A perspective for building & leveraging online brands
By the author of
Leveraging the Corporate Brand
James R. Gregory, CEO
Corporate Branding, LLC
The digital revolution meets the real world
For the past few years, the more seasoned financial community
observers have examined the explosive development of the Internet
in the US—and the seemingly limitless profusion of dot-com
enterprises—and counseled caution. Despite claims that a new
technology and global medium were rewriting stock valuation
fundamentals, many observers knew that a shakeout was coming.
The only question was how long it would take to arrive.
The lesson to investors was clear enough: Even a revolutionary
be different but the
fundamentals still apply.
technology shift can’t alter the fundamental relationship of price
The medium may
to value. Not, at least, in the long run.
The fundamentals still apply. What can brand-builders learn
from this shakeout? Simply that the medium may be different,
but the fundamentals still apply: Strong brands are not bought
overnight—they’re built one experience at a time.
A strategic branding framework for senior management.
As with any other core business function, online brand-building
activities must proceed from a clear, well-defined strategic
perspective. They must serve clear objectives. They must promise
and deliver value. Above all, they must support and reinforce the
brand images and messages delivered to customers in print,
broadcast, and other media.
The goal of this brochure is to provide management with a sensible,
realistic framework, based on proven methodologies, for successful
The Internet: What it is and what it can mean
for your company and your brand
Brand—or else. It’s precisely in this highly competitive
environment, employing a relatively new medium of extraordinary
promise, that thoughtful branding decisions become critically
important. Such decisions lay the foundation for more effective
Defying definition. An elusive and often misunderstood concept,
communications, behavior, and operations—which collectively
the Internet is the biggest thing to hit the business community
have direct bearing on a company’s bottom line.
since the PC. The amazing thing about the Internet is not what
it is, but rather what it does. A new medium as well as an interrelated community, the Internet democratizes access, promotes
communication, opens new channels for marketing and distribution,
Get used to it: On the Internet,
the customer calls the shots
makes available new sources of knowledge, levels the business
playing field, and provides a pulpit as well as a sounding board—
Digital democratization. There may have been a time—when
among other countless benefits.
communications and distribution channels were limited and
The Web was made for branding. The speed, breadth, depth,
relatively few in number—that large companies could dominate a
and efficiency of the Internet clearly represent the present and the
geographic region or control the communications environment by
future of business, both in consumer and business-to-business
flooding it with dollars and messages. If those halcyon days ever
markets. Because the Internet enables companies to manage
existed, the democratizing technology of the Internet has
audience experiences in a more controlled and meaningful way, it
banished them for good.
has the potential to make brands more relevant and more impactful
A challenging online environment for businesses. Today’s
to customers—resulting in stronger one-to-one relationships and
Internet customers have access to more information, making
enhanced customer loyalty.
them more aware of and more sophisticated about many things—
Differentiation: The key to a successful business. Pulling away
not least, business issues. A range of choices—one that no real-
from the pack is more important than ever. In many industries,
world shopping mall can match—is available instantly, any day, at
digital technology and the Internet have spurred the development
any hour. And with minimal costs of entry, companies large and
of new business models and new operating structures. But the
small are providing these customers with an ever-expanding
new medium has also brought about a great deal of confusion—
number of alternatives, making competition increasingly intense,
precisely at a time when global competition has intensified and
and only a click away.
financial markets are becoming more discriminating. As a result,
companies are finding it more important than ever to distinguish
themselves from their competitors to enhance customer loyalty
and build shareholder value.
In this environment—one of unprecedented freedom, choice, and
more important over the short term to fledgling companies than
opportunity—strategic branding decisions play a critical role in
a company’s ability to build strong relationships with customers,
It’s the experience, stupid. When people hear the word ‘brand,’
relationships that create, develop, and enhance loyalty.
they think ‘logo,’ ‘tagline,’ even ‘advertising.’ But a brand is much
more than that. A brand is not a logo or a tagline—it’s the collective
perception of a product or company based on experience.
Every brand is based on individual experience. Customers
experience a brand by reading an ad, by using a product or service,
by visiting a Web site, or in countless other ways. The aggregate
of those experiences, accumulated across all audiences over time,
Freedom to choose
creates a collective perception. This perception generates a set of
expectations which the brand must live up to each and every time.
Attitude and deep pockets alone
can’t build strong brands
Needless to say, a brand can become a tremendously valuable
asset which a company can leverage in order to deliver truly
substantial business results.
