Companies in every industry vie to market their goods and services. How do consumers make sense of it all? A friend’s recommendation leads to the purchase of one smartphone over another, or a special promotion on a favorite website could make the difference between the curious shopper and a brand loyalist.
Impressions happen in milliseconds, but their impact is enduring. That’s why digital branding must be completed thoughtfully so that the software’s value and utility shine through.
The rules that govern a billboard or a television advertisement do not hold up when it’s time for a business to build software. The approach becomes more complex when digital branding is used to promote a suite of software solutions.
Digital Branding and Your Software
Kick off the process by asking, “what kind of software will be customized, exactly?” Answer the question to determine how the UI will integrate with a brand’s visual identity.
How Software Should Dictate Digital Branding
The extensive capabilities offered by native apps allow for maximum customization while integrating with a host device’s functionalities (camera, microphone, etc.). Native apps create an excellent opportunity for companies to engage the end user through digital branding.
When considering logos in the digital branding of software, their role in a native — or hybrid — app can begin and end at the app icon. This icon is typically the user’s first encounter with the app, whether on a friend’s device or in the app store.
It’s projected that the app store will host 5 million apps by 2020, so the chance to convince the user of an app’s value through visual cues is limited. So, spend time getting the icon right, but best practices dictate it’s best not to show off your company’s logo beyond that first interaction. For example, don’t distract the user throughout their software journey with logos as icons, which could be perceived as a heavy-handed marketing ploy.
However, when a company communicates visual identity in its digital branding through key color palettes and typography, such elements integrate easily and effectively throughout the whole software experience.
Brandishing a home screen with a company’s application can be considered the epitome of brand engagement. When the consumer is convinced of a company’s value to the point where she is happy to include its application on her homescreen, the only thing that this software and the company behind it has left to do is to deliver value.
Responding to a hierarchy of the user’s needs improves the likelihood of your software’s success. Deliver value to the user by ensuring that the application…
- Supports appropriate functionality
- Is reliable
- Offers an emotional experience*
A user who has gone as far as to download your app is engaged. Engaged users expect more. If the digital branding — excessive imagery, language, or heavy-handed design/color schemes — veers towards advertising to the point where it obscures the functionality and value of the software, then kiss users goodbye.
*Bonus points for achieving this.
Visual Identity in Android
Google introduced Material Design, it’s signature design language, in 2014. It streamlines web and mobile interfaces across the Google ecosystem. Material Design dictates the appearance and functionality of any software developed by Google or running on an Android device.
Compared to iOS, Material Design is a more prescriptive design language, requiring stricter recommendations and more extensive documentation when it comes to designing user interfaces. Buttons must conform to a particular shape, the text to a particular typeface. While there is more leeway when choosing imagery to populate Android apps, Material Design’s standards maintain a notable a level of sameness across Android applications.
These strict and consistent guidelines are both helpful and limiting. Developers can anticipate how to integrate software with the Android OS and users can anticipate an application’s functionalities and features based upon previous experiences. So when a developer does make a novel tweak to Android software — for the purposes of digital branding, for example — the ease of the user’s pathway is put at risk, and so is the software feasibility as a whole.
Freedom to Express in iOS
The iOS Human Interface Guidelines are Apple’s response to Material Design. This design language doesn’t hold designers to such strict specifications or documentation requirements. While iOS applications tend towards minimalism, designers actually enjoy more freedom when designing a native app in this platform.
Anticipated user flows are important regardless of operating system, but the fewer documentation requirements in iOS allow designers to integrate digital branding with novel iOS features. If the UX/UI works, and the aesthetic is pleasing and communicates a brand while delivering value, consider the software a success.
Digital Branding and Hybrid Software
As with native solutions, balancing branding with delivering a cohesive and value-driven experience in hybrid software is the best practice for a company.
Traditional branding does not apply in these application environments, and yet, experience must align and offer continuity with the brand. The user has done a lot of legwork to engage with a brand when it comes to native or hybrid software. Since downloading the software can symbolize a great leap on the users’ part, further marketing efforts could sour chances of their continued engagement with both the software and brand. After download, what else is there to sell?
Beware Digital Branding in Web Apps
Web apps generally support business-to-business services — think Salesforce and Google Drive. These white-label products allow companies to tailor interfaces with elements of their brand’s visual identity, with the addition of maybe a few customized functions that are key to a company’s business activities.
But digital branding in white-label products offers limited gains. Services used internally are valuable only so long as they are functional. Efforts should be spent maintaining and enhancing the experience in order to improve business. Spending a lot of time branding this software isn’t likely to pay off.
Stakeholders should weigh the effort of incorporating logos or brand colors against adjusting software functionalities to meet the company’s business needs, realize the brand’s reputation and deliver value.
Websites and Digital Branding
Websites are often customer-oriented spaces. Branding and typical marketing practices can be implemented quite effectively here to cultivate customer loyalty and general engagement with a company, its brand and products.
Digital branding is part and parcel of most websites. But easy does it.
Balance delivering valuable information with any brand assets. An effective UI will facilitate the transactional processes that are integral to many companies’ sites. Don’t recreate the wheel just so a user can sign up for a newsletter or purchase a new shirt. Customizing the experience can be as simple as limiting distractions (i.e. marketing materials) that might surround rote data entry steps on other sites.
Using off-the-shelf tools to build online shopping cart features benefits your website’s users. They don’t expect any surprises here. A convoluted, customized checkout process or heavy-handed branding risk annoying the user, who might abandon the process before finalizing and checking out with the products.
Experience as Brand
Effective digital branding of software requires understanding of the scope of user experience and the continuum of platforms. Subtle branding that emphasizes software functionality demonstrates respect for the user, which leads to long-term and sustained engagements with a company, its products and its brand.
When a user interacts with a company on multiple interfaces through a variety of software, designers must ask themselves, “when does branding interfere with the intended experience?” User experience isn’t a skeleton waiting to be fleshed out with brand assets. If the experience itself is treated as a brand asset so that it delivers value (and perhaps even delight) through a simple interface, it can serve as a powerful marketing tool as much as it can make for effective software.
In the world of exponentially advancing software, taglines and logos mean less. The ability to offer excellent experiences can make — or break — your bottom line. Make sure your team knows how to use digital branding accordingly.