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Branding on the Internet

Here are some truths about branding in the online world.

  • The process of branding a product or organization used to be a painstaking process that evolved over time, paced by the rate at which media could publish or broadcast positioning messages. Now, extreme time demands can be met by using the Internet.

  • In this hyper-intensive, fast-moving environment, branding techniques can go into play much more swiftly.

  • Branding the firm and branding the offering were formerly parallel paths that eventually converged;, in the online world, however, they quite often diverge to avoid becoming identified inextricably with an identity that might require downstream change.

  • Value of the brand is doubly critical in the ephemeral world of electronic commerce.

  • The online world provides something no other medium can: immediacy and a direct interactive link or connection with the customer or influencer! If these are traits to be identified with, the branding process is consistent with the market presence of the company.

  • In the online world, the product can be demonstrated quickly at varying levels, which speeds adoption rates.

  • Online branding provides more of an opportunity to neutralize counter-claims before they arise, and get the transaction made at the moment of sampling.

  • Before, it was also assumed that brands could live indefinitely. Not any more! It is possible for a brand to flame out in the online world within a year, whereas its life expectancy in the offline world might have been much longer.

  • The online, interactive world is more dynamic and subject to immediate modification to support changes that might expand recognition.

  • Online media can be used to refresh the brand, but offline media actually shape the brand.

  • The uniqueness of the offering can be tuned to market needs immediately.

  • Online media embody traits evident in all elements of the marketing mix.

  • If the online presence is left to banners, not enough time or screen real estate is available to establish or support branding. Banners are to branding what bumper stickers are to philosophy.

  • The entire communications mix must support the online image and impression.

  • As often an alternative medium, the Internet can be more affordable because it appeals to a largely focused target audience; but, as more and more differentiation take place, this is becoming less and less true.

  • Weakness in brand attributes can intensify the decline of a product or organization, and the pace of degradation can be extremely swift in electronic commerce.

  • Because of several qualities that make its effects short-term, the 'Net is more likely to be better as a transactional and promotional medium, but it's a long time before it becomes a powerful branding medium.

  • Trust, or the absence of it, is the single most powerful attribute that must be cultivated and nurtured. It does not happen because you say so, but is earned through practice and perhaps the most elusive quantity of all: time.

  • In sum, conventional branding in other media must bolster the electronic commerce presence, but are compressed in their delivery time.

Ultimately, loyalty to a brand is based on affinity. The online world graces and illuminates affinity, allowing the modern marketer to capture affinities infinitely. Loyalty requires collaboration between the enterprise and the customer. Through the online space, that collaboration can be facilitated with almost as much intensity and impact as when going one-on-one with the customer. With e-commerce, it happens on a larger, often global scale.

NOTE

"A Brand is a complex symbol.

It is the intangible sum of a product's attributes, its name, packaging and price; its history, reputation and the way it is (promoted).

A Brand is also defined by consumers' impressions of the people who use it, as well as their own experience."

—David Ogilvy, 1955

The last phrase is the most important to online ventures. The customer experience is the message.

As customer needs change, often reflected by changing product attributes, products change to meet new market requirements. Despite David Ogilvy's sentient thoughts in 1955, branding officially became codified as an artful science only in the past 10 years, but its influence has expanded dramatically today. Despite its formalization as a marketing discipline, some practices still occur outside established processes now generally accepted by the marketing community.

Some, such as scaled-down vest pocket branding projects, evolve actually in the field by going directly to the consumer, one of the main features associated with electronic commerce. These efforts, which could result in premature exposure, arise when products are introduced but budgets are limited, or if there are time pressures to beat competitors into a new category.

In the late 1990s, as electronic commerce came on stream as a logical extension of the influence of the Internet, increasing competition and reduced time-to-market demands collided with escalating media and production expenses. The new digital media and related techniques then hit their stride as cost-effective means of shortening the marketing project development times and of reducing costs associated with print or broadcast production. Although important, online effects on the branding process are only now being understood.

Today, the 'Net and other digital media allow communications practitioners to lead or meet the target in a dynamic fashion—immediately, if required. This is changing many branding dynamics, but underlying disciplines remain the same and intact.

Those interested in examining aspects of branding that are not included in this article, such as its underlying and larger disciplines, might enjoy the following books: Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy; Building Strong Brands, by David Aaker; Brand Leadership: The Next Level of Brand Development, by David Aaker; Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout; The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding, by Laura Ries and Jack Ries; Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, by Geoffrey A. Moore and Regis McKenna; and Inside the Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley's Cutting Edge, by Geoffrey A. Moore.

