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Online Branding-Expectations and Experiences

"A Web site has to live your, brand just as much as any other media you use"

What is really different about the market now, is that the diffuse Web audience has strong expectations about its online experience. 'If you're not ready to respond within a day,' Forrester report says, 'it's time to pick up your ball and go home.'This is basically true. What we have to do is build brand experiences on the Web. We have to build an experience that translates to a I real space' not a 'pretend space'. An online audience requires as much stimuli as a mass audience receiving advertising messages, or the individual customer wandering into a high street store, but it often draws the short straw.

Brand experiences are about creating spaces - whether they are physical, visual, aural or cognitive. In much the same way as we build a retail space in a store environment, we build a spatial and temporal cognitive experience through media advertising, or we build leisure space in a theme restaurant. We now have to be able to build a brand online and to make the offline experience of the online brand equally as valid. Think about the number of web sites you visited, left an e-mail inquiry, and never heard a titter or even an acknowledgment. What happens is that you give up and go elsewhere.

Most of the sites just gave information and little chance to interact. It is crucial to ask how your site helps to establish some of the central tenets of your brand and corporate reputation. If it fails to load, or any part of it does not work, you have a problem. If a customer, cannot find it through a search engine, a portal or a hyperlink referral list you have got a problem. If they get through to the site then ask questions via e-mail and you do not reply you have got a problem. A web site has to live your brand just as much as any other media you use. if it does not, then most people will not come back, If a site lives the brand name, people will repeat to buy. just take a look at your web static for evidence.

Branding is about more than visual design. Sure, branding is important but perception of brand quality is determined by the customer experience not the visual look of the site. And customer experience is better engineered with good information design than a multitude of colors and controls.

Branding and usability

The word amongst web designers at the moment is "branding". If you quiz them on what they mean about this, it usually comes down to interior decoration: choosing the right colors and the right fonts and designing the logo to generate appropriate emotions in the customer. Some of those thinking more deeply might include "fulfillment": getting the goods out of the warehouse and to your door in a reasonable time. But you don't need to be a design guru to know that a company's brand is only partially determined by its public face. For example, your attitude to your favoured supermarket chain is primarily determined by the customer service that you receive when you are in the store. Sure, "look" has some effect: you probably wouldn't go inside if, instead of the smell of freshly baked bread, you were presented with a view of peeling plaster. But "feel" is what brings you back.

Translated to the web, what companies need to aim for is great customer service. This doesn't simply mean delivering the goods on time, but with fast loading pages, and a simple and clear navigation structure. These are minimum requirements. It means the customer experience of the website itself. And this can be achieved only with a clear focus on what customers want to do: experience scenarios.

No longer can a designer take a Photoshop image CD and make a small operation look like a Fortune 500 company - people aren't that stupid. In fact, a seasoned surfer can spot a Photoshop image a mile away! Use some originality if you are going to use images - use photos of "real" humans; the staff in your business, tasteful shots of yourself etc. (with clothes on).

Also avoid changing link colors to neon city just for the sake of branding. Just think what a chaos it it will be if you drive into a new city where all the traffic signals have multicolor instead of standard colors as a part of beautification.

A good branding on the web should equally know what not to do as good as what to do.

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Last modified on 27 june 2004

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