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When it comes to designing your business brand, a digital-first approach is now considered essential.

But this wasn’t always the case. 

So what exactly is a digital-first approach? And how have branding and consumer habits changed to require this new approach?

What is a digital-first approach?

Mark Wilson, in his article ‘Digital-first: the essential modern business mindset’ offers the following definition: 

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“Simply put, digital-first means approaching any new opportunity, or problem, with the assumption that the solution should be as digital as possible. Fundamentally, this is very simple: Imagine as much of the service that you are creating as possible being used by customers in digital form.”

What are the benefits of a digital-first approach? 

Wilson sees 3 main benefits of a digital first approach, namely: commercial potential; customer appeal and future proofing. 

When it comes to commercial potential, a digital first approach means that your business has the chance to reach a global audience as well as to scale fast, in order to meet huge demand. 

Wilson says “The more digital a service can be, the greater its potential to generate revenue from larger numbers of customers — with a cost base that does not scale linearly with customer growth.”

As increasingly tech savvy individuals, the majority of us actively seek out the most digital experience we can find – think online banking versus heading to the high street bank to make a payment. 

So a digital first approach offers significantly greater appeal to your customers – and the more positive this digital experience is, the more likely they are to take it up. 

Thirdly, by taking a digital first approach, you can take greater advantage of advances in technology and add them into your offering, in order to improve the user experience. 

This in turn means that your business is far more likely to be future proofed compared with a business that is not digital first.  

Why does a digital-first approach matter when it comes to brand design? 

Historically, brand design and digital have been poles apart. Really far apart.

When it came to brand design, the normal course of events would have been for a company to come up with a logo (and maybe some colours) and then send this over to the web designers and developer, in order for them to turn them into a website. Easy enough right? 

But all too often, it was far from straightforward. 

Logos would be too wide, too tall and too wordy to work across the website and mobile apps. And brand guidelines for the use of colour, fonts and content were more than likely to be non-existent. 

See also →  8 ways your design system can fail (and how to avoid them)

You get the picture. And it was one of frustration for the digital team.

So what does digital-first offer when it comes to brand design? 

In his article ‘Why you need to start with digital first branding now’, author Jasper Tempel says “Digital-first branding is more like a mindset. It essentially boils down to prioritizing digital touchpoints during brand development.”

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Brands can promise the moon and say what they like about themselves – but what really matters is what they do. Tempel adds “Digital first brands aren’t built on promises, but on good experiences.”

How have branding and consumer habits changed to require this new approach?

We live in a 24hrs, always on culture. Television channels no longer stop broadcasting at 10pm. And we’re always online. Which means that we can experience brands at any time of the night or day.

In their blog post ‘Brand Awareness: Why a Digital First Approach Is Essential’, The Digital Marketing Institute notes that “Americans spend more than 12 hours each day interacting with media devices, including television, radio, internet, desktop and laptop computers, and connected devices. Put another way, people today spend more than half their waking lives on digital channels and immersed in technology.”

And this trajectory shows no signs of changing course. 

Whereas once we might have learnt more about brands through paid adverts in magazines, in 2020, if that same brand doesn’t exist online, for many of us, it doesn’t exist at all. 

As the DMT suggests, “a brand that doesn’t have a digital presence has a near-zero chance of locating new prospects and engaging audiences because they aren’t looking in the right place.”

How can you best implement a digital-first approach to your brand design? 

The Digital Marketing Institute notes that “today’s consumers expect brands to have a digital presence, and nearly 30% prefer to communicate with brands via digital channels.”

So how do you go about implementing a digital-first approach when it comes to your brand design? 

Here at Creative.onl, we have written extensively about the importance of user experience in the design process, with a focus on digital strategy, in the understanding that this will help to ensure that your business objectives and your digital operations function in tandem.

See also →  4 key ways to boost the return from your design investments

A digital-first approach to your logo and website

As far as brand design is concerned, when it comes to digital first, your logo is a reasonable starting point. In order to be effective, a logo needs to work across all platforms, on all devices and at all screen sizes.  

Of course, most businesses have had a logo for longer than they have had a digital presence, so it’ is not always possible to take a digital first approach to your logo.

But designing one that works may necessitate a simplified version being drawn up that loses some of the smaller, more difficult to make out elements, such as the date your company was established. 

Whilst your company may retain a full logo for off line purposes, assuming brand recognition is strong, its digital representation can be just as effective if you replace the full logo with a logo mark. Think for example, about the Nike ‘tick’ or the Mailchimp ‘face’ in place of the company’s name or full logo.

You might even choose to make your logo responsive, so that it is displayed in full on large screens but reduced to a more pared down version on smaller screen sizes or mobile devices. 

Beyond your logo, a digital-approach will pay dividends when it comes to designing your website, for example. 

The value of having both your brand design team and digital team round the table at the outset of any such conversation cannot be underestimated – and is something we have previously covered in our article ‘Strengthen your team using a digital strategy’.

Future proof your business with a digital-first approach

A digital-first approach is therefore essential when designing your brand, if you are to future proof your business. 

Tempel says “When digital is the starting point of your brand strategy, new touchpoints are quickly and easily integrated into the user experience. Thanks to a design ecosystem that can be scaled up or down according to your needs, you can always keep your brand up-to-date. And that’s essential in a digital world in which the only thing that’s constant is change.

Mark Wilson concludes: 

“Stick to conventional thinking and you’ll get conventional outcomes: at best you’ll get incremental improvements and at worst you’ll create a business that is progressively more vulnerable to disruption and decline.

Choose to adopt digital-first thinking and you’ll build a robust, innovative business that is equipped to flourish in the digital economy.”

Whether you’re considering a brand refresh to get your branding digital-centric, or you’re thinking about a full and comprehensive branding exercise, please contact us to discuss your options.

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