Why Digital Agencies Are the New Branding Agencies

Critical Mass
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“How often do we meet a brand for the first time on a digital screen? Almost always.”— Chief Creative Officer, Conor Brady

The single most valuable asset a business owns is its brand. We don’t even call most businesses companies—we call them “brands.”

That’s their essence, and they’re complex things. The modern customer sees very little difference between their experience with a brand and the brand itself. The brand mark is the tiny tip of an iceberg that’s made up of a carefully considered, interrelated series of characteristics, personality themes, values, and maybe more importantly now, experiences.

Brand creation was once the sole preserve of the branding agency (or daring entrepreneurs). They delivered the brand book, which, for a long time, was a physical artifact filled with things like color palettes, brand marks, fonts, conceptual art, and guidelines for tone and voice, and even more. It was an inherently analog solution that often got elevated to the level of “Art” – think of the reissued NASA style guide.

Then digital arrived.

For many years, digital has given brands a platform to reinvent decades-old industries rapidly, and along with it, the very idea of branding. The ability to be ever-present (mobile), dynamic (data), and even a joy to use (interaction design) has enabled new and incredibly strong relationships between brands and modern customers. It’s now commonplace to call out disruptive digital natives like Uber, Simple, Oscar, and Airbnb as brands that changed what a brand can be. When we look at how the digital landscape is developing—with the use of voice, sound design, and physical space—branding looks more and more digital every day.

And yet, it’s uncommon for digital agencies to serve as the brand creators and stewards—even though they grasp digital better than anyone, have creative skill sets comparable to branding agencies, and are often far more business-driven.

So, here’s the question many brands may want to ask themselves—why are we still creating analog brands in a digital world? If that question seems worth answering, then here is some food for thought.

Be a Digital First Brand

Organizations can no longer afford to spend time and money creating brand guidelines delivered in a PDF. Here’s why. When it comes time to use that PDF, it too often falls short of the requirements needed to bring a digital experience to life. Inevitably, a whole range of gaps turn up when the digital team gets to work. And the considerations and decisions needed to fill those gaps are often the very things that will differentiate the brand.

A Better Brand Steward

How often do we meet a brand for the first time on a digital screen? Almost always.

A brand’s digital presence has become pivotal to how it does business, understands its customer, and communicates its proposition—no matter if it’s a year old, or a century-old; regional or global; B2B or D2C. The aesthetic, the tone, how it moves, how it sounds, how it gets used—these are critical considerations in the modern brand “Style Guide.” Digital agencies are uniquely capable of being both the originator and the steward of such a style guide. They can envision the brand digitally, design it with well-researched use cases, test its efficacy in its native digital environment, and optimize it continually.

Every Brand Is A Tech Brand

New brands are born with technology genes, and legacy brands have irreversibly merged with it. For example, the relatively young cosmetics brand Glossier sees itself as a tech brand that’s in the beauty business, while Sephora, a more established brand, is embracing Augmented Reality (AR) to evolve their brand experience. Either way, customers expect a compelling, relevant, technologically-enabled experience.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to adopting technologies, but Digital agencies are experts at figuring out when a brand should or shouldn’t use a given technology to make smarter connections with customers. They can also help a brand prioritize. Should you invest in building a new technology foundation to future proof your brand, or does it make sense to incorporate unique experiences like beacon technology, voice interaction, or VR/AR? Digital agencies can recognize when and how a given technology can make a meaningful impact on business and authentically impact or inhabit a brand’s essence.

The Best Brands Evolve Over Time

Every day people recognize that streaming is better than broadcast TV. Mobile deposits are better than dropping by the bank. TripAdvisor and Google Maps are better than travel agents. Marketers call these things “evolving channels,” customers just call them life. Brands must evolve and adapt at the speed of this new digital culture—whether that means becoming a go-to platform in and of itself, or finding the right way to integrate your brand into other “channels.” An agency with digital DNA is positioned to think and deliver in this way.

One More Thing

We’re living in the age of experiences—but the old truism about first impressions hasn’t changed a bit. It is almost impossible for a brand to recover from a bad digital first impression, especially when it’s so easy to click, tap or swipe to your competitor.

Getting your interaction right and helping a customer quickly and successfully get what they need is the most significant branding you can have. You leave great brand experiences feeling happy and fulfilled (and no amount of analog tactics can fix a bad one). In this experience-driven culture, if digital is the starting point, then that is where a brand should begin.

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