The traditional model of brand building has been largely dictated by the technology available. When the means of communication was paper, the picture advertisement dominated, and gave rise to the clever slogan. The slogan developed into the jingle with the rise of radio, and the advent of television allowed the creation of the commercial.
All of these have one defining trait in common; they inform in a non-interactive sense. You can turn away or read as you wish, but that’s the extent of your control over the content of the advertisement. This has left the power of brand building largely in the hands of the originators. The company creates its advertising, and people respond to it.
Most people and businesses don’t have the money to create massive media blitzes or overarching TV-radio-print campaigns, which left this approach almost entirely to the big names or those small companies willing to take a chance.
This is all changing.
As we’ve discussed before, the landscape in branding has changed from the advertising model to the communicative one. Comments can be left, emails sent, blogs posted and disseminated in a matter of hours. We’ve established the increasing power the audience has over brands, and have learned how vital conversation is to the modern brand.
Brands can now be built quickly and on a shoestring budget. Webhosting is inexpensive, and in some cases completely free. A Facebook account and an eBay selling account can stand in for a webpage and a storefront, and are exponentially less expensive than a physical store and even a simple ad in the local newspaper.
Brand success is no longer the sole domain of those with the money to employ creative teams and retain advertising firms, but an open territory for any willing to seize the initiative and do the work.
Similarly, the direction of brand construction has changed. We’ve mentioned the conversation, the all-important dialog between brand and customer, and the power customers have in shaping the image of a brand. This has lead to the development of the inbound marketing technique. Rather than hurling information into the ether and hoping to find a target demographic, people are building ways for the audience to come to them, where a friendly chat can be had.
Consider the most important purchases you’ve made in the last five years. When is the last time a car advertisement on television spurred you to make a purchase, as opposed to the time you went into a dealership needing a car and sought one out on your own time? How often have your computer purchases been driven by an ad campaign as opposed to a personal desire to upgrade or seek one out?
This is the realm of in-bound marketing techniques. Yes, they still resort to the need to create an attraction in the customer’s mind, but the focus is different. It’s less a matter of ‘look at what we have to show you,’ and much more about ‘come tell me what you have to say.’
Consider the success of the SomethingAwful forums. Similar to 4chan and other casual social sites, SA has indisputably developed a brand of its own on the Internet. Ask about SA on just about any site, and you don’t need the full name, just the initials to get a response. And yet at the heart SA is just a forum, a place for people to come and talk, and to read entertaining articles lampooning various facets of pop culture. The whole message, consciously or not, is simply, ‘come on in, and let’s have a chat.’
Not every site can use the exact approach of SA of course, but that isn’t the point. The point is that if you feel confident in your product, be it a physical item to sell or ideas you wish to promote, then you should focus less on throwing it out to the world at large and more on trying to find ways to get people to come in and have a closer look.
Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Dig, Reddit, Slashdot: There are social media networks and sites everywhere. People conveniently arrange themselves into groups based on interests and locations, and advertise these facts on profiles and group pages. A great deal of the research is already done for you, all you have to do is look for it. Put simply, these people WANT to talk about their interests. Don’t simply shout your message at them; instead, give them a place they can come and share what they have to say, and give them a product that relates.
Yes, digital branding requires even more hard work than big-time traditional advertising, especially on a budget. You may not be able to hire a bigwig designer to put out slick posters and compose outstanding music. What you can do is tap into peoples’ desire to talk, their wish to understand and be understood, and then give them both a place to visit and many roads to get to that place. Build the road and the inn, and travelers will find their way.