Archive for July, 2009

Online Branding and Message

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

If you are running a business, you will naturally be concerned with branding. Branding is the process by which you differentiate your business from your competition. It also is the process by which you create a connection between you and your customers to build customer loyalty and trust. Successful branding goes beyond mere customer satisfaction and brand recognition. Successful branding is all about building and sustaining customer loyalty.

Whether your company’s presence in the marketplace is entirely online, or your business mostly takes place in the real world rather than the virtual one, it is in your best interest to recognize that the Internet is an incredibly powerful and cost-effective tool for branding.

The first thing you will need in order to brand your company and product online is fairly obvious—you need a website. Websites are remarkably effective branding tools. They are a better, more cost-effective way of building your brand than just about anything you can imagine. If you have a ‘sticky’ website, it will not only generate awareness and web traffic, but keep your customers coming back to your site. Great! You know where to start. But how do you make a sticky website that helps you promote your brand?

The first principle is simple, and works as well in business as it does in politics: stay on message. In other words, be consistent, and true to what your brand is about. Gimmicks to attract visitors to your site, such as contests and games, are effective in the short term at best. If they have no connection to what your company does, and what your business is about, they won’t help you. They won’t make your site ‘sticky’ and won’t reinforce your brand unless the gimmick relates to the core values of your company, and its products and / or services.

Using your website for branding requires you to be disciplined about staying on message. Building customer loyalty involves building customer trust. One way of enhancing trust before you ever sell a single product is staying on message. Your message, your theme, must be overwhelmingly clear, appealing and sensible. This may seem odd to you, but if you think about it in terms of some of the more illustrious brands in the world, it makes sense.

A good example is Apple Computer. Think of Apple in the 90s, and compare the company to Apple after the return of Steve Jobs. Before the return of Jobs, apple’s online presence was a shambles. It reflected the internal state of the company—they didn’t have a clear vision of what their product is, how it benefits customers, or who their customers would even be. They rigorously defended their profit margins at the expense of market share and brand integrity. Naturally, their market share plummeted, their brand became less meaningful, and sales tanked.

Compare this to post-Jobs apple: Jobs looked at the company, realized they had become marginalized, a boutique computer manufacturer. Jobs turned this into an advantage, and revitalized the product through embracing the niche market aspect of being a maker of boutique computer products, and emphasized the clubbishness and ‘cool value’ of Apple products. Now look at them.

The moral of the story? Choose the right message, and stick to it. Message drives web presence, not the other way around.