Over the last decade many companies have turned to digital technologies to create new brand relationships with customers, using everything from web sites to online communities to weblogs to Web-based media campaigns. This marks a major change for brands, because it means a significant part of their future will be played out on a digital stage.
What’s the optimal digital platform for brands?
For brand builders, a critical question now becomes: what’s the optimal digital platform for brands, in all their new dimensions? What technology (or technologies) can help us deliver the richest brand experience and the greatest brand value?
Adobe seems to have the inside track
At this point, it would appear that Adobe Systems might have the inside track to be the brand builder’s digital platform of choice. Either by cunning strategy or simple good fortune, Adobe seems to be putting together application platforms that can make a brand builder’s job easier. And we’re not just talking Photoshop and InDesign. We’re talking about digitally-enabled brand avenues with rich connections to customers, reaching almost every computer in the world.
The coming age of RIA’s
One of Adobe’s strengths is its innovation leadership in Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s). These applications use new programming technologies to provide online apps with much of the functionality and user experience of traditional desktop software. (It’s not quite Brand Nirvana, but it’s getting there.) RIA’s will open a whole new world of possibilities for brand builders by removing many traditional Web limitations, while enabling many more layers of customer interaction. The next few years will determine which RIA platform will emerge to define and convey the new stuff of brands.
What brand builders need
Before we check out what Adobe has to offer, let’s review what brand builders need for this new world of digital-based brands:
- Digital platforms that are open, extensible, standards-based, and include as much of the world as possible.
- Digital platforms that won’t constrain, corral or limit customers (or, ahem, brand builders).
- Platforms open to fast innovation from the bottom-up.
- An integrated suite of applications with voice, video, music, and dynamic action. Apps that free the brand to be the brand.
- Full functionality for customer interaction and collaboration. Absolutely critical.
- Apps that are cross platform (cross-OS) so they run on all the computers and digital devices out there. Let no customer be left behind.
- Apps that are “free” to the customer, making app deployment effortless, if not automatic.
- Apps that are easy to develop and deploy. (Helps to have an established developer base with great tools, so they doo good work without costing us an arm and a leg.)
- Apps as light as customers want, or as heavy as customers want. Apps that are infinitely malleable.
- Apps the customer can adopt as a second skin.
- Apps that preserve “persistence of context” — so that brand virtues retain their presence throughout the digital experience, online and offline.
- Apps that enable customers to add value back to the brand. (This may be the most “killer app” of them all).
Oh yes, and after all the above, we’d like the same platform to help us build out our brand programs, so we can use it to train our employees on our brand vision, and deliverables.
Adobe apps that set the brand stage
Given what Adobe now offers, let’s count the ways that Adobe might enable the kinds of digital-based brand connections and programs that brand builders might use to create customers.
- Video over the Internet: Adobe Flash Player video (it powers YouTube)
- Dynamic web applications: Adobe Flash + RIA
- Video on mobile devices: Adobe Flash Lite
- Mobile dynamic content Adobe Flash Lite (apps/games)
- Voice over IP: Adobe Flash player
- Cross-OS desktop applications: Adobe Apollo (mid-2007) + RIA
- Interactive web conferencing: Adobe Connect
- Interactive training: Adobe Connect
- Video presentations/tutorials: Adobe Connect
Much of this is made possible by the ubiquity of the Adobe Flash Player, which is installed on 97% of all computers, and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. The Flash Player was Adobe’s grand prize when it acquired Macromedia in 2005.
Many eyes are focused on Adobe Apollo, Adobe’s coming RIA platform due in mid-2007. It may emerge as the digital brand platform of choice if it lives up to its promise. Adobe is certainly making it a centerpiece of its platform strategy. Apollo may enable your brand to bring things together in unique ways that can create new customers, with vast powers for brand-driven widgets.
Late news here.
Alternatives to Adobe
Of course, you can create a top-tier digital-based brand without Adobe products and services. Google is developing slick online apps using Ajax frameworks, as are many other companies. OpenLaszlo is a powerful open source platform that competes with Adobe, and uses the ubiquitous Flash Player. Microsoft has its (still limited) WPF/E. Currently, though, Adobe’s Flash player ubiquity, application integration, RIA innovation and developer resources make it the digital brand platform to beat.
Brands from the bottom-up
If there’s any shortfall in all these software applications, it’s at the bottom rather than the top. As a brand builder, it’s nice to know that Adobe Flash Lite 3 will enable you to stream videos to customer mobile phones, plus deliver mobile video clips, applications and personalized content. These present outstanding brand-building opportunities. However, brands are more than broadcast. You also want your digital platform to flourish at the customer-to-customer level, so that your brand can also be built from the bottom-up.
This is especially important when customers re-create your brand in their own digital networks, pushing and pulling brand context to yield new value. You want your digital platform to handle these customer interactions that can lead to network effects.
It will be interesting to see how Adobe and other platform contenders extend their brand tools to address this issue.
A excellent link for news on Rich Internet Applications is Ryan Stewart’s The Universal Desktop.
Check out Adobe’s new apps at Adobe Labs.