Building Brands on the Web: An Old Game with New Rules
BY Chuck Hirsch
Many companies are spending significant amounts of money to launch e-businesses on the Internet. But how many of these companies are taking the right approach when it comes to building a memorable, positive brand image that onlineconsumers will be attracted to over the long haul?
The key issue is this: Branding in the online world is far more than just transferring your print brand identity to the Web. Yes, it includes a graphic design image, but your brand in the world of e-business is more largely affected by the interactive experience you provide your users. Everybody knows that the Web allows you to build one-to-one relationships with yourcustomers.
What is more important is the quality of those relationships. Your Web site's ability to engage your customers and facilitate an ongoing relationship with them is the real key to successfulbranding on the Web.
We all have, at one time or another, been affected by both successful and unsuccessful Web branding efforts. In short, if it isn't done correctly, it hurts a company's ability to gain and retain business through this channel.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when thinking about the proper way to establish a strong brand identity on the Web:
Know your target audience. It's critical that a Web business conducts the right up-front assessments to determine who their best prospects are. For example, a toy company or business-to-business parts supplier may have conducted tracking studies or customer analyses for their brick-and-mortar business, but this does not mean that their best offline prospects are their best online candidates.
Make your online brand usable, or they won't come (back). Creating an online brand isn't just about the design, overall look and feel, and a pretty logo. It is very much connected to and enhanced by a positive user experience and an intuitive navigation scheme. In most circumstances, users want to get in, find what they want (information, items to buy, informalchats and community-related interaction) and then get out, on their terms, whether that means two minutes or two hours. E-businesses need to assess users' impressions of how easy it is to navigate a site and find what they want. And when a site is redesigned, continue to validate whether the job has been done correctly. We call this "Advancing the User Experience."
Deploy technology that creates a strong, unique brand definition. There is an ever increasing array of Web applications that e-businesses can buy (or build, depending on your needs) to add "critical" functionality to a site. However, just because someone else may offer a "hot" service or feature on a site doesn't mean that you should. Always relate your technology purchase decisions to your overall business drivers. For example, if you intend to differentiate your organization based on personalized customer service, make sure the self-service applications and user interfaces that you put in place are designed to fit your users' unique needs and are integrated withback-end customer databases and "real-time" customer service channels.
The most important thing to understand is that a Web "brand" ismultidimensional. It's more than just a messaging and identity effort; it's also the degree to which you ensure a positive user experience, optimize usability, and incorporate technology that addresses key user needs and leapfrogs the competition. By taking all of these dimensions into account, you'll cement long-term relationships with your users, and profit as a result.