What does it mean to be a digital brand?
There are a number of definitions for what constitutes a digital brand. In this roundtable, leading experts look at the difference between digitally native companies and how traditional companies are becoming digital. Business Chief also gains insight into what it means to be a digital brand in today’s world, as well as the ways in which companies can drive the most value out of their digital brand strategy.
Those participating in the roundtable include:
What is a digital brand?
JP: ‘Digital brand’ can often be misleading because too many companies think that it's simply doing what you already do but using digital channels. This is much more about a mindset. A digital brand is a brand that anticipates and is responsive to their customers’ needs. To do this at scale, companies rely on flexible technologies, comprehensive data sets, and advanced analytics. Given the profound shift to digital during COVID-19, every brand needs to be a digital brand.
MM: There are two ways to look at digital brands. One is a brand that exists solely within the ecosystem of the digital environment. Huffington Post and Twitter are both digital brands. The other, and more interesting, perspective is digital brand as part of a ‘traditional’ brand’s identity and strategy that acknowledges and leads with the importance of its online presence, user experience and engagement. It is virtually impossible to segment a traditional brand from a digital brand today because social media and the internet are ubiquitous.
What are the current trends and innovations when it comes to digital brands?
MM: One trend we are seeing is the continued blurring of brand and acquisition marketing. The standard customer journey path taught 35 years ago has been completely disrupted. The path to purchase is not linear; today it’s more a jumbled mess. People are consuming content for entertainment and the ‘time-to-purchase’ window has been greatly reduced across the board. In social media, shoppable posts are now being developed in a productive way. Influencer marketing, for better or worse, is also part of digital marketing. The steps from an unboxing video viewing to purchase are much shorter than in a non-digital world.
Another trend is the greater need for personalisation in messaging and communications. Especially in the current environment, digital brands are expected to not only adapt their communications messaging and tone to reflect the circumstances, but to change their product and services offering. This is where market research – especially platform-based, agile research - is key.
JP: Two stand out. One is personalisation, which is the ability to tailor offers, products, services, and communications to individual customers wherever they are in their decision journey. These brands harness technology and insights to always be relevant to their customers. The other is the ability to continually pivot and innovate. That requires an operating model that constantly looks for new opportunities and develops new ways to tap those opportunities so they can stay ahead of competitors wherever they emerge.
What do you think the future for digital brands will look like?
AM: The future was always bright for digital brands, a growing and highly connected customer base, easily accessible target audiences through major digital platforms, being able to move faster than larger more traditional competitors and not being restricted by geography or physical retail. As the world moves evermore online, the barriers to entry for new digital brands will fall and the friction for consumers to purchase from these brands will erode away. We have already seen the introduction of seamless, one-touch, end-to-end ecommerce with Facebook stores and Amazon marketplace. However, COVID has accelerated digital transformation among almost all companies to varying degrees, including traditional incumbents.
JP: The human touch is becoming hugely important. In response, digital brands will get more human and more personal. They will be much smarter in terms of spending and more diligent in measurement and optimisation. The variety of channels is so huge now, and the ways that customers use them change so often, that brands have to be much more diligent about how they spend. Across all countries measured in our , consumers revealed that they are turning to digital and reduced-contact ways of accessing products and services. In the UK, 71% of consumers stated that they had tried a new shopping behaviour, with 16% stating that they had tried a new digital shopping method. As these habits further evolve, granular data analysis and disciplined marketing-performance management will be essential for brands to stay in touch with their customers and drive MROI.
In addition, we’re seeing corporate purpose, environmental considerations, the balance of individual time and all social topics (such as Black Lives Matter and diversity) driving the consumer agenda. As such, there are many potential areas for getting it wrong. Again, this is really about developing deep and meaningful connections with customers based on a deep understanding of what they care about, want, and need.
MM: Voice and audio will be the next frontier for digital brands. It’s important to note that digital brands evolve as consumer behaviour evolves. And now, digital brands need to understand what their presence looks like in a more non-visual world. Right now, UX, UI and design are an integral part of a digital brand, but brands must think about what interactions will look like when people aren’t using a click to engage. Audio branding and sound logos will become increasingly important.
