Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Successful Online Branding

Successful Online Branding
By Arun Kottolli


To promote their brands, advertisers can choose between a huge number of different media channels, including newspaper and magazine advertisements, direct mail, and television and radio advertisements. Some years ago, the introduction of the Internet promised the beginning of a new branding area:. Suddenly many companies spent huge amounts of money on the modern media channel, however, often failing in turning their online branding efforts into success. Consequently, the Internet was disdained and regarded as risky choice to promote a brand. However, with the further growing presence of the Internet, marketers show the tendency to give the modern media channel a second chance.

The question is if it still makes sense to use the Internet as an alternative to traditional channels with all the failures already in place. Is it possible to successfully promote a company’s brand in the online space at all?

The Internet as Differentiating Factor

In advertising, differentiation became a golden rule to gain an advantage in the growing competition for consumers’ attention on and preference for a company’s brand. Offering a variety of different features (e.g. online account servicing, interest based attractions designed for children) and a huge potential of creativity, the Internet inspired marketers to use it as new branding and advertising tool. Though some companies at first questioned the relevance of brands in cyberspace, advertisers were soon taught that the need for brands can be even higher in the online medium than it is in traditional channels. Being confronted by similar products from many often unknown providers, consumers rely on the strength of brands which possess a meaningful, clear and trusted set of values and attributes, facilitating their online purchase choices.

Deriving from its unique characteristics, the Internet provides several key advantages. First of all, advertisers can utilize its interactive nature to build top-of-mind awareness among customers. Computer maker Sun, for example, utilizes the business websites to communicate with corporate buyers.

The Internet furthermore possesses the feature of relevance in so far that it is more efficient than other channels in reaching people that are part of a market of specific interest like computers for business needs.

Websites are able to combine sponsorships with editorial, making use of their relationships to users to link their needs with the branding goals of advertisers. The Internet can also be used to increase brand awareness all over the world.

Marketers soon were convinced by the Internet’s huge potential for success. End of 1998, consumers’ e-commerce attitudes forecasted a tripling of e-commerce activity for the up-coming year. The online medium was thought of as a simple way to create a differentiated image with little efforts to develop a variety of online resources. However, only several months later the problems of many advertising companies to succeed in cyberspace proved the opposite. The following paragraph will explore the reasons for the online failures, and thus will address the question if the Internet should be blamed for this negative result.

Don’t Forget about the Basics

Online companies in specific, a huge number of advertisers provided ‘marketing plans that assumed brand loyalty could be built in a quarter’. More problematic, advertising companies merely concentrating on capturing online users and their dollars, were ‘overlooking the simplest marketing remedies’, disavowing years of consumer and advertising research. A lot of money was spent on Internet marketing initiatives however missing any specific target.
Though there were reasons to question the old rules – with the Internet offering new
business models and media options – it was soon realized that only those firms which
practice tried and true marketing and branding practices will prosper

Advertisers should not forget about the basics of marketing, since they retain much of its value, ‘even if how and where we apply it has radically changed’. Besides considering general issues in branding, including the competitive advantage of strong brands, and the role of the consumer.

It is recommended that advertisers to pursue the following steps to successfully promote their products online:

  1. Development of a clear vision
  2. Extensive research on consumers
  3. Formulation of an attractive value proposition
  4. An appropriate communication campaign to retain previous customers and acquire new ones.

Beyond advertisers’ disregard of basic marketing principles, many companies’ internal organizational structure lacks to properly address online objectives. With branding constituting a complex process involving a number of different organizational parties – ‘from the top of the corporate structure to the individuals that are actually interacting with customers’ – the question remains who actually is responsible for the online activity of a company.

The management of e-businesses is in general shared by three departments: information
technology, marketing, and communications. However, getting organized remains a
major problem, with companies struggling with the common organizational phenomenon
Of "everyone being in charge and no one being in charge". Resulting from the lack of consensus are diverse problems – ranging from slowness in exploiting the online medium, due to endless debates over the most appropriate e-branding business model, to companies confusing users with hundreds of websites – that are severely affecting the future of a company’s e-business. Being confronted with an impatient online community, firms are advised to concentrate their efforts on an appropriate organizational structure, if they plan to survive in cyberspace.

Another problem is a severe disconnect between how customers find new web sites and where companies are focusing their branding investments. Though consumers’ top choices in discovering new websites are represented by search engines and recommendations from friends, marketers were observed to spent most of their budget on banner ads, newspaper, television and radio. In addition, many firms neglect to use powerful mechanisms, like sponsorships on other sites, in spite of their ability to reach a considerate number of users.

