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Branding in a Digital World

Published on October 11, 2016, at 3:16 p.m.
By Amelia Neumeister.

Brand, branding and brand marketing are three words that many public relations practitioners, advertisers and marketers use very regularly to describe an organization’s presence in the world. But more and more often, organizations are moving their identities from paper to the digital world. Consumers see less print advertising and more integrated social media marketing.

Take NASA and Starbucks as examples. NASA used Twitter and Instagram to give followers an inside look on the mars rover mission while still sticking true to the brand of providing its audiences with educational science-based content. Starbucks on the other hand uses social media to keep their audiences addicted to caffeine. Starbucks’ social media accounts are filled with images and stories connecting the organization with their followers. They even implemented a Snapchat filter on National Coffee Day.

While NASA and Starbucks are exceptional examples of digital branding, the two organizations are not alone in the use of online media. As of January 2016, over 95 percent of all organizations worldwide are using social media for marketing. Facebook, the most widely used platform, is used by 92 percent of all marketers according to Statista.

Branding, in the traditional sense of the word, is “the external identity of a company/person, encompassing the overall ‘personality,’ voice and preferred impression of the company/person by external audiences,” said Jennifer Blackburn, senior account manager at AR|PR in Atlanta, Ga.

Photo via
Photo via

But why is branding important?

An organization’s brand is how an organization wants consumers to view it in the physical sense and when consumers think about it. Good branding standardizes an organization’s identity. Without that standardization, it becomes very difficult to craft consistent messaging because there is not a set voice, look and understanding of that organization.

Blackburn also noted that establishing a brand identity allows for the creation of a “playbook” to guide content creation. This guide leads effective branding to its main purpose of creating memorable content among audiences.

Like everything, branding has evolved. Now, more often than not, consumers and audiences will encounter that brand “playbook” online on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Organizations spend extra time and money making sure their content reaches the right audience. In order for an organization to find return on its social media investment, it must understand its audience.

“Organizations that want to successfully employ paid social media (to the degree that such a thing is possible) need to really understand not only who uses a given social channel but why they use it,” said Toby Hopp, assistant professor in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Blackburn had similar advice, noting that “when targeted appropriately, the audience shouldn’t even feel like they are being advertised to.”

So why use social media to communicate between a brand and its audience?

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This communication is more than just marketing a product. Many younger social media users have become accustomed to online marketing and tend to ignore most messages. However, Hopp pointed out that social media can be very effective at generating organic buzz by building relationships with an audience through the use of influencers. Because these younger users are becoming very savvy at distinguishing paid from organic content, practitioners must be more deliberate with their messaging to create stories and build relationships with these young audiences.

“Effective organizational use of social media is all about content — the stories we tell, the production quality of these stories, the human emotion that these stories contain,” Hopp said. “Can you tell a good story in 140 characters? It’s hard.”

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