Branding for the Web

Whether you are launching a new website or developing an existing one, making sure that its design aptly presents and communicates your business can be a daunting prospect. The look and feel of a website, the way it reads, its tone, all add up to presenting your company presence online as a brand. By developing a unique style and applying it consistently throughout your website, its 'look' is what people will begin to remember when they revisit.

In an overcrowded market place where every area of specialisation is deftly positioned to draw our attention to new services and products, businesses are seeking new and more effective ways to increase their brand awareness and stimulate brand loyalty. To ensure a brand's success on the world wide web, even more so than in a local market place, you'll need to develop an effective brand strategy.

You must try to develop a brand proposition that when conveyed on the web, will provide an attractive, unique, and relevant message to current and potential customers. It is equally important that once realised, this proposition should be echoed and reinforced by all communications and response mechanisms coming directly via the website, emails, members of the company from senior executives down to marketing and sales staff.

So why is successful branding so important today?

Companies seeking to experience long-term success will have to create the most compelling, relevant, and consistent brand experiences for their customers. You can't escape your brand. Either you make the customer experience, or it gets made without you.

In order to successfully develop the most effective branding strategy, a firm understanding of what a brand is must first be answered.

What is a Brand?

In marketing, a brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a company, product or service. A brand typically includes a name, logo, and other visual elements such as images, fonts, colour schemes, or symbols. It also encompasses the set of expectations associated with a product or service, which typically arise in the minds of people. Such people include employees of the brand owner, people involved with distribution, sale or supply of the product or service, and ultimately customers.

Core values

The development of a branding strategy must begin with identifying the brand's (the business) core values. These are qualities an organisation deems most important eg: honesty, integrity, excellent communication, client satisfaction.

Though these values are usually never revealed to the public, they are evident in every aspect of the organisations' business routine, from customer service, to direct marketing, to website design, to the treatment of its employees and strategic partners. This conveys a consistent perception to the target audience in every medium of communication that is used.

Consideration for these values should not be taken lightly for they represent the 'principals' for the business and become the cornerstone for developing the brand's proposition. And though the brand's proposition may change from time to time, the brand's core values should never change.

Invest in a strategical approach to understanding and positioning your Brand

Once the brand's core values have been identified, effective brand proposition development begins. To ensure a successful outcome, comprehensive and objective research involving at the minimum, the brand's strengths and weaknesses, the target audience, and the competition will be conducted. If the resources are available, research should also involve extensive observation into the brand's industry, its history, the current market picture, and potential growth and direction.

Know your Target Audience, they hold the keys to your Brand's success

If I had to choose only one area of research to focus my efforts on, it would be to identify first who the target audience is and second, what their needs and desires are. This information should be as comprehensive and exact as possible. Applicable factors such as; age, gender, income, and shopping habits (online and off) are good places to start. Of course if your target audience is another business, your research will involve different factors.

Developing a Brand Statement (Brand Proposition)

From the research, development of the brand statement, often referred to as a brand proposition, commences. The brand statement is a promise.

The brand proposition must be clearly understood, engaging, presented in the right context for relevancy, and offer a solution to the target audience's current wants and needs.

Providing a Brand Proposition that is engaging, is easily understood, and offers an emotionally positive solution to needs and desires only serves to enhance the current customers' perception of the brand and will get new customers to look your way. Following through with an excellent product/service and customer support will put an indelible mark in the memory of your existing customers; one that will create brand loyalty through good and bad times; a sure sign of a brand's strength.

Deliver the Unexpected

When developing a brand proposition, never let your brand's promise be one that is already expected; this is a sure way to NOT stand out from your competitors. Advertising efforts that utilise adjectives like 'good', or 'nice' are sure to fail when seeking to be both engaging and unique.

An Emotional Attachment

An important aspect of brand development is to create a positive emotional attachment to the brand, which creates a response in its audience without the audience seeing the product or directly experiencing the service.

Positive emotional bonding comes from a mutually beneficial relationship built on intrigue, trust, understanding, and support. And of course, these qualities will be dictated by the current needs and desires of your target audience.

Your brand proposition should convey a message that is:

  1. Aligned with the brand's core values
  2. Clear, engaging, unique, and relevant to your target audience
  3. Able to incorporate an element of positive emotional attachment that is better than just 'good'
  4. Echoed within your business, internally and externally
  5. Consistent across multiple marketing and advertising mediums (print, online presence, etc)
  6. Continually reinforced within the organisation so that your employees consistently deliver what is promised
  7. Able to adapt to a changing marketplace.

The next stage of development will be to begin communicating what the brand is. Through design the brand will take on a visual presence - it will take on personality and having gone through the processes above you'll be in a good position to begin to prepare a design brief.

Design

Design for the web can be a hit or miss affair. Often, a web design company or designer is chosen based solely on an ability to build a website. Website design often the whim of the designer, not through a process with the client.

Finding an experienced company that can help to promote and develop a company's online proposition and marketing strategy may be a little harder. Presenting a brand online is a subtle business, navigating through a website, being non-linear, means that communicating core messages effectively requires an approach that lets you come across information regularly and intuitively.

Having found a suitable design company, the first thing to be discussed will be your brief. You should be prepared to communicate exactly to the design company what your core values are; who your prospective audience/customers/consumers may be; you may already have a logo together with a clear brand statement that can be handed over. Together with what you want to say and an attitude you want to be reflected in the design, all this will become integral in the conversation you'll have with the designer to achieve the best possible results. Good graphic design is the perfect marriage between type and image to communicate effective and memorable messages and never truer than in good website design.

Good brand management insists on consistency across all media, if you look one way in print you should appear similar online. If you have invested in a corporate identity and are keen to adhere to the identity guidelines, these rules should also be submitted to the designer. The designer will then have to consider these guidelines within the parameters of designing the website.

After a brief has been taken the designer will begin to formulate a series of concepts that best communicate the clients thoughts. As a client you can expect to be shown these initial concepts - often delivered as flat visuals that will allow a conversation to happen between client and designer. At this early stage the designs may trigger ideas not already thought of. It is important to see a range of options so that in the development and the fine tuning phase of co-ordinating a final design all best possible routes have been considered.

Through the course of developing a final design, options and suggestions will have been discussed and incorporated before building working web pages. These pages will continue to be developed - adding content and images until a final website is ready to be launched. Consider using the launch of a new website as a strong PR opportunity.

All websites need to be promoted - indeed website promotion; including code within the make-up of the web pages is important to be regarded by search engines like Google or Yahoo. Any different and interesting ways of promoting the website through Social Media, printed marketing and PR campaigns can also draw traffic to your new site.

Maintaining a good website

Having launched a new website, the job of maintaining it, encouraging people to re-visit regularly has just begun and is an ongoing task. The design of the website should accommodate for new pages to be added easily. Whether you have invested in incorporating a Content Management System (CMS ) on your site or build pages locally and update manually to a server- content that can be time specific to events, special offers or news provide regular opportunities to update a website. You may consider changing key imagery to reinvigorate prime pages. There's a host of things that can be done to keep a website appearing fresh and up-to-date.

The important message though in handling new content is to remain vigilant in maintaining core brand principals. Try to avoid upsetting the carefully planned design by adding content out of keeping with what has gone before. Reinvestment in design that remains true to core brand values will only strengthen your presence online.

Closing thoughts

A website is a powerful marketing tool, however, unlike one to one sales experiences where you can judge how your audience or clients react; a website has to be able to communicate alone. Investigate site statistics to see what pages are most popular - be prepared to re-evaluate your ideas and re-align your online strategy based on what works.

But most importantly invest in building your brand online - look into ways of promoting your website to get better search engine ranking. Ensure that printed marketing draws attention to your website as a call to action. Strive to make your website the most visited in your area of business.

Good luck.