Digital has fundamentally changed the way brands behave, as well as the way they organize and optimize their marketing efforts. To be successful in connecting with people in the digital age, brands must adopt new habits and, in some cases, behave more like people themselves.
While the personalities of individual brands are varied and unique, there are commonalities among strong digital brands that can be identified as critical to success in the new marketing landscape. We looked at some of the most successful digital brands and identified seven shared traits across the board. They are:
- Being a Skilled Conversationalist: Strong digital brands don’t just know how to talk — they know how to converse, building relationships through their messaging and content.
- Being Authentic: Authentic brands are able to find a universal truth and create content that inspires those ideals among consumers.
- Being Data-Driven: The challenge for brands is less about collecting data and more about how to leverage it to optimize current programs and inspire future efforts.
- Being Discoverable: Successful brands today align their digital footprints with the consumer journey and meet people where they are online.
- Being Relevant: Brands that achieve relevancy in today’s digital environment are those able to effectively navigate the ever-changing currents of conversation.
- Being a Content Creator: Today’s landscape forces marketers to constantly re-think the creation, organization and distribution of content in order to better connect with consumers.
- Being Constant: By being always-on, marketers can tap into how people live every day and respond to their audiences’ wants, needs and values in a way that is true to their brand’s story and their objectives as a marketer.
The following report outlines each habit in detail and provides insight into how marketers can embody and act upon these traits in their own efforts.
Habit #1 — Being a Skilled Conversationalist
By Chloe Mathieu-Phillips, Community Supervisor at 360i
Strong digital brands don’t just know how to talk — they know how to converse, building relationships through their messaging and content. Being a great conversationalist means being a great listener — using insights gleaned from organic conversations taking place in the community to inform your strategy, as well as your social tone of voice.
What it means to be a skilled conversationalist
Being a skilled conversationalist means viewing digital as more than a broadcast medium — and understanding the powerful role that listening can have in engaging in relevant dialogue with consumers. In social, listening goes beyond customer service and responsive messaging. Real-time data collected from social communities will show you which types of content resonate with your audience, or even uncover new audiences that you had not previously considered.
As such, listening can and should inform ALL content published within social communities. Insights gleaned from social listening can also be applied more broadly — to overall brand strategy and even product development.
Another key ingredient to being a skilled conversationalist is having a well-defined social tone of voice that is both true to the brand’s personality and reflective of the audience. Establishing a voice allows brands to be nimble in social spaces and set boundaries as to what can or should be said in organic conversations with consumers.
For example, 360i client Hanes has developed a social tone of voice used to inform how the brand engages people via Twitter and other social platforms. Not all of the brand’s messaging is responsive (as is the case below); however, the brand’s personality shines through no matter what conversation @Hanes is having at the moment.
Why does this matter?
As social communities mature, interactions between brands and consumers are becoming increasingly commonplace. People used to delight in receiving a mention from one of their favorite brands; today, this type of personalized communication is generally expected. When people reach out to brands in digital, they are not always looking for customer service; sometimes, they are simply seeking entertainment or validation. This adds yet another responsibility to the community manager’s job description: social copywriting.
People are also dealing with more noise than ever before. Social is no longer a novelty, and emerging platforms like Tumblr are no longer reserved for the early adopter set. As these platforms reach critical mass, they are pushing brands to raise their standards. Today, marketers must play at a new level where content is ultra-relevant and timely or, in other words, conversational.
Three keys to being a great conversationalist
- Plan for the unexpected. Change your approach to content planning and build flexibility in the editorial schedule. When planning your content calendar, leave room for organic, conversational posts. Instead of guessing what users would like, give yourself room to engage them: make them tell you what they want, and deliver it to them in a timely manner.
- Use community insights to inform strategy. Use conversations taking place in your community to shape upcoming content, and make your messaging as timely as possible. You might have planned for great content, but if people are already engaging around one topic, you’ll be more successful joining the existing conversation than you will be trying to create a new one.
- Invest time in developing a brand voice. While developing a brand voice can require increased time and effort, it quickly pays off by allowing for effortlessly genuine, human and personable content. A brand voice exercise will not only allow your team to identify a muse, but more importantly, it will help you set a list of filters to eliminate the risk of being “off-brand” in real-time interactions.
Habit #2 — Being Authentic
By Shankar Gupta, Director of Social Marketing Strategy at 360i
Brands today are not only competing with other brands to cut through the clutter and reach an audience — they now have to compete with authentic content created by millions of consumers every day via social media. The quality of consumer content is improving every day, with platforms like Instagram, Cinemagram, iMovie and GarageBand helping to narrow the margin between professional and amateur content.
What it means to be authentic
As people become more and more like brands in how they create content and influence brand perception, brands are becoming more and more like people in a quest for authenticity — that crackle of humanity that makes a brand about more than just selling a product. Authentic brands connect with consumers on an emotional level, engaging customers in their brand story and ideals.
Ultimately, authenticity can’t be faked: It’s a wholeness of purpose and action, which means taking a stand for something beyond selling, and then taking actions to prove it. If the brand and the people behind it don’t truly believe in the brand’s fight, consumers will know it — and they’ll change their buying habits accordingly.
Why does it matter?
On YouTube, or any social channel for that matter, there’s way more to see out there than what brands have to offer — from talk show-style “vlogs” made by a creative amateur in their living room to an iPhone video of a grandson’s first steps posted to Facebook. Brands should pay attention to this content, be it amateur or not, to find what makes a post or video viewable. On social platforms, nobody wants to be friends with someone who only ever posts about their work and the same holds true for brands — companies who post promotion after promotion find their fan base dwindling.
The key is to find something universal and true beneath a brand’s product base or tagline and create content that inspires those ideals. This type of content will more successfully connect with and engage audiences and, ultimately, sell products.
For example, Red Bull sells consumers a belief in the extreme. With a focus on inspiring its audience with the essence of the brand rather than pushing the product, Red Bull creates authentic connections with its consumers. Consumers identify with the brand’s image and share the brand’s passion — turning customers into loyal fans and an energy drink into a symbol of their fans’ energetic lifestyles.
The most iconic example of this philosophy is the Red Bull Stratos stunt, in which a professional daredevil attempted a 128,000-foot free fall to Earth from space. More than 8 million people tuned in live, and to date more than 30 million people have viewed the YouTube video.
Three keys to being authentic
- Do some soul-searching. When it comes to the types of content you share, look deeper than product promotions or information. Think about the core values and brand truths your company is built upon. Ultimately, these are the attributes that will make your brand identifiable and relatable in social.
- Think BIG. Humans take risks — and brands can, too. Ambitious endeavors have become commonplace in social media — from the death-defying Red Bull stunt to real-time content series like Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and Oscar Mayer’s “Great American Bacon Barter” — brands are stretching the boundaries of marketing. Utilizing social listening ahead of attempting these kinds of campaigns can educate you on potential hidden risks and pitfalls before getting started and improve your chances of success.
- Be consistent. Maintain a consistent social tone of voice and aesthetic throughout your content efforts to ensure that your brand’s personality rings true no matter the format. Marketers have been adhering to brand guidelines for years, but with the plethora of media and content formats (think a Facebook post versus a Tumblr GIF), this becomes more complex.
Habit #3 — Being Data-Driven
By Kate Paulin, Group Director of Insights & Planning at 360i
In the Digital Age, knowledge is power — and there’s a lot of it. Social media is the world’s largest focus group, as consumers are increasingly sharing their opinions publicly all of the time. The challenge for brands is less about how to access or collect this data and more about how to leverage it. Marketers able to effectively sort through this information will find a wealth of knowledge, consumer insights and new opportunities to inform their marketing decisions and build better relationships with their customers.
What it means to be data-driven
To be data-driven, a brand must always seek an understanding of its consumers’ behaviors, mindsets and motivations at all touch points. Marketers today can identify where their audience is engaging in conversations online and meet them there — listening to them and interacting with them in the spaces they call home.
The results of this could range from optimizing a media campaign based on insights gleaned from advanced analytics to recognizing an untapped demographic talking about your brand. A data-driven insight can even provide the spark to an innovative approach to a larger business challenge.
Why does this matter?
