The concept of BRANDING has been sliced, diced and discussed for many years now, but the meaning behind the term goes much deeper than value or mission statements, logos or corporate color schemes. At the end of the day, all branding is founded upon telling customers who you are, what you do and how you do it. The ways in which you do it can be different than the way other companies do it, but the goals are always the same.
To take this just a little further, think about it this way: Your brand is how your particular target audience thinks about your product, and how they connect with it emotionally.
The online component of a marketing plan has often been marginalized in the past, but that is quickly changing. Most companies realize that they must direct both focus and resources to creating, fine tuning and maintaining an online identity.
In a general sense, social media makes it possible to brand yourself before anyone actually becomes your customer. It can also be the catalyst that brings them over. The idea is to join conversations, participate, become a part of the group.
If you've created a good weave of profiles, information and interesting content or conversation, then you've made some friends and maybe picked up some fans. More importantly, they've felt compelled to visit your website, where you have an opportunity to get one to one with them. This is interactive branding at work.
Here are a few tips to help you create a focused identity online.
DEFINE YOUSELF! When visitors arrive at your web site, tell them immediately what it is you do and why they should care about it. So many web sites shroud their identity in flashy graphics and ambiguous slogans without really telling people what the company or person actually does! Everyone has heard of WIIFM (what's in it for me). Keep that in mind when you look at your website. Does it spell out exactly what your brand stands for? Ask few of your friends to visit the site and then quickly describe who you are and what you do for people. If it isn't consistent and clear, redesign!
TELL EM WHAT YOU DO, NOT WHO YOU ARE! It may defy logic, but making your company name the most visible element on your home page isn't always the best way to reinforce your brand. Sometimes, stating the benefit up front is far more effective. Which of these creates a clearer picture: The business name "Fitness Central" displayed in large letters or the more specific headline "Ways to Work a Fitness Plan into a Busy Schedule"?
GET PERSONAL! Avoid letting your site be a cold, mechanical place. Your branding efforts are far more effective when you include a recognizable, consistent human element. Think of the ways that the late great Dave Thomas promoted the Wendy's chain of fast food restaurants. If your company has a CEO or a person who is closely identified with the company offline, make sure that connection carries to the cyberworld. If it's your own business, then definitely include your name, photo and personal message on your web site. Nothing creates disconnection and even distrust more than a site that is completely void of any personal presence, and asks visitors to send e-mail to the "webmaster." By the way, I walk my talk. If you have a look at the website for my company GDC Interactive Marketing Now! you'll see my face and name all over the place!
CREATE A "FAN CLUB" MENTALITY! Many online marketing plans look to find ways to generate readers, visitors or users. That's not all bad, but I also encourage you to switch gears a little and find ways to create fans. "Consumers" are people who visit your web site, subscribe to your newsletter or buy your products and services. "Fans," on the other hand, cheer you on, rave about you to their friends and eagerly follow everything you do. Which would you rather have?
BE VISUAL! Content cannot be overlooked, words are important. But the look of your Web site must also support your brand image. Is your brand best served by hard edges or softer, rounded shapes? Do primary colors capture your personality or would earth tones be a better match? Find the design scheme that best compliments your identity. If you have a corporate or personal; logo, be sure that it is displayed prominently, and that the site fits around it nicely.
TAKE NAMES, ASK QUESTIONS LATER! So somebody has visited your site - now what? In my opinion, Offering a free e-mail newsletter is absolutely necessary for all business websites. It allows you to build a database of subscribers who are specifically interested in what your brand represents, and to build a relationship with them. It puts you in control of the frequency with which your audience is exposed to your brand. Offering value to your subscribers is crucial, whether it's a tip filled weekly article, or advance notice of upcoming specials. The nice thing is that fully automated systems such as Aweber and GetResponse make setting up a subscriber form easy as easy can be!
POLLINATE THE SOCIAL WEB! Today's Social Web offers a plethora of opportunities to project your brand. There are many specific strategies such as content or article marketing, blogging or vlogging, posting to social network groups etc., but participation is the key. Get started! Because of the direct interaction social media provides, it can be an extremely effective component of branding. It can even provide one-on-one customer service.
DIVE IN! One last note to add about the role of social web marketing in an overall marketing effort. It's different than most traditional methods of advertising in that the results can't always be measured in quite the same ways as those. But don't be afraid to participate in social media just because you don't see the ROI in the same manner as to what you're accustomed. You're not likely to, at least not immediately and not in a way you can pinpoint one event causing another. But over time, you can build your social reputation. This leads to credibility. And over time that credibility and awareness will very likely lead to an increase in your customer base. And that is what branding is really all about!