As Sterne (1999) defines, “A brand is not a name. A brand is not a positioning statement. It is not a marketing message. It is a promise made by a company to its customers and supported by that company”. Growing digitized world operates much differently from that of traditional market which demands specialized branding strategies. Unlike traditional consumers, online consumers are not likely to be interested in advertising of a brand; rather they would value the brand with the excess amount of information available online. Any successful brand created online would have three distinct characteristics: good perception of customers, value added products or services by the brand and sustainability of the value additions. The design and logo alone does not constitute a brand. Brand actually is associated with a set of characteristics which actually perceived by the consumers and bring them to buy the product. Brand also helps to create a loyal consumer base. These loyal consumers might be willing to pay an extra amount to obtain the brand. To leverage this extra edge, it becomes marketers’ duty to create a positive brand image by developing associations or meanings for the brand among the target consumer base. This essay would help us understand how to launch a brand via the Internet and discuss key principles of how to make customers remembering it.
Launching a brand online
Unlike external market, internet does not perceive symbol as a source for strong branding. However name of a brand plays a major role in digitized world. Searchable names which are unique can provide an edge in the online world and if it is generic it actually adds the value of brand name. Searchable and unique brand name helps customers to easily search and find the website or the brand. Having a domain name aligned to the brand name is highly important to create a strong link between the brand name and the online presence. Customers are more likely to use the brand name to find information about the product before they make any purchase decision online (Ward & Lee, 2000).
Using channels for online branding
Rowley (2004) suggests that having a strong offline presence helps the brand to acquire strong market online. For example, having a strong network and other channel presence dell.com could attract more customers online which in turn helped the brand to have more loyal customer base. It is also evident that online brands are gaining importance among the consumers such as google.com, orkut.com, facebook.com, etc. When Dominos went online, it needed a different style of presentation to attract customers; same was applicable for online stores like walmart.com or tesco.com. Some of other brands like Sony uses both online and offline channels to build the brand; through offline presence, the brand helps the customers to touch and feel the product at the same time, online presence helps the customers to learn more about the product which helps them to make purchase decisions favorable to the brand. Online channels help the brand by keeping its customers engaged with 365x24x7 support and contact. It also helps the customers to take informed decisions.
Being present in online provides an opportunity to spread the brand across the world. Thus it becomes important to cater to the different tastes, cultures, colors and languages preferred in different parts of the world. So the brand needs to identify common characteristics or values which it can symbolize across the world in addition to serving the local preferences of the customers. In the digital economy, it is also important to have strong links and relationships between industries to present a strong global brand. For example, amazon.com having an alliance with verisign.com provides a customer with trust on Amazon for any payment that needs to be done online. The emerging online economy calls for co-branding instead of building a separate brand online.
The digital brand experience
The digital branding has created so many changes to the business environment which have created differences in the brand experience online.
Changing controls: Online customers are no longer passive in nature. They are more active now. They are not waiting for information to reach them. They seek information about the brand if they are interested in it. Opt-in email marketing is driving the internet world where customers get to choose what information they want to receive from the brand (Godin, 1999). The new age customers have power over the marketing communication from any brand. This shift in control over the communication has provided customers with individualized brand experience for each different customer based on his or her preferences.
Targeted and Customized Relations: Increased technological abilities and interactive websites help companies to identify demographics of the targeted customers or customers who are attracted to the brand. This accumulated information helps brands to communicate well to the targeted customers by satisfying their information needs. This also enables brands to target each customer individually. This also means that brand experience will be different for different set of people based on their individual experience.
Self-Service: The changed new age customers are more likely to use self service when it comes to websites. They would like to search and find products or brands they like. Customers who have more experience using internet would be more confident in using our brand website. Brand could provide different values and perceptions to different customers based on their user knowledge on internet and brand website ability to provide tools for self service to the customers.
Brands as service providers: Brands with their websites are now started to provide other services to enhance customer experience and keep them engaged. Services like reviews, ratings and community tools (forums) enable customers to understand the brand better. For example, Dell provides competitor product reviews and pricing in their website to compare against its own products. This increases credibility among the customers and help them make informed decisions before purchasing any product from Dell.