More data is created each day than was created during the entire span of human history up to the year 2000. Consumer insights that were difficult to garner in the past are now at the tips of our fingers, and smart marketers are adjusting their research practices to capitalize on it.
Consumers today expect more from brands than just a high-quality product or service; they expect an experience. The best way to satisfy the demand of consumers and communicate with them in a meaningful way is to harness data to understand their consumer journey and where a brand can fit in.
For example, we recently partnered with a popular juice and bar brand on a social listening initiative aimed at gaining a better understanding of how people viewed its brand and where it had the most opportunity to build upon that connection. Raw data could only hint at general information so, to fill in the gaps, 360i scored social conversations against our Brand CompassSM social listening framework to uncover a much larger story.
The analysis showed that consumers lacked an emotional connection to any brand in the category, revealing a key opportunity for our client to own this untapped space. The brand utilized this core finding to inform its marketing strategy, which focuses on elevating the unique essence and personality of the brand, rather than solely communicating product attributes.
Three keys to being data-driven
- Develop a tailored social listening program. The Internet is the world’s largest focus group, but the challenge becomes how to mine the information to find succinct, actionable insights that can be used to inform marketing strategy. Marrying quantitative data with human analysis — which provides a strategic lens through which you can view the information — is the ideal. Customized research and analytics might manifest as forward-looking trend reports specific to the brand, or daily tactical listening around key conversations and topics. No matter the approach, social listening is a vital part of any brand’s digital health.
- Adopt a test and learn approach for emerging tools. Almost constantly, new platforms emerge to give brands more opportunities to get to know their audiences — often, in a highly cost-effective way. Whether it’s testing a new polling method from Peanut Labs, conducting online ethnographies with GutCheck or turning street interviews into a brand topic video with Snippies, marketers will want to become acquainted with what’s out there. Having a small innovation budget for testing new methodologies will keep your research plans fresh and your brand ahead of the pack.
- Develop a Digital Health Scorecard. Establishing a framework for evaluating the data and tracking key metrics over time is critical to making the information you collect actionable. A Digital Health Scorecard allows marketers to understand online metrics within a similar context as traditional programs by creating common definitions that can be applied across paid, owned and earned media. For example, 360i has several indexes that measure and weigh different KPIs depending on specific program objectives.
Habit #4 — Being Discoverable
By Amie Dowker, Digital Strategist at 360i
Today’s consumers are digital. They shop online, play online and socialize online. This creates more opportunities and touch points for a brand to connect with a consumer than was ever possible before. Amidst the clutter of all things digital, brands can get lost or they can be discovered and, in the ever-changing digital space, search isn’t the only place for brands to be “found.”
What it means to be discoverable
To be discoverable, a brand needs to align its digital footprint with the consumer journey. In practical terms, this means that the brand meets people where they are online. Regardless of whether they’re searching, socializing, or seeking entertainment or inspiration — the brand is available when and where consumers are looking to engage.
Why does this matter?
Each brand’s footprint is a canvas for discovery. Gone are the days when brands could rely on a search strategy alone to ensure discoverability online. Search will always play a critical role in ensuring digital shelf space and getting more eyeballs on content but, if people can’t encounter the brand content and experiences in their go-to digital channels, brands will not be able to secure any meaningful mind space.
Kraft Foods, a 360i client, is one example of a brand that has enhanced discovery by engaging consumers where they live online. As Pinterest first began to emerge as the number one digital destination for visual inspiration, we knew Kraft Foods’ target would be increasingly utilizing the site for recipe inspiration.
To meet our audience there, the brand launched a Pinterest community from which it could share content with everyday consumers and influencers alike. Today, Pinterest is the highest third-party referral source to KraftFoods.com, a hub that sees millions of unique visitors each month.
Three keys to being discoverable
- Ensure your brand’s footprint aligns with your consumers’ mindset. Assess your gaps by understanding where your consumer’s journey and your brand’s current digital footprint are misaligned. Staying on top of website analytics is critical to uncovering the right insights. If a brand is seeing above average mobile referral traffic and very low time on site, there is a mobile-optimization gap that needs to be addressed.
- Determine the emerging behaviors and platforms that are relevant to your brand. Track innovations across the digital landscape and evaluate opportunities that bubble up early and often. A test and learn approach can humanize a brand’s approach to discovery.
