The first thing that springs to mind when we think of branding is likely the large, cultivated brand imagery that forms the face of billion-dollar firms such as Apple.
The reality is that branding is borne out of any identifying features, and is used to create a persistent identity for products and firms. Wikipedia describes it as ‘the most valuable fixed asset of a Corporation,’ which, whilst perhaps a little exaggerated, is all too true in the light of the hugely competitive markets that exist today where branding is often sadly overlooked.
Firms like Apple, which capitalize on branding so effectively, understand the importance of a successful brand, and have built their fortunes on their incredibly valuable and attractive product form and consistent styling. Despite this being the result of billions of dollars of research and advertising, branding arises with or without intervention, with your customers having opinions on your business, whether they’re good or bad, branding is at work.
A branding platform, often known as corporate image, is the umbrella term for the number of tools you have in your arsenal to improve your branding. So what are these tools?
Your name is the biggest identifying factor of your brand, it embodies those emotions the user feels about your site or product. When the iPhone is mentioned, Apple’s customers understand that name to mean sleek, beautiful, intuitive, a number of very positive reactions that Apple have carefully nurtured over the years.
This is the definition of your identity as a site. It’s colloquially known as a statement since corporations use it to understand where they are in the market and to set targets based on it. This is the who, what, why and how of your business.. If you know your target audience, for example, you can optimise your site for that particular type of user.
This follows from a successful Positioning Statement, looking at how relevant your site is. Does it appeal to the right market segments? Does it achieve your primary focus and follow your values? Is it contextually relevant, is your site up to date and consistent with current browsers and web development advances? Once all these questions are answered or resolved you can move onto the more complex area of your brand, the ones the users are going to see.
This is the overall feel of the visual representation that your users will see, it’s important to keep this consistent across all branding to promote a cohesive brand that your users will recognise.
With Apple, this style has evolved into very simple materials and block colors for its products, such as glass and aluminum. The website reflects this through the use of whitespace and elegant fonts. Their minimalist attitude leaks into their short taglines and their brand has become known for what is essentially negative styling, cutting back everything to make for a more elegant product.
They have previously experimented with reducing the color-palette available for their products, and on many products this philosophy still stands, but the brand transcends color now in order to allow for a brighter palette for their iPod products. The natural progression of style is having a consistent graphical standard, your logo, fonts, color palette should all reflect your positioning statement, and work cohesively.
This is the visual representation of your business, your site. After your name, the next biggest identifying factor for your brand is your logo. It should be styled to represent your positioning statement, and is important as an at-a-glance reference point to put on anything your site is associated with, and for links.
Finally, the tool that combines all of the above into one online space, your website. This is a vital part of the branding platform, and it’s important to understand that your website isn’t a just medium for your branding platform, it’s part of your branding. Website branding, for instance, extends beyond having your logo on an unbranded template site.
Companies like Apple understand that the website is an extension of their branding in the way they style it and sell their products on their site, whereas many frankly antiquated and out of date firms still believe that a website is somewhere to dump details and directions under their logo and leave it there, conducting all of their business and branding the old fashioned way, through the storefront and advertising on hoardings.
How does the website strengthen this?
As I outlined above, a corporate website is the sum total of their branding platform, an accumulation of all the aspects that have come together in various ways previously in an easy to access format. So lets look back at the branding platform and see how each aspect is enhanced by the addition of an online presence:
This is just as vital as an identifying factor online as it is anywhere else. There’s a reason that good SEO is so valuable online, your name, or perhaps your web address, needs to be either at the forefront of users thinking about using your service, or to be at the top of the list when they search for the sort of thing you’re offering.
Having a good online presence means you don’t need to be number one on Google, users will just type in your address straight away, without a second thought, however this isn’t guaranteed and the two need to go hand in hand; having a short, easy to remember URL is as essential as being the first site to come up in a search engine. Having a name outside of the online world is no guarantee of safety against online competitors, this is evidenced by the online boom in book sales and the subsequent redundancy of large-chain bookstores around the world.
While Waterstones in the UK is floundering, having adapted and joined the online space too late, its business being poached by Amazon, a site which would not have been considered a threat ten years ago to Waterstones is now likely the reason for its impending closure. Barnes and Noble in the US, by comparison, expanded online very early and made a name for itself as an internet store, meaning it has survived the threat of other online booksellers.
Positioning statement & meaning
This is something that can be applied to a site as easily as a business, so it needs very little adaptation to what has already been said. Online analytics are invaluable, and much easier to collect than running surveys in stores, for instance. Researching demographics, testing various site designs on real customers and exploring the tastes of consumers can easily been done unobtrusively online, and finding information in order to establish your positioning statement is easier than ever. What makes online analytics even better is that it takes no time at all to change the way your site looks or behaves in order to optimize it to your positioning statement, meaning you can act on your findings as soon as they happen.
Having a consistent look across all forms of branding is important, having your site reflect the design of your all other media, which should in turn stem from the positioning statement is important. Having solidarity between your demographic’s style, i.e. primary colours and basic shapes for a kid’s site, or perhaps minimalism and white space for a modern web design firm, your logo which should also reflect that, and combining that into your site proper is important in maintaining a cohesive brand.
This is especially important for older corporate brands that are expanding online, as they may have outdated, lower res logos that won't work online. Online logos need to be recognisable and very portable, which means having an icon. An icon, such as the Twitter ‘bird’ or the Facebook ‘F’ is important for quick brand recognition and also for favicions, which are useful to identify the site in bookmarks and tabs; what’s becoming more important is larger res favicons that are used as thumbnails on mobile devices where users bookmark your site on their phone or tablet as a tile shortcut to their browser, in lieu of an app. Icons are essentially condensed versions of your larger logo, and are more commonly used online where screen real-estate is hotly contested.
The final point that the logo leads nicely onto is social media, a sector of the online realm that leaves no site untouched by its plethora of icons urging you to like and share. This is of huge advantage to sites looking to raise brand awareness, it gives users easy access to share your content from your site, and enables you to break down the barriers with your users by opening a discourse with them through a Facebook page, or Twitter account. Something many sites and firms are beginning to open are Twitter support accounts for users and customers to tweet their complaints to for quick troubleshooting or reference links.
It's all a matter of cohesion, and whilst there are obvious differences between corporate and independent websites and brands, the two are very quickly becoming synonymous as large corporations are beginning to understand the importance of an online presence in their brand, and smaller independent sites are realising the scale to which they can grow their brand from a small site.
Have you designed any brands you'd like to share? What tips would you add for branding a business? Let us know in the comments.