Digital Acceleration: a new normal for brands

In the race to get online, a strong digital brand will help you get ahead. And stay there.
Rob Coke
Rob Coke
Founding Partner

Our lives are moving online at a rate never seen before. While the revolution that began two decades ago has profoundly altered the way we live, Covid-19 is accelerating it dramatically. Organisations and people who were shifting to digital platforms have completed the journey quicker than planned. Those resistant to the move have realised, almost overnight, they no longer have a choice.

Many businesses focus on the technology and the experience it delivers. However, brand also matters. A distinctive brand attracts and engages customers, then persuades them to come back and share it with friends. With this rapid shift online, there’s a danger that brand is a secondary consideration. Yet, the organisations who thrive in the months and years ahead will be those that retain a recognisable and relevant identity as they embrace digital delivery.

Brands built carefully, and expensively, over decades can become lost or unrecognisable in faceless products, and customer loyalty and love can dissipate.”
Digital acceleration

The speed at which the world is embracing online platforms is remarkable. For the week ending 19th April, internet traffic was up 25% on the same period in 2019. Online transactions were up 43%. This growth comes from every part of the economy, from offices working at home, to grocery delivery and virtual property viewings.

Unsurprisingly, a global pandemic means it’s a global phenomenon. US online grocery sales grew 56% for the week ending 18th April, compared to the same period last year. Even in healthcare, people are belatedly embracing digital transformation. NHS research in April showed 38% of people had increased their use of NHS technology since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak.

With such rapid, large-scale transformation it’s easy for a visual identity to become diluted or confused. Brands built carefully, and expensively, over decades can become lost or unrecognisable in faceless products, and customer loyalty and love can dissipate. For some businesses, the brand may have been built in a way that simply doesn’t translate online.

We evolved Auto Trader’s digital brand to connect with different audience needs
The digital brand

So it’s vital to make sure a brand’s online identity is recognisable in tone but evolved in ways that feel appropriate to the platform. To be useful in functionality and relevant in style it must look and behave like a ‘digital brand’. This means feeling distinctive to the brand but appropriate for the platform and the way people use digital products today.

A good example of this kind of digital design language is Auto Trader. It had long offered used cars online but we helped build a digital brand that was more friendly and approachable for uncomfortable car buyers. Recently we’ve evolved the brand system to expand its credibility into areas like new cars and leasing. Throughout, it’s retained just enough to ‘feel’ like Auto Trader, while adapting successfully for online audiences with different needs and motivations.

It’s vital to make sure a brand’s online identity is recognisable in tone but evolved in ways that feel appropriate to the platform.”
Doing it at pace

The crucial question right now is how to do all this rapidly. The first thing to know is that taking your brand online doesn’t necessarily mean complete reinvention. Where possible you can repackage existing content, and build on what you’re already known for. The BBC has done this cleverly with its Bitesize offering, which has shifted to deliver more curriculum content and assist home-schooling. Similarly, following our recent rebrand, Mixcloud has introduced a live-streaming service and seen subscriptions grow considerably.

The next step is to focus your work into productive design sprints. Monzo recently came to us to support the launch of its new business banking service. Over a series of design sprints, the partnership delivered an identity system which conveys the simplicity and magic customers love about Monzo to an audience that was previously unaware of it. Whether in-house or agency, a flexible design team working this way can adapt week-by-week to focus attention on exactly what gets you where you need to go.

The new virtual way of working is also revealing unplanned efficiencies. The week before lockdown, our team visited a client in Derbyshire. It was a worthwhile trip, but when we did the follow-up session online using the Miro workshopping app, we found it just as effective. This experience has been repeated with several clients. While it’s still vital to meet people, by taking some conversations online we can accelerate our processes and streamline costs.

More than anything, to create a successful digital design language at pace you need adaptable, collaborative and open-minded teams on both the client and agency side. Entrenched working processes may need to give way as rapidly formed teams learn to collaborate openly, share ideas, give feedback and work together as one virtual team.

Mixcloud have built on our recent rebrand with their live-streaming service
Time to act

This crisis has prompted a rethink in many areas of how we live and work, and it’s clear that the new world emerging will be experienced online. Brands can’t sit by and watch this change happen. They have to join it.

Tomorrow’s most successful organisations will be the ones who adapt their brands for an increasingly online experience. Those who act rapidly will lead the way. There really is no time to lose.

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