Some people think that branding is a highly expensive marketing activity that can only be pursued by multinationals with million dollar budgets while others regard branding as a highly complex strategy that only those well trained are able to use efficiently.
These statements are not false, but they are only a small part of a bigger picture. There's at least one aspect of branding which is so simple that even a child could do it, as easy as pie, and with little to practically no cost whatsoever.
I'm talking about online branding.
Business of all sizes are joining the web experience, not only to build their own websites, but also to expand their digital presence with secondary sites, social media outlets and company blogs. It's at this initial stage that it's more important than ever to establish a successful online branding strategy. Here're a few tips on how to go about doing that.
Understanding what branding is all about
Branding is much more than just a name and a logo. It's a philosophy, a particular way of doing things that starts with the simple act of presenting yourself, or your business, but ends with an increase in perceived valued; which ultimately leads to an increase in profit.
With the right branding strategy in place, businesses can increase the perceived value of any kind of product or service, creating an image that stretches beyond material value.
In other words, one could say that branding helps to persuade those interacting with a brand to believe that the value of its products and services are actually greater than their actual value. Let me put it in this way, an Aston Martin has a much higher perceived value than a Volkswagen, but they both serve the same function, to take you from point A to point B.
The difference between real and perceived value is the result of branding.
There are plenty of expensive and complex ways to achieve this sort of result, associating your brand with James Bond probably being one at the top of the list, but even the most flamboyant of the branding tactics is based on a single concept: consistency.
Consistency is the essence of branding
If you think that branding is a complex concept to comprehend, and I admit that in some cases it really can be, you'll find that understanding the idea of consistency is a much easier challenge. Essentially, it's all about repeating a message, over and over again, in a consistent manner, to establish an idea in the mind of potential customers.
The reason why people associate Aston Martin and James Bond, and consequently the luxury that surrounds the character, is not because the car was once inserted as merchandising in one of the several movies staring the renowned British secret agent, but because it has been intentionally and consistently associated with the character in all of his movies.
James Bond posing with Vintage Aston Martin for Skyfall.
Aston Martin have used branding in such a successful way that it's even hard to disconnect the brand from the idea of luxury, and a lavish lifestyle. But before getting into the abstract level of how to brand an idea, let's explore how to apply the concept of consistency on the web.
Branding in the digital world
The Internet has opened up a channel where small businesses can create brand value at an investment level which was previously out of reach. Even independent professionals are able to brand themselves on almost equal terms with any multinational.
These are the things that companies and individuals should keep in mind to establish a consistent branding across the web, and create that so-desired good first impression.
Profile consistency (or username consistency)
Whenever a business joins a social media website, it is creating a point of interaction with a potential customer, and the most immediate element on this point of interaction is the username, also known as a handle or screen-name. For example, on Twitter I'm @rayvellest.
Choosing the right username is the very first step in online branding. The best choice is to use the same name as the URL of your website, so if your website is "brandname.com", a username to fit your business could be @brandname. Now, using the same username over and over again, across different social media outlets, is a big part of creating brand consistency over the web.
The big benefit of doing that is that whenever someone interacts with your brand via more than one of these pages, it will create a sense of continuity, and that in turn will raise the value of that specific username when compared to others.
If you find that your brandname has already been taken, you will need to think out of the box. A solution that usually works is adding an action-related prefix, such as "buy" and "visit"; or a suffix like "dotcom". Once you find something you like, be sure to check if is available on all the relevant sites you want to use, just so you can secure them all.
Another tip, still on the topic of social media accounts, is to whenever possible, inter-connect these pages, adding a link from one to another. The more points of interaction you offer to your potential customers, the more you'll be found, which consequently adds to your perceived value.
Visual consistency (or logo consistency)
The visual aspect of branding is not just about the business logo, but this element is certainly its central piece. With that said, in order to achieve the minimum level of visual consistency, all you've got do is to apply the same logo across the board. Wherever you set a point of interaction with your consumers, be sure to use the same version of your logo every time. One thing to keep in mind here, "the same" means the exact same logo, right down to the pixel level.
But as I said before, the logo is not the only element of visual communication. Actually, thanks to the popularity of social media, the design of alternative logo versions to be used over these sites is becoming common place in the logo and brand identity design industry.
Skype Logo and Skype Twitter Avatar.
The great majority of business, especially those with already established brands will need to create these alternative versions for social media sites. So if your logo does not fit in a square, the best tip I can give to you is to hire a designer to help you with that.
Once more, thanks to social media sites, customers can interact with the brands they love in a way they never were able to do before, and this type of direct communication creates an opportunity for brands to increase brand loyalty. How? By showing personality through blog posts, status updates and tweets.
Can you imagine this sort of interaction before the Internet?
Here, one more time, brands must be consistent. Consider this: who's going to manage your social media outlets and interact with your customers? Most likely, even if you are a small business, more than one person; so defining a consistent tone of voice is essential to provide a consistent experience to your customers.
How to define your tone? It's really a matter of finding the essence of the image of your business, and they creating a personality for it. Is your business professional? Friendly? Humorous? Provocative? Find which attitudes best convey your brand image and be sure to express it over social outlets.
For example, a law related business may choose a formal tone of voice, while a childcare center a more friendly attitude. Whatever tone of voice you choose for your business, the rule of the thumb is to stick with it, to achieve the so-much desired consistency.
Branding an idea
Consistency is the essence of branding, and as long as you follow the above tips, your branding strategy will be already ahead the great majority who don't. But the true power of branding really comes out when you associate a business, products or services with an idea.
Let's quickly get back to the example I have cited above. Aston Martin have been consistently associating its brand with James Bond, but what they really benefit from are the ideas associated with the character, such as action, adventure and success.
Many other brands do the same, and sometimes in a much more abstract way, for example Nike with the "Just Do It" campaign; or Adidas with "Greatness"; or Apple with "Think different"; or L'Oreal with "Because You're Worth It"; or DeBeers with "A diamond is forever"; or McDonalds with "I'm lovin it"; or a more recent brand, Old Spice with "Believe in your Smelf".
I could go on, there are many more examples, but I think you've got the idea. Associating your brand with an idea is the most powerful form of branding; and what I like to call the ultimate marketing strategy.
The days when customers relied exclusively on magazines and newspapers to find products and services are long gone. Nowadays, the internet is the first place they go to find more about the products and service they want; and it's where companies are building their brands.
If your business is taking part on social media profiles such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, always remember that your goal is to have customers instantly recognizing your brand, do that by using the same username, logo and tone of voice consistently, across all points of interaction. That will not only help you build a strong brand, but also help people find you on the web. Ultimately, if they can't find you, you might as well not exist.
Do you have multiple versions of your logo for branding purposes? Have you found your own brand's tone of voice yet? Let us know in the comments below.
Ray Vellest is a brand identity specialist based in London and working with organizations and individuals from all over the world. Ray’s approach to identity design position his clients as leaders of their industries while creating a valuable long-term asset for their businesses. Follow @rayvellest on Twitter to keep up with his latest updates.