The brand is the need, and the need is the brand. The key
Companies such as America Online, Yahoo!, Amazon, and Netscape
have built strong, well-defined online brands in a relatively short
to managing each experience is simple: First, project a clear,
period of time. These companies realized long ago that building a
identifiable, and accurate representation of your company. Second,
brand is about continually and consistently managing the customer
focus on resolving customer need. The most successful online
experience. But for every AOL or Yahoo!, there are scores of
brands enjoy outstanding resonance in the marketplace because
companies convinced that they can successfully build brands with
they are able to accomplish both of these things seamlessly.
deep pockets and mass media exposure alone.
Most dot-coms have a way to go. Whatever the virtues of their
In-your-face has had its day. Preference for the in-your-face
products or services, most dot-com companies simply haven’t
approach is understandable. After all, in addition to selling products
existed long enough, conducted enough business, or built sufficient
and services, many dot-com companies must also sell potential
favorability to be considered strong brands. In short, they haven’t
customers on Internet commerce itself. Not only that: Being first to
continually and consistently met customer expectations. The fact
market and generating customer trial—often through offline advertising
that most of these enterprises lack a fundamental strategic
that’s long on attitude and short on hard facts or benefits—can seem
underpinning—which might address head-on the challenges of
being a start-up enterprise—only compounds the problem.
Your Web site is an absolute
reflection of your brand
Developing a CoreBrand™ platform
A Web site isn’t just a marketing tool or a distribution channel.
A brand needs a core focus and set of strategic underpinnings to
It’s an absolute reflection of everything the brand and company
grow and succeed. A CoreBrand platform provides just that.
represent. It’s where everything—including products and services,
An indispensible management tool. A brand platform provides
customer support, overall attitude, and voice—comes together.
a succinct definition of who and what a company is, what it does,
Design, text, navigation, and functionality should support and
and how it behaves. It is a snapshot of what the brand represents
reinforce a distinctive brand experience.
and why it is important in the marketplace. With an agreed-upon
Every aspect of a company’s Web site should flow logically from a
platform in place, decision-making can proceed in a logical,
sound brand strategy. If the Web site is already up and functioning,
disciplined, and—above all—efficient fashion. The platform defines
that strategy can serve as a filter or standard against which to
the brand in a way that employees can understand and use as a
measure existing work—one that also can guide the development
guide to action.
of the site.
A must for every online brand. Brands must be clearly
communicated to a company’s various audiences. As key
There are two basic steps to building distinctiveness on a Web site:
constituents, these individuals must be able to grasp the company’s
essence and purpose. As a central point of communication, a
company Web site must speak to and resonate with a diverse array
Step 2: Execute the strategy.
representing the brand in every other online environment.
Once the strategy is articulated and understood, it’s possible to execute
it in communicative, navigational, and functional terms: How the site looks
and feels to the user, the messages it conveys, the ease of movement
from one part of the site to another, the types of e-commerce solutions the
site offers, and the built-in banners and links it contains.
Step 1: Define the strategic underpinnings of the brand.
These underpinnings constitute the strategic backbone of the brand—what
we call a CoreBrand™ strategy. The strategy articulates, among other
things, the brand’s reason for being, what it delivers, what its core focus is,
and the voice it uses to communicate.
A sensible, two-step
Building holistic brands. The brand platform guides more than
of audiences. The brand platform becomes the basis for every
element of the Web site, including design, copy, navigation, and
functionality. It also becomes a central point of guidance for
just the company’s Web site. It is a strategy that draws from and
permeates every facet of the company’s existence—the way it
communicates and conducts business. One company, one business,
one brand, one strategy, one voice.
Leveraging the CoreBrand
Brand strategy is business strategy. The two strategies feed
Reflect and influence. A corporate brand strategy isn’t hot air.
off of one another. In the end, brands succeed not because of
It isn’t a set of platitudes designed to represent a company as
what companies say about themselves, but because of what they
something other than what it is. Properly conceived and developed,
do, how they function, and how successfully they meet customers’
a brand strategy both reflects a company’s essence and influences
needs and expectations.
every aspect of its behavior—in its operations, in the way its
people relate to others both within and outside the company, and
There are three things to keep in mind when defining your brand:
Defining the brand—
in the way it communicates to all audiences.
Make it differentiating.
