You remember the go-go days of the late 1990s, when newly-minted Internet companies figured that the way to build a company was to use branding to drive market share -- with nary a thought about turning a profit. Well, now that that strategy has driven myriad fledglings into the dot.com graveyard instead, online companies are getting smart about the necessity of making money.
And in doing so, they're coming full circle. In other words, they're realizing that to get profitable, they need to e-brand their dot-com businesses. In short, branding has become more important than ever before -- but with a twist. Call it Branding, Part Two. Or Branding Plus. Or, as I prefer, Power Branding.
These days, to make it online, a company must brand, but must avoid the trap that led to the disasters of a few years back. Here's why, and here's how.
Power Branding -- The Whys Time was that brands were built over time, the results being venerable names such as Coke, Procter & Gamble and Intel that still command a winning customer draw today. But technology has changed everything, and online the changes are that much greater. Product life cycles are shorter, and customers are more informed and demanding. Online, they are also elusive: you as company founder don't get to see, talk to or in other any way (other than email) interact with them.
Online, moreover, the clamor from competitors has risen to a fever pitch, with companies galore all vying for the attention, pocketbooks and loyalty of the same group of customers.
Simply put, you don't have the luxury of not branding. You need to do so simply to bring in the customers, to get them away from the onslaught of competing vendors online. Then you need to brand to turn customers into loyal customers; you need branding to make your product or service what I call the "brand of choice."
In short, online, it isn't enough to consider branding a marketing strategy. You must see it as central to the entire process of company building, including setting a strategy, achieving consistency among the various factions of your company -- its products, people, goals - and winning the loyalty and performance from workers and vendors without which your company would flounder.
Power branding is, in fact, the one remaining piece of leverage you have for boosting the online awareness among potential customers of your company. If you're not consciously managing your online brand, you are losing leverage -- big time!
Power Branding -- The Hows Unlike the big boys, you, the online entrepreneur, must not perceive branding as just building a name. Instead, to rise above the din on the Web, to differentiate your online business, you must brand not only the name of your product or service, but also the idea of your company and the entire experience customers have when transacting business with you.
In power branding, you must start logically with a name that inspires, and then add a corresponding graphic that communicates just as powerfully on a visual level. As a believer in the Kiss principal -- keep it simple, stupid -- I favor one or two-word names that speak directly to the product or service being offered. Consider some names that grabbed consumers back when online companies were launched: stamps.com, garden.com and software.com, or in the case of proper references, Quicken.com and About.com.
Critically, you must then imbue your name and logo with what I call a "branding solution message," a one-line description of just what your business will deliver for customers and how you will make good on your product or service. In the case of my own GetProfitable.com, I needed to show as well as tell. Thus, I selected the following tag line for my company's branding solution message, appearing right after the name: Where Your Marketing Results are Always Guaranteed.
With the name, logo and message driving customers to your site, you must next turn to the job of convincing visitors - who are, of course, potential customers -- that yours is the only place to go for getting what they want. Then go a step further, and turn customers into repeat customers, and you're at the ultimate juncture: the place where real branding begins.
Summing Up You don't really have a choice online these days. Or do you? Think about it. Would you rather be an entrepreneur playing keep up and catch up -- or one who has learned to lead and lap the field? Would you rather have a company that's just getting by, or one that's thriving during a time of chaos and change? Would you rather get a one-time customer or a customer for life?
Online today, those are your choices. And to choose wisely, you must elect not only to brand your product or service, but also to brand the business itself and the experience customers have when interacting with it. Power branding is a choice. You'd be smart to embrace it.
Kevin M. Clark, 45, is currently president of Clark Marketing Group, Inc. (GetProfitable.com), a marketing consulting firm based in Draper, Utah that he founded in 1999. Previously, he had served as president, and a member of the board of directors, of Asche Transportation Services Inc., a long-haul trucking concern. Clark took Asche public after joining its predecessor company, building annual revenue to more than $100 million from less than $1 million in his 14 years with the firm. In 1993, Clark was a regional category winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award sponsored by Ernst & Young. He is the author of four books, including How to e-Brand Your Dot.Com Business, which was published in 2001. Clark graduated from Ottawa University in Phoenix with a degree in business and marketing and is currently enrolled in a masters degree program focused on international business.