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Digital and brands: Nothing has changed, but everything has changed

Federica Ilaria Fornaciari

Chief Digital Officer / Professor of Digital Marketing

Young & Rubicam Group, Italy


Until a few years ago, to speak about brand and digital communication meant having conversations that shared similar themes, but that were travelling on different tracks. This distinction between the two applied to roles within companies, agencies, tools, and the interaction between them all.

On one hand was the brand, evermore the heart and soul of marketing, linked to equity, image and consumer perception. On the other, the "brain", the digital and technological part, with its tools and acronyms.

In a short time, however, these two ingredients have combined to become a unique flavor, changing all the time according to consumer's tastes.

For creative agencies, this evolution has meant great changes in organization and methods, and it has happened at tremendous speed.

There still seems to be a fair amount of confusion around this subject; social networks are often considered the link between digital communications and brands, but there is more to it than that. A social network is a channel, one of the many that make up the new system of integrated communication platforms where digital and brands meet.

Digital is the "new normal", the market evolves, and sometimes the consumer is quicker than the space in which they find themselves. There is no need to ask if and how brands interact with digital tools, but the question is whether they are ready to embrace the required changes at great speed, utilizing their business partners, media tools, research, and creativity.

Let's consider how classical marketing models are being changed by digital. Let's take the traditional Four Ps:

Focus on the P for Product remains the same in the digital market, but it has been enhanced by customer experience. Customer experience works across price comparison websites, product description analysis, virtual fitting rooms and online assistance, as well as physical stores.

P for Promotion, the link between sales and marketing, may be the most utilized of the Four Ps. By using data and digital intelligence to understand purchasing behavior we are now able to approach communication one-to-one.

P for Place has become absolute in global amplification. Digital allows us to work from awareness to conversion, making the brand visible everywhere and all the time, thanks to search engine marketing and SEO strategies, social media presence, and performance investment.

P for Price may be perceived as having felt the impact of digitalization less. This is not true. The predominance of digital has introduced a new model of pricing. Continuous offers, discounts on multiple purchases, and comparison opportunities are all now commonplace for today's consumer, who expects the very best prices on all products in the digital market.

It is evident that the evolution from analogue to digital has been orchestrated by data - accurate and timely information, no longer an idealistic proxy.

In this new environment, content and connection strategy are without any doubt the point around which the marketing and communication business revolves.

Content is the real tool we have to play with in creative agencies, and it remains absolutely timeless, regardless of how "digital" a consumer is. Social networks, brands, and people will always need great stories, full of emotion and desire.

Content lives on as a place of beginning and belonging. The real change now is in the mode and tone in which we communicate. Stories are no longer about addressing the public, "movie style", but rather a way to interact, engage, get feedback and study. It is where dialogue is everlasting, always on, and is not limited by the length of a campaign. The story becomes part of something bigger, and all channels are used to spread the word.

Technology helps with storytelling. It multiplies and widens the possibilities of engagement with consumers. Technology gives communication a way to talk to the public, in a customized way and time, using tools and economies of scale.

Over 80 percent of marketers base their future strategy (directly or indirectly) on technology.

Last but not least, let's consider the increasingly important role of engagement in the interaction between brands and digital.

Independent of the business sector a brand is in and the kind of consumer they are targeting, we find ourselves working on this subject daily.

This means using the right channels to talk about relevant subjects; being present, entertaining, and making business more human and social, but also presenting pertinent messages.

The subject of brands and digital could fill a vintage encyclopedia. In essence, though, nothing has changed, but everything has changed.