From cows to computers: Adam Cansino on branding in the digital age

Let’s start with a brief history of branding. In the beginning, as the stench of burning animal flesh wafted through the air, we started crudely marking our cattle with “this heifer belongs to me”. Little did we know at that moment of sizzle that the branding industry was born.

Indulge me in a little time travel, and suddenly, like a bunch of medieval taggers, we’re now putting our marks on pretty much everything we want our names attached to, like swords, stone masonry, jewelry and ceramics. 

Jump forward to the 20th century and the Mad Men age of consumerism dawns. Branding starts getting all serious on us. Suddenly it’s more than just that logo burnt crudely on Daisy’s backside. Brands have evolved to become a complex broadcast platform for their personality, benefits and features (but less so their utility). They’ve become a voice that shouts at you, incessantly, telling you all about itself, over and over again. And it’s getting increasingly loud as the marketplace becomes very crowded.

Then thankfully (my time traveling ears were starting to ring) the internet arrives and the “shout it as loudly as your marketing budget permits” strategy is blissfully silenced. The deafening monologue from brands to consumers now becomes a two-way dialogue, a conversation, controlled by us. Social networks allow anyone to create conversations about your brands. Heck, even God has his own Twitter account now. On-demand media and ad blockers silence the brand broadcasting noise.

So given this paradigm shift in the role branding has in a consumer’s day-to-day life, how is it remaining a relevant practice in this digital age, for products and services to invest and build equity from? Simple, really: by evolving like the rest of us.

A great brand needs to ensure its digital experience is delivering on all the principles, values and goals that make up its DNA. A great (digital) user experience has an absolute correlation to a great brand experience. Inversely, a poor digital experience will have a lasting effect on a consumer’s relationship with a brand, no matter how good the product or service actually is.

The real value for today’s brand designers and agencies now lies in their ability to fully understand the opportunities that digital expressions present, and to correspondingly craft their work to take advantage of this. There’s huge opportunity to cement a consumer/brand relationship through both useful and delightful online experiences. And as digital technologies advance and evolve at the rate they do, brands and their strategies need to develop the same agility and iteration in their conception and ongoing behaviour.

‘Digital first’ is a buzz term I’m hearing more frequently these days, especially from marketing and brand managers. This is an understandable concept as the paradigm shift in traditional marketing, brand and advertising engagement becomes more and more prevalent. Given this truth, it makes sense that defining, designing and delivering brands and the digital experience will increasingly need to be considered as a joint venture, and far from a mutually exclusive practice.

  • Adam Cansino is brand lead at Springload. 

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