WebRef Update: Featured Article: Online Branding - Developers and Designers Hold the Key
Developers and Designers Hold the Key
Amazon. Ebay. Travelocity. Yahoo! Walmart. IBM. The Gap. And, oh yes, Microsoft. Welcome to the world of branding, a world where trusted names count. In the US alone, it's an over $2 trillion dollar industry. The growing mainstream activity on the Internet has afforded a whole new way of losing customers - or gaining them. As developers and designers, you hold the key to the front door in online branding.
So what exactly is branding and what's all the hype about? That's all just big ad agency stuff, right? Wrong. There is a terrible misconception that branding is about the creative side of business. About the logo. The advertising. The copy. The "look and feel." It is, but that isn't nearly the full extent of it. Branding is, in a nutshell, the entire user experience - the "relationship" between the company and the customer, how a company makes a customer feel. This applies to all companies, great and small. In both online and offline branding, it's about:
- how the customer is treated at the door (home page)
- what the packaging looks like and how it's positioned on a shelf (Web site)
- how the cashier treats the customer (navigation, online support, online orders)
- how the company handles complaints (returns, ease of contact)
- how a company positions itself as "trustful" and "credible" (a combination of the above, media treatment, etc.)
Every form of contact that a company has with a customer is part of branding. Because the Web is a more "user-driven" experience and can loosely be described as a hybrid medium (print and broadcast), it poses some interesting branding challenges and opportunities. It has the potential to deliver the company's identity, products, service - the whole shebang - in the space of a few screens and within seconds. Your Web site is where the entire experience comes together for the user - or not. Make no mistake about it: the number of consumers who make purchasing decisions online is growing exponentially, and the launch of so many free internet service providers will only fertilize that growth. If you provide a positive experience for these users, they'll talk. And that language translates into dollars. Confuse them or fail to apply some of the basic methods below and you'll lose them within seconds, too.
So, from a design and development perspective, we should give them bells and whistles, right? Maybe. Sure, bells and whistles are nice if you're approaching an audience who happens to like bells and whistles - like gamers. Flying hotdogs really wouldn't fly that well, however, on iVillage.com or Inc.com. Keep your market in mind. Study it. The average user is more concerned with function than they are with form. An ace-looking site with difficult or no function will lose a user pretty quickly. Build an ace-looking site with phenomenal functionality and they'll come back with the whole clan. People are still people, whether they're online or not.
Next: Creating Brand Loyalty
Revised: April 28, 2000