No one solved this so far: Chaotic brand architecture in digital

Too many international brands offer too many options to choose from. This has lead to a widespread chaos in digital brand architecture. It’s time to tidy up.

Let’s face it: Large global corporations have a hard time controlling their own digital artefacts, and it’s an increasingly tough job to do. After a decade of exploring the digital world, we now enter a phase of consolidation in online communication. At a point in time where we’re all overwhelmed with the complexity of the things we have built ourselves: Dozens of websites, hundreds of social channels, an indigestible number of email and direct channels. Not even to mention the challenge of mobile (already an evergreen topic but still unsolved by most) — and now messaging. Some may call for Digital Clearance now, but that’s just a symptom to the problem.

Companies that thrive to be innovative and first in line have built enormous monsters of owned digital channels that they can’t manage anymore. And they tend to hop onto the next train before taking a moment doing their housekeeping.

Oh what a mess we made: Why is brand architecture so important in digital?

In every aspect, digital — and especially social mobile — is so different to the media we knew before. Anyone can talk to anyone, there are no geographic boundaries; and everything is both global and local at the same time. On top of that, digital builds relationships that other communication channels never did. A “like” and “follow” may be easily dismissed, but it’s a trusting relationship at its core, and is based on keeping promises.

Compare it to the good old newspaper — several generations probably in your family as well have had a subscription to the same paper for their entire life. In digital, we have the same basic subscription model — but much less loyalty. Switching is too easy, and that’s good because it raises quality. However, we have lost something on the way. Newspapers built a relationship with their readers. They worshipped their trust and kept their promise of keeping you informed or entertained every single day. One paper, every day.

What changed? Look at the sender.

Let’s compare the digital thing closest to a newspaper: The newsletter. Email opened an unprecedented direct channel in digital, and is still a huge business today. That’s why soon, you had a number of different companies sending you emails, and not much later many companies sending you multiple emails. There was the corporate newsletter, the sales newsletter, the support newsletter, and so on and so forth. Choosing wasn’t an option, it was an obligation. The complexity of balancing messaging and timing was imposed on the customer. The brand surrendered.

The root of this jungle of options lies in digital brand management.

Newspapers should have known much better. But instead, they started a brand mess no one has ever seen before. The original newspaper brand wasn’t the same in digital. It couldn’t be. The world was too new, the people in charge were too new. A new thing needs a new name. The results were horrible prefixes, postfixes and other fixes that made things worse. Up until today, newspapers haven’t solved this.
There’s a reason the “Google” brand wasn’t “” — they were born digital, but understood branding.

And websites? Well, most of them weren’t able to bring the element of building relationships over from the old world. Until Facebook. They solved the riddle of relationships in digital with over 1 billion people so far. And they surfaced another deeply entrenched misunderstanding that brands have with digital and especially social: Companies think it’s okay to present the customer with hundreds of different brand channels. From different countries, from different departments, from different budgets, from different initiatives. But it’s damaging the brand and it's an obstacle to building relationships.

How can I “like” a brand, when there are too many options to choose from?

Welcome to my Branded House of Brands…

The truth is: There is only one brand, everything else is noise. The noise and complexity is again and again being pushed to the customer — because it’s too hard a problem to solve. So what happened with email happened with websites, and happened with social again.

And now it’s time to end this. The impact of mobile forced us to focus. One message at a time, one image, one brand.

It’s time to rebuild your digital brand architecture and invest in the next decade.

This is the first part of a new series about digital brand architecture.
Stay tuned!