Digital Darwinism at Cannes

Is there such a thing as a digital brand? Joe Crump certainly thinks so.

Joe is an executive in the strategy practice of Avenue A | Razorfish, my employer. On June 21 at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, Joe will unveil the top 10 digital brands based on a new scorecard (created by Avenue A | Razorfish) known as the Brand Gene Scoreboard.

Joe contends that brands need to view the digital world differently than the off-line world. In his view, digital is “ruthlessly Darwinian.” Consumers form impressions of your website in milliseconds. If they don’t like what they see, they can shut you out forever with one easy mouse click. Or tell their friends how boring you are you on blogs, review sites, and social hangouts like Facebook.

His view: brands must tap into the immersive and social nature of digital to survive. They have to be more fast moving than ever if they want to put digital at the core of their success. He’s decided to do something about it by developing the Brand Gene Scoreboard to help companies assess how digital their brands really are.

The scorecard identifies seven attributes such as immersion (how easy it is for a consumer to become engaged with your digital home), social (whether a consumer finds your brand worth sharing), and adaptive (how well a brand responds to a consumer’s digital environment), among other qualities. Flickr, Netflix, and Nike score well when measured by the scorecard. But some of the leading brands according to Interbrand, like GE and IBM, perform poorly when we apply the Brand Gene Scoreboard to measure their digital brand savvy.

Joe’s point of view is not without controversy. To the naysayers, there is no such thing as a digital brand anymore than there are digital people. You don’t need digital to make your brand “social” — good-old fashioned word of mouth occurs in the offline world all the time and will continue to do so. And brick-and-mortar stores like American Girl illustrate that you don’t need digital to be immersive.

And yet . . . digital is different. Yes, people have been marketing through word of mouth for a long time. But as Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff point out in The Groundswell, digital turbocharges inherently social behaviors and takes word of mouth — for better or worse — to a whole new level. What used to be a long, gradual process can now happen literally overnight because of social media tools like blogs. And there’s no question that a digital destination like shaveeverywhere can turn even the most mundane product demonstration into an engaging and fun experience that’s hard to convey in the offline world.

If you are at Cannes, you can see his talk Saturday, June 21, at 1 p.m., Debussy Theatre, Palais des Festivals. If not, you can hear a flavor of his ideas by viewing the presentation at the top of this blog post (this is a preview of the Cannes presentation, which Joe delivered at the Avenue A | Razorfish Client Summit in New York on May 14.) Check this out, too, for further reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree.

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