Consistent representation is key. While a brand strategy may
Why should a customer choose your company, your brand, your product or
service, rather than another? If your strategy doesn’t answer this question
in a clear, unique, and compelling way, your brand is unlikely to succeed in
a crowded and very competitive marketplace.
be communicated in different ways to different audiences—internal
versus external; international versus national—the core elements
that underlie it are unchanging and consistently presented. And
that consistency doesn’t apply only to a company’s advertising; it
Make it relevant.
also must be reflected in the company’s nomenclature, in its
Remember, you’re competing for a very fickle commodity—your customers’
attention. If your brand doesn’t matter—if it doesn’t seem important or
necessary to a customer’s way of life or way of doing business—it’s just
another distraction. Make your brand relevant and you make it matter to
the people and/or companies who need what your brand offers.
product and service offerings, and in its co-branding activities and
Make it credible.
and settings. Here is where the CoreBrand strategy is especially
Remember that audiences don’t just buy brands—they experience
them—and those experiences may take place in myriad formats
useful, providing guidance in managing these experiences in a way
Your brand promise may be compelling, but if it does not reflect what
the company can deliver, you risk the development of distrust among
that promotes consistency—and consistently positive experiences
with the brand.
CoreBrand strategy and the Web. First, because a company
Web site represents everything a brand is and does, it has a logical
role as a company’s central communications resource. On the Web,
a company can convey not only its brand voice, but its identity
and its reason for being.
The branding experience
Second, aside from its marketing, promotion, and public relations
value, a Web site enables the development of efficient, relevant
business processes, from e-commerce to information-sharing. It
can also have a profound effect on internal operations such as
distribution, human resources, and inventory management.
Third, Web sites and Intranet sites allow a company to create
and/or enhance a distinctive internal culture, one that instills or
reinforces a shared sense of purpose and a common set of
U N I C AT I O
retaining valuable employees.
Establishing and reinforcing the
brand experience online
A haven from digital noise. Though you may think of it in more
people closer together—a critical component of recruiting and
behaviors. Perhaps most importantly, it draws a company and its
complex terms, to your customers your Web site is like a trusted,
protected space—a haven from the relentless onslaught of digital
noise bombarding them every day.
When customers log on to your company’s Web site, they should
feel a part of this trusted, protected space—by the look and feel
of the site, its voice, and its ability to provide them with what
they’re looking for.
This experience should be distinctive and differentiating, yet
absolutely relevant to your customers’ needs.
Properly conceived and developed, a brand strategy both reflects a company’s
essence and influences every aspect of its business—its operations, the way
its people relate to others both within and outside the company, and the way
it communicates to all audiences, especially employees.
The goal is to keep them coming back. Customer loyalty
If customer loyalty
doesn’t develop overnight. Nor is it won through “attitude” or
were the topic
extravagant promises, flashy images or gimmicky design. Loyalty
develops through a succession of positive experiences customers
have with the brand. To your customers, each experience should
be satisfying and reassuring. But even more important, each
“ I know this brand and this Web site. They have performed for
of a focus group,
experience should build momentum in customers’ minds, reinforcing
“ This site simplifies my life/work; it’s quick and easy to use.”
your brand as their preferred choice.
“ This site supports my way of life/way of doing business. It has
never failed to respond to my needs in the way I expect.”
Experiences make promises. As experiences accumulate and
expectations develop in customers’ minds, your brand makes an
implicit promise: That it will perform against those expectations.
Seeing the site through your customer’s eyes. Maintaining
And the more the brand meets and perhaps even surpasses these
positive brand momentum means understanding the customer’s
expectations, the stronger it becomes and the more able it is to
perspective. It means managing the customers’ experience so that
defend against competitive alternatives.
they never feel alienated—so that they never feel they’ve made
the wrong choice and must seek alternatives.
This loyalty, at base, is an emotional bond between the customer
and the brand. Once it’s established, an isolated failure to deliver
While loyal customers may tolerate an occasional lapse or
on customers’ expectations will not disrupt brand momentum.
inconvenience, they must never be allowed to doubt the wisdom
of having chosen your brand. That won’t happen if you make a
consistent attempt to see the brand and the site through your
Developing tactics for online brand expression
A graphic representation, electronically conveyed, of brand
hierarchies—how brands represent themselves to their audiences
and how they relate to each other
Critical as it is to the success of your brand, a brand platform is
only a theoretical snapshot of your company and brand at a specific
point in time—a statement indicating how the brand’s essence will
be conveyed to various audiences through experience. What remains
The names used to describe corporate, product, or service brands
is to translate that strategy into tactics—to bring the brand to life.
Promotional messages for the brand placed in print, broadcast, or
Navigation & functionality
The structure of the site, its human logic and user-friendliness, and
what it enables the user to do
The graphic expression of a relationship between two brands—
a joint venture, for example
Design, look & feel
The site’s overall appearance—its color palette and vocabulary of
images; its typography, graphics, and use of symbols and icons
Meeting the needs of multiple audiences. It may seem
impossible to satisfy every member of every audience you hope
to attract to your site. But the most successful sites are those
The photos and graphic devices used to elicit a variety of emotional
responses about the company, the brand, the product or service,
or the site itself
that, within reason, make every attempt to do just that.
