Online Branding and Identity – How To Use It To Tell A Story

October 22, 2021
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Have you ever thought about the way we personify brands?

For anyone looking to start or grow a business through the internet, this is an important thought to consider. It will play a large role in how you market yourself, and how your brand is seen by others. After all, with social media being an essential part of marketing in practically all customer-facing businesses, you’re going to need something to say. And when you do, you want to know how people are going to receive it. This makes online branding and identity so vital.

This may seem like a simple idea, an obvious one maybe. But dig a little deeper into the experience of branding as a third party. Suddenly there are many more factors to consider than you may have initially thought. So, what is your brand identity? And what should you consider when trying to shape your brand and the narrative around it?

person sculpting

What is Brand Identity?

The idea of brand identity is by no means a new one. Spokespeople and brand ambassadors have been part of the business landscape for longer than most of us could hope to remember. However, whilst in the past businesses may have had a friendly face to sell their products, this simple pageantry has little in common with the way we connect with brands in the age of social media.

Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and more, the fans and detractors of brands now have full access to speak and interact with these well-known businesses. This, in turn, forces businesses into the position of having a personal identity akin to a celebrity. Whether they intend to or not. As consumers have become more used to this paradigm. It has allowed us to see some truly fascinating stories play out in myriad different ways.

From companies like Dove Soap being discussed in relation to feminist theory due to their body positivity advertising campaigns to the controversy surrounding Adidas’ poorly-worded congratulatory email following the Boston Marathon Bombing, brands are more open to scrutiny than ever before. However, at the same time, they also have more power to connect with audiences than ever. To the point of mimicking traits common in parasocial relationships.

Parasocial Relationships With Brands

Parasocial relationships and their impact have been a topic of great discussion in recent years. The term describes a one-sided psychological relationship. In it one participant is providing emotional energy and creating connections that are not shared, reciprocated, or acknowledged by the other.

The most prevalent example of this is with celebrities. Fans, particularly younger fans, often form intense emotional connections with public figures. Despite them never meeting or interacting with the person in question. Since the start of the 2010s, more research has been conducted delving into the ways that we as consumers identify and interact with brands in similar ways.

people looking at their phones

Brands that can craft their story and identity have a considerable amount of power. But in the words of Uncle Ben from the Spiderman series, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, What Does it Mean to Tell a Story With Your Online Brand?

Think of all the ways in which your online brand exists. You might have a website filled with information about your products. Maybe you have social media profiles where you’re interacting with your customers. You may even have articles written about your services as promotional tools.

To you, all of these things may seem separate. Especially if you have different people managing them. Yet, they all come together to create your brand’s identity. They show your past, your present, and what you hope to achieve in the future. Providing anyone curious to learn more about you with the tools they need to understand you has never been more important.

person walking into a circle of stones

The thing a lot of business owners fail to consider is that identity is being formed whether they intend it or not. The type of speech you use, the type of imagery you utilize, platforms that you frequent. Each of these elements comes together to form the whole that is your business’ image in the eyes of potential customers. A brand exists regardless of intention. If you’re looking to develop a relationship with your audience, make sure you are doing it right.

Integrity, Authority, & Authenticity

Although many brands do go down the road of hyperbole and half-truths (how many times have you read some variant of the phrase “I started this business from my bedroom and turned it into a thriving global enterprise”?), the most important elements of any brand story are these three principles:

Integrity

You are seen, as a business, to hold to a set of core values. This provides your potential customers with peace of mind knowing that you are unlikely to be underhanded with them. This is seen in the diminishing returns of practices like clickbait, They may get clicks, but don’t deliver on the topics they offer.

holding hands

Authority

Within the realms of your industry, you know what you’re talking about. You have skills, knowledge and understanding required to do well in your field. Think about how much less comfortable you would be if a doctor tried to prescribe eye drops for a rash. Your audience needs to believe that you are an authority within your field.

Authenticity

This one has become increasingly important with each passing year. In a time where inaction is considered action, and brands are expected to use their platform to reflect the values of their customers in a meaningful way, coming off as authentic is essential. If you’re seen to support certain causes, only to disown those ideals the moment it seems financially beneficial to do so, it will damage your reputation in the long run.

Protest sign

These are the three things you need to strive for when building your brand. Remember that your audience is likely to personify your online presence in the same way as a person. Therefore, you must adhere to the standards of a person in the public space. However, there is one big difference between a brand and a public figure. And that’s the fact that your brand is likely comprised of many different people, each with their own views and beliefs.

The Call For Consistency

Following on from the need for integrity and authenticity, these are traits that need to remain consistent through both your brand and those who represent it if you’re looking to thrive. This is especially true if you’re looking to hopefully get people writing about you. Your narrative is also heavily impacted by the stories people tell about you in online spaces. Businesses like Wendys have managed to use this to their advantage with strangely iconic roasts of other brands on Twitter. But others have found the limelight on their actions to be less than desirable.

Two Women sitting and talking

Conclusion

So, what can we take from this? Well, whilst the internet is a fantastic tool for expression and connecting with your audience, it can also lead to your downfall as a brand when used incorrectly. So, with every part of your presence and the presence of your business inextricably tied together, you need to make sure that stepping back shows a beautiful tapestry.

About the author

Samuel Shepherd is a writer, editor, musician, producer, content marketing specialist, and a wealth of other titles that involve sitting at a computer at all hours of the night. Currently the Head of Content for Digital Next Australia, Samuel is dedicated to providing readers with information on how to avoid disaster in online spaces by any means necessary. He also enjoys going outside sometimes.

Samuel Shepherd