Branding in the Digital Age
By Rebecca G. Agee Published Dec 11, 2010
The success of a brand in today’s digital age depends on many factors. The nuances and considerations surrounding the popularity (or, at the very least, the survival) of a brand include: Brand adaptability (from the ‘pre-digital’ age); brand loyalty (that of consumers to a particular brand and vice-versa); the speed and scope of (particularly negative) publicity; the importance of political correctness or the ‘cool factor’; brand flexibility/durability and finally, a brand that exists because of the digital age.
Brand adaptability: Sadly, the glory days of the hard-copy newspaper are all but over—and nothing signifies this ending as much as the slow decline of the New York Times. The fall of the Times as a viable physical media in the digital age is perhaps inevitable—but it is not as if the dying ‘great one’ has done much to save itself. According to blogger Seth Godin, the Times is, well, behind the times:
“You run enough articles to fit as many ads as you can sell. These are
artifacts of a different age, one that today’s consumer doesn’t care a whit about” (http://sethgodin.typepad.com). The New York Times has done very little both in terms of self-promotion or in utlizing the new opportunities for market and consumer access that naturally accompanies the digital age. The Times did hire technology guru David Pogue—it also purchased About.com—but did little to promote the first or acknowledge ownership of the other. On the other hand, there remains a chance for survival—if not great success—for the New York Times brand. Microsoft’s Ric Merrifield thinks the Times: “…made the shift online as elegantly as any of the newspaper publishers and I believe that they will survive…” (http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com). Merrifield cites the New York Times online store and how the brand has “…extended itself to all things New York in a brand-consistent high quality way.”
Another (mainly) physical media that (for all practical purposes) should be disappearing in our digital age are greeting cards—and nothing says “greeting card” like the Hallmark brand. The Hallmark brand is wildly successful. Hallmark in its pre-digital
incarnation expanded its brand to include (along with its chain of stores) the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movies/specials. Upon the onset of the digital age, Hallmark utilized the new technologies in its greeting card production—establishing both ‘e-cards’ as well as paper cards and books that feature sounds and music—some even with the ability to record personal messages. Further, Hallmark widened its television scope with the Hallmark Channel, which features family-oriented programming—as well as its new alliance with Martha Stewart. Hallmark has a great “official brand” website that includes links to several of its Facebook pages, other Hallmark brand extension sites and access to a free application for iphones. Along the way, Hallmark has acquired several subsidiaries, including the popular Crayola. Lastly, the jewel in the crown (pun intended) that exemplifies the success of the Hallmark brand is Crown Center—a Hallmark developed complex of shops, condos, great hotels and dining—that also includes meeting and entertainment facilities surrounding Hallmark’s headquarters in Kansas City. MO.
Brand Loyalty: Two wonderful examples of brand loyalty are Apple and IKEA.
Both of these brands have consumers whose passion goes beyond mere loyalty—a following, if you will, that elevates both Apple and
IKEA into ‘global cult brand’ status. What qualities do
these brands share that elicit such consumer passions?
Firstly, they are deftly aware of their customers’ lifestyles, desires—and shape product accordingly. IKEA polls customers as to their furniture, living space wants and needs. In order to get an even better idea of particular consumer needs–the company has been known to visit the homes of its clientele. Apple, according to brand critics at Smith & Jones, is “…continually improving, adapting and evolving with the needs and values of their most loyal users” (http://www.smithandjones.com/content).
Secondly, these companies provide distinctive (often personal) experiences. Apple promotes an “ease of use” philosophy, with an ‘everything Mac’ expert on hand at every Apple store—and of course, with the same support and customer dedication at its website. IKEA also promotes ease (and so much more) at its stores. There is a drop-off ararea fo area for the kiddies located in the front of the store. There is also plenty of omfortable comfortable shopping space with mock ‘real’ home display centers for every
family-living situation. Further, the stores even feature a restaurant about halfway through the shopping experience, allowing customers a welcomed break. Thirdly, both Apple and IKEA present an unmistakable picture of what each brand represents. The IKEA brand is all about crafting furniture solutions as well as total lifestyles for their customers; while Apple–although itself representative of a certain lifestyle/philosophy—is ultimately about terrific devotion to an extremely user-oriented, aesthetically appealing computing experience—one that unites the brand with its followers. The last quality of brand loyalty shared by Apple and IKEA is how well their employees are treated. Fortune named IKEA one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” (2008). It was also named one of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” (Working Mother Magazine, 2005); and according to Apple employee Joe Moreno, “…there seems to be no end to the great things about working at Apple…when working at Apple, you definitely feel like you’re part of a group who will make a serious dent in the universe. It’s a fantastic place to work” (http://www.jobs.aol.com/articles/bloggers/joemoreno).
