How to transfer an offline brand to a powerful online brand

Political pundits point to the 1960 televised Nixon-Kennedy debates as one of the deciding factors in Nixon’s eventual loss. Why? Because Nixon, accustomed to radio, took his appearance for granted, appearing unshaven and haggard under the unforgiving TV lights.

Many traditional companies have been making the same kind of oversight in their attempts to bring their offline brands to the strange new online world. The Web-like TV before it was forcing new methods of brand building, customer loyalty acquisition, and trust earning, and it has been challenging and interesting to see how companies extended themselves online. Consider the following factors when thinking of electronic brand, loyalty, and trust.

The digital brand

Traditional brand management and brand value are in jeopardy. Of the top 20 global brands (including companies such as McDonald’s, IBM, Sony, and Nike) measured by brand value, only Microsoft and Disney acceded to the top 25 Web properties list, as measured by unique visitors per month (RelevantKnowledge/Media Matrix rankings). This is a sign that, until like a decade ago,  most large companies were failing to directly extend their brands into cyberspace with the same power they hold in the physical space.

Further aggravating these new complexities, intelligent agents were lurking on the horizon, simultaneously searching for and returning useful comparative information (beyond just price comparisons) and giving new sovereignty and power to users. In effect, they were turning the tables on unaware sellers. Although in their infancy, intelligent software agents were disrupting and replacing existing brands and digital ones alike.

Over the past decades, keeping the traditional brands within direct reach of consumers has required Herculean efforts. The Internet is filled with roadblocks and filters, disguised as online communities, powerful portals, intermediaries, and agents, all disconnecting users from direct contact with the brand by claiming to hold the actual customer relationship. See also this article on Moore’s Law about the exponential growth of technical capability.

Every industry and niche has witnessed their own race for digital brand power. For most segments, the “Coke, Pepsi, and 7 Up” have now been well-defined. We have witnessed that most companies consciously extended and diversified their brands, creating new ones exclusively targeted at online markets and influencing online-community market segments. Already several years ago, Unilever, with its portfolio of more than 1,000 brands (such as Lipton, Ragu, and Dove) partnered with AOL, Microsoft, and NetGrocer in its initial foray into the online world. We also saw the big sports brands turn to online activities and presence in a massive way, just to survive!

The focus of these partnerships was to roll out promotion, marketing, advertising, and research programs that helped Unilever better understand customer needs in online markets.