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Developing Brand Recognition

If someone asks you whether you want a Coke or Pepsi, you immediately know you're being asked about a carbonated cola beverage — with distinct yet subtle differences between the two. Both these major cola bottlers spend millions of dollars trying to coerce you into having a definite opinion about which one you prefer.

How do you accomplish this same brand recognition in cyberspace? You need to build a site that flaunts your organization's uniqueness, advertising that draws customers, and highways on the Internet to get people there.

Defining your brand distinction

Every organization has a value proposition that defines why people should do business with that organization. You may never have clearly defined yours, but it exists nonetheless. You may have the lowest prices or the widest selection. You may have unique products not available anywhere else. You may offer services, individually or in interesting packages, that help people in a special way. Perhaps you offer the best customer support and service in the industry.

You have to capture this value proposition in Web graphics and your Web site. Traditional advertising concepts must evolve to use the revolutionary changes offered by the World Wide Web. You need to maintain the image of your existing business and find ways to extend that brand distinction to the Internet.

In e-commerce, even more so than in traditional commerce, you can't just open a store and cry out, "Come buy it from me; I have it, too!" Most bricks-and-mortar companies use geographical convenience as a major competitive advantage — an advantage completely lost for Internet competitors. You have to give customers a reason to do business with you instead of your competition. You have to find out what makes your business better and then play those advantages to their fullest in the Internet marketplace. You have to communicate those advantages to online shoppers, as well as earn their trust and respect.

Building e-presence

Sites that people recognize and talk about on the Web have what's called e-presence. E-presence is about more than just looking good (although that's a big part of it). These businesses are almost household (or office-hold) words. You build this kind of presence, or brand recognition, in the Internet world by using the same principles (if different media) as in the traditional business world: marketing and advertising.

So how do you build your e-presence? Surf the Internet for a while and see how the other guys do it. You'll find that most major Internet commerce sites have a few things in common:

  • Great design: The site has a professional-looking design, including a carefully planned layout, well-designed graphics, and a consistent look across the site. Your site should also reflect your traditional corporate image — logos, colors, advertising campaign themes, and so forth.
  • Memorable logos: The site prominently uses branding tools (such as logos) and proprietary features (such as Amazon's one-click shopping).
  • Navigability: Customers have easy access to the various portions of the site. The customer should be able to get to what she wants in four clicks or less. Use menus, site maps, and shortcuts to help achieve this goal.
  • Recognizability: The site is advertised on other sites in the form of banner ads that reflect the brand. Even when surfing elsewhere, Web users recognize the logo, tag line, and familiar colors that represent your site and your business.
  • Incentives for customers to stick around: The main page of the site showcases special promotions of featured products and services and changes those promotions frequently. For B2B (business-to-business sites, highlight your newest products and services.
  • Current information: Publish news that means something to your customers, such as how your products and services make their lives easier. Case studies and examples of how to use products give existing customers cause to return and potential customers reasons to be interested in your site.
  • Up-to-date appearance: The site often has special graphics for holiday seasons, keeping the site's appearance fresh and up-to-date.

These are the features of an impressive Web site that customers believe is successful and worthy of their business.

You can't substitute image for substance. Flashy graphics and a slick appearance may get you started, but it won't keep you going. You need a real competitive edge to your site to build a sustained customer base.

Just like in traditional business, competitive advantages on the Internet are what you make of them. So be sure to play up your advantages and get the most mileage from them that you can.

Building credibility and trust

The only way to win lifelong customers who sing your praises across the rooftops and the chat rooms of the world is to make good on your promises. Delivering the goods efficiently, politely, and with as little intrusion on the customer's life as possible will make your customers love you, and they'll tell their friends about how great you are. Failing to deliver can destroy your online business faster than you can imagine.

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