “The total of all perceptions about an organization, product, person or place.” (Durable Digital’s definition. Note that it uses the word “perceptions” and includes “place.”)
- “A brand is the way in which people understand, navigate and talk about a company’s business strategy...” (source)
- “A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.”(source)
Both brands and most corporate or enterprise-level interactive systems are conceptualized for the long term:
Corporate or enterprise-level systems, which include publishing platforms, e-commerce systems, and custom software, etc. are conceptualized on a strategic level in that they are intended to last a number of years and fundamentally affect an organization’s revenue, cost or both.
In both environments a strong relationship between strategists and designers is crucial:
Understanding that strategy and design must work hand-in-hand to produce the best results, in both branding and digital agencies, designers have a say in strategy and strategists influence design. They often sit in close proximity.
Understanding brand attributes
Any discussion about branding or brand strategy requires a definition of terms. Search the internet for any commonly used branding term—“brand essence,” “brand promise,” “brand attributes,” “brand position,” even “brand” itself—and dozens of definitions come up. Some of these definitions are just plain wrong, and others are contradictory. For example, one man’s “brand promise” is another’s “brand essence” which is another’s “tagline.”
As the title would suggest, this blog post focuses on “brand attributes.” We define brand attributes as, “The unique attributes of a brand that connect the organization, product or services with the needs of its target audience.” A brand typically has a number of attributes, and when we sometimes work with clients to articulate their brand attributes, we like to begin the attribute with a verb.
For example, here are three postulated brand attributes for different brands:
- Guarantees overnight package delivery by 10:00 a.m.
- Serves quickly a limited menu of hot foot centered around hamburgers and fries
- Manufactures beautifully designed mobile phones, tablet, laptop and desktop devices based on a proprietary operating system
These attributes are made-up, but it’s easy to guess a brand for each example. A complete set of well-articulated (and ideally well-researched and vetted) brand attributes for a given brand provides a roadmap for everything a brand does and plays an exceptionally valuable role in web development.
Brand attributes in user experience design
At Durable we believe that in the digital world, brands are articulated visually, verbally and through functionality.
Arguably, articulating the visual and verbal brand is pretty straightforward—there are usually brand design and editorial guidelines available. But what about functionality? Here is where brand attributes come into play. The very nature of a brand attribute is, in essence, a high-level functional requirement.
For example, we’ve worked on interactive projects for four different clients that include the following language in their brand attributes (the brand attributes have been truncated as to not divulge any proprietary information):
- Facilitates collaboration among influencers...
- Provides a limited range of highly-personalized luxury products…
- Convenes thought-leaders in fields that are important to the mission...
- Frames the discussion about…
Language like this may suggest functionality such as:
- Facilitates collaboration...
Discussion forums, document sharing, and co-authoring
- ...among influencers
A special set of functionality, such as private forums and social media tools for VIPs
- ...highly-personalized luxury...
Personalization functionality and customization tools based on purchase interests; concierge-level service and follow-up
- Convenes thought-leaders in fields...
Bringing together people online based on mutual interests so they can meet one another and share ideas
- Frames the discussion...
Highly visible editors devoted to specific content areas, blogs, video seminars, robust user feedback and editorial comment functionality
At the end of the day, a website and “the brand” are seeking to accomplish the same thing: to balance the goals of the organization with the needs of audiences. Brand attributes serve as the tangible connection between a product or service and its target audiences.
And if brand attributes are well-researched, vetted and articulated, they serve as the authoritative source for what an interactive system must do to serve the organization and its audiences.