A brand is a powerful asset for any business, and your website is just one piece of the story. Even with the best design, factors outside of your control, such as user reviews, social media, and even other employees can quickly derail even the best branding strategy.
This article will explain how to not only create a website plan that supports a brand story but also how to ensure that the story remains intact.
What is a brand?
Before you begin thinking about a brand story, you must first understand what a brand is. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” In other words, it is what makes your business (or your client’s business) unique.
It’s important to mention that a brand is not the same as a brand name. In fact, the original use of the word brand is more like a trademark. Therefore, guarding your brand story online is more than searching for unwarranted uses of your brand’s name. It is much deeper than that.
Creating a Brand Story
Branding today is tied to perception. Your brand story is who you are perceived to be. It is a collection of the stories others are creating about a business – either positive or negative. It’s what makes it special. Branding adds value to a product or service, making whatever is being sold more interesting than its face value. When everyone is selling water, branding helps consumers choose which water is best.
A brand story isn’t solely defined by others; it can be steered in the desired direction. One popular brand strategy is to influence branding by creating a personality for a business or product. This ‘personality’ is portrayed in all marketing channels and when the product is sold. This includes websites.
This creation of a personality is what is traditionally referred to as branding. Branding is the process of “endowing products and services with the power of a brand.” It is a marketing strategy that assigns emotional value to a product or service. The brand strategy that accomplishes this feat may have many facets, that often include:
- Product Design
- In-store experience
- Visual Identity
Creating a brand story is challenging because brand strategies are difficult to execute. You must match your goals, with the reality of what people perceive. For a business, defining a brand requires deep knowledge, not only of yourself but also of your customer’s sentiments. To further complicate matters:
- Perceptions can change based on time, location and those perceiving it.
- Perceptions are tied to emotions, which aren’t always quantifiable.
- Brands are dynamic. Each interaction can lead to another interaction, which quickly amplifies both negative and positive perceptions.
A brand that wants to protect its brand story must, therefore, be willing to shift and change its brand style as needed to address constantly changing perceptions. If it does not shift, the brand story may quickly become negative, or if they are lucky, it will die, and the business goes back to being just another product or service.
Presenting a Brand Story Online
Websites offer multiple opportunities for executing a brand strategy. They can be used to display a brand’s personality across many channels and be optimized to fit its needs. Some ways of using a website as part of a general online brand strategy include:
Support a brand story by adding personality to how you promote a product or service.
If products are sold on a website, that isn’t much different from purchasing in a store. Add to a brand story by making it easy to buy on the site.
A website’s choice of colors, fonts, graphics, and design can easily define a brand style for consumers and help drive perception.
Website usability is also related to the perceptions people create about a product or service. A website that is helpful, easy-to-use, and overall delivers a positive user experience is likely to shape the perception of the product or service being offered. Therefore, when creating a website that will be used in a larger brand story, it is essential to focus on usability if you’d like that story to be a positive one.
The Anatomy of a Website Designed for Branding
A well-designed website doesn’t just provide information, it should also enrich a brand. Since brands are highly linked to human experiences and emotions, websites offer unique abilities to elicit emotions and create experiences. One that is designed for branding will recognize this and make use of the opportunity.
There are many ways to incorporate brand style into the content plan of a website. These common practices can help advertise a product and define a visual identity, while also supporting a brand strategy.
Video Elements: Include videos that have real people in them
Personification: Use characters that have human qualities
Aesthetics: Design to elicit emotions
What’s important to remember is that branding is ultimately about building a connection. A website is not a person, but a well-branded site can make users feel like they are interacting with one. Help encourage a human experience through your choice of content. Use a tone that matches the intended personality (as defined in a brand style guide) and keep it human.
Being memorable is also vital to creating well-branded websites. Design to be unique. Make it easy for people to remember who you are. Use logos on your website – in the top left corner, where people can see them. Make it easy for them to associate the site with the brand. Even though a website may only be a small part of a brand story, it is still an impactful one.
A Brand Story Contains Many Pages
A branded website is just one piece of the puzzle since branding is not a one-time thing. Well executed brand strategies exist across multiple channels, including offline. Guarding the identity of a brand is as much about creating an identity as it is monitoring what is being said about it.
Social media is a powerful way to build a brand, but it must be monitored and highly controlled to prevent negative brand experiences. It includes what is communicated by the brand, as well as what is communicated by others. A social media account that is not watched can quickly become overwhelmed with negative feedback at worse or seen as nonresponsive at best.
To make the best use of social media, utilize a predefined brand style guide that is the same across all channels. Incorporate social media accounts into web design to encourage interaction with website visitors. You could also consider linking social media accounts to customer service. This provides additional interactions between customers and the brand and can quickly grow the number of perceptions about the products or services being offered.
User reviews are another way to create interactions with a brand, that also provide powerful insight into how others view a product or service. Like social media, however, they can also lead to negative brand experiences if not careful. A few brand strategies to protect a brand identity while reaping the rewards of user reviews include:
- Collecting reviews by email to prevent publication of negative reviews. Ask to publish those that are positive.
- Responding to online reviews promptly and encouraging follow up reviews once the issues are resolved. Do some damage control of negative reviews.
- Asking repeat customers to review a product or service. They are more likely to provide a positive response.
Branding does not only exist online. Any time someone encounters your business, the brand may be impacted. To prevent negative interactions from overtaking the positive ones, train all employees on the company brand so that the same voice is relayed in every communication. A single customer service interaction can lead to a social media disaster.
Offline interactions also include non-digital advertisements. When the branding on a website does not match what is being used in a print advertisement, consumers may not know which one is true. Prevent confusion by maintaining a brand style guide for all advertisements – including those existing offline.
Plan for the Future
Since the identity of a brand is constantly changing, it can be challenging to maintain a single brand identity over time. Therefore, those creating branding strategies for businesses, products, or services must plan ahead while also remaining flexible to the changing needs of those they interact with.
You cannot control how a brand will respond to external factors in the future, but you can create a guideline for it. By creating a brand style guide early in the branding process, it is much easier to maintain a brand story over time.
To create a style guide, begin by deciding on specific marketing and business concepts that are relevant to the product or service. You’ll need to understand the:
- Mission and vision
- Target Audience
Once you have that information, it can be used to develop a guide that details the brand story, and voice. Over time, this information is used to create a unified brand experience across many platforms — whether it is a website, social media account, or even a customer service interaction. With a solid blueprint like this, it’s hard to veer from the intended story, even when external factors are determined to take it off course.