Effect of Smartphones: Smartphones have changed the way internet works. Now most of the online products are available on the go in mobiles. Ipod actually changed the way customers interact with major brands. M-Commerce is growing at a faster rate changing consumer preferences online. Brands now have the ability to target customers and reach them at their convenience of handsets. This helps brands to keep their customers engaged and increase their loyalty.
Elements of web branding that attracts customers
Sensory stimulus will make consumers remember the brand. Sensory stimulus includes olfactory stimulus, auditory stimulus, tactile stimulus and visual stimulus (Beekhuizen and Field-Fote 2008; Bucinskaite et al., 2006; Cohen et al., 2005; Jakkamsetti et al., 2008; Winneke and Neuf 2008). Website is the interface between the brand and consumers online. Simple website design and layout enrich the customer experience with the brand via visual stimulus. There are various elements of website which are used to communicate brand messages and values. According to recent studies (Baloglu and Pekcan 2006; Kurniawan and Zaphiris 2005; Moss et al., 2006; Sklar 2008), the elements of web branding that can greatly attracts customers are listed below:
Logo: Logo is the symbol which represents all the values and messages of the brand. Logo needs to be displayed across the website in maximum number of pages to get a prominent place in customers memory.
Graphical User Interface: The pictures and content distinguish the services provided by the brand from others. It is important to use appropriate pictures that go in line with brand promises or brand messages. Proper use of animations could add easy user experience.
Choosing of words: Words in the website should reflect the customers mind to generate interest among the potential consumers. Choosing appropriate words represent the voice of brand. Powerful words has the ability to attract customers and retain them.
Content: Content also plays a major role. Educating customers in the respective field by providing value added content would also help to keep the customers engaged with brand. Continuous update of the content gives reasons to customers to revisit the website often. Improper content of brand website could degrade brand values and perceptions in the customers’ mind.
Colors: It is better to have the same color of the brand in the website to represent any picture of text. Having same color schemes could help customers identify the brand easily both online and offline. Any other images or texts which do not align with brand values or messages should be avoided. Any deviation from brand color scheme could confuse customers on the messages or values delivered by the brand.
Images and layout of website: Organizing the content is a big challenge for proper representation of brand. Using too many colors or images could distract customers and will create potential loss to the brand. News portals such as times.com should be able to arrange the content properly to represent its newspaper model. This enables users to recognize the sections of content and associate brand.
Ability to build relationship: Interactive websites are the key to build relationship with customers. There should be options available for creating and interacting with communities’ online. Email subscriptions could help the brand to keep in touch with its customers through email communication on a regular interval basis. Chatrooms and relevant content could help the customers learn and discuss more about our brand. Brands could also provide any special offers or discounts through the website which could increase customer loyalty and create interest to revisit the website again.
Building a brand online that customers can remember
Building successful brands online requires managers to follow specific steps in the digitized world. Even the online world acknowledges strength of brand in terms of brand image among the consumers and strong memory of the brand. Strong brands will have actionable message which would be delivered perfectly. Rowley (2004) provides step-by-step process to build a successful brand online that can make customers to remember:
Step 1: Identifying brand context
Whenever a brand goes online, it needs to carry the characteristics of offline brand to represent the same values online. However it may not be possible for all situations. Online and offline services may differ for brand which might bring in differences among the values and messages that a brand delivers in both offline and online environment. These differences should be handled properly to provide consistency in the values perceived from the brand.
Step 2: Finalizing Messages and Objectives of Brand
Objectives and messages are the key factors which differentiates brands from one another. It also sets the stage to identify and attract potential target customers. The objectives could help the brand to set clear messages which it needs to communicate to achieve the brand objectives. All the channels should carry the same and constant messages to avoid any disparity in consumer understanding about the brand. The messages and values delivered should be in line with the consumer perception about the brand.
Step 3: Development of specifications of Brand
Specifications as such brand marks should be identified and developed in this step. These developed specifications will be used across all the channels to build the brand. So these brand marks should be highly visible, easily readable and should be captive in nature to occupy customers’ mind instantly.
Step 4: Designing the brand
Once we finalize the specifications, the next important step is to convert these specifications into visual brand using a graphical designer. Input to the designer is very important to bring out best design possible for the brand. The brand design should be able to communicate the important brand messages effectively.
Step 5: Creation of website & brand communications
Creation of website is the next important step without which online presence and online brand communication is not possible for any brand. All elements of website should be in sync with the brand messages and values. The website should be able to communicate the same set of messages as that of brand. The website should also be easily usable for potential customers. The brand symbol should be used across the website to reiterate the same messages from the brand.
