Digital first:

How to optimize your online branding and marketing.
6 min read
Digital First - Think Marketing

For the most part, the first encounter someone has with your brand is no longer going to be through a print piece. Chances are, the first interaction will take place online – whether it’s your website, social media, or a digital ad. This doesn’t mean that having a strong brand outside of the digital world is irrelevant, but it does mean that all of your touchpoints need to be ready to make a great first impression.

While traditional branding practices have their tried-and-true strengths, they may miss the boat when it comes to the adaptability and range required by the variety of platforms through which we engage audiences.

For example, if a logo is designed specifically for print material, it may not work as effectively when ported over to a digital environment. Maybe the font in the tagline is really hard to read when viewed on your phone, or the logo is too tall to fit properly in the header of your website. That’s why – you guessed it – it’s important to think digital first when it comes to branding and marketing.

Branding with digital touchpoints in mind.

The traditional practice of developing brand guidelines (which inform the way a logo and its accompanying fonts and colours should be used) is a smart one. Providing these guidelines only with print usage in mind is, however, problematic. Throwing a homepage render into the mix isn’t that helpful either, since digital is essentially still an afterthought in the overall process.

It makes no sense to communicate a brand perfectly on a brochure when it fails online.

While trying to adapt branded material from print to digital can be tricky, adapting digital to more traditional touchpoints makes for a much smoother transition. Because branded content in a digital environment has more visual constraints (such as readability and size), it’s important to use web-friendly fonts and to design with responsive layouts in mind.

But while there may be limitations in terms of visual treatment, these constraints are well-worth what you get in return. If the reason you need to be mindful of your design choices is because your content is being viewed on a variety of different devices (extending your reach beyond your wildest dreams), then it’s worth taking the time to choose fonts and layouts that are web-friendly.

Digital-first design elevates how a brand renders on screen and allows for flexible elements to work on a whole spectrum – from mobile to print.

Current best-practice is actually to design mobile first, and then scale up to the various breakpoints for other devices (which is how we insist on doing things here at Think). Doing this ensures that functionality isn’t compromised by aesthetic choices, and prioritizes user experience over a specific design concept. Now, this doesn’t mean that mobile-first designs are unimaginative or generic – in fact, it requires a lot of creative problem solving and digital expertise. Anyone can make a desktop render look great (functionality aside), but when you have a mobile design that provides optimal user-experience and doubles as digital eye candy – then you know you’ve got a real pro.

The best of both worlds.

Not only does your branding have to be digital first, but so does your marketing. That doesn’t mean abandoning all traditional marketing efforts, but it does mean integrating the two strategies based on their strengths, what’s right for your brand, and the goals you’re trying to achieve.

Merging the skillsets of the traditional agency and the digital agency with a collaborative approach is the only way to succeed when it comes to branding for the digital age.

Using billboards and printed ad space that direct people to your online forums can be a great way to expand your reach and broaden your audience. If your goal is to reach a wide audience comprised of varying age groups, having multiple touchpoints can help you span that gap. Tropicana provides an interesting example of how this kind of campaign can work. A few years ago, they used a digital billboard in Times Square that invited people to “tweet their worst morning ever to @tropicanaoj” for a chance to win a year’s supply of Tropicana and see their tweet live on the billboard.

Tropicana's Twitter Campaign

A key difference in the two approaches is that “traditional marketing is generally considered to be passive, while digital marketing actively involves the target audience,” While traditional channels specialize in distributing information, these messages can be made more relevant to consumers by incorporating a digital element that’s a little more content marketing, and a little less hard sell. You can learn more about this distinction in our previous banter, Storytelling vs the Hard Sell: What content marketing can do for your brand.

Coca-Cola delighted customers when fans could find their names printed on Coke bottles during the “Share a Coke” campaign. Including hashtags on the labels encouraged fans to share pictures and tag their friends in social media posts – creating the kind of engagement that print alone simply cannot generate.

Share a Coke Campaign

So why is this good news for SMEs?

In addition to giving you a wider reach, digital marketing has really changed the game in light of its affordability. The costs associated with traditional marketing can be prohibitive for smaller brands, but the online arena is really open to everyone – even those working with modest marketing budgets.

Digital marketing campaigns level the playing field for businesses of any size to compete for the increasing money being spent online. So the Davids of the business world can take on Goliath at least as far as online marketing battles go.
Another benefit of digital marketing is its agility. Content marketing is all about interacting with your audience in a way that’s more genuine and conversational than traditional advertising. In order to do this, you need to be able to engage with people in real time and offer information that’s valuable to them – whether it’s entertaining or educational. Luckily, social media is literally made for this kind of interaction.

Another significant benefit of digital marketing is the ability to measure results. Not only does measurability give you more concrete data on the effectiveness of your campaigns, but allows you to make necessary adjustments and improvements to continue getting great results.

Unlike traditional methods, you can see in real time what is or is not working for your business online, and you can adapt very quickly to improve your results.
As we outline in Message Received: Why email marketing strategies are crucial for small and medium businesses, the ability to personalize and tailor content is another huge benefit of digital marketing. Because we have the ability to learn more about our audience and what kind of information they’re interested in, we can segment content that is more likely to keep them engaged and interested in what we have to say. Simply put, “basically anything that you capture in your customer journey can be reported on and honed for greater success at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing,” –

You had me at affordable.

So now that you’re totally on board with digital marketing as an effective and affordable strategy, I want to reiterate just why the concept of digital first is so important. Quite simply, it’s all about your audience. If you don’t take the time to ensure that your brand is well represented online, then you’ve wasted the time and money that went into building prestige through billboards, brochures, and other print material.

If your brand doesn’t work well on all touchpoints, you’ve not only missed an opportunity – you’ve potentially created a frustration with your audience.

Essentially, digital first is really all about being user first. If you don’t make it easy – and pleasant – for people to find you, interact with you, and get the information they seek, then you’ve done your competition a huge favour.