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Mariella Menato, Denomination: The secrets to a successful online brand presence

As the coronavirus outbreak forces more businesses to rely on digital channels, Mariella Menato, strategy director at specialist drinks design agency Denomination, explains the keys to a successful online brand personality and presence.


The Covid-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century event - one that few, if any, in our industry could possibly have seen coming. The widespread suspension of the global travel retail (GTR) and on-trade sectors poses unprecedented challenges to our industry and brand health. However, as a business community whose success is built on celebrating, encouraging and facilitating human connection in the physical world, it will be our ability to make, maintain and nurture those connections in the digital space that will ultimately safeguard our success. 

There are a number of important factors - a "kit of parts", so to speak - that go in to building and executing a brand that functions as successfully online as it does in physical trade. They fall into two key areas: distinctive brand behaviour and distinctive brand appearance. As a marketer, having these clearly defined and working effectively for multimedia platforms will put you many steps ahead when trying to engage consumers that are in self-isolation and enjoying more screen time than ever before.

Your brand's behaviour should always stem from a clear understanding of its positioning versus competitors and the distinctive value it delivers in consumers' lives. Importantly, it cannot be purely functional. While that is necessary, it's the emotional benefit you offer a consumer that will truly resonate across digital formats. This translates into a number of things: the values you demonstrate, the inspiration you offer and the personality you show.

Across media, a distinctive, clear and consistent tone of voice will give you the ability to engage more successfully with consumers. Brands like Squealing Pig have achieved enormous success, in part because its personality is conveyed so effectively through tone of voice, providing a distinctive, engaging and memorable equity that translates from packaging to digital platforms. Using this to maintain a relevant dialogue with consumers online and responding to events in real time will help cut through online noise and engage them with a level of welcome familiarity and authenticity.

"Responding in real time" doesn't mean giving a commentary on current events, but rather responding to the realities of our consumers' lives. In the current climate, for example, a consumer's at-home occasion is their only occasion and is already evolving rapidly into multiple incarnations (many of which rely on digital technology). From people isolating together for company to international online dance parties to Friday night drinks via Zoom, as marketers there is a huge opportunity to tap into this phenomenon and place our brands at the heart of these digital connections, as we would if it were the on-trade.

All this said, digital (like packaging) is still primarily a visual space, as competitive as it is saturated. Your brand's strength digitally will be determined first and foremost by the quality, ownability and memorability of its visual equities. These are the visual attributes of your brand that distinguish you from your competition, convey elements of your brand's story and drive instant recognition in the minds of consumers. Ensuring you have visual equities that translate off-pack and across often restrictive digital platforms can be incredibly challenging in our industry. There is a level of nuance in packaging design: paper textures, format, print embellishments, typography style and even negative space. All of these things convey story, texture and meaning and many can be lost on screen, especially when shrunk down to 72 dpi.

Great drinks design is done with these different parameters in mind. Balancing the available craftsmanship on packaging alone, with a number of iconic elements that drive recognition from both shelf and screen. Owning a distinctive colour amongst your competitors provides consumers with an immediate visual shortcut to find you. Similarly, owning a distinctive shape can be a hugely successful way of driving immediate recognition for your brand across media, whether through structure, label die-cut or even logo holding device. The recent redesign of the Hardy's brand is a perfect example, building equity into the label shape which now provides a consistent visual language and shape across every wine from packaging, print and digital media.

Building equity into your logotype itself is a wonderful way to drive visual recognition and storytelling. The watch-out here is that, as intelligent and beautiful as it might be, it may not demand immediate attention in the digital arena. The more successful approach is building a visual "icon" for the brand that acts as a brand shorthand when in confined space. Elephant in the Room's illustrated elephant is one example of how effective this can be in driving both recognition and brand personality. The Most Wanted Wines icon is another example, where bold type creates a thoroughly distinctive and memorable visual icon, going beyond the name and perfectly suited for the realities of modern and digital marketing.

The next few months will test us all and while the most important thing is that we keep each other safe, remember too that there is still ample opportunity for success for those brands designed and positioned to excel online.

3 April 2020 - Mariella Menato, Denomination