Does Branding Still Matter
In a digital world, passionate consumers are taking on the role of online brand ambassadors, and nearly anyone has the ability to influence a brand’s reputation online. To explore the role that branding plays in a digital world, American Express OPEN - creators of the Project RE:Brand video web series - hosted an evening salon (Does Branding Still Matter in a Digital World?) in SoHo last night to discuss the issues involved in re-branding a city, an iconic cultural institution and a successful small business.

Panelists Willy Wong, Creative Director of NYC & Company, and Julia Hoffmann, Creative Director of Advertising and Graphic Design at MoMA, kicked off the night with a discussion about the ways that their respective organizations are approaching branding and marketing in a digital age. While the proliferation of digital tools means that even an iconic institution like MoMA can no longer control the conversation online, it does mean that they can shape, inform and contribute to the types of conversations that tourists and visitors are having. Word-of-mouth marketing, in fact, was cited more than once during the evening salon as still the most effective form of marketing there is.

Looking back at what worked well in 2010 from a marketing perspective, Hoffmann cited the phenomenally popular Marina Abramovic "The Artist is Present" exhibition, which combined a personal, one-on-one experience for visitors with an online webcam component that enabled potential visitors from across the Web to tune in and watch the marathon performance. Fans became so caught up in the Abramovic performance that they began remixing parts of the performance online in other digital formats - like the Marina's Chair Twitter feed.

Next, Lesley Horowitz and Dominic Sinesio, Co-Founders of New York branding agency OFFICELAB, discussed their brand makeover project with Iris & Elliot Schreier of Artyarns, a small business that recently extended their offline marketing into the digital space. What was interesting was the aspect of "self-discovery" that occurred when the Schreiers took a closer look at their company's marketing strategy. As they pointed out, you can get so caught up in your small business that you start to lose focus about the way your customers (and potential customers) perceive you. Answering the simple question "Why?" is one way to re-align the execution of your marketing campaign with the underlying purpose of your business. For example, too often, a website will explain what you offer, but not explain why you offer what you do.

If you haven't yet watched the series of videos from Project RE:Brand from American Express OPEN, check out how five New York-area small businesses embarked on a voyage of self-discovery and re-branding by partnering with five New York City branding agencies.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My employer Electric Artists co-hosted last night's event with American Express and worked on the Project RE:Brand web video series. (Congrats Cider!)