Branding is probably one of the most important concepts in marketing. We are most aware of branding in the marketing of consumer goods, where it is of major importance, but business-to-business marketers are increasingly realizing the power and value of a brand.
What is a brand? The American Marketing Association defines it as follows:
- A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name1.
Consumers and businesses recognize a branded product based on this identification, however the promise of the brand is a certain perceived quality and value. Consumers are consequently willing to pay a premium price for a branded product compared to a generic one.
Your organization has a brand whether you realize it or not. The question is, what are your brand’s values and are they helping or hindering your marketing efforts? A positive, trusted brand can be your most valuable asset.
Unlike other aspects of your business (e.g investing in new equipment or employing more staff), a brand can only be invested in and developed over a protracted period of time. It doesn’t happen over night.
If your organization is both a ‘bricks and mortar’ and web based company, then building the web brand is part and parcel of your overall marketing and branding efforts (e.g. off-line advertising, radio advertising, public relations and conference speaking).
If your company is entirely web based then your focus should be on building the brand of your web site.
In terms of web marketing, a web brand will tend to:
- gain higher positions in search engines for a search of your brand name
- gain higher positions in search engines for generic product or service equivalent searches (e.g. Coca Cola will rank relatively higher for generic searches such as ‘soft drink’)
- encourage and be more successful in on-line viral marketing
- make it more likely that a prospect will make a purchase
- encourage people to subscribe to the brand’s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds. RSS enables people with an interest in your site or blog to ‘subscribe’ so that they are instantly notified of new information that you may add
- enable you to sell a product or service at a premium price
- help you build a defensive position against price competition
- allow you to responsibly extend the brand to encompass additional products or services (brand extension)
Building the brand
Implementation and consistency of brand elements
Since branding is so dependent on design elements it is important to create and implement a brand identity that is professional and easy to replicate both off an on-line. This will include a logo, type style, style of imagery/photography type color and layout. Once implemented it is vital that these elements are faithfully used in all on-line communications (e.g. new web pages, e-mails, and weblogs).
The experience that a customer has when he does business with you will have a positive or negative effect on your web brand. With branded consumer goods, the service elements are often non-existent. For example, if I wish to buy a specific brand of beans, I go to the store and make the purchase. I do not usually have any direct interaction with the manufacturer of the beans. I may like the taste or respect the brand because my mother used to give me this particular product, but I do not buy the brand because the manufacturer provides an associated service. With business brands the opposite is likely to be true. Even with product offerings there is often an associated service element. How this service is delivered will directly effect my perception of the brand.
The same is true on the web. If I buy a product, I will notice how quickly it is delivered. If I have to make an inquiry by phone or email, I expect a prompt and helpful response. If I were to subscribe to your weblog, I will expect a regular stream of fresh and useful information. If you fail to deliver I will likely view your web brand in a slightly less favorable light.
A brand is a very psychological concept. Customers will go through a process of seeing a brand, recognizing a brand, trying a brand and finally, believing in a brand.
Facilitating brand recognition requires advertising. The web does provide many very effective methods of advertising, of course, traditional ‘off-line’ advertising can also be used to build a web ‘on-line’ brand.
Promoting your web brand using the web can be achieved by using the following methods:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
- Web based display advertising
- Public relations
- Social media
Search engine optimization
Search is the most important way in which people find information on the web. When they perform a search using keywords that relate to your business, it is important that your site appears on the first 2 pages of the search results. Not only does a high position say something positive about your brand, but it also means that your site has a chance of being seen. Many searchers don’t go further than the first couple of pages of the search engine results.
SEO is a big subject by itself, however the following tips should go a long way in improving your search engine position:
- Build rich and fresh content. Search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo! and MSN) want to provide useful results to their customers. Sites that are just ‘brochureware’ or are entirely concerned with making a sales pitch, are not necessarily going to provide good value. The more useful content you have on the site, the more useful the site will be to visitors and the more likely you will get the best positions in the results. Bill Fire’s web hosting and site maintenance service provides an excellent way in which to keep a site updated, see http://www.billyfire.com/administered-web-hosting.php.
- Analyze each of your pages and ensure that they contain the key words phrases that you are optimizing for. It is only common sense that if the phrases are not on the pages, it is a lot less likely that your pages will appear when the phrases are searched for. If possible, your brand name should be part of your domain name.
