A recent article in the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” stated that German youngsters are so engaged in their real life that they have no time for virtual lives. That is very encouraging and somehow also expected, isn’t it? But there is, I believe, another underlying misconception: that there’s a divide between the physical world and virtual world in the mind of the individual. This is an artificial divide.
There’s only one world, populated with individuals that engage and communicate through different means, that organize themselves in different ways, but the world is real, real in every sense, real for every sense and real with the individual at the heart of their world. The earlier we overcome this divide, the happier we will be as individuals and the earlier we overcome this divide as businesses, the more successful we’ll be. It also results in putting the individual at the heart of it all.
This has two consequences for branding – consistency and fluency. A brand (be it personal or corporate) needs to be consistent and stable at its core and the values it stands for. Different online and offline persona are passé. Be as real as you can be, know your values, know what you stand for. And stop using fake names and fake photos as avatars.
But like every person changes, so every brand changes – all the time. Simply because the people that work for a brand are the brand and because everything communicates, every interaction and engagement interprets, transforms and changes the brand. So it’s key that we empower people to live the brand, to be the brand, but – and here we have the circularity – that’s only possible if there’s a strong core combined with a strong vision, which results into a clear framework. This will also result in consistent communication and that’s why I’m opposed to have social media as a separate entity of the company – it all hangs together.
The bigger the company becomes, the more it engages into web 2.0 and the more it becomes like a nation. Now we are talking citizens instead of employees and clients. Now we all can learn from nation builders and community organizers that have worked in these fields long before web 2.0 was first described. Dan Blank has written a fantastic article on community building and I completely agree with his premise – that communities create themselves, they are organisms.
So far we have focused mainly on the internal aspect of branding, but the brand actually lives in the mind of the client/consumer. What the brand owner finds interesting about their brand and want to communicate about, often doesn’t hit the sweet-spot of the client.
Brand building requires mental flexibility and agility. Brand building requires research, not opinion. Brand building at its most basic, needs to cover three stages: awareness, perception and reality. Brand building is about listening and then finding and communicating a solution for the frustrations of the consumer/client that differentiates against the competition and can be consistently delivered and reinforced through every single piece of interaction.
Now we are coming full circle: a brand in the individual’s mind is not divided by communication channel, by function, by online versus offline, by social media, by mobile app etc. A brand in the individual’s mind is defined by every single engagement, independent of channel but all interdependent, all together creating a perception through experience and experience through perception. The earlier we overcome this artificial divide, the happier and the more successful we as individuals and we as brand owners will be. There’s only one world – in the mind of every individual.
This is a shorter version of my guest post for TruManchester. You can find the original & many more posts from participants in this event here.