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Tomorrow’s digital future today

Sue Barnes. Great smile. Great teeth. That’s what I remember about Sue Barnes from 20 years ago. She called me the other day. Sue was a marketing assistant client of mine back then and I was, well, a young legend in the making. She’s now the managing director of a new market research company called Brownsauce and she was hoping to use her contacts to extend the network for her business. We met, we talked, we told each other that we didn’t look any older than we did 20 years ago and we laughed.

I asked Sue how she had found me. “Easy,” she said, “I Googled you, then looked you up on LinkedIn.”

And it struck me that digital isn’t our future anymore, it’s now an intrinsic part of our daily (working) lives. We can look to the future, but it’s pretty much already here. We use search engines and database applications and tools to become and/or to remain visible to the world – websites, blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. Even if we don’t use them, the machine, the ‘matrix’ indexes the information anyway. There is no escape. So is it scary or is it exciting? Or is it just ‘there’ – to make of what we will?

It’s all of those things. From a brand perspective, it’s an opportunity. B2B clients and prospects still remain amazed at the proposals and possibilities for creative digital branding and yet, frustratingly, they also remain conservative in their willingness to trial or adopt these new strategies to amplify their brands online. If I’m honest, I’m amazed by some of this too. Almost daily actually. But that’s not about to stop me seizing the opportunity to force my brand down the digital pipeline in order to be ‘found’ at every available opportunity. How we apply our brand strategy using digital channels is very different to simply having a brand strategy.

But being ‘found’ is just the start. If the brand is ‘a perception in the mind of an audience’ (as opposed to a logo or ‘badge’), then the brand can be shaped any which way in an online environment. The digital environment can be a great leveller – where the smallest of brands has every chance of competing head-to-head with much larger companies.In the last couple of months alone, I’ve discussed the usual suspects with clients – websites, email, SEO – but I’ve also discussed the wider, more creative opportunities to drive their B2B brands online: YouTube broadcast channels, interactive content hubs, geo-positioning mapping overlays, content aggregation enhancement. They all look at me like I’m completely insane. Sure, they all get excited. They sit and make notes and nod and smile and, in some cases, get very fired up about where the future may take their brand. But however exciting the future could be, the limited budget is almost always spent on what is probable and known rather than what might be possible, and unknown.

The fear of the unknown is therefore an anchor on the business. I figure that if we all use digital channels effectively to pull audiences towards the brand, people will still want to be part of the experience 20 years later.

The moral, therefore, is – if you still expect your brand to have pulling power in 20 years, you need to look after it. A bit like your teeth. But digital.