- Develop quality incoming links. Search engine algorithms rely on incoming links to gage how popular a site is and thereby how useful it is likely to be for their customers. Not all incoming links are created equal. Many other factors weigh in on how much benefit you will receive from a link, for instance, whether the link comes from a site that has content relating to yours, whether the link was paid for or whether the link comes from a ‘bad Internet neighborhood.’
- Refine data that will appear in your search ‘snippet.’ Having got a good search position the snippet of information that appears in the results will largely determine whether some one will click through to your site. With Google the title information is taken from the title of your page with the search terms emboldened. The description is taken from the META description tag on your page. Google may also use other contextual information form the page itself and/or information for the Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com). Knowing this, you need to adjust these page attributes to ensure that the text appearing in the snippet reflects you brand values and encourages a click through.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
Search results divide into 2 categories: organic and paid for. in Google the PPC adverts can be seen above and to the right of the organic search results. PPC adverts also appear on a network of content providers’ web sites.
The three main companies providing paid search are:
- Google (https://adwords.google.com),
- Yahoo! (http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/index.php?cmp=Yahoo&ctv=AdSolutions)
- MSN (http://startadcenter.com/multTip%2Dsrc/).
In each case the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model works as follows. You determine several keywords or keyword phrases. When someone enters on of these keywords into a search engine that match your keyword phrase, your advertisement is displayed. You also enter the maximum amount are prepared to pay for each click.
You create several adverts that you would like delivered for the keywords that you have created. It is possible to create several different versions of an advertisement. Google rotates the adverts and when you analyze your adverts performances you will see what the click through rate is for each of them. After several clicks it will become obvious which advertisement is getting the best click through rate.
You create a maximum daily budget that you are prepared to pay per day. Once this budget is about to be exceeded the ads will automatically cease to be shown.
Pay-per-click advertising has several desirable features. It is inevitable that even with the most determined SEO efforts, it will take some time before organic search results for a new site will appear. PPC provides a way of getting your company information on the first page of a search engine search, almost immediately.
Other benefits include:
- you only pay for an advert when someone clicks on it,
- you can determine for which keywords it appears
- and you have great analytics on information such as which advertisement is most effective, which keywords receive the most clicks and which keywords have the most page impressions.
- you can track what actions someone takes after click the advert and entering your site.
Web based display advertising
Before PPC advertising came along the most common approach to web advertising came from banner advertising. With this form of web advertising an advert appeared on a site and the advertiser was charged based on a cost per thousand impressions (CPM). Every time that a web page appeared that had your advert on it is counted as an impression.
This can still be a great way of building a brand provided that the web site that your advert is to appear on is targeted to your business area and the CPM is not excessive.
A major disadvantage of this form of advertising when compared with PPC advertising is that is is not very measurable.
A blog or weblog is similar to a diary, but with capability of allowing visitors to add their own comments. Blogs are used for a multitude of purposes from personal diaries to political commentaries, but they also can play a major role in business marketing.
There are several reasons why a blog can help your web brand. If your blog is regularly updated it can be a source of fresh new content. This should increase search rankings and hence brand equity. But visitors can also add content in the form of their comments. This increases the amount of information content on the blog with little effort on your part (apart from moderating out spam comment.
Another reason that blogs can really help you is that if other sites deem your blog to be of interest they may link to you. This gives you a potentially useful inbound link. Because it is so easy to monitor blogs and with many (often free) services, it is also possible to get enormous exposure from a timely and apposite post.
I recommend WordPress since it is open source and easy to install and use. It also has a wide network of developers providing a wide range of highly useful plug-ins and templates. It is possible to modify these templates to match the rest of your site.
Public relations has long been an excellent way of promoting a business and hence building its brand. By submitting an interesting press release to a publication may result in your product or service getting an editorial mention. Not only does the editorial not cost, but it also has a greater credibility in the mind of a reader than an advert.
The exact principles also apply to the web, but the Internet has been a great boon in helping business make the most of public relations. These public relations efforts also directly help the SEO function. Prior to the Internet all releases were printed and mailed or faxed to the intended recipients. The Internet makes it easy to submit releases to services that help distribute the releases.
In addition to the potential for being published or used by an on-line or off-line publication, if a news release appears in the Yahoo! or Google news services, the information will be indexed by their search engine spiders and will help your SEO efforts.
