Building Successful Brands On The Web

    April 11, 2003

According to a global web-based survey by Interbrand, the Google brand had the most impact on people’s lives in 2002. Google beat established brands such as Coke and Apple. This illustrates how on the Web you build brands differently. It is less about how a brand looks than how it works.

Television has taught us that the brand is visual. Glossy magazines, and to a lesser extent newspapers, reinforce this impression. To be a brand is to have a strong visual image. Marketing and advertising agencies have shaped themselves around this basic premise.

To promote a brand is to promote mood, color, feeling. It is also to do it quickly and repeatedly. The short TV ad length has framed a whole way of thinking about and promoting a brand. Many marketers and advertisers think in short, intense bursts. It’s all about that wonderful catch-phrase, that compelling image.

Successful web brands need to take a very different approach, as Google-and before it, Yahoo-has illustrated. A web brand-a brand that exists primarily on the Web-is concerned with helping people do things. It is, first and foremost, functional.

Every time a reader succeeds in carrying out a task on the website, the brand’s reputation is enhanced. Every time a reader is frustrated by the website, the brand’s reputation is diminished.

The very tools and approaches that make marketers and advertisers a success offline, are often drawbacks on the Web. The compelling image is slow to download and frustrates the impatient scan reader. The catch-phrase is of little use to a reader who is hungry for more information.

Google is a success because it does a great job of helping people find the content they are looking for. Google has built a successful brand by taking an anti-marketing, anti-advertising approach. Its homepage is bare, minimal and absolutely functional.

Yahoo built its brand in a very similar way. Despite its recent troubles, Yahoo continues to be a number one destination for millions of people worldwide. It has a much more cluttered homepage than Google, but that homepage is cluttered with links. It’s all about helping you to get to a destination quickly; helping you do things.

Whenever I arrive at a homepage and am met with a fancy Flash intro, my immediate impression is that this organization doesn’t understand the Web. As I wait for a large image to download, my frustration grows.

I’m at the website in order to do something. Anything that slows me down is an annoyance. Those marketers may well have got my attention-but for all the wrong reasons.

On your website, you brand with your words. You brand with accurate, well-written, up-to-date content. You brand with your classification. You brand with your navigation. You brand with your search process. You brand with your purchase process.

Many marketers and advertisers still do not understand the Web. Last week, I saw a new website by one of the world’s most prestigious car manufacturers. It looked more like an elaborate brochure than a website. It had so many basic mistakes. I read boastful comments from the company that designed it. I’m sure they’ll win some award from some design body.

Meanwhile, Google, and web brands like it, will continue to keep their websites simple and functional.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

Subscribe to his New Thinking Newsletter: