Top trends in digital branding: your guide to user-generated content

Top trends in digital branding: your guide to user-generated content

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Monday, December 17, 2018 | Nicole Kemp

Increasingly, brands rely on digital channels to engage with customers and prospects. However, brands are seldom in charge of the messaging their audiences see on these platforms. Customers often learn about your brand through user-generated content. They form perceptions through social influencers. It’s a dynamic ecosystem. And it’s changed how brands are managed during business as usual and in times of brand change.

We interviewed Nicole Kemp, Senior Consultant, Project Strategy at BrandActive and former Head of Brand Management at State Street. These are her thoughts on the future of digital marketing and branding experiences.

We know that content is the key to engaging with audiences. What should digital marketing and branding professionals be thinking about?

Consider the sheer volume of content pushed to social media by every individual who wants to have a voice. Add to that trending hashtags and newsfeeds, and the expiration date of content is shorter than ever; and it’s easy to quickly lose your audience. Creating the kind of relevant, timely content your consumers are seeking is more important than ever.

Many brands are still ill-equipped to operate successfully in the digital landscape. They haven’t adopted an operational model suited for newer channels. That requires teams of people with digital mindsets and experience who know how the modern user engages with content and others who understand data. It seems like everywhere you look these days people are focused on data— for good reason. Chances are your organization is collecting way more data than you use. Honing the right data and the right KPIs is the holy grail.

Today’s digital landscape is not dominated by brand messaging or conversations, but by user-generated content. Brands need to be able to relate to users, and that can be hard for big brands like the NFL, Chevrolet, or Geico to do. But it’s possible. Nike and Starbucks are among those setting the pace for improving engagement with customers.

You need to be where your audience is, and it’s always evolving. I gasp when I read headlines like, “60+ Social Networking Sites You Need to Know About in 2018.” But I get it. As digital transforms, leaders need to understand the demographics of each channel and which are most relevant to their brand. Think of it this way: if most of your customers are creating discussions on LinkedIn and you’re focusing on Twitter, you need to change your game plan. Staying in touch with your audience and understanding how they interact on platforms is more important than ever. You need to listen, recognize patterns in the behavior and engagement of your target audience, and pivot.

So, what are these new trends?

  • Create more engaging content and interactions: Users see through, and often don’t trust, the typical cycle of sales-focused communications employed by many businesses. Quite frankly, the bar for engaging with customers keeps getting higher. Customers expect your brand to create unique and useful interactions with them—experiences that make them feel good about themselves and about your brand and keep them coming back for more.
  • Use brand influencers—but carefully: With many exchanges you cannot control taking place on assorted digital platforms, you need a plan for how to offer engaging experiences beyond your own website. Utilizing brand influencers can help you tip the scales in your favor, creating positive momentum for your brand. Keep in mind, though, that the influencer strategy has its risks. Some influencers may associate with bad actors or engage in divisive political dialogue that doesn’t align with your brand values. Some companies are creating task forces to monitor and address these issues to ensure your brand’s digital image remains upright.
  • Understand the power of video: Another pillar of effective digital strategy is video. Today’s consumers spend close to an hour watching video online each day. So, serving up videos on your social media platforms should be an element of your digital strategy. Videos should not be too lengthy, and include simple captions in case users don’t have the sound on.

How do you bring a new digital engagement model, perhaps the outcome of thoughtful repositioning and rebranding, to your customers?

Mobile-optimized content and websites are increasingly important. Google’s algorithm now puts more weight on mobile-friendly sites over the desktop versions. This is because more than half of searching on the web takes place on mobile devices. During rebranding processes, companies now lead with mobile first.

Boost interactions by revisiting the structure of owned websites. One company purposefully shifted their entire website from leading with products to showcasing their consultative approach. Through a survey, they learned that clients wanted the company to serve up a tailored answer to their problem, rather than an out-of-the-box product solution. They then applied this client-centric strategy to be their social platforms. The model for interactions posed more questions to clients to facilitate dialogue and create individualized engagements.

Where are online branding and brand experiences headed?

Emerging technology can improve brand experience. Artificial intelligence can feed content that is more relevant to users, creating more engagement. Some online brand experiences still require the human touch. Social touchpoints are a critical part of a digital brand management plan. Social is labor-intensive and expensive, so process planning is key.

User experience teams continue to improve customer journey, making them more pleasant and intuitive. Usability (think Amazon and Instagram) entice new and return clients and build brand equity through positive interactions.

Rebranding implementation offers a multitude of possibilities for streamlining processes and saving money. Turn this serendipity into one more reason to celebrate your new brand.

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