Step 5: Brand Launch & Promotions
After designing and website, it becomes important to promote it. Launching the website can be carried in the same manner as that of launching a product offline. It requires same amount of publicity through all the channels possible. Even offline promotions could help to bring in more customers to online website. It is highly suggested to have a good launch event to increase the word of mouth about the website and about the brand.
Step 6: Brand Experience Building
Once the brand & website is launched online, the next important step is to increase the customer experience with the brand. Keeping the customers engaged with the brand is important to increase the loyalty of the consumers. It can only be done by providing easy navigation, powerful content and tools and support for socializing (communities, forums, etc.). Also e-mail subscription proved to be successful to provide brand related messages to customers to increase the customer experience.
Step 7: Control & protect the brand
Use of the brand should be controlled by means of constantly delivering the same messages and promising the same values. Also delivering the values promised to the customers. Managers should also be aware about the use of the brand in alliance networks where it should deliver the same messages. Any change in the brand communication could bring in more discrepancies which in turn could affect the customer loyalty adversely. Managers need to keep a watch on how customers, services or technology affect the brand communication.
Following the above seven steps could help managers to build successful brands online. A successful brand is developed when it is developed based on the organizations’ values and does the same as what it promises to its customers and finally when it provides enriched user experience online.
Strategies to attract customers
Being the consumer centric ownership of brands, it calls for the challenges in defining the 4Ps of traditional marketing. Greater information resources made consumers to question the claims made by any brand. To face this challenge, the marketing mix needs to be adopted for the new market conditions (Simon, 2001).
In most of the cases the brand owns and operates the website; also provides tools to the customers for flexible and easy navigations. However, the control over the website slowly gets shifted to the consumers through the availability of forums and communities. The website will reflect the content created by the consumers than that of the owners. This polar shift makes it difficult for the brand to control over the messages delivered to potential customers. Even introduction of editing to these postings or comments could drive the consumers away from such websites. Allowing all of the content at times may affect the brand adversely. Growing availability of online boards poses a great threat to brand images. When a customer is unsatisfied, he might vent his bad feelings through these complaint boards which could affect the future potential customers by spreading a wrong brand image. So it is important for the brand to have good relationship with the target consumers to build a strong brand in online.
Highly informed customers may resist brands to fix high prices for their products or services online. However niche products or services provided by websites are priced at a premium to separate other products or services from it. Without such image of premium product or service, it becomes difficult to sustain in the online market. Having huge discounts in online store might confuse customers about the credibility of such stores against the physical stores.
Being online, makes a website accessible across the world without restricting customers based on race, religion, age or location. These untargeted people who come to the website might create potential problems and become a threat to our core audience attraction. So it is important to design a website highly targeted so as to avoid these untargeted audience even if they visit our site.
There are so many channels available online (sponsorship, feed, email subscriptions, link advertisements, banner advertisements, etc.). Though the brand has control over promotions, it has very less control over the third party activities such as data syndication.
The above discussion clearly shows that the traditional marketing mix is no longer applicable to the online market (Simon, 2001). It requires more attention to build a successful brand online.
Customer trust Building Strategies for online Brand
To conduct business online and build a strong brand in the digital market place, trust is a crucial factor which has a strong impact on consumer purchase behavior. Lim et. al. (2006, page 4) defines trust in an online market place, “as a belief that an Internet shopper has in an internet merchant and is willing to engage in an internet shopping transaction, even with the possibility of loss, based on the expectation that the merchant will engage in generally acceptable practices, and will be able to deliver the promised products or services”.
There are three important factors which affect trust (McKnight et. al., 1998):
· Childhood characteristics which represent the personality of the consumer.
· Situation created based on the legality, guarantees or regulatory structure followed by the brand.
· First impression made to the customer or perceived first impression. First impression can be affected by website layout or design or the navigation design of the website.
Simon (2001) suggests two distinct ways to improve trust on a brand in the online market. They are:
· Portal Affiliation: In this way, trust of a famous portal is used to build trust on our brand online. In general, consumers are skeptical about online stores and making purchases online. So gaining trust becomes an important to step to achieve success in sales in the online stores. When a new brand is tied with a famous portal, the brand tends to gain more trust as the existing portal provides trust on the new product with selective applications.
