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As a designer trained before the computer and Internet were unavoidable, I have seen the evolution in how technology affects branding first-hand. Depending on how you look at it, both the good and the bad are this: technology has empowered the individual. Before the technology we take for granted, people had to hire a professional photographer just to take their family portrait. Copy had to be hand set by a professional typesetter before a simple poster or flyer could be printed. Publishing an article was impossible unless you were a trained reporter who was vetted by a newspaper editor. But with the rapid rate of technological advancement, all this has changed. The Web has bred a do-it-yourself culture, which is incredibly empowering for the individual or the small-business owner but can also be very dangerous. With the advent of the personal computer and Internet, from a branding perspective, the quality of messaging has decreased and communications have become more cluttered than ever. This idea is now being further amplified by the recent boom in the popularity of social and digital media.
But it’s not all bad news. Most companies, especially larger ones where the stakes are high, see the value in treating digital media with the same care as traditional media—and there is a lot of creativity and innovation in this area. Large companies are either hiring creative agencies with expertise in the area or are establishing in-house departments with social media ambassadors. With the help of agencies, companies are now even launching campaigns exclusively on social media—note Burger King’s “kill a friend” campaign on Facebook or Kraft’s use of Twitter in the launch of DiGiorno Flatbread Pizza. But the reason these campaigns have been successful is not just because they are simply on these popular portals—it is how brands are using and executing the campaigns.
Through technology, individuals have become empowered to be their own photographer, designer, printer, real estate agent and even medical professional—physicians have even reported people self-diagnosing themselves through sites such as WebMD. Most savvy people understand that the Web is simply a tool for research, and that treatment should be left to the professional … so why is branding any different? Just like in medicine, if the incorrect diagnosis is made, the result can be disastrous.
The same principle applies to digital media. While it makes sense for individuals to be responsible for their own personal brands, a company is much more complex. Unless you have a solid understanding of the art of branding, you can unwittingly damage your brand very quickly without even knowing it. Branding for digital media is tricky; if not done correctly, it can come off as “salesy” or boring. Once the fast-paced Web audience determines you are either one of these, it will inevitably lose interest.