Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Communicate a Rock-Solid Brand Identity

Branding has been the key for marketing for many decades. Branding is often associated a name, logo, tag line, colors and images. But the term ‘Brand’ has implications far beyond corporate logos, mission statements and theme songs. Effective branding is all about telling customers who you are, what you do and how you do it.

For high tech companies, Internet provides an ideal platform to create a strong brand identity. Business customers interact with the supplier mainly over Internet - even before they make the buying decision. For example, A prospective customer of Wipro Technologies, a provider of IT services will first visit Wirpo’s web site before Wipro’s Business Development manager can make a face-to-face presentation.

Today it's vitally important for B2B companies and high tech firms to use the Internet to make an impact with a solid brand Image. Here are nine tips to help you carve a focused identity online.

1. Define your brand up front.
When visitors arrive at your web site, let them know immediately what you do and why they should care. Far too many web sites shroud their identity in flashy graphics and ambiguous slogans without telling people what the company or person actually does. View your Web site through the eyes of a new visitor. Does it spell out exactly what your brand stands for? If not, redesign it so your purpose and identity are unmistakable. For example, eSilicon Corp. Their home page displays:

"eilicon Corporation is a semiconductor company that manufactures and designs custom chips for the world's leading electronics companies. Our experienced in-house manufacturing and design teams integrate their deep domain expertise and proven methodology to consistently deliver first-pass silicon success and rapid time-to-volume. The result is fast, predictable and cost effective chip delivery"

The opening paragraph lets visitors know exactly who the site is for.

2. Lead with what you do, not who you are.

It may defy logic, but making your company name the most visible element on your home page may not be the most effective way to reinforce your brand. A Web-based or e-mail marketing message should state a benefit right off the bat.

Which of these paints a clearer identity: The business name "LSILogic" displayed in large letters or the more specific description "RapidChip® Platform ASIC combines three things: pre-verified slices, Intellectual Property and design methodology, to create silicon products."?
The overuse of company name in the above example is undermining the brand of "RapidChip"

3. Use a real person as a figure head.

The online world can be a cold, mechanical place. Your branding efforts are more effective when you add a recognizable, consistent human element. Think of the way Steve Jobs promoted Apple. If your company has a CEO or spokesperson who is closely identified with the company, make sure that connection is maintained in cyberworld.

Web sites that carry the name, photo and personal message from the leader creates a soft human touch to otherwise a machine like web site. Nothing creates mystery and distrust more than a site that is void of a human contact and asks visitors to send e-mail to the "webmaster."

4. Develop a fan-club mentality.

Most online marketers try to generate readers, visitors or users. I encourage you to switch gears and create fans. "Users" are people who visit your web site, subscribe to your newsletter or buy your products and services. "Fans," on the other hand, have bought your product, rave about you to their friends and on your web.

Most companies have case studies buried deep in their web site which visitors must dig out to read. Having a customer testimonial in the opening page will send a powerful message to all prospective customers. For example Wipro’s home page prominently carries a customer testimonial.

5. Make good use of words.

Verbal content is not only the king, it's the entire kingdom. Even though designers try to squeeze as much graphic impact as they can out of limited bandwidths, what matters most online are the words you use. To create fans online, you must deliver useful brand-related information and speak to readers in a conversational tone. If it takes more than one or two scrolling screens to do that, so be it.

The common web page design guideline of not having to scroll for content is applicable - but to the front page or Index page only. For subsequent pages - where text based content is key, scroll is fine. Readers who land on these pages are curious to know more about you and will be willing to read through the text. For example see www.open-silicon.com. The Index page is limited to one screen, but subsequent pages have lots of information - but people don’t mind the scroll.

6. Make sure visual elements reinforce your identity.

While words are important, 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 brand identity.

As a rule of thumb, establish a set of corporate colors and shapes - and ensure that all the pages in the web site follow this color/shapes scheme. Consistency makes it easier to create web pages and the brand identity is reinforced in all pages. Most of the well established companies have implemented this policy. See www.intel.com, www.cisco.com or www.broadcom.com

7. Become a one-stop destination.

Let's say your company sells temperature sensors. You might simply post an online catalog and a few information about products. However, a far better approach would be to set up your site as a clearing house for all things related to temperature transducers -- articles on the technology of transducers, personal stories from customers who have benefited by using your product, a message board, information regarding use, service and repair of transducers etc. Your online presence should establish you as the primary resource of information for all temperature sensors.

A great example of this concept in action, check out www.xilinx.com. Xilinx's web site carries all information about FPGA and SoC related technologies.

8. Publish an e-mail newsletter.

Having a brand-centered web site is great, but you must rely on people taking it upon themselves to visit it. Offering a free e-mail newsletter allows you to build a database of subscribers who are specifically interested in what your brand represents. Better yet, being able to deliver your message by e-mail puts you in control of the frequency with which your audience is exposed to your brand. Repetition is critical. To generate subscribers, place a newsletter sign-up form on every page of your site. Note how this is done at www.xilinx.com.

9. Be visible through online forums.

Small high tech business should also regularly post to online forums, such as message boards and discussion lists widely read by people likely to be attracted to the brand. If your area of expertise caters to semiconductors, make sure you offer useful information -- not just a sales pitch -- at web sites which other ASIC designers usually read - www.eet.com , www.edn.com , www.soccentral.com etc. Be sure to include a link to your web site in a signature file at the end of each message.

Closing thoughts

The Internet is still a gold mine of opportunity, use it to create a recognizable brand identity. The above tips are basic guidelines - and when used consistently, it helps create a credible brand identity online.

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