Is brand building still important in the digital age?

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By Joe Gilman, creative director, FUEL

Let’s end the suspense. Yes! Your brand is still important. In fact, it’s more important than ever. Everything a company does is scrutinized and brought to light in real time. Every post, every tweet, every display ad, every sponsored story is either building your brand up or tearing it down. Take Tesla, for example. In early 2018, Elon Musk’s spacefaring company, SpaceX, piqued the interest of the world by placing a red Tesla roadster in its new rocket and launching it into space. Musk’s “Falcon Heavy” is the world’s most powerful operational rocket, and the stunt worked like a charm. Fast-forward to summer 2018, when Musk offered to build a special submarine to rescue the Thai children trapped in a flooded cave. British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth said the ploy had “no chance of working” and was merely “a PR stunt,” which is what the world thought, too. To make matters worse, Musk childishly lashed out at Unsworth via Twitter and drew the ire of the world. Following that brand low point, Musk apologized and the brand is heading in the right direction again. The point: Anything a company does, good or bad, affects its brand positively or negatively.

How do you build your brand with today’s customers?

The digital age has given brands more outlets, channels, and platforms to communicate with customers than any time in marketing history. And all too often today, companies become obsessed with sales and lead generation — or self-promotion (a la Musk) — at the expense of their brand. It is all driven by a bottom-line mentality, which is perfectly fine, even necessary, but it is a short-term fix to an equally important long-term goal: brand loyalty. The key to success today is understanding what your customers (or potential customers) desire: What exactly do they want from my brand?

Customers want to know you understand them

You can’t win over new customers if you don’t fully understand their situation: what gives them pain and what solves their problems. Customer needs change and evolve over time, just as industries change. What was critical to them two years ago may not necessarily be as relevant today. Both external and internal factors cause shifting dynamics with any customer base and even within industries as a whole. Oftentimes, companies may think they know their clients when in reality they do not — at least not as deeply as they need to. According to a recent study conducted by IBM and Econsultancy, nearly 80 percent of consumers said that brands and businesses don’t really understand them.

Customers want help, not a sales pitch

The bottom line with today’s customers — regardless of demographics or industry — is that they don’t want to be marketed to in the old, self-interested ways. They don’t want to be sold. Customers, not brands, are in control now. Businesses must make more of an effort to actively engage prospects and customers in real dialog, demonstrating that you understand their needs and have specific solutions to help them. The good news is that digital marketing gives brands the opportunity to connect with prospects and customers in more meaningful, helpful, and authentic ways. By earning people’s trust and then offering relevant solutions to their needs, you make them receptive to your products and services.

Customers want to know what you stand for

Beyond your products, beyond your reputation, beyond your success or “award-winning history,” customers today want to know what you stand for as a brand. It’s not so much about what you do, as it is who you are. And you can’t fake it. Who you are is a demonstrable quality that is organic and evolving. It’s the emotional connection between you (the business) and them (the customer) that defines your brand. There are countless studies and statistics that show that every purchase, no matter how small, is in some way based on a personal or emotional decision, often unconscious. Consider the many products on the market — aspirin or ibuprofen, for instance — that all do the same thing at roughly the same price. These products are only differentiated by their logo or brand name. At some level, consumers make a purchase decision based on an emotional connection to your brand. What exactly that connection is, what your brand stands for, is the golden key to success. Your brand defines the relationship with your customers — and ultimately the health and success of your company.

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