- Know the role that influencers can play. Research existing conversations being had about your brand online and understand who is talking. Ideate around the relationship between your brand, potential influencers and pop culture to think of new ways for your brand to get noticed.
Habit #5 — Being Relevant
By Julian Long, Digital Strategist at 360i
Relevancy requires an astute grasp of what’s going on outside your brand’s walls — and even outside of your communities. Brands able to incorporate cultural trends into their marketing will find common ground with their audience and provide a shared understanding through which valuable engagement can take place.
What it means to be relevant
Being relevant is the difference between being heard and remembered — or being dismissed and forgotten. Relevance is the automatic filter through which every human being receives a message. Whether it is cultural relevance, situational relevance, emotional relevance or practical relevance, a message must read as current and meaningful to its receiver if there is to be any hope for retention amidst the flood of constant communication.
Relevance can be found at many levels. For marketers, being relevant means being aware of and responsive to the current cultural climate in a manner that hones in on consumer points of passion and interest and expresses your brand’s unique point of view on them.
Why does it matter?
People today demand more from the brands that solicit their time and interest, as they are exposed to exponentially larger amounts of data than those that came before them. Accordingly, digital consumers are both consciously and subconsciously selecting the conversations they will take part in. Certainly those media-driven conversations that are most relevant will rise to the top of the considered set.
The challenge to be relevant in today’s digital environment is largely based on knowing how to navigate the currents of conversation. Some topics, trends and conversations fundamentally alter the current; they stick, persist and become cultural memes. A brand that is adept at recognizing these changing currents can ride them to successful interactions with their consumers.
Authenticity is central to relevance and is discussed at greater length in the earlier section. It’s not enough to be aware that something is important to consumers; true relevance is identified by how it is important to the brand speaking about it. For example, our client Oreo recently indulged in this idea with great success. The Daily Twist campaign placed Oreo at the center of cultural conversations through a social media content series that put the brand’s twist on daily headlines and social trends.
The series enhanced the essence of Oreo’s brand image — which exudes a company that is completely integrated into the fun moments that make up a happy life. Fans rallied around their favorite cookie — liking, commenting on and sharing Oreo’s Daily Twists.
Three keys to being relevant
- Keep a finger on the digital and cultural pulse. Successful marketers today are culturephiles — obsessed with consumer behavior and the ways in which digital is shaping culture every day. Study how other brands are maintaining relevancy and using social listening to quickly identify emerging patterns, behaviors and opportunities.
- Find a point of commonality and seize it. Instead of merely jumping into the fray of a meme or trend, first consider how your brand can provide further value — perhaps in the form of information or entertainment. Adding a layer of value to the conversation — and putting your own stamp on the dialogue — is critical to staying relevant.
- Get in at the right moment. Timing is everything. If you jump on a trend too soon, you’ll disconnect from too many consumers who haven’t discovered it yet. However, if you’re too late to the game you risk looking dated and slow. Conversely, get out while they’re still smiling. Don’t ride the wave too long. Remember, the life of digital conversations — even heavily trending ones — is short.
Habit #6 — Being a Content Creator
By Matt Wurst, Director of Communities at 360i
Brands have always been content creators, with output first taking the form of advertising content, like :30 spots, print ads and display creative. But the ever-changing digital landscape forces marketers to constantly re-think the creation, organization and distribution of content in order to better connect with consumers.
What it means to be a content creator
To be a content creator means to have the ability to manifest your brand essence through the development of assets that are inherently social and sharable. Content can take many forms — text, an image, a blog post, a video, an event, a game, an activity, a sweepstakes, or even products themselves. Strong brand content is developed as part of a holistic strategy within a uniquely identifiable brand voice. It will appeal to an engaged audience and fit its intended platforms.
Content, when done right, can become the center around which all activity revolves. As such, brands must find their own balanced mix of content that aligns with marketing strategy. This mix can include content that drives reach, engagement or both. Reach-oriented content includes the bigger ideas, tent pole promotions and campaigns that generate impressions, buzz and views. The creation of engaging content on websites and social communities like Facebook and Twitter will drive likes, comments, re-tweets and shares.
