We are living in unknown times. Covid has opened up limitless possibilities bringing the physical world closer to the digital space. It has given us access to tools that we’ve all grown so used to. We’ve exchanged shopping trolleys for delivery services. We’ve swapped boardrooms for video calls. We’ve also been privileged to attend those awkward zoom parties that we’ll probably never speak of again. Every sector has undergone some sort of digital transformation, from agriculture, education, entertainment to banking.
For brands, digital transformation has always been essential. And there is a clear divide between brands that are able to adapt and those that aren’t. Websites, apps, social media, even NFTs and the metaverse are all part of this new era. The digital world we live in allows customers to interact with brands which require a response. It’s no longer a one-sided conversation via a printed campaign but an exchange of value. An exchange of information from customer to brand, and vice versa.
If companies want to build brand advocates, they must adapt and engage their customers in relevant, and authentic ways. Of course, not every engagement is relevant or useful. Not every brand guide should include an NFT. Not every brand guide should have a metaverse. We need to be careful not to do things just because it’s on trend, but also not to miss potential opportunities.
So this begets the question—how do we know what is the right solution with an unknown future?
Design with core values
Great brands tell the world who they are, what they believe in and where they are going. They have a certain magnetism that can pull people in and build long lasting loyalty. Customers or clients feel good when dealing with them. And at the centre of successful brands are the core values. They are ingrained and shape the way the company behaves, speaks, and acts. It’s the fuel that drives business and is embedded into culture. They’re not about selling, but they represent something bigger.
By understanding your core values (what you believe in) and your brand personality (how to express those beliefs) we can start to design and allocate the relevant experiences to bring the brand to life. From processes to prototypes, photography to typography, all need to support the core values.
If there is a company that excels at this, it’d be the streaming platform Spotify. It’s a community brand built for creators and fans alike. Their values “relevant, human and unified” sing through everything they build from their products, campaigns and social media. The huge success of their yearly Wrapped campaigns drives these values and gives a reason for consumers to talk about themselves. This not only reinforces the sense of community but lets the consumers cheer on the brand.
Design for people
People are demanding for authentic, relevant and personalised experiences. What they mean by this is authentic—they don’t want to feel lied to, relevant—means how useful it is. Personalised—they want to feel special.
Creating engagement depends on how valuable and relevant the content is to the user. Customers have learned to smell out the hogwash. Continuous user validation and data learnings dictate our design decisions and help us build experiences that matter most.
Brands don’t rely on core values alone but build on who the brand is for. Defining brand personas are a useful tool for putting a face to a brand and developing the brand image and offering. However, we need to understand that these are fictionally created. There is a need for deeper understanding, about the actual customers. What personal challenges are they going through? What societal changes are currently happening? Are they suffering from app fatigue? Do they need another NFT? We need to be attuned to the world of our customers to be able to make something that is meaningful.
When Pepsi jumped on the NFT bandwagon last year, there was much hype, but it came with criticism. Pepsi’s “Mic drop” collection came off the back of Coca-Cola raising $575,000 for their NFT collection. However, the “Mic Drop” lacked the fundamental understanding of what is an NFT and missed an opportunity. After launching, there was no ongoing commitment to engage the community, no utility or even a purpose. It was as though someone from upper management said “NFTs are on trend & we need to do something about it, now.” This sense of desperation has long term effects poorly on brand perception. For Pepsi to have succeeded, they should have created something that the customers are truly excited about.
Design to connect
Long gone are the days that brand is about logo—it’s about the experience and every manifestation and interaction after that. And this experience arguably becomes more important than the logo, the typography and colour. The digital experiences are part of a larger brand ecosystem. We design for consistency and create content that supports one single brand truth, throughout the user journey. Everyone from C-suites to checkout staff needs to have the same values. No silos. The product teams need to be talking to marketing teams, who need to be talking to people on the shop floor. If they’re not there’s a disconnect. Everything is connected.
From its Australian roots, Aesop is a much-loved brand around the world. The attention to detail and meticulous nature of the brand has for their products, retail, experience through to their platform and social media is incredible. Interestingly, they don’t have any campaigns, influencers, Tik-Tok dances yet the brand is hugely coveted. It all stems from their design philosophy “well-considered design improves our lives.” Their new product releases are a genuine response to customer needs, after being extensively researched and tested. The floor staff are handpicked and truly passionate about the brand. Their retail design is sensitive to the surroundings and the materials are carefully selected. The online experience bridges the gap between digital and retail and is an extension of the brand. Aesop’s ability to stand by their brand philosophy in everything they do drives a sense of authenticity and customer loyalty.
As brands continue to journey into the unknown of new technologies and innovation, it is critical for brands to build a consistent picture based on the core values. They must understand that one off isn’t enough to provide long-term meaning and value to customers. Customers don’t differentiate between digital and non-digital. They see it as part and parcel of one brand. It’s about designing a unified experience, not just at one touch point but throughout the whole business, across physical, digital and sometimes both.
David Rhodes is design director, MediaMonks APAC.