Branding is not a new thing. Governments have long realized the importance of symbols and one can go as far back as the Roman Empire to see the imperial eagle representing the power and glory of Rome. But while symbols are still important components of brands, things have changed quite a bit in the past few millennia. While we still use distinct symbols or logos and brands still stand for specific attributes and values, the digital age has definitely changed the game.
In the new collaborative and virtual world we operate in, brand identities are not simply asserted by organizations and individuals; they are co-created and can be quickly developed or destroyed by the masses. In the digital world, brands have expanded into digital identities. Organizations and individuals have on-line personas. Unfortunately, many organizations and individuals have limited understanding of how they are perceived nor what is communicated about them.
In the past, political entities and businesses had much greater deal of control over their brands. They created and nurtured a specific identity, and strived to behave and communicate in ways that were consistent with that identity. They used paid advertising and public relations and carefully measured the result. While organizations still use advertising and PR, in the on-line world they can no longer control everything being said or known about them. Both fans and detractors can publish what they choose and video and other content can easily go viral.
Not being able to totally control brands does not mean abdication. There are many tools, both free and paid, that enable one to understand what is being said on-line. From Google Alerts to Radian 6, the level and sophistication of information that can be gleamed can be surprising. While one cannot prevent negative statements, organizations should monitor the web and be prepared to correct false statements or communicate their own points of view. Training employees and having them act as brand ambassadors is also a strategy that has been successfully employed by many companies.
Social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs reach millions and allow one to communicate and position one’s organization, but they are not the only components of digital identities. There is a massive amount of data on-line and we all leave trails. Marketers have been quick to understand the value of this data. Targeting has become very sophisticated and it is no longer just what is being said on-line, it is also about behavior and networking connections. Businesses have developed legitimate ways to gain access to data about what individuals or companies purchase, who they know and what they view. For good or for bad, the openness of the digital world has enabled a great deal of information to be easily obtained.
To be successful, marketers and business leaders need to understand what is available and get the insights they need. This includes gaining a better understanding of their clients and prospects and assessing how they and their businesses are viewed on-line. Unfortunately, if organizations do not proactively take control of or help define their digital identities, others may step in and do it for them. And, if competitive organizations have a clearer view of customers’ needs and actions, they will be in a better position to meet these needs. Knowledge has always come with power and this is no more evident than in the fast paced digital world we now live in.