Branding equals smart e-business

By Lori Mitchell, InfoWorld |  Business

RETAIL COMPANIES HAVE forever understood the ways in which strong branding makes or breaks them in the community. Branding can create a positive or negative image among consumers, and Web companies need to realize that this aspect of building a successful business applies just as much to them as it does to traditional brick-and-mortar organizations.

Using the Internet to develop as well as to reinforce a brand is a relatively new idea that is very important to the long-term success of an e-commerce company. Your company's image is what the general public will consider when they ponder doing business with you, so it is crucial to have a positive and focused brand that will leave an indelible imprint on the minds of current and prospective customers.

Whether or not your company actively shapes its brand and its image, both will eventually be established with shoppers. Instead of leaving your image to the hands of fate, take control and guide consumers to a positive notion of what your organization is all about. Take Coca-Cola and McDonald's, for instance. Both have built brands so strong that their images could weather even the greatest of marketing fiascos.

Start with a definition

One of the first things companies need to do as they build brand is determine what segment of the marketplace they are trying to reach. To accomplish this goal, they need to know their audience as well as the competition. Creating strong brand identity is the ultimate challenge -- and reward -- for companies.

Defining the word brand can vary among individuals. At the very least, a brand is a promise -- a set of guidelines in the minds of your customers about what you will do, who you are, and what specific value you can bring them.

Developing trust and being consistent is important in defining your brand. Brand is all about the experiences and interactions between the customer and your business. Brand affects how you are remembered offline, and how customers describe you to their friends. It takes hard work and commitment to ensure that your company's brand sends the kind of message you want.

Although a brand may be well-established in the real world, expanding it to the virtual universe takes a bit of finesse; your company will need strategies unique to the online side. Following several basic steps will get your company's brand off to a strong start.

Many experts in online branding, including consultants such as Al Ries and Laura Ries (authors of The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding), emphasize that before you start, you need to know who your competition is and who your target audience is if you're going to deliver what you promise. Competition on the Web is great, so jump-start your company's branding efforts before they get the jump on you.

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