How to Create a Brand for a Digital Company

Digital companies need to work especially hard to add personality to their brand; Rog How looks at some examples

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Posted by Rog How, July 31, 2018

You’ve made your latest prototype, a great piece of coding that allows customers to do something new and amazing that’s never been done before. You’re going to disrupt the status quo and make the world work more efficiently. You’ve even done all your user experience design (UX) and the app is easy to navigate, fast and once they start using it, customers love the functionality.

But hang on, there’s the catch: only once they start using it do customers understand how it all works. So how are you going to get them to that point in the first place?

There are lots of ways of doing this: PR, word of mouth, advertising or social media. This all constitutes marketing, but your marketing will not be successful unless you have carefully considered your brand identity.

A strong brand identity is easy for customers to relate to, and for a digitally-based company, this is doubly important. A digital company has no physical presence – no shop front, no tactile product. These are all things that might convey something about the company incidentally. A pub, for example, has character through the decor, the staff and the range of beers or wines on offer. It’s a company that has an incidental brand identity, whether thought about or not by the owner.

With a digital company we need to create this character from scratch using every available touch-point or tool, so we need to work a little harder.

Building a successful brand in general, consists of successfully communicating three things; functionality, values and character.

(Read my article on brand identity here for some more guidance on this)

Functionality is the easy bit, the bit that you’ve already built – so concisely informing people about that it fairly straightforward. Break it down into one or two line headings and take the top three. This is like the body of your brand.

Values are the deeper reasons you created the app. What it believes in. Its raison d’être. This could be things like – collaboration, justice or simplicity. This can be a bit more tricky as it might not be obviously clear, but it helps to ask yourself “what drove me to build this?”. If you were trying to make something better, what exactly did you improve on? If you saved people time with your app, then you believe in efficiency. If you make their lives more exciting, then you believe in living life to the full.  Again, try to pin down three main values. Think of this as being like the mind of your brand.

Character is an entirely human notion and the most difficult thing to establish in a brand. As humans – character is innate in us. For a brand, a character can be created and it needs to relate to its customers. For example, if your customers are looking to achieve something, a hero character would be appropriate. Or if they are yearning for freedom, an explorer character would resonate. This is the personality of your brand.

For a digital brand to communicate effectively these three things need to be worked into the visuals (logo, colours, fonts etc); the copy (tone of voice); the behaviour of the technology; customer service and even the structure of the company itself. Let’s look at some examples to demonstrate this.

Visuals

Slack is a tool for team communication. It believes in collaboration, innovation and making team work more efficiently. It has built a concise, friendly, contemporary brand through its logo, colour palette and fonts. But where it really hammers this home, is in its use of illustration across their website. It’s fun, but considered and precise. Adding character to their brand in the exactly the right measure. Digital brands often use illustration to do this as they don’t have many physical things they can take pictures of, and it’s something that you can control entirely to evoke feelings through illustrative style.

Tone of Voice

Mailchimp is an easy-to-use newsletter building program. It believes in ease of use and helping businesses grow. It has a very strong jester or entertainer character in the form of their cheeky (mail)chimp who talks to you at every stage of the process. The chimp speaks to you via their copy, but almost always through a speech bubble. He says things like “Whoop! Your email is being sent to your fans across the globe! High fives!”.

So what is the purpose of this? Mailchimp identified that sending out a newsletter is an exciting process for people, that was being dragged down by dry and laborious email editors – who were killing the buzz. Their tone of voice is speaking directly to that excited bit in their customers interaction with them rather that just saying, “Your email has been sent, click here to continue.” They captured the thrill of the opportunity they are helping you fullfill.

Behaviour

Zapier is digital tool that lets users build their own integrations between their apps. It believes in a world made more efficient by making technology and letting people ‘do it yourself’. It has a innovative, forward-thinking personality.

To reinforce these functions, values and character, their workforce is entirely remotely distributed across the globe. They have no office. They advertise their positions on their homepage in terms of which time zone you need to be in to work for them, rather than a specific location. This simple fact says to customers: we believe in technology. It also says that they want to empower their staff as much as they believe in empowering their customers with the “do it yourself” attitude.

So this is the power branding can have for your ultra-functional app. It can help you relate to your prospective customers – talking to them and building trust by injecting life into your product. Onwards and upwards.

For more info on this subject, check out our latest Talks for Growing Brands Youtube video post: