How to adapt your brand for effective online strategy
Before I get into the challenges of adapting a traditional brand for online brand strategy, I’d like to revisit some of my thoughts on Brand. As I have written in the past, a logo, for example, is an important element within the bigger picture of corporate visual identity which is an important but undeniable subset of the even bigger picture called brand strategy.
Unfortunately, online agencies lack the experience, knowledge and training to create a logo or visual corporate identity, or even extend a successful brand strategy to the online. If you talk to them about an experience, they are likely to get creative and think along the lines of The Gorgeous tiny chicken machine show. And that’s not very helpful for most us. On the other hand, top ad agencies are too pricey for successful small and medium size businesses that want to take their business and brand online.
Of course, no one is going to tell you that that don’t know what they’re doing- especially not online agencies that found their niche in a business area in which people make lots and lots of money without actually knowing much or working very hard. After all, it would be bad for business if they told you what they know (nothing) and how cool it is to make lots of money when you know nothing and don’t work very hard!
The solution of online advertising agencies is to substitute online brand strategy and great design with the brute number of impressions and clicks. It’s a costly, brutal and ineffective tactic, but it does drive online ad revenues in online agencies across the world. The money- that’s what matters most to online agencies!
However, I predict that people’s attention to what’s on their monitor will evolve in manner that they won’t notice 96 percent of the online advertising that tries to poke them in the eyes. I give it five years or less. And the online advertising industry itself is in for a big shake up soon. The failure to deliver results will ultimately catch up with the cool guys- sooner rather than later.
Brand is about business
Brand is about business. I said it seven years ago (here) and I’ll say it again now. Some repetition is worthwhile and it has been some time since I last wrote about it.
Great brands can drive revenue and profitability by influencing choice, sustaining margins and supporting new business opportunities. This is how earnings are attributable to strong brands. Brand plays an important and undeniable role in the customer’s purchase decisions, the competitive strength of the brand within its markets, future market position and business development opportunities.
Unfortunately, the numerous brands that we see online are often not well conceived because they fail to…
1. Embody the true business values of a company
2. Communicate a message that fits customer expectations and culture
3. Excite and stand out.
Another problem is the failure of investment and financial planning, building online brand is more than getting the right logo and corporate visual identity going on your website. Building online brand also means lots of other things including:
1. Creating an immersive and engaging online customer experience through primary websites, mini websites and personal websites/web journals
2. Extending the brand strategy through online advertising, search ranking, and social search/media
3. Adopting the online brand as a subculture within an organization.
Online brands that do not succeed often fail because the organization has failed to embrace the online brand and become fanatical about it.
For most medium and small brick and mortar businesses, online business is still an after thought, a casual experiment, or a lottery ticket. They aren’t even thinking about brand- much less online brand. Unfortunately for some, the lack of an online brand strategy or a lackluster strategy can become one’s online brand.
When that happens, it is devastating.
Although much of the energy and dynamic behind a brand’s capacity to create demand is created by consistency, frequency and selection of channel, when a brand is effective, it creates demand – online and offline. It’s not just about communication, channels, impressions, unique views, frequency of views, and coolness of online real estate.
It’s also about getting the right customer to choose the brand’s products or services regardless of competitors’ offers. The fanatical loyalty and enthusiasm that can happen within a brand relationship should be so powerful that a customer will even encourage their friends to share in that experience. Online or in the real world, an effective brand receives a positive, favorable and welcome response from its audience. People act on this.
Unfortunately, creating demand is a lot harder to accomplish in the internet age. The sheer amount of product and company information, yours and that of your competitors, has empowered the consumer and, at the same time, made it a lot harder on brand management- not to mention that online brand can be not fully effective if the core customer experience is not immersive, engaging and exciting. The good news is that creating an immersive experience is not rocket science nor is it as expensive as rocket fuel. It’s just really expensive, time-consuming, and creatively-intensive.
Online or offline, brand must be expressed through a attention getting, easily recognizable and engaging corporate identity that creates interest, demand, trust and loyalty. Everyday web technologies have made it less expensive to get more bang for your buck, but it’s still not cheap. The customer experience can now be more immersive than television and film and that’s the great news about online brand strategy.
