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April 2024

Building your brand across digital, social and activation

Brands have the choice of a plethora of channels to build loyalty and engagement with audiences. But how should you approach branding through the lens of digital, social and wider activation? The mantra ‘digital first’ has become a reality for brands, but what does it mean in a world where ‘digital’ is constantly evolving? How can a brand stay true to its core message and communicate it clearly, consistently and authentically across ever-evolving channels? How do you get your brand activation right and what does good look like?

1. Don’t fall victim to blanding (part 1)

Many B2B brands fall victim to blanding and tend to look the same way and say the same things. A brand’s tone of voice can be a powerful tool in building distinctiveness — regardless of channel. Octopus Legacy’s tone of voice challenges convention in the legal sector. While peers focus on time, price and functional features, Octopus Legacy shows the importance of engaging with death throughout our lives. Their empathetic tone of voice is miles away from their peer group (in a good way!) and connects with audiences on a deep level. Looking towards the B2B world, MailChimp’s tone of voice has been instrumental to its success. With four guiding principles – plainspoken, genuine, educational and humourous – the brand demonstrates a deep understanding of what their audiences think and what they need from a brand.

What does this mean?

  • Understand what your audiences think and feel. Your messaging and voice should be a bridge between what you want to own as a brand and what your audiences care about
  • Follow your core brand truth. Avoid falling into the sea of sameness by following your core brand truth, wherever it leads you and speak from there
  • Go beyond being ‘human’. Human may get you off the starting blocks but you need to be more specific and get to grips with the values of your brand and the characteristics of your personality
  • Be brave. This may mean not following the conventions in your sector, but rather leading the way by reimagining the status quo
2. Use emotion to create cut-through

95% of our decisions take place in the subconscious mind

Emotional engagement is often associated with consumer advertising that taps into our deep desires. But emotion plays a part in building a B2B brand too. With 95% of our decisions taking place in the subconscious mind they are usually driven by emotion. In 2023, international law Firm, Addleshaw Goddard, invested in a digital campaign leveraging emotion in an unexpected way. Instead of creating a whitepaper to communicate research findings, they realised they had to do something different to catch their audiences’ attention. In a series of songs they communicate the value of in-house legal teams and the benefit of bringing them into strategic decisions. They have since launched more content that leverages emotion, called ‘Rhyme and Reason’ .

What does this mean?

  • Remember that your audiences are people, not just decision-makers. Content that demonstrates an understanding of their hopes and aspirations are more likely to resonate
  • Pinpoint an emotion when developing your content. Consider how you want your audiences to feel, because feeling something is better than feeling nothing
  • Balance the emotional with rational. Make sure you communicate both, as the decision-making process is, in reality, a mix

95% of our decisions take place in the subconscious mind

3. Cultivate a presence on social media

97% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn for content marketing and recent research by McKinsey shows that 1 in 5 B2B buyers use social media to evaluate suppliers. But social media can be challenging for B2B businesses, specifically when it comes to figuring out what to talk about and how to make it exciting. Not many brands get it right, but Goldman Sachs comes pretty close. The investment bank has a thriving presence on social media. Their LinkedIn has a healthy mix of everything. From spotlights on their culture and employees through to thought leadership and market insights. Their Instagram has a people focused approach, whilst their X account shines a light on their research and insights. Goldman Sachs demonstrates a clear understanding of which audiences are most likely to engage with their content on different channels, and have adapted their strategy accordingly.

What does this mean?

  • Define why you want to use social media. Have clear objectives for your strategy before you start publishing content. Is it to raise brand awareness? Attract talent? Build a sales pipeline?
  • Choose the right platform. With a range of social media channels, look at audience behaviour and analytics before you decide which one is suited to your brand
  • Develop targeted content. Random content won’t lead to success. By developing target personas you can be more focused and more likely to achieve success.
4. Keep evolving

The digital word we live in keeps changing. Trends come and go and have an impact on how we think about visual brand. Recent developments challenge the role colour has typically played. Webtools like Reciteme and Faciliti allow users to customise colours to ensure they are accessible for their particular needs. Google’s Material You allows users to change colours on their device interface based on personal preferences. Sustainability also affects how we choose colours on websites, with dark colours using less energy than lighter and brighter ones. A logo is another element that can create distinction. There is an ongoing trend to simplify logos and a key reason is the way they render on screen by being made up of pixels. But it is a dumbing down approach to logo design, looking at the restrictions, rather than the opportunities to create something unique.

What this means

  • Evolve your visual brand to reflect latest developments whether in technology or sustainability
  • Ensure it maintains recognition amidst these developments
  • Look for opportunities to elevate in the digital space, rather than dumbing down
5. Embrace the digital space

There are some things you can only do in a digital space. Motion, whether an animated logo, film or small incremental movements in a website, helps to bring emotion to your brand. If you start building motion into your visual brand early, and then translate it into your static expression, it could take you to a different place than if you had started the other way round. The identity for Jodrell Bank takes the movement of its Lovell telescope as inspiration for the logo and wider visual language. Sonic branding is something we are increasingly familiar with. There are different ways sound can be introduced, whether as a signature or a watermark. Though more widely used in consumer brands it is something B2B brands are exploring too. Deloitte have created a sonic identity that suggests how this could work for a B2B brand, using it for videos, events, apps and podcasts.

What this means:

  • Introduce the idea of motion, or even sound, into your brand development and see where it takes you
  • Consider how and where to use motion so that it has meaning and purpose
6. Don’t fall victim to blanding (part 2)

Visual brands need to create distinction and recognition. Blanding is the opposite, where everything starts to feel safe and expected. With logos being simplified, and starting to look the same, they say little about an organisation. There is a danger typography is starting to look the same too. A preference for simple, sans serif fonts, especially those served up by Google, means the most popular fonts are being used everywhere.  Using stock imagery does not help either. It still has a ‘stock’ feel and doesn’t always feel authentic.

Instead, create a characterful logo, and if you’ve got one already don’t dilute it. Consider an unexpected headline font or explore a distinctive typographic style. And if using stock imagery think how to make it ownable.

The recent GSK rebrand makes the point well. Each of the visual elements is carefully considered; the DNA inspired animated logo is also distinctive in its static form; a bespoke typeface is used at large scale for impact; photography uses brand colours; and distinctive cell imagery has a degree of movement.

What does this mean:

  • Ensure that your brand’s visual expression reflects what your brand stands for
  • Don’t do something just because it feels comfortable and familiar, it will not make your brand stand out
  • Not all visual elements have to deliver distinction and recognition, but some of them do

Falling victim to ‘blanding’ is real. But there is a way out which means you need to be uncomfortable, brave and go beyond the established conventions in your sector. Tone of voice, emotion, motion, logo and wider visual expression are all important tools in building a distinct brand regardless of channel. B2B brands can have a thriving presence on social media, just make sure you know why you want to use it and link your content to the purpose and audience focus of each channel.
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