A digital-proof brand? Yes, please! But don’t forget your offline brand experience as well [6 tips]

Remco Meijer | 15 October 2021

How do you build a strong brand reputation? Well, having an effective digital brand strategy is definitely a good starting point and, as any branding best-seller will tell you, having a digital-proof brand should be a priority. Given the world we are now living in, of course, strong online brand performance is important to the overall strength of the brand. However, many brands are missing a trick by neglecting their offline brand experience – more than half of interactions with brands take place offline, in the physical world. And that percentage is only increasing as the world continues to open up again.

The fact is, many organisations are not tapping into the maximum potential of their physical assets, whether those be retail stores, fleet of vehicles, branded apparel or any other potential opportunities to showcase the brand. Still, the power of repetition remains essential in the world of branding, and that requires both online and offline brand recognition. So it’s vitally important to ensure an excellent brand experience in the physical world. But how do you make that happen? What approach will be the most effective and successful? This article offers 6 tips to ensure that your offline branding and signage will contribute to a strong brand.

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The power of repetition 

The brand message can make or break a brand. A strong brand depends on a distinct brand message, but the power of repetition may well be more important than ever in this day and age. There has been an exponential increase in the number of brands out there and the sheer scale at which brands communicate their message. With the emergence of more channels and more digital input, the focus has shifted from one-way transmission to a dialogue. Do you want your brand to stand out from the rest? Then you will have to find a way to be visible among all the other brands that are trying to compete in the market. It’s not just the brand message that is important; your brand communication – the frequency and way in which you express your brand – is essential for your brand recognition and for building brand preference. 

“The power of repetition may well be more important than ever in this day and age.”

Will a ‘digital-first’ strategy make physical branding obsolete? 

In other words: to build a strong brand, you will have to communicate a clear and consistent message across all external communications. With the emergence of more communication channels – most of which are digital – we can already see a clear shift in where brands are focusing their efforts. If you want to be a market leaderit’s crucial to ensure you have a digital-proof brand. Offline branding is often too easily overlooked in the digital-minded world we live in, but is at least as important, if not more so. You probably know some iconic branded buildings in your area. And what about company cars and employees wearing uniforms while they are constantly on the road, contributing to a strong brand experience in the process?

“Physical branding is often too easily overlooked in the digital-minded world we live in, but it is equally as important, if not more so.”

Mark Ritson, the renowned columnist and professor, specialising in marketing and branding, offers a great description of that balance between online and offline branding in an online Q&A session that we hosted with him:  

“It’s definitely not a digital customer journey. The customer journey is about the customer. It has nothing to do with digital or non-digital. The customer journey is the series of steps that the customer goes through – from total ignorance hopefully all the way to loyalty and advocacy. The things that touch them can certainly be digital or non-digital, but the customer journey has always been changing. If you call it a digital customer journey, you’re going to miss half the touchpoints at different stages along the way.” 

So it’s safe to say that offline branding will remain relevant – even in a world where we spend much of our time looking at screens. With that in mind, how do you ensure that your physical brand touchpoints are contributing to a strong brand?

6 tips for a strong offline brand experience

1. Make a business case: what would it cost and what would the benefits be?
Organisations are often only partially aware of the costs involved in physical branding. Brand assets such as buildings, vehicles and clothing are very capital-intensive investments. Therefore it’s imperative to analyse the financial impact in advance in order to ensure that the board can determine the required budget at a very early stage and avoid any unwanted surprises. This avoids surprises, which will often compel you to simplify designs that were created at an earlier stage. 

2. Define your most important touchpoints as early as possible in the design process to ensure more coherence and to save costs
Each brand touchpoint has its own specific starting point, but there’s an even more important question: how is everything connected (online and offline)? By having the design repeated and echoed as widely as possible, while keeping the available budget in mind, you will create more coherence across your brand touchpoints. In addition, it also enables you to make smart choices in terms of costs. For example, if you apply your company style in such a way that not all vehicles have to be ordered (or wrapped) in a special colour, you can already achieve considerable cost savings. A designer prefers not to be railroaded by creative ‘constraints’, of course, but it’s better to nip these things in the bud than have to cut costs halfway through. 

3. Smart technical choices through value engineering
Once your budget is set and the design is finalised, it’s time to make other smart choices at a technical level. Translating a 2D design into a 3D application requires a great deal of experience and expertise. High-quality materials and a nice look and feel both cost money. How do you achieve the right balance between quality, durability and look and feel in relation to the available budget? For example, you could add illuminated signs at all your locations, but if they are not at high-profile locations, or if the area doesn’t have any activity at all after dark, it is better to not bother and save yourself the major costs of development and maintenance. 

4. Make sustainable choices
A theme that is becoming increasingly important in the world of offline branded assets, signage and wayfinding: sustainability. Every organisation faces the challenge of becoming more sustainable. Have you ever thought about the impact of your branding? Are your brand assets produced fairly? Which materials are you choosing and what is the environmental impact? Is it possible to make more sustainable choices? Other important topics in this context are energy consumption and light pollution. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself the question, what do we really need and what could we potentially leave out?

5. Extensive testing through prototyping and pilots
In drawing up your plans, you have, in theory, accounted for everything. The big question, of course, is how these materials and colours will actually perform in practice. There have been significant technical developments in how signage is developed and there are a wide range of options available these days, but there are also limitations to bear in mind. For instance, illuminating certain colours is very challenging and should always be tested in both day and night situations. Using prototyping, the manufacturer can make the right choices in consultation with the decision-makers at the client companies. This will mitigate mistakes. If time and budget allow, I always advise running a pilot at one or more locations and over a somewhat extended time period. This will enable you to see how materials and colours work in practice and whether or not the choices you have made might need further adjustment. Better safe than sorry.

6. Put safeguards in place by documenting design and technical specifications
Finally, a very important piece of advice that is often forgotten, at least in part: thoroughly document your specifications, not only in terms of the design, but also the technical aspect. Strong design specifications, including how the design is translated into physical branding, are essential for future creations. The same goes for a document outlining the technical specifications, which accurately describe all materials and the use of colour for each type of material. Thorough documentation also ensures that the same principles and standards are applied nationally and internationally. The preferred modern solution, of course, is to arrange it all online via a well-structured Brand Portal or a DAM system to manage your digital assets. 

I hope these tips have inspired you to work on optimising your offline brand experience. The beauty of branding is that no two situations are the same, so if you’d like to discuss how this applies to your specific needs, I’d love to chat. Get in touch via remco.meijer@vim-group.com or +31 6 21 24 67 36. 

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