Branding on the Web

by Joe Gillespie — Jun 1, 1998

The web is a busy place. Getting a company or product noticed isn't easy amidst all that hustle and bustle.

But have you ever been in a "real" market place? An African or Middle Eastern bazaar? When I visited the little town of Sousse in Tunisia not so long ago, there were two types of shopping experiences, one for the tourists and one for the locals. The tourist stores were much like any other, neat and with priced marked. The local "souk" was another story. Most of the goods were cheap and shoddy but, if you are looking for real bargains, prepared to run the verbal and physical gauntlet, and haggle hard, this is the place. Though, without all your wits about you, you are liable to emerge dazed, confused, cleaned out of cash and laden down with trinkets that you have no idea what to do with.

These salesmen do their jobs to perfection. Here, even ten-year-olds use tricks of the trade that have been handed down for generations and could put many so-called sophisticated western salesmen to shame.

One favorite trick is for them to give bags of candy or nuts to your children when you are looking elsewhere. The kids start to eat the goodies thinking that they are a gift, then you have to pay up whatever ridiculous price the seller thinks he can get away with.

Then there is the "hello old friend" scam where local youths quiz taxi drivers as to where they have just brought you from. Shortly afterwards, you are accosted by a "good friend" who, by a sheer stroke of luck, is staying at the same hotel, recognizes you, and feels he is obliged by this "kinship" to take you to all the stalls where his colleagues are prepared to court destitution to give you the most excellent bargains.

This is Marketing!

The Two-Tier Selling System

In the comparatively calm aisles of a modern western supermarket, the same tricks and pressures are still there, they are just not quite so obvious.

The candy by the checkout, just at kiddie level. Sounds familiar?

The most commonly bought goods tucked away at the back of the store so that you have to walk past all the other tempting offers to get to them?

With your defenses down, you are just as likely to buy here as you are within the high pressure, verbal onslaught of the bazaar.

In the bazaar, or any pre-twentieth century market place for that matter, transactions are on a more or less instantaneous and one-to-one basis - the goods, the salesman, the customer, the money.

In modern market places, many of the goods are "sold" to you before you go near them. This "selling" is an entirely separate exercise from the exchange of money for goods or services and is the task of the advertising and marketing agencies who use television, press, posters etc. to develop brand awareness, communicate product benefits and create a demand for the product. With this "two-tier" marketing approach, strong branding is paramount and has to be powerful enough so that, no matter where it appears, the brand is instantly recognised - on a bill poster, a ball point pen or on a web page.

As these activities migrate to the comparatively new medium of the web, it is useful to explore how techniques can be leveraged from the more traditional media and how they can be adapted and improved to best advantage in the new environment.

So, How do you Brand a Web Page?

Creating the right visual relationship between a web-based brand message and its other, more traditional, media manifestations is the first task for the designer but there is more to branding a web page than merely slapping a logo on it.

As these activities migrate to the comparatively new medium of the web, it is useful to explore how techniques can be leveraged from the more traditional media and how they can be adapted and improved to best advantage in the new environment.

A company or product logo is the "face" by which it is recognised. A "brand" goes deeper than that. It is a persona that is accumulated over time from various "brand values" that have been projected though advertising, promotion and personal experiences. A "branded" web page has to be sympathetic to the brand as a whole, not only visually but in tone-of-voice, attitude and personality.

Transferring a brand identity from a printed page to a web page is not particularly difficult. The key word is "consistency". If you tell the same story over and over again, or show the same picture, the brand identity becomes stronger and more memorable - all part of the cumulative effect.

Conversely, any deviation or inconsistency confuses and weakens the image and should be avoided.

Kellogg logo  Kodak logo  Kraft logo

Here are three brands whose initial letters are K. All three are easily recognizable, even in the absence of the complete band name. One uses a very distinctive letterform. Another uses a stylistic letter and distinctive colour scheme. And the other uses a distinctive lozenge shape called a "control field" in conjunction with a fairly ordinary typeface.

What they all have in common is that they have applied these elements rigorously and consistently for many years and at considerable expense.

Adapting Design Skills to Web Branding

The classic supermarket techniques of "standout", "shelf impact", "quality and value-for-money perceptions" all have their equivalents in the world-wide web environment. Graphic designers have various visual tricks to make a product stand out from the crowd, mainly by making them look distinctively different from the rest and by using powerful visual imagery. Like concentrated washing powder or tomato paste, a little goes a long way and has to be used with taste and discretion.