Why does this matter?
Branded content allows people to connect with brands in the same ways they are already connecting online with other people. Successful branded content initiatives leverage cultural relevance and open the door to conversations.
The challenge, though, is that the space is getting more crowded. Every company, brand and product has a Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube channel and the brands are competing for the same prominent, yet limited, real estate in users’ News Feed. Only the most compelling, captivating, engaging content can drive reach and interactions.
Moreover, since consumers have become a distribution model themselves as sharers of content to their network, it has become increasingly important that brands provide opportunities for co-creation. “Happiness Is,” Coca-Cola’s Tumblr community is a great example of this concept in action, as the brand often elevates community content as part of its overall content mix on the platform.
Three keys to successful content creation
- Build with the right foundation. The first step is to get the right individuals or team in place. Content creators are people who understand the brand/product, are experts in publisher platforms and can actually bring the content to life. The second step is to consult social listening to better understand the target audience and their interests across the digital landscape.
- Develop a content strategy and distribution plan. Content creators should identify meaningful topics and sources within a framework that will excite brand stakeholders and fans. This may include bigger, campaign-based content as well as ongoing “conversational” content. Planning must also include a publishing strategy that may involve paid media as a necessary boost in reach.
- Monitor results and measure success. The digital content creation process is not over once the creative is published or shared. It is important to use real-time feedback and community management to monitor the conversations surrounding the brand and content. Ongoing monitoring and analysis can and should inform the content creation process. Aligning on key metrics in advance will help creators know which content is engaging users, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Habit #7 — Being Constant
By Lee Maicon, SVP of Insights & Strategy at 360i
Being constant means being prolific with a purpose, creating currency that will keep a brand top of mind with its audience and elicit action. By being always-on, marketers can tap into how people live every day and respond to their audiences’ wants, needs and values in a way that is true to their brand’s story and their objectives as marketers.
What it means to be constant
To be constant contains two critical, but almost contradictory definitions: 1) to have a strong core set of values from which you do not deviate; and 2) to be always-on and willing to adapt to new realities.
To be constant as a brand means having a strong filter for creative and strategy but, even more importantly, it means constant vigilance as a creative idea launches and beyond. It means not thinking in terms of launches and campaigns at all but rather creating a body of work that has many hooks that sustain interest and engagement over time. Although brands should not sway from their core brand voice, they must always be on — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Why does it matter?
In the big brand campaigns of the past, launch and leave was something you could get away with,– with the right well-tested proposition, GRP plan and copy-testing. If you had the pieces lined up, you might even pull off equity and sales growth. In digital campaigns, on the other hand, constant editing and optimization is the path to drive results.
Today’s new marketing reality forces us to learn from each. Marketers need to take the constant vision and scale of “traditional” approaches and the constant optimization and iteration of digital to build a new model for success.
The new reality forces brands to constantly react to an ever-shifting landscape of trends, memes, information and entertainment. One brand that has thrived in this climate is 360i client Bravo, which has leveraged a deep understanding of its digital-savvy audience to craft programming and promotion that builds and sustains a unique cultural currency over time.
Bravo coordinates social and digital activity from talent such as Andy Cohen, on-air promotion, and in-show content to produce a constant feed that sustains engagement with the brand, network and community. This always-on, transmedia approach to content has allowed Bravo to build a core brand voice over time but to do so in a manner that can change by show, season or viewer interest.
Three keys to being constant
- Follow a constant north star. Establish the core values that you stand for. This is probably not a product feature or attribute but rather a value that can be a constant north star for you to improvise off of, push off against and focus on as the theme of your conversation.
- Listen closely. Once you have your focus, stop and listen to everything going on around you. Hear what memes, conversations and human problems are relevant. It may seem simplistic, but listen to the competition as well. It’s up to you to maintain freshness and differentiation.
- Make a plan, but keep space to improvise. Implement a calendar and plan that allows for improvisation at the eleventh hour. This may involve educating the “back office” functions of your organization to prepare them for a new way of working. Traditional rules of production, legal and even in-store promotion and packaging can hamstring innovation so consider how processes can shift to allow for greater flexibility.