Digital technology has enabled total personalization and individualization which contradicts the very idea of brand uniformity. The average digital experience is no longer enough and the driving force behind the desire to push the limits of brand uniformity is customer experience, i.e the idea of delivering an experience that is tailored to a specific client, segment or market.
I’ve had the privilege of helping many large financial institutions bring order and governance to their digital brand where they’ve offered financial advisors or insurance agents a certain degree of customization flexibility as it pertains to their personal brand more so from a digital standpoint than a print standpoint. In more specific terms, I’m referring to the advisor or agent website and an institution’s implementation of a website program in the context of allowing customization. The result of many of these customized programs has led the organization to a state where their digital brand assets are misused (or misunderstood) over a period of time and requires the organization to “reign in” these programs in an effort to strengthen their brand image and in turn provide their sales force with a much stronger and cohesive digital brand.
Now, I know you might be reading this with the thought, “Well Andrew, that’s exactly why we didn’t move in the direction of allowing our advisors (or agents) to customize and instead kept everyone in a single website template, to avoid this exact problem that we’re seeing from our competitors!” Well, to that I say “Kudos. You had the foresight to predict these outcomes.” However, in the end, you still did not solve the overall digital experience problem and while you may be better off operationally, you may still have a digital transformation curve that your competitors have already gotten used even in light of all these issues.
So, there’s learning to be had on both sides of the coin but hopefully some of my observations can help you determine whether you have such a problem or simply identify and familiarize yourself with the problems so you can avoid them if you’re thinking about going down this path.
Technology and the demand for individualization
Many of the website programs I’ve been working to transform started as far back as the early 2000s when web technology was, in my opinion, still in its infancy – think web 2.0. The idea of a technology that could assist a financial brand to roll out a website program for their advisors or agents to self-manage their digital brand quite simply, did not exist outside the walls of those financial brands. Many of the firms I work with have either taken an existing technology (for example, one brand I’ve worked with took a website builder tool and attempted to duplicate it 1000 times for 1000 different websites) and heavily customized it to the point where it became very difficult to maintain or have taken it upon themselves to build an in-house solution (which, by the way, was a very common trend in the early 2000s) only later to realize that it became both labour and cost intensive to maintain the program while also meeting the needs of a rapidly evolving marketing technology space.
Both of these scenarios drove the organizations to extend the programs with in application and manually regulated customization capabilities as the software itself could not handle the level of individualization that the user community demanded. The interesting result of this and ultimately the result of the lack of technology, is the enterprise frowning upon individualization while the market demands a better and more personalized client experience with their financial advisor or insurance agent. The tough task that each enterprise financial brand faces, is achieving both of these goals without “breaking” their brand (and by association, their backs).
The good news? It’s possible and I’ve seen it done before and not by chance but it does start with letting go of the past.
Digital brand governance
Early in my career, every time I heard the word “governance”, I heard the word “rules and regulations” and it was only later on that I truly realized the effects of proper governance and why it mattered as organizational capabilities and functions grew and were required to scale properly. Your digital brand works and operates the same way. Traditionally, brands would create print standards AKA “style guide” which would contain elements like logos, colour palettes, fonts, lines, spacing, effectively anything you could draw on a piece of paper. The paradigm shift I see a lot of financial brands having to go through. It’s trying to think through the digital style guide which scales and grows much differently than print.
Print is finite. It can only produce so many permutations of style and can be defined very easily especially once it is physically printed. But something digital can be created using hundreds if not thousands of components so its permutations can be near infinite if you do not define the boundaries. Many brands we start working with will assume they can apply the print style guide in a digital sense but digital design elements like Buttons and Form elements (like input fields) are not defined. Without these digital boundaries, improper expectations are set across the organization and you start moving down the path of those infinite permutations that lead to brand disjointedness. You may also experience a side effect of your websites looking almost exactly like your brochures.