online brandingFebruary 24, 2016: Branding is a big subject that may seem a bit mysterious to those who do not work in the advertising business. But branding has been around for hundreds of years, its principles are established, and its primary benefits — to distinguish a product, service, or firm in the minds of consumers — can accrue to every business, be it a large global firm,  a solo practitioner, or anywhere in between.

What is a brand?
What is a brand? Some think of it as a “promise to the consumer. ” For decades, firms have used print, TV/radio, outdoor and PR to establish and reinforce their unique promises. In offline media, brands have traditionally been established by logo (IBM’s classic “8-bar”), tagline (Burger King’s “Have it Your Way),” mascot (Geico’s lizard), jingle, and spokesperson (many people still associate baseball great Joe DiMaggio more strongly with Mr. Coffee than with the Yankees).

While there’s no single recipe for how you should brand your business online, we’ve found the following principles to be valuable when taking your brand to the Internet (or seeking to build a new brand on it).

Principle 1: Effective online branding is functional.
Many companies  — big and small — make the mistake of simply porting over their existing branding collateral to the Internet without regard to the special requirements of the medium. But just because your messaging is effective in a printed brochure or TV ad doesn’t mean that it will translate well online.

Today’s online consumers demand more from brands than simply repeating their offline campaigns, however clever or memorable. These folks aren’t simply passive consumers of messaging: many are looking for answers — solutions — from brands, when they encounter them online. Consequently, it is no longer sufficient for a brand simply to promise an experience –one must deliver on that promise — and online is the place to do it.

The Web, unlike print or TV, is an active, two-way medium, and your online branded properties must take advantage of this two-way functionality to be effective.

Principle 2: Effective online branding solves a problem.
Although much online traffic to business sites comes from direct referrals (i.e. someone typing in your domain into the browser address bar or following a link), an increasing share is coming from  search engines.

Searchers are in “active hunt” mode, which means they’re looking for a solution that your firm can provide. You can attract these searchers by providing content (typically articles, whitepapers, case studies, and other textual materials) focused on how your firm solves problems.

Because so many searchers phrase their queries as questions (“how do I…,” “how can I…” etc.), your branded content should include this kind of QA-style content. The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) format is a time-honored form for delivering this kind of information. Don’t use this content to sell — use it to tell and the sales will follow.

Principle 3: Effective online branding starts a conversation.
Although your web site represents the central hub of your online branding efforts, do not ignore the increasing importance of reaching customers and prospects on social channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Here, you have the opportunity of demonstrating, through continuing activities – that your firm is active, aware, and open to a deeper conversation.

Among all the activities undertaken by your brand, by far the most important is listening. Remember: it’s not about you: it’s about other people. Social media is a perfect medium for listening to and learning from these people, in order to better serve them, in what hopefully becomes a virtuous cycle of real and meaningful engagement.

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3 Principles of Effective Online Branding
We've found these principles to be valuable when building and branding your business online.
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