Getting Your Brand Right Online
Daniel Letts from Wolff Olins writes about the importance of good branding on the internet and gives advice on how to do it.
By Daniel Letts, Wolff Olins
Nowadays, an organisation's website is likely to be the first real point of contact someone has with its brand. If you want to find out about a company or organisation, what's the first thing you do? You look it up online. Whether that organisation is a government department, a charity, a professional services firm, an FMCG company or an information provider, the online user makes a whole set of assumptions about it based on the online experience of its brand.
The internet has given us a new kind of transaction between consumers and brands, the 'getting to know you' trade. If this goes well, then a positive relationship is established at the outset. If it goes badly, a potential customer is lost. It's sobering to remember that, on the web, users make these decisions in seconds. If you don't get it right, competitors are only one click away.
While many brands have a clear idea of what they stand for and how they should express themselves offline, they often lose sight of this when they try to represent themselves online. In the offline world, the brand is big business, and organisations put a lot of time, effort and resources into getting it right. Too many brands don't apply the same care or attention to detail to their websites, leaving themselves exposed at this important first point of contact.
Why is this? I can only surmise that it's due to a lack of understanding. This lack of understanding may be based on an assumption that online branding and website design are one and the same thing, or on the misconception that online branding is not an important concern in the post-dotcom world.
But online brands are just brands online - not some strange breed apart.
We don't talk about TV brands and treat them differently to other brands - Disney is a brand not a 'movie brand'. Users now expect brands not just to have an online presence but to have one that is in tune with their expectations of the brand. In fact, the degree to which users have a positive experience online affects their subsequent attitude to the brand in every context. As internet traffic is set to double every year over the next five years (with consumers making up 60 per cent of this), it will be ever more important for organisations to make sure that the online experience they provide is a good one.
Users are aware of how brands are experienced online, but what about the brand owners? Certainly, any brand worth its salt will have a professional-looking, usable website - but is this enough? Nowadays, it should be taken for granted that an organisation will use the right logo and colours and make its site usable - but this is not necessarily the same as giving your users a positive brand experience.
So how do you ensure your users have a great brand experience online? It's a big question, but it starts with thinking about the brand in a holistic way, rather than as an additional bolt-on application. It requires a comprehensive analysis, understanding and translation of a brand's context, consumers and content into the online world. You need, among other things, to consider the accessibility, usefulness, frequency of use, appropriateness of content, the amount of interaction, the joy of use, and emotional relationship created. It's the combination of all of these things that, together, make up the brand experience online.
To give an example of the consideration needed: two thirds of internet surfers used direct navigation to get to a website. A lot of them engage in 'url guessing' (i.e. where they just have a bash at what they think the likely domain name for a company's website is going to be). Brand owners need to help users to go through this process successfully:
First, get hold of the most obvious and most popular domain name for your organisation. Think of this in similar terms to concepts such as 'location' and 'footfall' for retail outlets in the real world.
Second, register as many different configurations of your domain as you can, in case users guess your url incorrectly. These need to re-direct to the main domain name. If possible, use domain servers that support misspellings and 'wildcarding' (which means that a user doesn't have to be exact with the address they type in). Finally, create as much clear space around this property as possible, so that no competitor (or porn site - it does happen) can trade off your good name. All this just so that potential customers can get to the brand in the first place.
So, which brands have got it right? Think about Amazon's one click, eBay's user feedback system, EasyJet's easier and cheaper online booking, the BBC's message board communities.
Ultimately it's about valuing your brand as much online as you do offline, and investing the same care and emotion in it. If brand owners are serious about their online presence, an emotional connection with the user can be established. Those who ignore this will eventually find that such short-sightedness can hurt their brand and their business.
Daniel Letts, Wolff Olins.