Let me ask you a question: What makes up a business’ online identity?
It can often feel like we’re underestimating just how much the internet has changed the way companies & stores operate. Whilst many business owners still talk about it as if it were just another tool to be used by companies looking to grow their audience, in actuality, it has altered the very fabric of the modern business landscape in ways that people across the marketing spectrum are still trying to fully grapple with.
The main way this change can be seen is through the dominating rise of social media platforms. These monoliths of the online world have knocked down the proverbial wall between companies and their audiences, and the space that wall once held is now the new grounds on which marketing specialists must build.
So, as more avenues open up for businesses and their customers to interact, the expectations of the customers change. This means that companies are, in turn, forced to sand away more of the problems that would have stayed easily hidden away in times gone by, such as in the case of Gloria Jeans. The previously ubiquitous Australian cafe franchise was boycotted after giving money to organisations that rallied against LGBTQIA+ rights in a poorly-managed PR attempt.
Situations like this are why the 2010s saw services like the humble social media marketing agency go from an odd luxury to an absolute necessity, as businesses slowly saw the reality that may befall them if they made a misstep.
So, to answer the question I opened this article with, a business’ online identity is the story that comes from curating every tiny facet of your business for an audience that can now see it on full display. This may be a stressful reality, but with the right preparations, it’s also one that can be used to your advantage. So, to help you make the most of this strange art form here’s an introduction to the perks and possibilities of telling a story with your online brand.
Authenticity, Authority & Integrity
This is something that seems simple at first but has been the Achilles Heel of businesses large and small taking their first steps into the online landscape. When you are bringing your business to your audience, you’re not just trying to sell them on how wonderful your products or services are, but how wonderful your business is too. As much as you’d like to think that success will come at the hands of a significantly superior product, the reality rarely tends to be that cut and dry.
Each potential customer that you are looking to win over has had to deal with low-quality eCommerce stores & companies masquerading as God’s gift to their industry for years. So, while you may have the best product or service in your field, your customers have almost certainly had that falsely promised to them many times.
So, when you’re marketing your brand online, the key things you need to sell are authenticity, authority, and integrity. It may sound like I’m just throwing out buzzwords, but let me explain. A customer needs to feel good about the idea of buying something from your business, and they can only securely do that if:
- They believe your company isn’t lying to them: Whether you’re writing a novel or promoting a brand, plot-holes matter. If your Twitter says you’re supporting a cause while your Facebook page suggests you’re against it, you’ve just lost both sides. For better or worse, people often think of a brand’s online identity like a person’s online identity, and nobody likes feeling as if they’re being pandered or lied to no matter who is on the other end of it.
Take the Volkswagen emissions scandal as a perfect example. Volkswagen, who has become one of the world’s leading car manufacturers on a platform of efficiency and quality engineering, was found to have been drastically fudging their emissions numbers. This was done through devices that could detect when efficiency checks were taking place and lower engine power to provide a healthier rating. Whilst this didn’t spell the end for Volkswagen in the same way it would a smaller company, it cost them millions in fines and lawsuits, and has tarnished their reputation in ways they’re still trying to come back from.
- They believe your company is either a net neutral or net positive on the world for existing: People want to see themselves reflected positively in your brand. If there are two identical products and yours is known for being far worse for the environment than your competitor, even the most apathetic of consumers aren’t likely to come to your aid. This goes the same if any forms of bigotry are associated with your brand.
The #GrabYourWallet campaign is a good example of brands seeing poor sales due to their associations. This primarily Twitter-based movement was started as a means of boycotting Trump-associated products in response to his now-infamous Access Hollywood tape scandal. This campaign grew quickly and has been credited in part with the subsequent shuttering of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. This also came after many high-level retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom ceased sales of the line’s products, a move also influenced by the campaign.
- They believe that you believe in your own service or product: No matter what you’re writing, you need to write with determination. People are going to be less inclined to believe that you have a high-quality product or service if you appear to be uncertain of its effectiveness. Your brand needs to be perceived as proud of its offerings because that’s the mindset you want people coming into your website or storefront with.
This is something that spans far further back than the internet age. A large part of Nike’s success in the 90s came in the form of their Air Jordan campaign. Now considered by many to be one of the greatest advertising partnerships of all time, this campaign saw the now-iconic sneaker brand partner with basketball icon Michael Jordan as a means of associating their brand with one of the best players the game has ever seen.
You can read more about the formation of that campaign here.
As you can see in the video below, this same association with greatness, power, and the world of basketball at large can still be felt, along with a recognition of their reputation as a consistent legacy brand. Air Jordan exists as a significant part of their story, and each time they bring out a new iteration of their sneakers, they add something new to that story that invites new customers while appreciating those that have been there since the beginning.
As long as you follow these three elements across all of your online marketing channels, you’re well on your way to success. With that said, however, there’s a lot more the online world has to offer for those that are willing to put in the work. As Marshall McLuhan said in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, “The medium is the message”, and if you think you can go into digital marketing with the same mindset as traditional marketing and get the same results, you are sure to be disappointed.
Fashion distributor ASOS maintains a consistent style and personality throughout their social media posts.
Understanding Your Platforms
Whilst consistency in tone and brand voice is vital, that doesn’t mean each of your social media platforms should be identical. After all, these various platforms exist for a reason, and that reason is their ability to convey different parts of your message. Instagram, for example, is far better for promoting the visual aesthetic of your brand. This is, in part, because the platform is optimised for images and short videos, but the main thing to consider is that the user base of Instagram has certain expectations of what they’re going to this platform for.
This is the question you should be asking yourself every time you go onto a new platform: “How can I best utilise the tools and audience that this platform offers?”
Once you have worked this out for your primary channels, you can then start applying the same principals to your PR, outreach, and on-site blogging.
Branding: A Holistic Approach
From the perspective of both clients and other businesses, the things you choose to put online define you almost as much as your actual work does. It’s also how you provide yourself with a level of legitimacy. Even as a relatively small-time writer and editor, reading my work will give you an idea of who I am and the worldview I am espousing, and whether I intended for that worldview to come through is irrelevant. You’re never entirely in control of how those little things will be perceived, however, by remaining consistent and focused across your digital platforms, you can lead people in the right direction.
Iconic brands are often ones that are easy to understand. You may not know the finer points of ADIDAS’ design philosophy, but you know what their logo looks like, and you know they make sportswear that is well-regarded by many. You may not eat at McDonald’s, but then I’d wager that you could draw the golden arches and name several of their menu items. If you see Disney on a movie poster, you know it’s something you can take your kids to. All of this comes from the culmination of years of storytelling through both branding and products, and the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram & Twitter has given even the smallest businesses a chance to go out and write that story for themselves.
Don’t let that chance go to waste.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, firstly, thank you, but more importantly, I hope I have managed to push you a little further towards understanding the sheer power your online presence wields. It’s not always easy, but to steal a cliche, no story worth telling ever is. Good luck.
For more tips, information and ideas head to our Marketing category on the blog. If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to leave it in the comments section below.