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4/23/2008
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The New Rules of E-Branding

Revamp your online brand and increase site traffic with these six guidelines

Have you ever considered the differences between traditional "offline" branding and branding on the Internet? Many traditional branding strategies don't translate successfully online. That's because unlike other communications media, the Internet is an interactive channel -- one that marries text, movement, sound, and design to produce a comprehensive brand personality. This presents an enormous opportunity but also a daunting challenge. Although your site allows for an animated brand experience, visitors remain completely in charge and competitors are just a click away.

The heart of e-branding, of course, is your Web site. A well-designed site requires more than strong copywriting, a compelling logo, and attractive graphics. It requires new considerations for communicating with customers, prospects, and suppliers in a dynamic, global marketplace. To develop a successful e-brand, first create a "sticky" Web site, one that encourages visitors to "stick around" instead of bouncing to another site. This requires a strategy formulated from the following rules:

  1. Know your purpose. Are you an Internet brand or a brand on the Internet? The two are mutually exclusive. If you plan to use the Internet primarily as a marketing vehicle and you have a store in the "real world," then you're a brand on the Internet. The majority of DIY Web site templates are made with you in mind. However, if you plan to generate most of your sales from your Web site, you're an Internet brand -- and everything gets more complicated. You'll need to conduct global competitive research, determine SEO strategies, investigate advanced shopping cart functionality, and forge other e-paths, like affiliate programs and partnerships, to get visitors to your site.
  2. Meet needs "above the fold." Like the text that appears above a newspaper fold, "above the fold" refers to the space visible on users' screens before they scroll downward. Visitors generally dislike scrolling, so take advantage of this prime real estate. Convey what your company does and how it benefits customers. If visitors don't quickly see what they need, most will go elsewhere. Your home page must be relevant, clean, inviting, and real. This is critical to minimizing bounce rates.
  3. Add interactivity. The Internet lacks the "human touch" that builds trust in the real world. Interactivity, however, warms up the user experience, engendering trust. Interactivity is not just the ability to menu shop. If possible, allow customers to input requests and receive relevant information or suggestions based on those requests. If you can't incorporate this type of interactivity, personify your site in some way. Again, this helps you foster trust -- a key component to brand-building, online and off.
  4. Get to the point. Organize content to meet customer needs intuitively and immediately. Envision the flow you feel customers are most likely to take, then place content using tabs and links accordingly. Keep copy bite-sized, interesting, and informative. Avoid long, fact-packed narratives in favor of bullet points, captions, and brief paragraphs. Finally, work to convey messages visually as well as verbally.
  5. Avoid hype. A big advantage to the Internet is how it allows access to lots of information in a no-pressure environment, one in which customers have total control. Traditional advertising doesn't work in such an environment. Prospects simply tune it out. The Internet allows consumers to quickly compare product prices, variety, and features. Hype destroys credibility.
  6. Create e-brand standards. These standards should consist of both visual and technical guidelines. Visual specifications should include color palette, logo placement, graphic elements, and typography. At a minimum, technical specs should include your site map and navigational structure, static vs. dynamic screens, and placement of additional buttons and links.

Overall, your customers' experience must be easy, fast, and fulfilling. Online, there is simply no tolerance or time for frustration. Information should be easy to digest. Ordering should be quick and simple. Loading times must be virtually instantaneous. Everything should be intuitive. It's as easy and difficult as that.

John Williams is president and founder of LogoYes.com. He has created brand standards for Fortune 100 companies such as Mitsubishi and won numerous international awards for his design work.

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