This series explores how digital has changed the fundamentals of marketing (see list at the end of this article for previous and upcoming articles).

To say that the brand universe in 2011 is complicated... is a bit of a truism. The way people experience a brand today is far different from what has come before.

Traditionally, brand experiences were the result of messages conveyed via broadcast mediums; audiences could only form relatively vague impressions of what those brands represented.

Today, the brand experience is deeper, fragmented, and more complex and fragile. More than ever, a brand is shaped by experiences and not just perceptions. Perhaps delivering one bad experience with a customer service rep after five good digital or product experiences won't kill your customer relationship, but three in a row might be enough to do it.

In other words, a "brand bank account" exists, and every experience—advertising, digital, customer service, social media, community—carries a positive or negative perception with it.

That has a significant impact on organizations that build brands without advertising. In those organizations, brand is built primarily via word-of-mouth—i.e., what customers, partners, media, and industry people say about working with that organization. Such companies that venture into the digital realm face risks, but they face much more potential benefits.

Consider the following four key elements to building and managing a brand online.

1. Laser Focus on Customer Behavior and Needs

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Jen Evans is chief strategist at Sequentia Environics, a Toronto-based firm providing strategy and services to help companies generate better business results from their online initiatives.