Why Most Digital Empires Fail – COVER Magazine

On our journey as a digital agency we’ve been introduced to brands that have excelled online and those that have failed, most of them falling into the latter.

Why is that though? Digital marketing is still a new marketing discipline, but surely not every online failure can be blamed on the ‘newness’ of digital marketing? I’m not convinced that it has to do with ‘digital marketing knowledge’, because there are some really smart marketers out there. I believe that the organisations who fail online, fail because they don’t know who they are as a brand. It actually has nothing to do with digital marketing. An organisation cannot market online successfully unless it’s been through a rigorous brand and/or an identity journey. In the four steps to follow, I’m going to frame where organisations usually miss the mark, and how they can fix it. I’d like to refer to this as ‘the journey to successful digital practice in a nutshell.


It all starts here. Think of your brand as a person. It has a birth date, an identity image (logo), a location, and so on. David Aaker has created a brand model that is extremely valuable in arriving at the core brand essence. From this, your personality and tone as a brand will emerge, and you’ll know thy brand.

When you know your brand you’ll be able to piece together when, how and why you communicate, and what that looks like online. So, in essence, in order to be successful online you first have to piece things together offline. M&M’s does this very well. Everything they communicate portrays the brand essence and personality.


It always boggles my mind how marketers sit in a strategy presentation and frame an audience by showing a picture of who they’re targeting and the things this person likes to do. If anything, it’s a guess. It’s important to create buyer or audience personas, but what’s more important is framing the correct audience. Today, marketers have no excuse – the amount of data available is mind blowing. There’s so much value in taking the time to do authentic research. Once you know your audience, where they’re likely to communicate, how they’re like to communicate, and why they like to communicate, then you’ve created a window into successful digital communication. I call it the intersection of the 3 C’s: Content, Context and Channel. Where those three intersect is your sweet spot.


A brand cannot be successful online unless it has the support of the organisation. I’m not talking about a marketing manager signing off an online ad campaign, I’m talking about organisation-wide buy-in. Digital marketing is every bit about having a conversation with your audience which means that you need relevant information quickly and swiftly from whoever needs to supply it. The only way you’re going to achieve this is if you have buy-in from leadership and other business units. The reason why this is the 3rd step is because it’s easier to get buy-in when you can show the hard yards you’ve done with the brand and present a plan and roadmap of where you’d like to be (which you would have already done in the first two steps.)


Finally, be proficient in all things digital. It’s one thing to understand your audience; it’s another thing altogether understanding the tools by which you reach them and speak to them. Knowing the tricks of the trade is extremely important in delivering the X -factor. Something as simple as understanding what content hierarchy on an online banner works best; which channels are best for brand awareness and which are best for lead generation; what mechanics work best for running a Twitter campaign etc.

At the end of the day, brands fail online because they haven’t started right at the beginning, clearly identifying and forging who they are as a brand. The empires that won are the ones that were able to convince their followers that they were winning, and that they were strong. They did this by knowing who they were and what they wanted. If you can convince your online audience that you’re a strong brand, you’ll win, and the only way you’re going to do that is by starting with the four steps above.

– Jacques Du Bruyn, MD at Flume

The original article can be found in the April 2015 issue of COVER.

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