Summarizing above findings, advertisers are facing serious problems in cyberspace.

The next paragraph addresses these difficulties by presenting and explaining the most important principles companies have to take into consideration to successfully brand online.

Driving Online Branding to Success

Branding, constituting one specific part of e-marketing, can be understood as the inspiration of people "to think or feel a certain way about a product in the hopes of inducing or increasing product purchase and loyalty".

In cyberspace, marketers face new and different challenges and opportunities. However, the rules of the Old World are still true and should not be neglected. Spending a lot of money alone is no guarantee for success. Rather, the development of a powerful brand requires money, analysis, planning, execution, and time.

The following key branding principles show brand managers how to build a robust brand on the Internet and thus how to be successful in the online branding business:

  • Defining the Brand
  • Selecting the Brand Strategy Framework
  • Developing Specific and Achievable Goals
  • Operationalizing the Brand
  • Leveraging the Features of the Internet
  • Monitoring the Brand’ Performance
  • Caring for Your Customer

Defining the brand: The first crucial step to successful e-marketing is investing time and energy in gaining a thorough understanding of your brand, involving its meanings to potential consumers, its relationship to competitors’ brands, and the brand’s role in the market. Marketers need to bring these key branding elements with them when they enter the online space.

Selecting the brand strategy framework: Depending on a company’s products, brand
managers can choose between three basic frameworks:

  • Conglomerate brand strategy – the company’s brands stand on their own, e.g. Procter &
    Gamble with independent brands like Crest and Tide
  • Corporate brand strategy – a more dependent relationship between the company and its brands, e.g. brand IBM and its various divisions like IBM's MQ series, DB2, and Z-Series.
  • Master brand strategy – very close relationship as every brand name includes the corporate brand name, e.g. Intel Pentium, & Intel Centrino.

Developing specific and achievable goals: Different objectives demand different
strategic approaches. It is therefore recommended to distinguish between specific branding goals, for example:

  • Awareness – effective online and offline advertising and public relations are required to distinguish a company’s brand from the crowd
  • Message association – to get customers to associate a company’s message with its products, marketers have to guarantee high frequencies of simple, uncluttered ad units or sponsorships of content tied to a brand's message

Leveraging the features of the Internet: Branding in cyberspace offers advertisers
unique opportunities allowing them to strengthen brand affinity. However, the diverse
Web programs and tools have to be fully understood and used in consistency with the
company’s branding strategy to guarantee a successful branding result. The following features are most important for online branding success:

  • Search engines
  • Permission email
  • Personalization
  • Word of mouth
  • Affiliate networks

Monitoring the brand’s performance: With brands showing a dynamic nature, their online performance needs to be monitored and measured on a regularly basis. This process reveals whether a brand remains of relevance for the customer and informs marketers in time if steps have to be taken to improve the brand’s performance. The monitoring part of the branding process should not be neglected since it is important to track progress, so you can justify efforts and expenses for future branding actions.

Caring for your customer: A key component of any brand experience is the quality of customer service and support. A sound understanding of the company’s customers is a critical prerequisite in achieving such service excellence.

It becomes a necessity to increase the frequency of communication with online users by
establishing dialogue systems like focus groups and quantitative studies. In addition, the online experience should be easy and logical in order to delight users and encourage repeat site visits. Therefore, good website usability is a key to satisfy online customers. Comparing established brands with pure players, furthermore found that the online experience is of higher importance for a mature brand. Consumers expect according experiences – often making no distinction between the brand in cyberspace and in the real world.

Though confronted by a rapid changing technology, marketers can face the challenges of the online world by pursuing the above key branding principles. Branding on the Web, they will gain a deeper understanding of the diverse unique opportunities of this modern media channel. Online advocates, for example, suggest specific solutions that will help companies to further distinguish them from their competitors.


In recent years, many companies failed to use the Web as a new and different media channel, often resulting in their online extinction. Should the Internet be blamed for these catastrophes?
The possible reasons for online failures are usually: ‘neglect of basic marketing rules’, ‘internal organizational structure’, and ‘disconnect between consumer behavior and branding investment’ – demonstrating that the negative consequences were not caused by the Internet, but rather by some marketers’ inappropriate behavior. To successfully use the Internet for their branding purposes, key principles must be followed and that should prevent failures on the Web and ultimately lead to online marketing success.

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