· Customer Endorsements: It is believed that positive endorsements actually help the brand by bringing in more customers. As people are more likely to trust endorsements than that of advertisements, positive endorsements are likely to strengthen the brand. These endorsements can be used by the brand to build credibility and trust among similar peers. Even it helps the brand to get more word of mouth recommendations from similar peer groups. Potential customers can perceive these endorsements as credible statements as it is coming out from same peer group.
Influence of customer communities over online Brands
Advancement of technology helped customers to come together for a common like or dislike and form virtual communities. This virtual community is used to share information and resources by the followers. For example, people who would like Pepsi could form a community which is called a brand community. These communities are gaining power in the internet space. The members of these communities have similar characteristics or likes towards a brand based on their experience with it. When a brand uses these communities for its promotion, the results are really adds to the benefit of the brand. Three important factors which bring people to the community are bond, social interaction and locality (Jang et. al., 2008). The community members are more likely to share their experiences using common forum available online. They share the same set of rituals and beliefs. The members of brand community proved to be more loyal than that of others. So these communities can provide a competitive edge for any brand to market their product or service.
Companies can leverage online and brand communities to build loyalty among the consumers. They can do so by building a community themselves and attract people to become members of these communities. There is also possibility that these communities can be started by active consumers who wanted to show their loyalty or likeliness of the brand. The commitment level of members to these communities can vary between each member as their individual experience level might vary with the brand. However, still brand communities are best way to attract people online and build trust and loyalty of a brand.
Word of Mouth – how customers remember the brand
Trust building in digitized market place is a tough task to be handled by new age managers. The trust building methods used in offline market place may not work well with the online space. Brand cannot promise things that they can officially deliver across different parts of the world. With overloaded information, people are more skeptical to believe the messages delivered by a brand. On the other hand they rely heavily on experience of other consumers. Growth of internet enabled consumers to share their experiences in different forums using online space. Brands also fuel this growth by providing more tools for consumers to rate their product and service. For example, ebay.com has a rating system using which every seller is rated by buyers. This rating actually helps people to understand about credibility of the buyer and worth of the product or service. This digitized form of word of mouth actually helps brands to gain trust and credibility from loyal consumers.
Dellarocas (2002) points out three major differences which makes online reputation mechanism distinct from that of word of mouth. They are “ (a) their unprecedented scale, achieved through the exploitation of the internet’s low cost, bi-directional communication capabilities (b) the ability of their designers to precisely control and monitor their operation through the introduction of automated feedback mediators and (c) new challenges introduced by the unique properties of online interaction, such as the volatile nature of online identities and the almost complete absence of contextual cues that would facilitate the interpretation of what is , essentially, subjective information” (Dellarocas, 2002, Page 5). It is highly suggested to use scales to increase the effectiveness of digital word of mouth. Since, scales are providing clear picture about the product or service quality and satisfaction level of customers without giving any scope for ambiguity.
There is also negative side of coin which brand managers need to consider while using online word of mouth mechanisms. Online consumers looking for these feedbacks are on their own to understand the feedback. Based on their expertise with internet usage, the experience of understanding feedbacks might differ from person to person. Also there is high possibility that customers can provide negative word of mouth if their experience with the brand is not up to the satisfactory level. So readers on these feedbacks are often left alone to decide based on the total available feedbacks. There is also another concern that competitive brands might enter into such forums with false identities to degrade the image of the brand by providing negative feedbacks. They can even hire people spread such negative word of mouth for a cost. So it is also becoming the brand managers’ role to identify and control such negative activities while building positive word of mouth. Positive word of mouth can really help a brand with high loyalty and trust which other marketing communications cannot bring to a brand.
The essay descrbied the importance of making customer remember the brand, in particular the essay focused on how to key elements to build a new brand online that can attract customers. It also provides step by step framework to build brands successfully. The paper also analyzes the differences and challenges provided by the online market place than that of traditional offline market place. Finally, to conclude the paper analyzed ways to improve trust and loyalty by providing two key methods i.e. brand communities and digitized word of mouth (ranking systems). There is huge potential lie for brands to gain international presence by just being online. Building a brand online and managing the brand requires special set of rules and skills which is way different from traditional brand management. Identifying and managing these challenging areas could help us form a successful brand online.
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