The Speed/Scope of Publicity: Two examples of ‘personal’ brands that have endured negative publicity fairly recently are that of former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards and domestic/media diva, Martha Stewart.
Edwards, the 2004 vice-presidential running mate of
John Kerry, the ‘golden boy’ with a bona-fide rags-to-
riches story had a bright political future until his 2008
fall from grace. With boyish good-looks, drive and
Southern charm to spare—there seemed to be no end to
what this family man could accomplish—until it came to light that in 2006, not only had Edwards been unfaithful to his cancer-stricken wife (the late Elizabeth Edwards), but a child had been conceived as a result—and Edwards lied about it all. This was the ‘secret that would not die’—due to the speed and accuracy of the reported accusations. The Edwards’ ‘secret’ sped like digital wildfire along the blogs, e-mails and gossip websites of the internet—to the point where Edwards simply could no longer deny the truth. In 2008, he finally did an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff admitting the affair—but failed to admit to the child’s paternity until this year. As of this writing, the John Edwards political brand no longer exists.
OO On the other hand, in 2004, do-it-yourselfer Martha Stewart, not only fell from
grace (due to an ethics violation concerning stock sales)—but also served time;
however, this matron-of-making managed to comeback and rescue her brand. Mar In 2006, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) was, once again, turning
a profit. The MSLO brand continues to expand—with book sales, product lines designed only for Macy’s; Martha’s television show (now seen on the Hallmark channel);
a 24-hour satellite radio channel; Martha Stewart Floor Designs; a partnership with Gallo Wines to produce Martha Stewart Vintage; a line of craft items—and even a line of low-to mid-range priced designer homes—not to mention her latest venture, an MSL application for ipod. The above is just a sampling of all of the (literal and figurative) pies into which the MSLO brand has inserted its fingers. Just a click on to the MSLO website reveals how much Martha Stewart has embraced the digital age—and how much it, in return—as embraced her (www.marthastewart.com).
Political Correctness/”Cool Factor”: Two brands that exemplify one (or both) of these features are Pepsi and NBC. With few exceptions, Coca-Cola holds the title of the world’s favorite cola, yet Pepsi has always maintained its lion’s share of devotees. The Pepsi brand has long been popularized as a particular favorite among the youth market—with Pepsi claiming a hip factor not associated with the more traditional Coca-Cola.
In November of this year, Pepsico managed a deft politically correct move with the announcement of its “Dream Machine Recycling Initiative” (http://www.pepsico.com). With this initiative, Pepsi will make a yearly donation of $500,000 to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities (EBV), a program that offers education/career- training and placement for post 9/11 veterans. Pepsi has set up kiosks and bins whereby consumers can recycle aluminum cans and plastic bottles; Pepsi will contribute an extra $250,000 to EBV for every 10 million pounds of recycled matter it gathers from these kiosks and bins. Programs like the “Dream Machine” has helped the Pepsi brand maintain its status as the ‘new generation’s’ drink, while enabling Pepsico to be able to present the world’s biggest portfolio of billion-dollar beverage and food product lines. Pepsi’s brand description includes a commitment to lessening its environmental footprint and maintaining workplaces that nurture inclusivity and diversity.
The oldest of the original ‘big three’ TV networks, the NBC brand swept into the millennium with a Microsoft-associated cable news network (MSNBC), a business news channel (CNBC) and a fairly well-tended progressive image. Its recent merger with Comcast cable as well as its past merger with Universal only served to broaden the NBC brand’s access and impact. Its cool, hip late comedy and talk shows and hosts (SNL, The Tonight Show, 30 Rock, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey) are always in the news—and its commitment to both the political and environmental landscapes is made explicitly visible. NBC approaches news and entertainment from a liberal stance and supports agendas and initiatives that reflect this worldview; an example is its “Green is Universal” program, which demonstrates NBC’s commitment to environmental concerns. The initiative features an annual “green week” that presents news segments and projects that are environmentally themed. This year, for example, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams interviewed Prince Charles about his interests in stopping global warming, followed by the premier of his Highness’s new film, Harmony (2010). Also, NBC Universal conducted an employee “Eco Fair” at its celebrated Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (home of SNL) (http://www.nbc.com/news/2010/11/11/green-is-universal-kicks-off-its-annual-green-week-nov-14th/).
