The age of the Internet has brought with it many things, and it has affected almost every part of our lives.

50 years ago there was no such thing as the mobile phone, now almost everyone has a smart phone permanently within arms reach, giving them access to information instantly and the ability to connect with people the other side of the world, all with the press of a touchscreen button.

Of course, this direct route to people is marketing opportunity gold for brands – never before have they been able to target and communicate with their existing, and potential, customers so precisely or effectively. On the flip side, however, the communication channel is open both ways, enabling customers to directly communicate back with brands via a multitude of digital channels.

Now, instead of broadcasting communications broadly at an audience, brands need to embrace digital communications and integrate online marketing into their strategies. In doing so it is important that they consider how they use digital channels to their, and their audience’s, advantage, whilst also considering potential pitfalls and how to turn these into positives.

Here are my top 5 things that brands should consider when integrating digital into their marketing plans:

1. Information Superhighway

People no longer have to wait for information to come to them, they can proactively seek out their own knowledge. They can share knowledge, add knowledge, and interact and converse directly with knowledge leaders. Brands which do not create and/or share knowledge inevitably miss a trick here. Giving people interesting or entertaining information keeps them engaged, and encourages positive word-of-mouth. Stepping back just frustrates people who want to engage with your brand.

2. Transparency

Access to information goes hand in hand with transparency; information and news about a brand is always at your fingertips, meaning that both good and bad news travels fast. As part of their marketing strategy, brands ideally need to monitor what is being said about them online and make it their own. One bad news story which is not controlled can ruin all the good a brand is doing for their image in other areas. Take this brilliant example of turning a prank into a PR win from webuyanycar.com

3. It’s a Small World

The internet does what it says on the tin – it’s the World Wide Web. Brands are now able to widen their audience globally if it’s fitting to their offering, which if course is a huge boon. However, with this comes the need for cultural appropriation – a witty and a clever strapline in one country may be hugely offensive in another. Brands therefore need to think about how they integrate and/or segregate different elements of their marketing and control the messages that they send to their audiences.

Companies must make sure that key elements of their brand can translate throughout the world – This ad from HSBC shows how local knowledge is important to global brands.

4. Speed

Information can travel around the world in seconds – take memes for example. No sooner than some celebrity slip up appears on a tabloid news site that someone has made a meme or a dozen out of it and shared them all over social media, and therefore all over the world.

This shows two things – that information spreads like wildfire, and that information is easily edited and changed. As I’ve already said, it’s imperative that brands keep on top of their online perception, for both negative and positive messages. However, speed, access and editing can have huge benefits for brands in terms of being able to instantly react to changes in trends or opinion or comments from customers.

Old Spice has had it down to a ‘T’ for years, check out their campaign from 2010.

5. Interaction

This is probably the key way in which digital channels have changed marketing, and subsequently the way in which brands need to approach their audience, with all the other elements in mind. Possibly the best outcome of social media for customers is the customer service aspect – it allows direct communication with a brand. It is now common place for a customer to tweet a company if they have a complaint rather than phone them up. And it enables brands to quickly and efficiently resolve problems and turn a negative into a positive, if they do it right. This interaction our Director, Joe Friedlein, had with a retailer The Roof Box Company recently is a great example.

Clearly the online arena can be fraught with pitfalls for those brands which do not thoroughly think it through, but trying and avoid getting into trouble by not using social media or other digital channels at all actually do themselves a disservice; in a time when everyone is expected to have an online presence, brands that do not seem less credible than their competitors. Brands have to consider carefully which channels they use and engage with confidence on those channels; the key is to go forth and embrace, interact and engage.