January 02, 2001, 12:53 PM — MAYBE IT'S A MATTER of habit. Maybe it's a matter of trust. But as I return to the same Web site I've used for about 70 percent of my online holiday shopping, I'm inclined to conclude that it is most likely the favorable experiences I've had with this merchant that keep me coming back.
The dawn of Web commerce heralded predictions of a strict, price-driven exchange of goods over the Internet: As consumers gained access to a wealth of new distribution channels, price would control the market, guiding consumers to particular Web sites.
But contrary to that initial belief, the cost-conscious miser in each of us has been subjugated by a more compelling force: the need to be coddled while shopping.
A recent study conducted at the MIT Sloan School of Management revealed that customer buying decisions are rarely ever driven by price alone. Rather, service levels and technology innovations that improve the shopper's experience were shown to weigh more heavily in encouraging purchases and fostering customer retention. Service and innovation have become the key distinctions in branding a company on the Web.
Building a brand is more than just advertising and awareness. It's about fulfilling the promises offered in your advertising, and delivering a favorable experience by improving the level of service and support.
This task is less obvious for Internet pure-plays which lack the advantage of brick-and-mortar sites to build on. But it's not the notion of branding that has changed, only the means of fostering it.
A good way to begin is to allocate enough funds to marketing and branding efforts. As competition grows and technological differences between products and services blend, the ability to differentiate and position your business within the field will become increasingly important. Maintain an adequate budget to guarantee proper and consistent use of brand and identity across all communications.
Too often the Web is viewed as beyond the competence of traditional advertising methodology, but this is not the case. Your general agency advertising and public relations efforts should communicate closely with your Web designers on points of brand continuity.
Take for example a long-standing company with traditional values that attempts to marry a new-fangled, technically innovative Web site to its distribution channel. To ensure that the company's focus on brand identity is not lost requires an expertise probably beyond the abilities of the Web geeks building your site.
Today's branding initiatives need to be constantly and consistently updated as well as tracked for their effectiveness in meeting your ongoing business objectives.