Building and Maintaining an Online Brand

For many business professionals, brand marketing is a skill that is difficult to learn, much less master - sort of like the process of creating a brand itself.

In the minds of many, a brand is simply a name or symbol that is easily distinguishable, to help consumers identify a product or service. That's true, but for others a brand is much more. It is what defines a company and comforts our customers. It is the identity they recognize when they don't even realize it.

No one can tell you what your brand should include or how it should be defined. But here you will find a framework to help understand a brand's importance to the bottom line and how you can help your business achieve greater mindshare among its most important audiences by establishing a more formal brand identity.

Now is the Time for Branding
Despite the fact that lead generation and direct calls to action garner most of a Web marketer's attention and budgets these days, it's harmful in the both short and long term to not to focus on the brand.

Based on marketing studies during recessions in the 20th century, some companies (and some of the best brands) learned that cutting brand-oriented advertising resulted in lower sales and profits. Even worse, performance continued to lag when the eventual recovery came around ("Why it is important to invest in communications during an economic downturn,", 2009).

For example, McGraw-Hill analyzed 600 companies from 1980 to 1985. The results showed that B2B firms that maintained or increased their advertising during the recession of 1981-1982 averaged significantly higher sales growth - both during the recession and for three years following - than those that eliminated or decreased advertising. By 1985, sales for companies that were aggressive recession advertisers had risen 256 percent over companies that did not maintain their advertising ("US Recession", McGraw-Hill, 1988).

Do You Believe In Branding?
You might think of brand marketers as shysters in shiny suits speaking of lofty and abstract concepts. In reality, despite the obvious difficulty in tracking brand effectiveness, much thought and care is placed in the development of brands. The same will apply to your brand, even it's purely online.

The reason is that when a well-developed brand is supported by a well-crafted advertising campaign, users are more likely to be convinced to pay for products. Brands evoke trust and respectability, and convey quality - enabling us to not only sell products (anybody can do that), but sell on value.

Brand Equals Expectations
There is often a great deal of discussion among brand marketers about developing and aligning the expectations behind the brand experience; to create the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique. That is an ideal; a gold standard in branding, if you will. Consider the brand therefore in this perfect brand-friendly scenario as the hinge upon which the success of an advertising campaigns swings. Not only does it signify what the brand owner is able to offer but it instills a sense of confidence among its prospective users about what they should expect.

Creating a brand worthy of your products or services requires an immense amount of sensitivity (and some research) as to what makes it truly different. It is often the intangible - what we can't see or accurately express -that make businesses and their future brands so unique and interesting to consumers.

Brand development is one of the most mentally challenging yet fruitful exercises that a business can undertake. What we ultimately need to do is consider what our company means to our consumers now, and what we really want it to mean in the future. We'll need to engage in some good old-fashioned introspection (and be honest while doing it) to be able to create an appropriate brand for the company in question. That's phase one. Phase two identifies the package aligned with the brand.

Despite the billions of dollars spent each year on corporate and product branding, there is little in the way of formal guidance. Make these checklists act as but a starting point to a bolder brand, more confident consumers and greater profits for your enterprise.

Get more specifics on the phases of creating and maintaining a brand.