Your website will be many people’s first impression of your company, products and services. As a result, your site represents a critical component of your branding strategy. It communicates who you are, what you offer and what you promise (your brand) through three things:
* Appearance (look and feel)
Just as you wouldn’t deliver a sales pitch sporting pajamas and bed-head, you don’t want a disheveled site. Whether you plan to develop your website yourself or outsource it, consider your website from a branding perspective.
Before you decide what to say and how to say it online, it is pivotal to analyze your audience, competitors, industry and yourself.
Audience Analysis: Online success begins with a detailed audience profile. Who will your visitors be? What type of experience do they expect? How Internet savvy are they? Do they want or require education on your product? What type of appeal do they best respond to: emotional, intellectual, or a combination?
Competitor Analysis: Beat your competition without imitating them. What are your competitors’ URLs? Make sure yours won’t be confused with theirs. What do their sites look like? Since color plays such a large role in memory filing and retrieval, avoid the same predominant color used by your biggest competitor. On a broader plane: What makes you better than the others? Why should customers buy from you?
Industry Analysis: What are the trends? Carefully examine your industry’s history, present, and future. Today’s markets and technologies evolve rapidly, especially online. Be prepared.
Self Analysis: What’s your corporate personality? Are you formal? Fun? Technical? How can you translate your brand visually and “verbally” to your website? Design and copywriting work hand-in-glove to communicate your brand.
Based on the above, narrow your focus to a specific niche – don’t try to be all things to all people. Target a specific audience with a specific offer for a specific product/service that features specific benefits. For example, instead of selling ladies shoes online, you could instead sell dressy shoes to upscale bridesmaids looking for comfort and sophistication.
The more unlike the competition you are, the less competition you’ll have. How does this relate to branding online? The less competition you have, the harder it will be for consumers to replace your product – which makes price less important. The less important price becomes, the easier it is for you to communicate the value of your brand, and the faster you’ll build brand equity. (As a side note, price is often a stumbling block for online sales since it’s easy to price-check on the Internet.) Notice that in our “dressy shoes” example above, price is virtually a non-issue.
Content & Organization: Divide your site into sections according to user needs and expectations, then fill each section with the appropriate content. Map out a site diagram (even if you are outsourcing site development, you need to do this to the best of your ability). Use your home page for the most important information, like your selling proposition, and rely on links off the home page to give more detail. Plan for growth. Include a map or directions link if you want to direct people to your physical location.
Develop a site navigation system (e.g., left-side menu, tabs at the top, search function) that will help visitors quickly and easily find the content they’re looking for. Remember, a well-organized site equals a well-organized company in the mind of your consumer. A smart message equals a smart company. Strategic site content and organization equal strategic brand.
Appearance: Consumers today are more visual than ever, so the appearance of your site is pivotal. Your goal should be to develop a quality look and feel that reflects your company and your brand. Aim for the right emotional response overall, then use this – along with your logo and design of other sales tools – to guide your specific colors and layout. Professional-looking sites are clean and understated, with an airy feel. Avoid a busy or heavy look, like an all-black background, for example. Finally, a quick-loading site is key. Never sacrifice load time for special effects.