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Brands, This is Your (Digital) Future

What does the future look like for the ever-evolving digital space inside the world of branding? Mirek, Thomas, and Andrey—the leaders of the newly bolstered BaseDigital team—share their thoughts and predictions, and discuss how Base is ready to meet the challenges of the tech frontier.

At Base, we always talk about how ‘branding is culture’. How will brands evolve within an increasingly digital culture?

Andrey Starkov: Digital presence has become something of an absolute must for brands, and the pandemic has greatly accelerated this process. A website, an app, a social media account, even an NFT—all of these are essentially branding within a digital environment. This means that the speed of web animations, the quality of images, web page load speeds, TikTok background music etc are all challenges for any brand image. Today, these can be even more recognizable than a logo, in terms of perception. So it becomes critical for us to build a consistent brand picture in the digital world by paying attention to such details.

Mirek Nisenbaum: If you think back to where branding started, from name, to logo, to what it is today, it’s now more about communications systems. These systems are becoming more and more important, and more and more complex. Why? Because while digital brings in a new world of communications, it also brings so much diversity into that world, from form factors to levels of interactivity, to two-way conversations to the modes of interactions.

It brings in a gigantic ecosystem where brands don’t just need to have a voice, but they need to listen too. Suddenly, a whole new part of communications is not just broadcasting, but participating in a discourse and evolving accordingly. It’s about interaction, how you feel, what you say, how you say it, when you say it—it's all branding.

We've gotten very, very far away from the logo, which will become an avatar very soon and much more important than the “classic” logo. And that avatar will have a behavior. Just as we always say, brands are like people. Well, people have already embraced avatars, and brands will be next.

Thomas Byttebier: People have started to expect different things from brands. It used to be so simple; there was only physical media and that was the way brands would speak to their audiences.

Now there's what we call ‘digital,’ but it comes in so many forms and people expect to be able to interact with brands on all these platforms and new areas; inside games, on private channels, on open social media platforms, inside cars, as a layer on top of reality... so many different media! It's so hard to do it well for brands, and I think it's our role to guide them through how they should behave on those platforms. Also to help them to decide which platforms to be on, and especially which platforms not to be on.

It's about diversity. That's why I think experience is always key. As branding experts, for us it's about defining the story, the experience we're after. And then we figure out together what form it takes on all the possible digital platforms; social media, inside games, XR, websites… So it's clear that on all these platforms brand expression needs to happen differently. And for sure it's not enough anymore to just slap a logo on top.

MN: And if Web 3.0 as a larger concept proves to be anything like what it promises to be, then our next phase of perception and communication will be a lot more democratic than our current one. This means opportunity, but also means a lot more fragmentation. The complexity will only increase, and continue to do so.

What about the world of digital feels exciting in the brand space right now?

MN: Fashion and entertainment are really pushing the boundaries. In my view, music will be the first viable Web 3.0 experience.

TB: First porn pushes the web forward, then the music industry, always.

MN: Remember Napster?

TB: Of course, that's when everything changed for music online. The brands that didn’t catch on aren't relevant anymore today. But the ones that embraced the wider idea of music sharing, and found how to pivot around that, they are the big players today in the music industry. The same ultimately happened or will happen to every sector.

AS: We can also now embed complex AI into even the most simple websites. For example, for the related products in an e-commerce store. Five years ago, those things were manually selected by somebody managing the website and there was a very straightforward logic as to how they're shown. But now, all of this functionality can be governed by algorithms, and AI thinking can be used to decide what should and shouldn’t be shown on a particular page. It's very important for us to know and understand how to implement this into the websites we work on.

It's important to offer this knowledge and tools to our clients, and not just to use the simple solutions because. Only advanced solutions will give these brands an advantage over their competitors, because they will have something special.

TB: We're talking a lot about tech. The thing about tech is that it's vital in order to create the best possible experiences. But the best experiences are the ones where no one realizes there's crazy tech behind it. We should be able to create interfaces that abstract all the logic and the crazy work that the newly evolved BaseDigital team is doing, and present them in a way that makes sense for the particular brand so that people can relate to it.

To give a very simple example, back in the day Google was competing against the likes of AltaVista and Yahoo. While these were offering fairly complex interfaces, Google decided to hide the whole internet behind one input bar. They made it very accessible and simple for people, and the experience was great. It’s the same with any “great” online experience: let the tech do the work and ideally you’re never aware.

How is BaseDigital approaching the fast-changing landscape of digital within branding?

TB: If you look at how we approach projects today compared with six years ago, there’s already a massive difference. Now we realize that digital acts like a membrane over society. When particularly young people interact with brands, they don’t think about what is digital and what’s not. It's just part of how they communicate. And we are fully evolving as a studio in that direction, and are approaching each job like that. We don't go to clients anymore with separate digital and non-digital presentations, we combine them because that's how it is to consumers.

MN: Increasingly the separation will dissolve. We are about to have a second digital-native generation reach adulthood. For them, even the word ‘digital’ will essentially be meaningless, because the physical world, virtual world and hybrid world will all overlap as one. None of us can imagine what a profound change this will have on people's psyches, how it will affect our behavior, how we communicate, where we communicate, where the additional value of communication will be. So what we’re calling BaseDigital is a provocation for us as a company, to force us to move together with society into the future.

AS: As a team, we keep abreast of the latest technologies and always try, test and explore new solutions. Of course, from the development point of view, not every innovation is necessarily something good and useful, so we always try to project new technologies on real projects, look for the intersection of potential opportunities and customer needs, and act as an initiator for the introduction of new technological solutions.

On each project, we try to ask ourselves the question: can we do something more than what the client comes to us with? Can we come up with something innovative that might just not be on the radar yet, but would allow us to take the project to the next level? Often, it’s this approach that gives confidence to our partners and clients that their project will be relevant and useful in the long term.

Find out more about BaseDigital in the first part of this interview.

Text by Base editorial director Dan Howarth.