Lessons in Digital Branding – From People Who've Done It
June 17, 2022
Todd Henderson

Lessons in Digital Branding – From People Who've Done It

What’s the fastest way to learn something new?

Easy. Ask the people who have already done it.

That’s as true in digital branding as it is anywhere else—whether you’re trying to learn the piano or cut down on the learning curve when you hit the winter slopes. But in the case of digital branding and digital marketing, the most relevant skills that might be current one day become outdated the next. How can even an experienced digital brander keep up? We turned to some quotations and case studies from famous digital marketers and brands to examine what works:

Lesson #1: Test Your Assumptions

“Take a risk and keep testing, because what works today won’t work tomorrow, but what worked yesterday may work again.”

-Amrita Sahasrabudhe

The foundation of knowledge in the digital world is built upon testing. What you think might happen isn’t always what ends up happening. That’s true for digital marketers who continually expect their results to point them one way—only to find that their actual response rates sometimes push them in a completely different direction.

One question remains: how can digital marketers incorporate these tests into their regular work?

  • A/B split testing. The most popular form of testing is A/B split testing, wherein you run two or more campaigns to test one variable—such as the headline of an advertisement. Many of today’s tools allow for A/B test monitoring, so it won’t be as difficult or as complicated to set up as you think. Failing that, you can always try out your own test by creating two nearly-identical campaigns where one variable is different, then running analytics to determine which campaign won out.
  • Trial and error. It may be the clunkiest solution, but one aspect of testing your assumptions is to try new things, even if you expect to fail. And no one likes to pay money while learning the lessons of trial and error. Even so, try to be bold: remember that new trends are constantly emerging in digital marketing, which means you have to be ready to keep up. That sometimes means testing new ideas, even if you’re not confident in their success. The insights you learn along the way can be invaluable in your continued work as a digital branding expert.
  • View the market as a test. McDonald’s is a company that continually tests new products. You may remember the Arch Deluxe or a wide variety of other sandwiches that you can no longer find on the menu. Why does the menu change? Because McDonald’s acknowledges that the market is the truest test. No matter how many taste testers or focus groups they employ, they never know the final verdict on a new product until it hits the market. While it’s great to have valuable insight from colleagues and other experts, remember that the market is where ideas ultimately find their measure. If the real market won’t respond to your ideas, it’s for a reason; try to figure out what that reason is.

The digital environment is unique in that it’s always shifting. What will shift tomorrow? You can’t continually learn if you don’t test today the assumptions you formed yesterday.

Lesson #2: Create Urgency in Your Audience

One of the most common complaints of marketers? According to HubSpot statistics, most marketers say that generating traffic is among their top challenges, to the tune of 61%.

But isn’t generating urgency and interest the primary skill of digital brand experts and marketers? How come they’re struggling with something so basic as traffic?

The truth is that too few people place an emphasis on creating urgency for what you need. In a case study at Single Grain, for example, marketers were able to use urgency to drive increased interest at a company called Twenty20. Twenty20’s stock photo app was having trouble creating a distinctive brand that highlighted their unique value proposition.

The solution? “Value right now.” That was the concept behind the new marketing and branding techniques: the emphasis was on what users could receive right now if they engaged Twenty20’s stock photo archives. This created more urgency for the product and increased web traffic by 403%.

Lesson #3: Authenticity Still Works

“Authenticity, honesty, and personal voice underlie much of what’s successful on the Web.”

-Rick Levine

What is authenticity?

It’s a simple question. The answer is far more complex. Authenticity refers to your congruence as a brand—it means that you need minimal distance between what you are and what you try to be. For instance, you might consider Duluth Trading Company to be a high-quality brand that has a lot of authenticity. Not only do they advertise their clothes as being tough and rugged, but their guarantee policy follows up on that.

In that sense, authenticity refers to the total brand concept that drives you as a company. It’s about more than marketing; it’s about the way you go about your business.

Consider Inc.com’s survey of the top authentic brands. Here you’ll see brands on the list that might make more sense than other brands on the list. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. is an example of an authentic brand—they have such a rich history that all they have to do is stay true to their brand and on-message with their advertising that their name evokes that same authenticity.

Then you have a brand like Newman’s Own. This is a well-known brand that’s well-known for its dedication to charity and high-quality products. No confusion there.

But what about M&M’s? What about Crayola?

Where is the “authenticity” in brands dedicated to candy and crayons?

It’s that they don’t try to be something they’re not. Crayola, for example, sticks to its message. It knows that it’s there for schools and children. When you browse its website, the brand is on-message. There are bright, elementary colors that reflect exactly what they do. When Crayola creates new products, it’s with “Winter Craft Kits,” or products that put the end customer in mind.

The key to authenticity isn’t always in what your brand is doing—it’s in what it’s not doing. The more you try to create a brand out of something that isn’t there, the less you’ll enjoy that authenticity in the future. That’s at the heart of what Rick Levine was trying to communicate in his quote about authenticity—and it’s worth remembering.

Lesson #4: Stop Pretending That Traditional Marketing is the Only Way to Stay Authentic

When a multi-generational company known as Debug Pest Control set about re-branding itself, there was the temptation to fall into familiar habits. Being a family-owned business with generations of pest control experts makes it easy to stick to one’s guns, to continue doing things the same way because it’s worked for so long.

But Debug wanted to go beyond that. According to Business.com, Debug was able to combine its traditional marketing methods with new digital efforts to yield something extraordinary.

How did they do it? It started with a new presence in the digital marketplace in the form of dedicated landing pages on its website. And they weren’t satisfied there. Debug used conversion rate optimization strategies to discover that putting their warmest customer recommendations on their site greatly increased the trust they could inspire within their customers. Their new conversion rates boasted 30% improvements, boosting the amount of business they were able to drive from their website.

It isn’t that this is a particularly remarkable story. Anyone experienced in digital branding knows that creating landing pages for specific customer segments is probably a good idea.

The lesson in digital branding from Debug Pest Control was that you don’t have to remain stuck in your ways to get results in the digital world. As tempting as it might be to say “we’re just a pest control business—we don’t need to be digital,” that traditional way of thinking isn’t necessarily relevant online. People do indeed go to the digital environment to companies like Debug, and the results bore that out.

Lesson #5: Get In Your Customer’s Heads

“Good marketers see consumers as complete human beings with all the dimensions real people have.”

-Jonah Sachs

The more accurate your picture of your customer is, the easier you’ll find it to market to them.

It might sound like homework. “Customer research” is the kind of subject you might expect to find in a Digital Branding 101 textbook—that boring foundational chapter that includes none of the interesting tactics you wanted to learn at the outset.

But foundational work is called “foundational” for a reason. You need a clear picture of who your customer is if you’re going to market to them as effectively as possible.

In Jonah Sachs’ quote, you’ll see how important it is to think of your customer as a full human being. It’s tempting, in customer research, to group people together into giant swaths of demographics, to treat them like nameless cogs in a machine.

But the real world isn’t like that. The real world is full of well-rounded people with their own hopes, fears, habits, vices, and more.

How can your digital brand make them better?

How can your brand express that it can make them better?

These are the questions to ask yourself if you haven’t found a large and genuine connection with your broader audience. But the good news is that this lesson is easy to learn. All you have to do is ask the right questions of your customers and discover what it is that drives them to a brand like yours. Once you learn to accommodate that, you’ll be a better digital marketer.