Characteristics of Online Branding
According to Internet Branding Marketing there is no one-size-fits-all solution for building a successful online brand. However, certain common underlying characteristics are evident and can be summarized as follows…
• A Compelling Value Proposition
Successful online brands are exploiting every capability offered by the Internet to deliver compelling value propositions that appeal to customers, by offering more value than attainable through traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar’ establishments. They are providing greater convenience (24×7), lower prices, wider selections, and access to more information on the products or services being provided, and enhancing this with layers of added-value through the ‘8Cs’ - Convenience, Content, Customization, Community, Connectivity, Customer Care, Communication and Consent. Successful brands recognize that the value proposition must more than compensate for the loss of in-person contact.
• A High Quality Online Experience
Strong Internet brands are those that create a high quality engaging online customer experience. The 8Cs framework allows companies to deliver a tangible customer experience, while improving the flow rates through the customer pipeline. Successful online brands meet the demands inherent in each of the 8C categories, by ingraining convenience and making the site easy-to-use, quick-to-load and easy-to-navigate, delivering compelling content, customizing the experience, developing a community feel, making connectivity easy, integrating customer care, obtaining consent and establishing two-way communication. By placing emphasis on different ‘Cs’, they are differentiating their experience from those of competitors. A well-executed customer experience that satisfies customers, results in higher brand equity.
• A Reputation for Excellence (Delivering on their e-Promises)
Fulfilment and delivering on e-promises is the acid test of online brands. The successful brands are those who are investing heavily in building supporting resources - logistics, distribution centres, staff and customer care at the appropriate rate to ensure they deliver a completely satisfying end-to-end customer experience. In doing so, they are cultivating a reputation for excellence, which builds confidence and trust that not only entices customers to do repeat business with the company, but leads them to spread positive word-of-mouth, attracting other customers to the site.
• Strong Communications Program & Efficient Customer Acquisition Strategy
The key Internet brands have made major commitments to build awareness and drive customers through the pipeline, and have developed multifaceted, integrated customer acquisition strategies, ranging from online methods to traditional offline media. These companies have developed an in-depth understanding of where their potential consumers are located in the pipeline, and have targeted their promotions accordingly, in order to attract quality customers and to keep customer acquisition costs down. Quality customers who are heavy users of the brand are important as they not only offset the cost of customer acquisition, but also provide added value to the brand community. Properly orchestrated ‘guerrilla marketing’ ploys can also be effective in building awareness, attracting customers and reinforcing the brand image.
• Unique Positioning Concept & Distinct Brand Image
Strong brands are developing unique positioning concepts, to distinguish themselves from competitors. Yahoo!’s success can be largely attributed to its unique positioning strategy and distinct image (a sense of irreverence, approachable nature and inherent friendliness) that appeals to its target market, as opposed to characterizing itself as a technology-oriented company. By distinguishing their offering, focusing on unique sources of added value, and aligning their resources and activities to deliver this added value, brands are harder for competitors to emulate. In addition, these companies must have an inherent understanding of their brand identity and core values, to maintain consistency, as well as determine how far the brand can be meaningfully stretched to other products and market segments, before it fractures.
• Strong Partnerships and Strategic Alliances
Rather than doing everything on their own, leading brands have focused on building strong partnerships and alliances, particularly to secure content and widen reach to new customer segments and niches. As a result, these companies are creating even stronger value propositions, offering customers the best in quality, variety, content, and convenience. Alliances and partnerships play an important role in achieving speed and momentum, and by partnering with well-known brands, a company can leverage the partner’s brand and reputation to reinforce its own. Alliances with leading portals and popular sites is important to generate traffic and brand visibility, and exclusive alliances can lock out competitors from valuable content or online real estate. The most successful partnerships are symbiotic matches, whereby each party benefits from the other’s expertise or skills, while ultimately benefiting the end-customers.
Intense Customer Focus
Leading online brands have an intense customer focus, and develop a detailed understanding of their customers’ needs. These brands are designing their offerings and online experiences around their customers. They are accumulating knowledge about customers, through past transactions and solicited input, and are leveraging this knowledge to nurture relationships through the provision of better services, customization and customer care. Customer focus builds trust and credibility that is central to developing a strong brand-customer relationship.
• First-Mover & Early-Mover Advantage
Most of the successful online brands identified a market opportunity early and moved quickly to capitalize on the potential they saw. A first-mover advantage is an important asset for an online brand. By getting to market early, the company benefits from the excitement and traffic, that comes with innovation. It locks up important content and distribution partnerships, and it aligns itself with the most influential venture capital sources. Getting to market quickly can provide an Internet company with significant momentum and a valuable boost over the competition. The challenge then lies in maintaining the momentum and retaining customers. Many strong online brands were also early-movers on the Internet, and benefited from additional hype, and extensive word-of-mouth due to its novelty. As Internet penetration exploded, these well-publicised brands also took off.
• Relentless Innovation
Successful Internet brands are continuously looking for new ways to wrap more value around their core service and offering, and are continuously adding new services and functionality to their sites. This type of relentless innovation is instrumental in ensuring brands develop traction and build momentum to keep ahead of competitors. In many cases, the innovations are the result of the company’s ability to data-mine its vast database of customer information, to create new services and content that satisfy customer needs. By leveraging unique customer information, these innovations are difficult for competitors to reproduce, giving the brand an edge, and differentiating it from other brands.
• Ability to Leverage Offline Brand and Assets
Bricks-and-mortar brands are often well positioned to succeed on the Internet. They possess critical resources that give them an advantage over pure online start-ups. They have an established brand, established customer relationships, established fulfilment systems and infrastructure, and a physical presence (tangibility) - factors that clearly differentiate them from pure players. Strong clicks-and-mortar brands are integrating their online and offline activities to leverage the strengths of each other. In doing so, these brands must respect their core brand elements and maintain consistency in the service quality that is expected, but at the same time, expand the brand experience to meet customers’ expectations in the online world. Through extensive and seamless integration, clicks-and-mortar brands are providing customers with true added value, while reaping the benefits of lower customer acquisition costs and extended reach.
There is no doubt that Internet has radically changed the business and competitive environments, however, while everything is being turned upside down, one component remains unchanged - added value remains the basic building block for every successful brand. With power shifting to customers, the success of an online brand is largely determined by customer choice. The repeated choice of a certain brand by customers and business partners generates the transactions and repeat business that counterbalances the costs of customer acquisition and infrastructure. Repeat transactions provide the basis for a relationship that, when properly cultivated, creates value for both the company and its customers.
This relationship is the basis for the customer loyalty that creates a successful online brand. The companies that are successfully building relationships and nurturing brand loyalty are those that recognize that their brand’s perceived value hinges on the total end-to-end customer experience, from the promises made in the value proposition, through to their delivery to the customer. It aims to create loyal brand customers, by empowering them, gaining their trust, and making the brand experience so satisfying that they are confident in their choice and will purchase again, and will spread positive word of mouth. As such, brand-building on the Internet extends beyond the traditional focus of positioning, advertising, promotions, logos and slogans, to creating a business system that can deliver complete and satisfying experiences.