What are the benefits and challenges of a digital brand?
JP: The basics still hold: you need to provide something that your customers value. But with ‘digital’ at the core, you can react more quickly, test new opportunities cheaply, be much more precise about how you connect with customers, and go after a much more granular and widespread set of opportunities. Is it even possible to be a ‘non-digital’ brand in today’s environment?
The challenges are huge. On the one hand, it requires a new order of collaborative leadership to manage the complexity of technology and data-driven marketing at an unprecedented degree of granularity. Marketers have to work closely with IT, sales, operations, finance, etc, to make digital work. On the other hand, just because digital gives you the opportunity to do more doesn’t mean that you should do it. Privacy, security and purpose are all issues that consumers care deeply about, and brands need to continually balance how they want to connect with customers with the need to maintain trust with them.
MM: All brands are now digital brands. The differentiators are; prioritisation of digital, emphasis on the UX and UI and integration of digital platforms in customer service and products. This all equates to simplicity for the consumer. For instance, with digital, you can open a bank account quickly to secure the best interest rate online. The offline method seems obsolete and laborious. The benefit is clear: the better and easier it is for consumers to do business with you, the more market share you gain.
However, for all digital brands, customer service is challenging and must be a top priority. If you need to reach an actual person at Facebook or Google to fix a problem or answer a question, good luck! Customer service doesn’t exist for some of these large digital brands. Amazon got this right.
AM: A major benefit is the ability to compete against well-established brands in reaching potential customers on digital platforms. Another benefit of being a digital brand is the ability to turn on, turn off and change strategy quickly based on data and insights gathered through digital channels. Being able to dynamically and at reasonably low cost produce and iterate creative, product messaging to what works is a huge advantage.
However, building consumer confidence and brand credibility without a physical retail presence is a challenge. Can your brand be trusted to deliver? Does it actually exist or is there risk of an online scam?
Many small businesses establishing themselves as digital first brands are bootstrapping and don’t have the deep pockets to compete with more established brands. As with any small business, people are wearing many hats and might be the HR, marketing and logistics person in one. However the ability to find talented contractors and online tools to help has never been easier. Many online brands outsource key functions like shipping and logistics and never actually house the physical product.
When it comes to digital brands what is the best strategy and approach to drive the most value?
JP: You need to pull it back to the principle of good marketing/branding. The rules of good marketing and branding are being distinctive and being differentiated. That’s particularly important to revisit now as consumers are re-evaluating what’s important to them and their families. Even more important is the rule, ‘learn to walk before you run.’ A good digital strategy, therefore, is a strategy that focuses on the core elements (differentiation) and which really focuses on what your brand stands for. In addition, one of the key features for an effective strategy is the right people. Key people are the core differentiator and make the magic happen. They are the scarcest resource in digital and non-digital brands. Another is to combine creativity (often an element that is underplayed in digital brands) and match it with superior advanced analytics to ensure long-term success. Advanced analytics allow you to personalise, select elements that are appropriate, and allow you to spend efficiently. When companies get that right, their investments generate value quickly and they develop strong relationships based on trust with their customers.
MM: Put the customer at the centre of your strategy. Understand: how do they engage online, where they are going, and what content are they consuming? As a digital brand, these questions are paramount. Digital tracking is an effective way to spot changes in digital search and buying behavior. With access to in-app buying behaviour and mobile search, our clients use digital tracking to understand when and how consumers shop. Brands should also focus on user centric design. A good UX designer always has the consumer at the centre of their design. With this approach, users are at the centre of every step of the design process.
Digital is not only about the external, it’s about the internal. Employing digital technology in areas like research speeds up decision-making and creates agility within an organisation. Moving offline research processes online allows you to keep the customer close while also maintaining the integrity and quality of your research.
AM: The most effective strategy is one that gets implemented, which generally means keeping it simple. Defining the vision and setting goals, establishing a timeline and clearly communicating the strategy to everyone who needs to be involved. A strategy cannot be effective if people are not aware of it and have not bought into the vision.
Management support is also key to any digital initiative. They require investment in tools and people but progress is better than standing still so don’t over complicate it. Set goals, use data, test, iterate, support successes and learn from failures.
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.