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Building Successful Brands on the Web

  |  February 26, 2003   |  Comments

Online branding: Forget everything you learned from print and TV.

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, illustrating how differently you build brands on the Web. It's less about how a brand looks than how it works.

Television taught us the brand is visual. Glossy magazines and, to a lesser extent, newspapers reinforce this impression. A brand must have a strong visual image. Marketing and advertising agencies have dedicated themselves to this basic premise.

To promote a brand is to promote mood, color, and feeling. This must occur quickly and repeatedly. The short TV-spot format framed a whole way of promoting a brand. Many marketers and advertisers think in short, intense bursts. It's about that wonderful catch phrase, that compelling image.

Successful Web brands must take a very different approach, as Google (and before it, Yahoo) illustrates. A Web brand -- a brand that exists primarily online -- helps people do things. First and foremost, it's functional.

Every time a reader succeeds in executing a task on the Web site, the brand reputation is enhanced. Every time a reader is frustrated by the site, the brand's reputation is diminished.

Tools and approaches that make marketers and advertisers succeed 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 hungry for information.

Google is a success because it does a great job helping people find the content they are looking for. Google built a successful brand with an anti-marketing, anti-advertising approach. Its home page is bare, minimal... and utterly functional.

Yahoo built its brand in a very similar way. Despite recent troubles, Yahoo remains the number one destination for millions worldwide. Its home page is much more cluttered than Google's, but it's cluttered with links. It's about helping you to get to a destination quickly; helping you do things.

When I arrive on a home page and am met with a fancy Flash intro, my immediate impression is this organization doesn't understand the Web. Waiting for a large image to download, my frustration grows.

I'm on the Web site to do something. Anything that slows me down is an annoyance. The marketers may have my attention -- but for all the wrong reasons.

Online, brand with words. Brand with accurate, well-written, up-to-date content. Brand with classification. Brand with navigation. Brand with the search process. Brand with the purchase process.

Many marketers and advertisers still don't understand the Web. I just saw a new site by one of the world's most prestigious car manufacturers. It looks more like an elaborate brochure than a Web site. It's rife with basic mistakes. I read the boastful comments from the design company. It's certain to win some award.

Google and other successful Web brands will continue to keep their Web sites simple and functional.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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