Offline, the logo was typically the first identity item to create an impression about a business or product. For practical consideration, the logo was the first impression you make on your customers, business partners and other stake holders. Making a good impression meant that the logo must be unique and memorable; that it must poke them in the eyes, and that it must communicate a powerful message that appeals to your audience.
What makes a logo a strong visual corporate identity item remains the same online, however, like banner ads, the stand alone logo in the web page header has less prominence in the online. Although good corporate identity requires some traditional treatment of the logo on a web page, the logo must be now be further manipulated, extended and integrated seamlessly into the customer experience.
The pith and powerful message that was synthesized into a logo must be uncanned and uncompressed into a larger, richer experience of sound, motion, voice and story.
Do you remember the things that you squeezed to get out the spirit of your logo?
1. Consumer behavior, perceptions and needs
2. Customer service standards
3. Value or function of the products or services
4. Corporate behavior and culture
5. Mission and vision of a company
These things must now inspire a rich internet experience for your customer through story, plot, personality, and other devices of rhetoric, literature and film. That experience is where your logo, for example, must become embedded within. Your online trademark must become more than a visual object, it must shape ambience, emotion, landscape, senstivity or soundscape.
Online brand is not so very different from offline brand in regard to its objectives. The customer experience must get attention, direct that attention toward action, and be recognizable and distinct from other brand experiences. The experience like a logo must must strongly support the reputation of the company and business goals. It must inspire internal culture and make evangelists out of your most important employees.
The requirements seem to represent almost impossible problems that even veteran online strategists, interactive designers and web gurus find difficult or impossible to solve. The start up, young or small web design company or online agency will never be able to create a great and compelling customer experience – especially not on the cheap. Only those who have trudged through projects in the millions of dollars (or euros) can begin to create things that look like a customer experience. Most of them, however, will fail to achieve anything that a customer experience aims to accomplish.
This unfortunate situation may be surprising to you. Ok, everyone talks the talk, but as a matter of fact, Yahoo! has great difficulty setting up and delivering rich media advertising through its own advertising network. Yahoo! relies on third parties that don’t really know what they are doing. They mess up booked online campaigns for rich media quite often.
In God We Trust
Slapping your logo down on the header of a nice web page layout isn’t even getting started. Finding the right people to help you convert print and other brand strategy to an effective online strategy AND being ready to make a significant investment are both key to success. Did I mention that the investment is significant?
Finding people that have some of the prerequisite experience and all of the knowledge, talent, people, and vision can be difficult. However, anyone who has done a few million dollars or euros of serious web work (not project management!) for anybody BUT the government could be likely candidates. In my humble opinion, most government contractors are a shady lot that too often subcontract out to those who know very little about what they are doing.
Working out the right deal with the right people, then, is the greatest challenge.
Back in the mid 90s, a good web site was good brochureware with some database capability. A really good website cost about $100,000 back then. Then the market became highly competitive as anyone with a feel for the technologies started making websites. Also, a lot of great technologies that came out lowered the costs of the grunt work. Still, a good website today for a company with one million dollars in revenues should be a rich, interactive and immersive customer experience – minimum bids shouldn’t be less than $160,000.
We are long past the time for brochure ware, baby steps and incremental investments in online strategy, advertising and marketing.
If 50 percent of that budget is dedicated to the design, planning, technology and development of great customer experience, than roughly 20 percent will be needed for converting print and other brand items into effective online brand items. I know what you’re going to say. That doesn’t leave much for the other work, testing, and maintenance!
That’s why the people you trust to do this work have to be that good.
But you might believe yourself clever enough to create an in house capacity for the same? If so, multiply the cost by 8 per year for a minimum of four years.
April 12, 2008
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About Stan Faryna
Mr. Faryna is the founder and co-founder of several technology, design and communication companies in the United States and Europe including Faryna & Associates, Inc., Halo Interactive, and others.
Stan Faryna is also a Global Voices author and translator. Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society.
His political, scholarly, social and technical opinions have appeared in The Chicago Defender, Jurnalul National, The Washington Times, Sagar, Saptamana Financiara, Social Justice Review, and other publications.
Mr. Faryna also served as editor-in-chief of Black and Right (Praeger Press, 1996), a landmark collection of socio-political essays by important American thinkers including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Copyright 1996 to 2008 by Stan Faryna.
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