Is It a Boy or a Girl?

As your Web site grows, you may feel you’re gradually losing control of what was once a small, easy-to-manage, easy-to-comprehend site.

At this point, your brand’s personality is at risk. That risk increases every day.

I compare brands with real people. Strong brands have strong personalities, like confident people. They’re known for their actions, attitude, taste, and quality. Some brands maintain a benign profile, such as M&M’s. The candy adopts innocuous characters to communicate the brand personality. Others dare to push the boundaries of political correctness. Benetton is infamous for selling clothes through controversy. Regardless of the extremes, your brand must always reflect its own personality.

People you like, admire, even adore are people you believe have unique personalities. You like them for their humor, temperament, actions, opinions — you name it. You like them because you see who they are. They have personality traits that make them distinct from others.

What happens when a Web site grows? When not 1 person or even 5 are in charge of the site, but 10 or even 100? Sure, you have a Webmaster. Does that Webmaster control all content uploaded to the site? Does the Webmaster ensure the tone of each piece of copy, the style of each graphic, the arguments in each article reflect the brand’s core values? I doubt it! The result is a weak personality, ergo, a weak brand.

Just as distinctive people and our friends are indelible, unique Web sites are prominent in our minds. Sites that are distinctive or consistently reflect recognizable core values remain at the forefront of our everyday, operational consciousness. We read and understand them.

What happens when dozens of people are in charge of a site? Brand personality, which once may have shone through the copy, graphics, design, audio, tone, and so on, runs a significant risk of being diluted or drowned out altogether by a wash of noncollaborative input. Visitors to the site will feel the brand becoming impotent, becoming a blend of the many hands that are spoiling the broth. The brand will whither before their very eyes until it lies gasping on a soulless Web page, stripped of opinions, without any punch and devoid of personality.

How does your growing site avoid blandness?

  • Control its management. Make sure only a chosen few uploading data.

  • Develop a brand profile. Describe it as if it were a person. Tell the story of how your brand lives, what it eats, things it enjoys in life. Consider its gender. Is it a boy? A girl? Use this profile as your content contributors’ benchmark. This is the “who” people uploading data should write about.
  • Develop copy guidelines. Identifying “branded” phrases your brand uses frequently. Define your brand’s tone of voice by examining the language it speaks, the expressions it uses. Use this benchmark to remind yourself “who” does the talking: your brand.
  • An in-house copywriter, someone intimately acquainted with your brand, its voice, and its personality, should check every copy element. Same for graphics: Your art director should create a library of approved images that consistently convey your brand’s values.

These suggestions may sound simple and obvious, but they’re based on rigorous analysis and strict management. Without them, you cannot achieve brand consistency across your site.

As your company and Web site grow, consider how you want to nurture the personality your brand’s site should convey. Consider how you’ll make sure it retains its uniqueness: that point of difference that makes some people, and some brands, our friends. Don’t lose sight of it.

I guess that’s what branding’s all about.

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