Introduction to Online Branding
Creating a brand experience for its target group is possibly the most crucial and valuable exercise a corporate can envisage while it contemplates using the internet to advertise its products and services. Using the web’s interactive abilities, effective marketing is essentially about providing the right message at right time to generate action.
Unlike other media, which asks little of the consumer beyond passive attention, the Web invites users to be involved with the brand, learn about products, sign up for services, be a key source for information on almost any topic, play an active role in the marketing experience, thus closely bonding with the brand.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction to Online Branding
- 2 Key Factors of Online Branding
- 3 Process of Online Branding
- 4 Tips for Designing an Online Branding Strategy
- 5 Five Strategies for Effective Online Branding
- 6 Brand Management Topics
Brands may be even more important on the Internet, particularly for pure online players, who are essentially intangible, and therefore, customers have little to go on other than a recognized brand name.
Furthermore, given the tremendous clutter in today’s e-commerce marketplace, and the high cost of acquiring online customers, the most successful sites will be those that use Internet marketing effectively to attract customers and build brand loyalty and enthusiasm that extends the brand-customer relationship beyond a single transaction.
Branding has been a business buzzword for many years. But the term has implications far beyond corporate logos, mission statements and theme songs. Effective branding is all about telling customers who you are, what you do and how you do it.
Key Factors of Online Branding
- Define your brand up front
- Lead with what you do, not who you are
- Use a real person as a figurehead
- Develop a fan-club mentality
- Make good use of words
Define your brand up front
When visitors arrive at your web site, let them know immediately what you do and why they should care. Far too many web sites shroud their identity in flashy graphics and ambiguous slogans without telling people what the company or person actually does. View your Web site through the eyes of a new visitor. Does it spell out exactly what your brand stands for?
If not, redesign it so your purpose and identity are unmistakable. For example, Terri Lonier’s Working Solo site does a good job of establishing her as a resource for freelancers. The opening paragraph lets visitors know exactly who the site is for.
Lead with what you do, not who you are
It may defy logic, but making your company name the most visible element on your home page may not be the most effective way to reinforce your brand. A Web-based or e-mail marketing message should state a benefit right off the bat. Which of these paints a clearer identity: The business name “Dog Owner Central” displayed in large letters or the more specific description “Training tips for busy dog owners”?
Use a real person as a figurehead
The online world can be a cold, mechanical place. Your branding efforts are more effective when you add a recognizable, consistent human element. Think of the way Dave Thomas promoted Wendy’s.
If your company has a CEO or spokesperson who is closely identified with the company offline, make sure that connection carries to the cyber world. If you run a business by yourself, by all means, put your name, photo and personal message on your website.
Nothing creates mystery and distrusts more than a site that is void of human contact and asks visitors to send e-mail to the “webmaster.”
Develop a fan-club mentality
Most online marketers try to generate readers, visitors, or users. I encourage you to switch gears and create fans. “Users” are people who visit your website, subscribe to your newsletter, or buy your products and services.
“Fans,” on the other hand, cheer you on, rave about you to their friends and eagerly follow everything you do. Which would you rather have?
Make good use of words
Verbal content is not only king, it’s the entire kingdom. Even though designers try to squeeze as much graphic impact as they can out of limited bandwidths, what matters most online are the words you use. I don’t buy into the less-is-more, bullet-point mentality of writing for the web.
To create fans online, you must deliver useful brand-related information and speak to readers in a conversational tone. If it takes more than one or two scrolling screens to do that, so be it.
As an example, illustrator Bob Staake has designed a website that uses his personality effectively at www.bobstaake.com.
Process of Online Branding
Figure outlines the online customer choice pipeline, which represents the customer purchase process as a series of distinct resources, each representing a different stage and relationship to the brand.
These are the potential customers who have not heard of the brand. The number of people at this stage changes as people become aware of the brand or as the brand expands into new markets, increasing the potential customer base.
These are potential customers that are aware of the brand, but have not accessed the website or purchased a product.
These are people that are interested and access the site. They can click off to return some other time, purchase a product in which case they become customers, or discard the offering and become refusers. Online companies usually track the level of browsers in terms of the number of unique visitors per day.
These are repeat customers who return to purchase items from the website. These customers can be an important source of positive word-of-mouth is a particularly powerful medium, as it carries the implied endorsement from a friend.