Most of us have probably used the favorites button in our web browsers at some time. It’s a great way of remembering sites that you may wish to refer to in the future. However, the favorites list has several shortcomings, including:
- It is specific to one browser. Say you run both Firefox and Explorer, the Explorer favorites will not be present in the Firefox list unless you make specific efforts to put them there
- They are specific to one machine. If you were out on the road and used a different machine (say, in a hotel), your favorites will not be available
- It is not easy to share your favorites with someone else
Social bookmarking applications overcome many of these shortcomings and bring many new advantages of their own. Not only do they provide a way of creating a list of favorite sites that can be accessed by any browser, on any machine, anywhere over the web. They also provide varying degrees of sharing your favorites with an enormous community of people who share their favorites. In this way it is possible, at least in theory, to find the ‘cream of the crop’ of web sites.
The following are brief descriptions of some of the the protagonists in the area of social media.
When you sign up for Stumbleupon you can download an add-on to your search bar. Once downloaded, when you visit a site you can click the thumbs-up or thumbs-down icons to indicate whether you view the site in a favorable or unfavorable light. You also set up a profile and you can add ‘friends’ who are on the Stumbleupon network. The idea is that you stumble upon web sites that are of interest to you and let others in the network know about it.
In terms of building your web brand, you can ultimately build a network of ‘friends’ who, through your personal recommendation (via a stumble) can encourage traffic to your site.
Reddit is a social bookmarking site that, similar to Stumbleupon allows you to visit a site and indicate whether you like it or dislike it. Based on the number of ‘like it’ or ‘dislike it’ scores from other Reddit users, a site can appear on Reddit’s ‘hot’ list. Once on this list you are likely to get significant traffic.
Anoher feature of Reddit is that it allows you to add an image on your pages that indicate how many times someone has ‘reddit.’
Digg allows its users to vote for pages by ‘digging’ them. Once a page has been submitted to Digg.com it appears in the site’s ‘upcoming stories’ section. From here other Digg.com users can visit the site and if it is popular enough it appears in a category home page.
The Digg.com site talks a lot about ‘democratizing search.’ The idea behind the site is that quality sites will rise in the Digg.com ‘rankings’ whereas less good ones will disappear.
Needless to say, if your site is chosen to join a category home page, or even a “Top 10” list, you will receive a boost in traffic.
Del.icio.us is bookmarking site with the added advantage that sites that have been added to individual users’ lists will appear in a hot list when they are among some of the pages tagged the most.
Other social media sites include:
Analyze your Web brand building
It is easy for marketers to fool themselves that profligate advertising spending is actually building their brand, even though they may have no evidence that this is the case. This is why measuring your web site brand equity and how it changes with the implementation of new marketing initiatives is so important. Fortunately the web provides a multitude of opportunities for measuring and analyzing marketing success.
In an ideal world we would be able to apply any of the techniques described above and somehow know how much our brand had increased in value as a result. In practice this is not possible, however there are many proxies to this information that we can measure to gain an understanding of whether brand value is being created or not.
The following section gives some ideas of what proxy information could be used and how it can be measured.
Web site analytics
Webopedia defines Web analytics as:
- A generic term meaning the study of the impact of a Web site on its users. E-commerce companies often use Web analytics software to measure such concrete details as how many people visited their site, how many of those visitors were unique visitors, how they came to the site (i.e., if they followed a link to get to the site or came there directly), what keywords they searched with on the site’s search engine, how long they stayed on a given page or on the entire site, what links they clicked on and when they left the site. Web analytic software can also be used to monitor whether or not a site’s pages are working properly. With this information, Web site administrators can determine which areas of the site are popular and which areas of the site do not get traffic and can then use this data to streamline a site to create a better user experience.2
Web log analyzers take information that your web server (e.g. Apache) collects about every external interaction with your site. Packages are often already installed on your Web server and include packages such as AWSTATS and Webalizer.
If you are new to web analytics then Google Analytics is great way to start the process and it provides professional grade analysis and output. It is also easy to sign up and the next stage is to add a small script to every page on your site. After the code is added, analytics information should start appearing within 24 hours. A wealth of information is presented in a colorful and graphical way, including how many visits, pageviews, average time on your site, number of bounces, geographic location of visitors etc.
In terms of brand building, there are certain metrics that you can track to understand how your brand is growing. For example:
- The number of site visitors and how they vary over time can give you an idea of how well known the site is becoming. Ideally the trend should be upwards.