Whether it’s a dispenser of information or the enabler of a
transaction—or, perhaps, both—a company’s Web site must
Functions that support online transactions
address diverse needs, interests, and issues.
Literally, the stuff of the site—information, messages, and tonality
that inform, influence, and persuade—adding specificity and depth to
the more abstract messages conveyed through imagery
Socially conscious corporate citizen
Here are only
some of the roles
your site must be
prepared to fill:
Digital bridges to other Web sites
Every interaction provides an opportunity. Make every online
Investment for business impact. When Andy Grove, former CEO
interaction meaningful. However trivial or complicated the inquiry,
of Intel, was asked about his company’s ROI on its e-commerce
your company’s Web site must satisfy the user’s needs. Satisfaction
investment, he replied, “This is Columbus in the New World. What
may mean providing a very specific piece of information—or
was his ROI?” Grove makes an important point. Despite the
conveying a more complex framework within which a particular
lightning-fast adoption of Web technology worldwide, despite the
event, situation, or process can be understood.
value the Internet already provides companies and individuals,
despite its obvious promise, there are few if any precedents to
Whatever the purpose of their visit, users of your company’s site
go on in assessing its bottom-line impact. Few if any traditional
should feel a sense of completion and resolution. They can’t be
business measures apply in each and every case. However,
allowed to feel that their time invested was time wasted. That can
corporate management can’t be expected to pour endless dollars
bring brand momentum to an abrupt halt. Following are the types
into the void. There must be a way to measure how an Internet
of responses your site should elicit from visitors:
“I left the site with
investment pays off.
exactly the infor mation I was
looking for — and it didn’t take me forever to find it, either.”
easy to find
it was just as easy — and fast.”
“Not only was it
what I was looking for; buying
The four-step approach to measure value and return. The
Understand your Internet investment’s effect on:
following four-step approach not only helps to pinpoint return on
Brand power—How familiar the marketplace is with your brand and the
favorability attached to your brand name
investment, it also measures the not-strictly-bottom-line value an
Web site hits
Specific indicators relevant to your businesses
Internet investment returns.
The four steps are:
Step 1: Understand which expenditures you can control in the short
term. How, in other words, can your Internet investment be leveraged to
support your investment in other media?
Step 3: Identify the basis on which you measure your company’s
Advertising, online and offline
success and determine the effect of the variables listed in Step 2 on that
success. What, in other words, are your goals for your company? What is
your idea of the ideal business situation?
Co-branding, online and offline
Other promotion and sponsorship activities
Step 4: Compare the cost of the variables listed in Step 2 to the
Partnerships and ventures
benefit associated with reaching your goals for your company. The key is
to optimize the relationships between variables. When these variables are
optimized, a company can begin to understand the impact of an Internet
investment on the bottom line.
Web site development—Front-end interface design/functionality and
back-end technical enablement and support
Step 2: Determine how these expenditures affect key performance
Benchmarking and tracking for the long term. Ongoing
indicators. Every company has a set of performance indicators—
variables whose ups and downs reveal its current situation, point to specific
problems or opportunities, and indicate trends to be watched.
measures of ROI can help a company to modulate the level and
focus of their Internet investments to fit business realities and
needs, consumer or business-to-business.
Some of the performance indicators listed at the top of the next page may
provide a wealth of useful information; others may be fairly static, and still
others too erratic to provide consistently reliable information. Once you
select which of these indicators is most revealing, most reliably, you can
then begin to track the impact and the value of your Internet investment.
BusinessWeek helps to build e-brands
Advertising for the future. While advertising can be a critical
component of any brand-building effort, it is often approached with
carelessness. Instead of wasting precious dollars on advertising in
just any information source, the most forward-looking companies
have always advertised with BusinessWeek—because they know
that doing so is an excellent way to build their brands.
Placement makes all the difference. Advertising spending
means little without the right placement. To generate real brand
momentum, ads must target potential consumers and those
who might influence corporate reputation. Who are those people,
and where are they likely to see the ads that you carefully
create and support with hard-earned, and sometimes scarce,
Communicate with your target audience. Obviously, corporate
advertisers need to communicate with corporate decision-makers—
those individuals in top management who make the buying decisions.
These are the people who turn to BusinessWeek. Simply put,
BusinessWeek is trusted by more business professionals than any
other business publication in the world. That makes it an excellent
place to start building a digital brand through corporate advertising.
For further information about advertising in BusinessWeek,
please contact Connie Bennett, SVP/Associate Publisher,
at (212) 512-6945 or email@example.com.