These are consumers that have accessed the site or bought a product but are dissatisfied with the experience and will not purchase again, and may spread negative word-of-mouth. The accumulation of refusers depends on the brand’s ability to fulfill expectations.
Tips for Designing an Online Branding Strategy
Tips for designing an online branding strategy are given below:
Branding on the web would require targeting your visitor through multiple channels. You should be consistent in terms of your approach, your message and your treatment is given to a viewer through all these channels.
Appeal to the Target Market
Entire branding efforts should be focused on a section of a large consumer segment. Communicate your message clearly and precisely. Your message should appeal to your customer and make them realize the benefit of visiting your store.
Branding is all about being innovative. Understand the likes and dislikes of your target audience before you begin the work of branding your store on the web.
Five Strategies for Effective Online Branding
Your Web site can be the most effective brand-building device in your business arsenal. That’s because a Web site can do a much better job of building relationships than any other form of marketing communication with your customers. But what’s effective on the Web?
After three years of watching the “worldwide” Web branding experiment, I’ve developed some guidelines that can take your customer relationships to new levels.
- Be True to your brand
- Be relevant and engaging
- Provide branded interactive value
- Add brand-relevant sponsored content
- Use the real world to enhance your on-site brand
Be True to your brand
Many companies use “gimmick appeal” to attract site visitors. This includes such things as games, contests, and screen savers that have no connection to what the company does or its style of doing business. These gimmicks are similar to offering coupons or discounts? They can cause a brief spike in traffic but don’t deepen customer loyalty.
Be relevant and engaging
In general, visitors to your home page are not very interested in reading about your company structure or why you are No. 1 in the market. Instead, by identifying and clearly presenting the information they are looking for, you can provide visitors with an experience that rewards them for the time they spend on your site.
They also would like to experience the unique business style or personality of your company. Does your Web site reflect your tone and manner, your point of view, and what makes you unique?
Provide branded interactive value
A relevant and engaging Web site falls under the larger concept of “branded interactive value.” Site visitors want to know how you are going to add value to their professional or personal lives. For instance, several companies have affiliate logo graphics placed at the bottom of their home pages that click through to the affiliate’s Web page.
By affiliating with other services, companies create a customer bonding opportunity. Unfortunately, most logos click to information that has little relevance to building the value of a company’s brand. A great example of an affiliation that builds a brand relationship between a company and an affiliate can be seen on the Dell Computer home page.
When parents click on the GetNetWise logo at the bottom of the page, they go to useful and compelling information on safe Internet practices for kids, which include a safety guide, how to report trouble, and sections on Web sites for kids.
The “branded” in branded interactive value means that whatever you provide on your site for visitors is in alignment with your brand strengths.
Add brand-relevant sponsored content
“Sponsored content” offers something of value that is not directly related to your product or service. Here’s how Web marketers use sponsored content to raise awareness about their brands. Miller Brewing Company turned its long-term Super Bowl sponsorship into a sponsored-content win by creating a linked site in conjunction with ESPN Internet, called Superbowl.com.
While the site is about the Super Bowl, it is chock-full of Miller’s brand imagery. The result was 8 million unique visitors in a single month vs. the fewer than 250,000 visitors Miller received on its Web site. Because of Miller’s long-term brand association with professional sports, this site helped to reinforce the connection and encourage the consumption of its product during sporting events.
Use the real world to enhance your on-site brand
“Off-site/on-site branding” uses the real world to build Web brands. Recreational equipment retailer REI recently reported that it is selling more through its Web site than in all its stores combined. But a major source of online sales was through its in-store kiosks.
www.healthshop.com used runners dressed in healthshop.com outfits to hand out packages of vitamin C drinks to San Francisco customers. The packages were printed with details on how customers could enter an online contest for a sweepstakes drawing. Customers could also send their friends to the same site so they could have a chance to enter too.
Thirty runners delivered 125,000 packages over several days, which resulted in a response rate that far exceeded the typical 3-in-1,000 banner ad click-through rate and also helped the company build brand awareness.
Off-site/on-site branding does not require a huge ad budget. Consider trading banner ad space on your site for kiosk space in your store, walking through a favorite park or busy city street with sandwich boards, or using other low-cost guerrilla advertising tactics to point people to your site and enhance their understanding of your brand.
Effective online branding does not require big budgets, just an understanding of what brand attributes you are trying to build. By making every Web transaction brand-relevant and providing your customers with brand-based value, you will increase the depth and stickiness of your customer relationships.