Catalyst Branding

The Changing Role Of Brand In The Digital Economy

January 18, 2017

I spent the holidays pondering how the role of brand is changing in the midst of digital transformation.

As branding grew to prominence, important branding practitioners defined the role of brand as a decision enabler, information source and risk mitigator.  Brand helped guide customers to better purchase decisions.

As we shifted into the experience economy, practitioners evolved their thinking to focus on defining the role of brand as actions that contribute to a more fulfilling experience.  In fact when you look at new brands like Airbnb and Uber, the brand and the experience are one in the same.  The brand simply took shape as the experience gained traction.

Lately, many thinkers postulate that the role of brand is to define the organization’s purpose.  They hold that purpose driven brands are uniquely capable of forging emotional based connections with employees, b2b and b2c customers. This is especially true when building an employer brand strategy,

My sense is that brand plays all of these roles, but no one of these ladders up to the primary role for brand in the digital economy.  A review of practitioner websites yielded no consensus.  In fact, it led to more questions than answers.  It seems that the branding world is at an inflection point with little clarity as to the path forward.

So I spent time during the holiday break speaking with everyday customers – both consumers and professionals.  I wanted to understand their unvarnished views of the role brand plays in their lives.

As I imagined, brand continues to play all of these roles – decision catalyst, experience clarifier and purpose specifier.  However, a new, very important primary role, emerged from these discussions.

Digital transformation gives customers new tools to develop and maintain relationships with the things that are important in their lives.  With these tools, relationships transcend physical limitations of time and proximity.

The biggest shift for brands in the digital economy is the desire by customers of all types to forge real relationships with the brands in their lives.  Whether it be b2b or b2c, customers are increasingly demanding active dialogues with brands throughout the purchase process and beyond.

Within this quest for active relationships, a new, very important role for brand emerges.  The people I interviewed seek to “personify” the products and services they are engaging with.  The most successful brands do a good job in establishing “who” the brand is in the relationship, so that customers and prospects find them more relatable and desirable.

As with human to human relationships, this is accomplished through a combination of physical attractiveness, magnetic personality and the promise of mutual value exchange.

Physical attractiveness piques and retains attention.  Humans are drawn to what they find physically attractive, but attractiveness alone is not sufficient.  It is simply the gateway to establishing the relationship.

Personality enhances attractiveness.  It’s the magnet that draws individuals together.  It establishes the basis for relatability and, holding attractiveness constant, is the prime source for differentiation.  Just think of your group of friends.  It’s personality that distinguishes one from another and is often the reason you’re drawn more closely to one over the others.

The promise of mutual value exchange distinguishes true relationships from simple acquaintances.  People have room in their lives for few real relationships.  The important ones transcend attractiveness.  The “worth my time” question is ultimately answered through a relatable value proposition that speaks to real needs – both rational and emotional.

Together, these three aspects “personify” the brand to encourage the connections needed to forge relationships.

Well developed, they fulfill the central role of brand in the digital economy – to humanize the brand so that prospects and customers are encouraged to build the relationships they seek with the brands that are important to the ways they live, work and play.

Posted under: Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy, Marketing Strategy