- The number of absolute unique visitors is the number of people visiting the site that have not been their before. As a web brand grows the number of absolute unique visitors should trend upward.
- In terms of traffic sources, Google Analytics shows the relationship between direct traffic, referring sites and search engine generated traffic. In terms of web brand building it is important that direct traffic plus referring sites generated traffic shows an upward trend.
Occasionally customers will send an unsolicited testimonial, however to get a really good grasp of the quality of customer service will most likely require you to be more proactive. The web provides some excellent tools to help in this area.
On-line surveys can garner customer opinion immediately after a transaction. Alternatively a survey can be e-mailed a short time after a customer has made a purchase. Because all the information is web based it is far easier to analyze. This means that you can react speedily to information and make appropriate adjustments to your product and service offering.
In addition to providing e-mail marketing tools, Constant Contact also provides excellent survey software.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Various metrics can be used in determining the success of SEO campaigns including:
- The position of certain key phrases in the search engine results
- The amount of traffic coming to your site via a search engine
- Which search engines generate the most traffic
- Which keyword phrases are people are using to find your site
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
Typically PPC software provides detailed information about which advert was clicked based on a specified keyword match (exact match, phrase match or broad match). You also see how many times your advert appears for each keyword phrase.
Consequently you can gain a detailed understanding of the return on investment (ROI) of your various campaigns.
PPC is also a great way of testing out keyword ideas.
Web based display advertising
Web based display advertising can provide information depending on the web site providing the advertising.
Because of the flexible nature of PPC advertising, web based display advertising will never provide the same level of analytical potential as PPC advertising, however, depending on where you are advertising, you should be able to get useful data.
Blogs can be measured in many of the same ways that web sites can. Google Analytics is a great free tool that provides detailed analytics information (see above).
There are additional metrics that a blog needs to be concerned about. For example, it is possible to measure the number of subscribers to your blog. A service that helps accomplish this is Feedburner. The Feedburner service allows you to “burn” your blog so that people subscribing do so via the Feedburner service. This means that you keep track of detailed statistics as to the number of subscribers to your blog as well as information about how many times your feed has been accessed.
Technorati, provides other useful services. The site tracks weblogs and subsequent web log ‘conversations’ which occur when others add comments to a blog. It is possible to ‘claim’ your blog and add profile information. As a blog becomes more popular it may enter the “rising blog posts by attention” or “rising news stories by attention” categories on the site, indicating that the blog has reached a high level of attention and exposure. Technnorati provides a metric called ‘authority.’ This is the equal to the number of blogs linking to your blog in the last six months. Technorati Rank is another measure that ranks sites based on their authority, the greater a site’s authority, the higher its rank.
Avinash Kaushik provides a detailed explanation of blogging analytics in Web Analytics An Hour A Day.3 In addition to the metrics mentioned above, Avinash also recommends measuring things such as the frequency of posting, the number of words posted and the number of comments received for a specific post.
Having issued a press release you now need to measure its success, both long and short term.
Short term success normally equates to mentions of you or your product in broadcast, printed or on-line media. Traditionally companies would use ‘clipping’ services to gain an understanding of how successful press relations activities were. With these services, a clipping agency would scour a defined universe of publications to find print articles containing your company name or area of interest. Since your web initiated press relations may garner printed coverage, this is still an option, albeit an expensive one. Nowadays services such as Cyberalert will monitor on and off line media and provide detailed reporting.
Google Alerts can provide a simple and free method of monitoring certain key phrases on the web as well as within news, blogs, video and groups.
Each bookmarking service provides different ways in which you can determine how successful or popular a particular page has become. For example, on FURL’s home page it maintains “Today’s Popular Items” based on how many members ‘furled’ an item and “Latest Entries” lists. Both these lists are available as RSS feeds. On Digg.com the number of “Diggs” represent the popularity of the page.
1“Marketing Terms Dictionary – American Marketing Association – Www.Marketingpower.Com.” American Marketing Association. American Marketing Association. 29 Dec. 2007 <http://www.marketingpower.com/mg-dictionary-view329.php>.
2“What is Web Analytics? – a Word Definition From the Webopedia Computer Dictionary.” Webopedia. Webopedia. 8 Jan. 2008 <http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/Web_analytics.htm>.
3Kaushik, Avinesh. Web Analytics an Hour a Day. Indianapolis: Wiley Inc., 2007. 184-192.
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