The Future of Your BrandThis article is part of the series — The Future of Your Brand Is … which will be unfolding here over the coming weeks. Be sure to check out The Futue of Your Brand is Play — Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

If you read blogs, whether they be technology, marketing, education or even business focused, you will be repeatedly hit with the message that the world is changing. Or worse … that the world has changed, and it is we, the business folks — the marketers, accountants, analysts, managers and teachers who are needing to catch up. For those working in agencies, the call is also shrill — with writers variously predicting the death of agencies or demanding a refocus. And while this is one of my favourite topics, the larger picture is about the future of brands and the way that we, as category-resistant consumers are embracing, shunning and extolling them.

But while the consumer landscape has undergone a profound change, it is easy to see why business is slow to move — for no matter how advanced we are in our “home life”, evidence of a leakage from home to profession is minute. Take for example, the humble wiki. How many of you heard of a wiki? How many of you have you have used one? How many have set one up? Who has read something on Wikipedia?

Now I am guessing that many of my blog’s readers would raise their hand at at least one of the previous questions. But now ask yourself, does this apply at work? Extend the same question to blogs. Does your company have a blog? Are you involved in it? If not, why not? What are the barriers preventing you?

The skunk blog

There was a time where I did not think that every company or brand needed a blog. I saw blogs as yet another communications channel to be chosen or rejected based on an understanding of your audience and your objectives. But as the pace of digital innovation accelerates, and as it is matched, step for step, by our interest in technology, the measures by which we understand “audience” are shifting. With longer working hours and a blurring of the boundaries between “work” and “life”, we are always on the lookout for approaches, tools and technologies (not to mention friends, networks and colleagues) that will help us filter, assess and analyse information regardless of its source. We are in effect “Continuously Connected”. This has a profound implication for brands and consumer experience … and in many ways it is making our experience SMALLER, not larger.

If we think about (and measure) the impact and reach of a brand based on the touchpoints that we have with it, then the digital brand is going to be leaps and bounds ahead of the non-digital brand. And while this takes brand valuation down a “transactional” path, there is some benefit to this. With every click of a mouse, every read of an article or completion of a search query, the digital brand delivers on its promise (unless of course your site is down). And while the transactional value of this brand interaction is small, it creates an impression. It delivers some small piece of value directly to your consumers.

This is where the skunk blog comes in — the blog that flies below the organisational radar.

Even if your company is slow to start with blogging. Even if there is resistance to the concept. No budget. No interest. The surest way to demonstrate the value of blogging is through blogging — and there is a long history of skunk projects that have delivered value to companies such as IBM. Sure you will need some type of executive sponsorship to start — but make a personal approach. Explain the opportunity. Outline the plan of approach and start slowly. Start by listening.

Setup some feed readers or Google alerts for your company name and your main product/service line. Start finding out what conversations are already circling. Find out the best and worse impressions of your brand. Identify your evangelists and anti-evangelists. Compile the data and present it to your friendly executive together with a clear action and activation plan.

Then you start small. Remember — the future of your brand is micro. Begin to write blog posts, engage with your dissenters and supporters. Comment on their posts. Discuss topics. Dig beneath the surface of issues. Remember, with every page view and every comment, your are building value for your brand.

And while this is brand activation in a microscopic form, there is a macro view too. Google have almost single handedly brought about a revolution in economic models. When we think of digital branding and digital advertising we think Google.

The Behemoth Google Ushers in the Micro

Umair Haque’s great article reminds us of the branding challenge that comes about in an economy based on micro-transactions. Based on Google’s new position as the #1 global brand (as defined by Millward Brown’s Brandz report), Umair describes how ubiquitous and cheap interactions are changing the nature of our relationships with brands. For with every returned search request, with the delivery of a targeted AdSense ad, the insight that comes via Google Analytics or the easy collaboration of Google Docs, Google grows and compounds its brand promise. It really is a brand built click by click.

In fact, when interaction is cheap, the very economic rationale for orthodox brands actually begins to implode: information about expected costs and benefits doesn’t have to be compressed into logos, slogans, ad-spots or column-inches – instead, consumers can debate and discuss expected costs and benefits in incredibly rich detail.

Where many brands invest 5-10% of revenues in the building and expansion of their brands, Google have climbed to the top of the brand heap with minimal brand expenditure. They have no need. Their brand promise manifests with every interaction. With every click. With every page load.

So where does this place the brand or company that has no online presence? What about those brands with outdated websites and no blogs, social network information or visible online community? What does the future hold for them? They may not disappear overnight. But their relevance to a marketplace that has already moved will amount to dollars that Google invests in its branding. Almost zero.

This is not the future you want for your brand.

Update: Seth Godin has a nice post linking this drip-feeding of your brand promise to the power to build trust over time.