Brand Flexibility/Durability: Inarguably one of the greatest
and most durable of all brands is New York City. “The Big Apple,” “Gotham” is the best-known city-brand in the world—one that has seen its share of ups and downs. From film to fashion, song to books, the wonders, excesses, diversity and style of NYC have been declaimed, worldwide. This iconic city has witnessed gang violence from as far back as the 19th century, it has seen ghettos, poverty, petty crime, garbage/transit strikes, urban decay, fiscal depletion and political corruption—and of course, horrid acts of terrorism; however, it always comes back. In the digital age, the NYC brand has not only come back—it has flourished with a vengeance. The “City that Never Sleeps” is cleaner–more accessible, and brimming with life and energy—than ever before. NYC continues to grow with new skyscrapers, user-friendly cultural programs and the greatest of entertainment opportunities always popping up—yet it strives to save the important quiet spaces and edifices—and all of the examples of its wonderfully-colorful past. NYC always welcomes the new, the advanced, while it utilizes that very-same innovation to preserve its constancy in the life of the world.
A part of NYC’s recent story is a brand that exhibits plenty of post-digital age flexibility: Trump. Both a pre and post-digital age Trump brand reveal an ability to bounce back/forth between financial success and financial failure; however, in the digital age, brand Trump has fairly effectively expanded into many interests, concerns and products—revealing a true brand flexibility. Trump touts itself as “The Global Superbrand” (www.trump.com); indeed, it has many buildings, casinos, hotels, and golf courses all over the world. The Trump brand includes plenty of other merchandise: a line of high-end clothing, vodka, restaurants, and steaks—even ice. Trump has two well-organized web sites—one, Trump Network, markets a line of skin care products, diet and vitamin supplements, etc. It also features the services of motivational speakers/conferences all under the Trump Network umbrella. Of course, there is The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice TV show, now in its tenth season. Like it or not—there are few non-sporting, non-musical brands, especially in the high-end niche, that have extended itself into such a diverse array of products and media than has that of Trump (Martha Stewart is one—but even she has had an association with Trump).
Brands that Originated in the Digital Age: Two
Brands that owe their very existence to the advent
of digital technology are Google and AOL. AOL
is a prime example of a brand whose day in the sun
has eclipsed. The one-time behemoth of the internet
service provider realm, AOL went from an all-time high of 30 million subscribers worldwide to—as of June 2010—just 4.4 million. The service was once so well known, so popular, that its welcome-phrase “You’ve got mail” was used as the title of a popular feature film. In this writer’s opinion, three things destroyed the strength of the AOL brand: Firstly, the dwindling use of dial-up internet services due to the advent of the faster (and more reliable) DSL and cable; secondly, AOL’s reputation as an technologically invasive, over-charging entity that blatantly mishandled its customers (resulting in many law-suits). The final nail was Time-Warner’s decision to ‘spin-off’ AOL—thus ending a mega media conglomerate that had begun in 2001(www.aol.com).
In contrast, the rise of the Google brand seems never-ending. This giant of an internet search engine (and now, so much, much more) began life as a research project by two Stanford students—and was incorporated in 1998. In the quirky and whimsical spirit that helped to elevate the Google brand into its current premier status—here are some fun (and amazing) facts: Among the search engine’s many global requests includes some from Antarctica; an average of 620 million visitors are received daily on Google.com. In 2009, Google’s assets were estimated at $ 40.5 billion. ‘G-mail’ users add up to 146 million. The name “Google” is actually a misspelling of the founders’ original choice of name—Googol—a term representing 1 plus one hundred zeroes. Google can be searched in 35 different languages—and it holds the largest index of webpages—which it can search through in about a ½ a second. Lastly, although research indicates that Google’s famous “I Feel Lucky” button is hardly ever used, it was found that users consider it part of the “Google experience”(http://www.google.com) so it was never removed.