The worst enemy of the web page designer is the animated GIF with the dirty typewriter lettering and soft drop shadow. No, don 't take that too literally, but web-page clichés, and there are lots of them, should be recognised for what they are and side-stepped. I can't stress this too much because it is impossible to make a brand stand out if it uses the same visual vocabulary as its competitors.

Look at what your competitors are doing.

Do something else!

Adapting a brand image to work across a multi-page site means that you have to treat the whole site as a homogenous entity.Porsche-Usa Each page must relate to the others through consistent application of logos, colors, backgrounds, layouts or other visual anchors - and even writing style. The fact that you have to work within the web's bandwidth constraints actually helps here. The reuse of cached pictorial elements not only makes for more efficient loading times, it helps to hold a site together visually.

The Web"s Place in an Overall Brand Strategy

In budgetary terms, putting a brand message on the web is comparatively low risk. Sure, there are some design and production costs, there always are, but you can have a hard working site on the web for a year for the same kinds of figures you would spend in a day in the press or in seconds on television. Obviously, some products are more suited to web promotion than others, the web has its own socio-demographical profile in terms of age, education and interests.

Whatever else, the target audience are computer users. Tens of millions of them. But even better, they take their computers seriously. That's a big market - and a lot of opportunities!

If your company makes Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce, the web is probably the place to do your corporate advertising, not your brand advertising. Your target audience might well be potential consumers but not necessarily the main purchaser. So, your web presence may be selling the concept of financial investment in your company, or offer employment opportunities. You might also consider using a web page to explain the dietary benefits of eating beans and telling readers about how many millions of satisfied customers you have on a daily basis. The trick here is to educate and inform in a "soft sell" manner that reinforces the overall brand image.

Go along with what the web is good at!

Use it, don't fight it.

There is a subtle, but important, difference between "information" and a "sales message". Just remember, it is always easier to "sell" when the defenses are down.

The Real Advantages of Web Marketing

The web has a high degree of immediacy. It is also interactive. In fact, no other medium comes anywhere near it in these terms. Herein lies the real benefits of brand projection and marketing on the web.

By marketing a product on the web, it is possible to closely target appropriate groups and even individuals. From the client's perspective, his brand is being promoted very effectively and efficiently. The message about the product is getting through to the right people and not wasting money with scatter-gun techniques.

Now, it makes little difference whether the product is being promoted locally, nationally or internationally, the web opens up markets that would be impractical or prohibitively expensive to address using conventional means.

The web is both increasing the size of your market, and improving the likelihood of hitting the right consumer profile.

Using dynamically generated web page content, specific sales messages or promotions can be delivered accurately, on a personal basis, in almost any language. The inherently flexible nature of a web page layout can accommodate varying graphical and textural content much more easily than its printed counterpart can, it just stretches to fit, and can be updated every few seconds if necessary.

By fulfilling the customer's needs and buying experience in this positive way, perceptions of the company and product will be enhanced.

That's what brand building is all about!

However, marketing goes beyond just selling, and the web can help here too. A large proportion of any brand launch effort goes into consumer research. It is a kind of feedback loop which starts with conceptual and creative ideas being tested on potential customers. Their reactions are then fed back into the mix and after a number of iterations, the company has a brand concept that has a greater chance of success in the marketplace.

Moving some of these activities to the web can short circuit the process to a large degree.

Information - feedback. Information - feedback.

Not only do timescales and costs telescope to a fraction of their traditional counterpart, the whole process can be automated using server scripts to do the screening, filtering and analysis. The interactivity means that you can get immediate response at relatively low cost.

Back to the Future

With web-based marketing, we have gone full circle and returned to something closer to the bazaar marketing model. Once more, we have the personal, one-to-one transaction with the buyer and the seller "virtually" face to face.

Through the provision of information, product benefits, links to comparative (unbiased) reviews, price comparisons and the exchange of money for goods, we are escaping from the old, two-tier process of separating "selling" from "the transaction". Previously, much of the effort and money spent on branding is just in making and maintaining the connection between the two processes. Web marketing can give more focus to the brand itself and more immediate results on the bottom line. Instead of running to keep up, you can be sprinting ahead.

Now, all we need is for someone to come up with a way to send the goods down a phone line - teleportation. But that won't happen until someone like Larry Niven becomes CEO of UPS.

Joe Gillespie is a designer/art director based in London, England. From a background in leading advertising agencies and design studios, he now heads Pixel Productions, specializing in design for multimedia.

Joe has acted as an interface design consultant to Apple, Microsoft and Videologic in the UK and was involved in the conception of the Electronic Telegraph &emdash; one of the web's premier newspapers.

Currently working on CD-ROM projects for Canon and Sony, Joe has also produced the High Five award winning Web Page Design for Designers site.

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