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There is no disputing the power of brands, they are everywhere, affecting and influencing our daily decisions.

Many people often derive comfort and reassurance from the brands they associate themselves with – and in some cases – are defined by the brands they buy into or aspire to buy into. Our behaviours, attitudes and even our values have all been impacted.

How digital is challenging traditional brand building
However, things are changing. The explosion of digital media has fundamentally challenged how brands operate. Branding and marketing specialists need to be aware of the impact that digital is having on brands and brand building.

Yes, at the core, traditional brand and business strategy still stand firm. Brands still need to know what they stand for, to have a core set of values and to understand their audiences. However in the constantly evolving digital landscape, digital is not just another channel, but has now become fundamental to brand and business strategy. 

Here are a few thoughts on how digital has challenged and is changing traditional brand building.

Technology, choice and the erosion of brand loyalty
Consumers purchasing patterns have shifted as a result of technology. We now, rely heavily on digital interactions; researching, reviewing and even purchasing using our mobile phones. Customers are choosing what information they want to know, when it suits them. Comparison websites have opened up the market, helping buyers discover new brands that they otherwise would not have considered. In short, the customer purchasing funnel has fundamentally changed.

In addition to this, through social media, we now remain engaged with a brand long after a purchase has been made. This means that tech savvy consumers are becoming much less loyal and brands must now think differently.

Relinquishing control of your brand
Brand management used to be a passive, monitoring process largely focussed on brand identity and loyalty. Tight controls would be in place to make sure a brand communicated to their audienceswhen they wanted, how they wanted and in a way that they could control. But this outdated model of companies dictating to consumers is quickly changing and – in our emerging digital world – brands cannot be created in such isolation.

There is an increasing trend away from consumers simply being influenced by brands, to the point where brands are now increasingly being controlled and influenced by their consumers. The primary driver of this distinct trend is the change in how people now live their lives and the influence that social networks, smartphones, apps, online forums and blogs have all had. Brands are now increasingly being co-created by their consumers.

Lego own the logo, but who owns the brand?
LEGO are a fantastic example of a brand that has harnessed the power of digital and bravely given their core customers ownership and direct influence of the brand.

They have created their own digital hub that, not only encourages fans to submit ideas for new toys, but is also a platform for showcasing and sharing their own LEGO creations. The company also encourages unofficial fan sites where customers can share their love of those colourful little blocks. The lawyers are happy, as long as there is no logo on show, and the fans act as brand advocates and can carry on sharing their love of LEGO. The company even ran a competition for fans to create their own scene for the recent LEGO movie, with the winning entry being featured in the final edit.

Through harnessing the principles of social sharing on digital platforms, the authentic user-generated content and stories that have been created have resonated well with core customers. By giving their fans an outlet and voice for their creativity, they have enhanced their brand strengths by giving consumers both a sense of love, loyalty and ownership. LEGO’s insight and bravery has resulted in massive rewards and value for the brand.

Forget B2B and B2C, it’s all now about P2P
Another shift for brands is the change in the relationship between business and  consumers. The traditional silos of B2B and B2C brands are being challenged, with many digitally lean business now much more P2P (‘peer-2-peer’) focused.

Peer-to-peer business models are essentially an online market place where consumers can buy and sell products and services to one another. Global successes like Airbnb, Kickstarter and Uber all use P2P business models and have massively disrupted their respective markets.

The rise in P2P business models have been formed around society’s social shift, as the desire to share and collaborate increases, but also because of digital developments that have enabled peer-to-peer models to become a preferable, cheaper and profitable alternative to the corporate model.

Putting the customer at the heart of the brand
As the conversation around brands becomes much more participatory, companies need to create real – and consistent – value and honesty in order to be meaningful and distinct. Engaging target audiences on a personal level – irrespective of existing B2B or B2C business models – is becoming more widespread as technology can now enable businesses to understand and target their customers in a way that has not been available in the past.

With customers now being involved in so many digital interactions in their day-to-day activities, behavioural data can be captured and harnessed on spending and browsing patterns on a much more individual basis. Much more complex insights to the spending patterns of exactly what, when, where, how much and how often customer #49271 is browsing and spending has enabled businesses to harness invaluable insights and put individual customers at the centre of their organisation. Brands need to be aware of this trend or will find themselves being left behind.

Getting personal with Airbnb
Airbnb is a great example of a brand that has harnessed the digital revolution and built a brand founded on authenticity and collaboration. The website is essentially a marketplace that offers travellers a chance to rent a room or home from real people rather than using corporate hotel chains. This results in customers having access to a range of unique accommodation spaces and at much more competitive rates than traditional hotels and travel sites.

Unlike many digital startups which have less stable advertising models for making their money, Airbnb are up-front and honest and make their money through charging service fees to both guests and hosts alike. Through this cost-effective business model, the company has revolutionised the travel and hotel industry.

However the real success for revolutionising brand, is in Airbnb creating authentic connections with its users. They have put their customers (both hosts and travellers) at the very centre of their brand. The site is constantly creating valuable content including neighbourhood guides which provide tips and recommendations, a ‘Hospitality Lab’ that supports Airbnb hosts to ensure the brand has a consistent level of guest experiences and also ‘Airbnb Social Connections’ which helps to link up users to find somewhere to rent within their own personal network.

Initiatives like this offer important insights into how to build innovative and authentic content strategies. However, it also present valuable insights into a developing trend where businesses need to think less about what a brand says and more about how a brand can be useful and helpful to its consumers. Putting individuals, rather than broader audience segments at the heart of your brand is key.

What next?
In the future, many brand touch-points will either be digital or digitally enhanced and this revolution will lead to huge opportunities. The role that brands play in driving choice, commanding a premium and building loyalty, have already changed are are only set to change further. And so, a holistic brand strategy must exist which integrates digital with the fundamentals of brand and business strategy. No longer is digital just a marketing channel, but is now a key driver for successful brand and business growth.

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