The skills and processes leading up to new media branding are complicated; they are not trivial. Since David Ogilvy gave impetus to branding as a discipline more than four decades ago, the advertising community alone has emerged as a major force in the process, generating close to $1.5 trillion a year toward leveraging brand identities. Those techniques and processes are well-documented, and they almost exclusively rely on processes employed by the advertising community.

NOTE

"A product is something that is made in a factory; a Brand is something bought by the consumer."

—Stephen King (not the scary author), Developing New Brands

In addition to borrowing techniques from older offline media, those building an electronic commerce presence are beginning to add new techniques and with them a layer of new media forms. In every branding experience, no one medium can accomplish all there is to do. The adept in pursuit of a stronger brand has always mixed their media in some fashion for optimal strategic advantage.

The Internet is an opportunity to blend interactivity with immediacy. There is a process of Action, Interaction, and Reaction. Alphabet soup freaks immediately recognize this as the start of an acronym built on AIR. Right.

Many brand marketers are accustomed to using media techniques in a hydraulic fashion; that is, the application of a small amount of force magnified to achieve a larger purpose, or one message spread over a wide number of outlets to equal a cumulative total for impressions. Successful use of the Internet can open a brave new world for the use of branding techniques. Many nimble and adept professionals, schooled in branding techniques and digital communications, are already grasping the potential leverage to be achieved by branding using the online marketing principles. Those practitioners are using these tools to get valuable target audience reactions in real-time while their message proliferates.

NOTE

Interactivity, and the opportunity for collaboration with the consumer that occurs when using the Internet, is the single most important take-away for the marketing portion of the branding process. If the customer doesn't become involved with the company or its message, it was a wasted branding effort.

Nothing is more important for understanding the power of the new media and the use they play in building a strong brand presence than realizing that not only is time-to-market severely compressed, but also the time horizon for market cycles is collapsed. The Internet does more to collapse the process leading to success or failure in branding than any other medium has or will have because of its immediacy and the power with which it increases collaboration between enterprise and customer...or expands the gulf between them.

The savvy practitioner has an excellent opportunity to use these techniques—new media and branding—to close any gaps and form a strong loyal bond between the enterprise and the target audience.

As the new media gain a stronger and stronger toehold in the marketplace, they will go from representing a sliver of the marketing mix to a much more viable and stronger presence. As they transform the marketplace, the new media hold the promise of altering patterns that marketers use in other media.

The measurable result of the branding process is customer evangelism—when the customer becomes actively involved in promoting it, as well.

Here are some of the salient features that make the Internet a new and different medium for building brand equity, either as an incremental addition or as a mainstay of the marketing mix. It is the interactive nature of the medium that overrides any deficiencies for enhancing the brand process.

The Internet currently is:

ENVIRONMENTALLY

  • slow to load, reflecting limited bandwidth, but this will eventually be less of a factor

  • interactive

  • in constant flux with changing rules

  • flat, two-dimensional, and appeals to a limited range of senses

  • new, but quickly wears thin for newcomers unfamiliar with its underlying power and benefits

  • noisy

  • a high-maintenance medium needing constant attention to make it fresh

  • immediate and timely, capable of reducing the time-to-market for important messages without sacrificing quality or impact

  • appealing to the venturesome innovators in marketing and their counterparts in the target audiences

  • requires constant signposts, guides, and assists to help navigate because of the bewildering array of content and opportunities and the short attention span of users

  • is a major entry point toward true global capitalism, with all its beauty and warts

BEST SUITED FOR

  • a small but expanding number of electronic commerce applications that effectively take advantage of those environmental factors

  • being supported by other elements of the marketing mix

  • dynamically altering messages, content, and appeals

  • special branding situations consisting of small and often elusive audiences

  • a limited number of demographic profiles, but homogenization is occurring at a rapid pace—leading to larger-scale adoption of the medium for electronic commerce, primarily in B2B

  • visual experiences relying on rapid downloads of text or graphics because it is short on the usual attributes that let message developers use conventional emotional techniques, which means other techniques must still be discovered, developed, and enhanced to engage higher levels of interest

EVOLVING DRAMATICALLY INTO

  • a channel to the customer with its own unique traits

  • possessing some traits similar to those in broadcast radio and television; others typically experienced in the print media

  • a polarized community supported by fat cats with deep pockets, but used by small fry

  • one that has lost its cult status, despite some offerings that appeal to ideas outside the mainstream

  • a proving ground for new capabilities that eventually will validate its kinship with broadcast media: sight and sound

  • a trustworthy environment

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