Brand Your Navigation

I wrote about the “smash test” a while back. A Coca-Cola bottle is designed to be recognizable even if it’s been smashed to bits. Every piece announces itself as a part of the Coke brand. I asked you to test your site, to smash it like a glass bottle. How does your brand use this property to express itself? Take away the logo and a few other design elements. Would your brand’s personality speak? Every element of your site counts.

Let’s consider this proposition in literal terms. If you removed the logo from your brand identifiers and vehicles — livery, stationary, products, vehicles, signage, and so on — would people still recognize those items as representatives of your brand? If you take the logo off your packaging, what’s left? Copy. Would it speak for your brand? Colors. Would they invoke your brand? How about design: graphics, fonts, spacing. Would they convey your brand’s identity?

Consider this proposition in terms of your Web site, specifically in terms of navigation. Does your navigation pass the smash test?

Nokia users, consciously or not, love their Nokia cell phones because they love Nokia’s navigation. It’s simple, yet as important, as that. Of course, users may notice advantages in battery time, features, and signal range. But once people use a Nokia phone a couple times, they’re hooked on the navigation. In fact, most Nokia users’ brand loyalty lies in their attraction to the navigation, rather than with the brand itself. They like the way it works. The way it works is uniquely Nokia.

How do you use the unobvious elements in your products’ lives for brand-building gain? Navigation is an inescapable part of any transaction, on- or offline. Use it as a brand-building asset.

We’re all victims of habit. Once you’re used to a certain way of shopping, driving, surfing, you name it, that method becomes your own and you like it. Your favored, most habitual methods build your loyalty to a certain store, driving route, beach. Your navigation becomes an accidental part of a brand’s attraction for you. There’s powerful brand-building inherent in harnessing habits.

Yet people can be persuaded to change their habits. People are adaptable. Undeviating navigational choice is rarely an obsessive fixation.

Users who have changed from Apple to PC remember the frustration learning a new way of navigating. But once they’re used to the new environment, they won’t use anything else. Laptops have a proprietary navigation technique — the trackball. It’s a means of harnessing brand loyalty.

This premise applies to Web sites as well. If I smashed your Web site, could I still tell it was yours by what was left, its structure? Could I recognize your brand in the way the navigation works? Could I recognize that navigational style not only across your many Web pages but also consistently across channels, from Web to wireless to PDA?

Have you developed branded navigation?

Amazon.com has, with its trademarked 1-Click ordering concept. Others have tried to copy it and were sued for their efforts.

The big question is: Do you have a 1-Click ordering, trackball, or Nokia way of navigation? What are the navigational components on your site and across all your interactive channels? Are they used consistently? Is your navigation so readily appreciated by your customers that your operational facility is what they know your brand for? Do they recognize your navigation as easily as your logo?

If not, it might be time to reconsider your navigation strategy. It’s as important in your brand recipe as color, fonts, and logos.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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