Core Elements of a Successful Digital Brand
In my previous post, I mentioned what branding is and what it is not. To give a brief recap, a brand is the identity and personality of your organization. It’s not the agency name, and it’s certainly not the leadership navigating the agency. Every mentioned element plays a part in defining the brand but at the core, your agency brand is your agency’s overall image. Unfortunately, being part of the government, we don't get to launch a new brand even if we are launching a new agency. The fact that you are part of the government and from day one you inherit the quintessential “government is broken” brand message. But that doesn't mean everything is lost. There are still several things you can do to change this constituent perception via several grassroots activities.
Even leading commercial brands struggle to maintain their brand image and deliver their promise to customers. I have listed 6 core elements of a stable and effective digital brand. Aligning to these elements will help your online presence represent your agency’s goals and vision.
1. Effective content
Content is the core of your digital presence but most times an afterthought for projects. We deal with content at several levels. Emails, flyers, Word docs, PDF files, etc. Some of the PDFs are even scanned from hard paper documents (insert an appropriate emoji). Dumping legacy information as-is does not qualify as content.
An effective brand publishes current and effective content on a regular basis. This could be published via press releases, blogs, social media channels, email newsletters, and several other content specific channels. The key is to keep content consistent in tone and voice. A user having browsed your website and reading up your agency’s Facebook posts should not feel the disconnect. They need to feel like they are talking to the same person. Effective content will inform constituents and help them with the necessary next steps. If this avoids a phone call to your call center or an in person visit, it will directly result in cost savings.
2. Know thy constituent
Content can only be effective if we know for whom we are writing. For government agencies, it is tricky to know and understand your user. There could be several types of users consuming your services. Some might be technologically savvy while others might be more challenged. But we can safely assume that regardless of their age, gender, financial background, psychological, and behavioral patterns, all users are interested in consuming services.
Using web analytics data will help understand your users better. For example, are they using mobile devices as primary computing machines? Unless we know who they are, how they are using your services and what kinds of challenges they face, we cannot create tailored content. Digital brand heavily relies on understanding your users.
3. Don't stop with your website
In the last few years, having just a website is almost like not having a website. As technology evolves, so do users. With the influx of millennials, major brands are scrambling to understand how to cater to these digital natives. This is why having multiple platforms for your digital presence is critical. We need to meet the users where they are and not hold on to the older belief of “build it and they will come.”
As an agency, every organization needs to look at social platforms. I am not proposing going crazy with every available platform on social media but having one or two (whatever is relevant and manageable) platforms help bolster your online presence. Search engines are extremely favorable to social platforms since they cause more user engagement. Having fresh and updated content on multiple platforms scores well with search engines that view each of your platforms as a valued source of information that contributes towards your overall brand. This helps with overall visibility on the web.
4. Manage your online presence
With a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, and maybe an email newsletter list, now all you need to do is manage them all. Remember all of these are platforms for your core brand. These platforms cannot cross pollinate and form a semi brand of a sect of your core brand. Your digital presence should be interconnected. Your website should not have a strategy that does not include your social media strategy. Your blog posts should not be separate from your Twitter postings.
The reason to have these interconnections is to promote your content as much as you can. We cannot assume that the moment we push content live, it will be checked by our constituents. They might even miss the Facebook post announcing the newly published content. In such an event, they might catch your Twitter feed or pick it up reading your newsletter. Using these platforms in conjunction helps boost your agency brand by making sure your message doesn’t get lost. You need to make sure your platform is not hard to find and access like Harry Potter’s platform 9 ¾.
But, be careful. You also don’t want to get lazy. Don’t just copy a Facebook status and paste it as a tweet. Each platform in itself has a separate tone and has the ability to reach a variety of people.
5. Continuity and consistency
The main attraction of any successful brand is how consistent it is. I have visited McDonald’s in several countries and regardless of the menu (which is localized) and geographical location the brand is constant. No this is not an endorsement of the fast food giant but definitely a testament to how consistent they handle their brand.
When dealing with several platforms, as an agency you need to make sure there are several elements that are consistent. Visual elements like logo, color palettes, fonts, photo treatments and layouts across platforms need to be consistent. Also important is consistency in your topic and voice when publishing content. If your agency deals with human services you need to stick to the topic. Your user base looks to you to be a thought leader in that topic and might lose trust if an agency starts tweeting peripheral topics, diluting the message. If you don’t have anything to tweet about on a certain day, refrain from tweeting anything else just for the sake of tweeting.
6. Change is the only constant
Yes it is the cliché of the century. Your digital brand will be in serious jeopardy if you rest on your laurels. As one of the keepers of your agency’s brand presence, you need to evaluate your brand every now and then. I’m not proposing to change your brand every year. That will be counterproductive. The value of investing in a solid brand is the equity it builds over a period of time. But as time passes, things change.
Even if your agency’s values or goals haven't changed, technology changes. So will devices and user expectations. Algorithms for search engines and social platforms like Google and Facebook change. If you are not up to speed on adapting to these changes, your brand will start building cobwebs. As I mentioned in my previous post on Branding and Government, user trust is the core aspect to any brand and when users notice brands slacking in keeping up with changing times, the trust erodes. For example, every year after the legislative session, laws change and it is the agency’s responsibility to publish how the change affects the constituent. Make sure your website reflects these changes so your constituents are not misinformed.
To recap, a brand cannot be established by just one of these 6 factors. They all need to play from the same script at the same time to be successful. Having just effective content will only help your agency up to a certain point if you do not have a strategy to distribute that content on social media. Or having a killer social media strategy is useless without good content. The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts.