Defining the Core Elements of a Successful Online Brand

I talk about branding a lot on my blog but realized I’ve never done a post outlining what I see as the core elements of an online brand. One of my blog readers emailed an interesting question to me over the weekend, they asked, “When you talk about a brand do you just mean a domain and a website, or is there more to it?” This is a great question and after looking through my posts about branding I realized I’ve never really taken a deep-dive into what an online brand is!

Now it’s important to point out that there is no right answer here. By no means am I the grand-master of branding, I haven’t taken extensive courses on branding and I don’t have a degree in marketing. Instead I have based my definition of a brand on my own experiences and what I’ve seen to be the critical elements that successful online brands share.

I see five core elements to an online brand:

  1. Color Scheme
  2. Website
  3. Domain Name
  4. Social Media Presence
  5. Business Cards

Sure, there are definitely other elements to a successful brand but these are the five core elements I think a brand needs to be successful. Now let’s examine each of these qualities to better understand each of them.

Color Scheme

Many brands spend a good deal of time picking-out which colors they will use to represent their brand. Every color has a different meaning and using colors that are compatible with your audience is critical to success. Your primary colors will usually end-up in your logo as well. Below is a short list of what people might think of when they see a particular color:

Blue – blue often conveys a feeling of calmness, tranquility, and loyalty.

Red – red represents fire, energy, strength and power.

Yellow – yellow represents happiness and joy, it’s the color of the sun, which makes us all happy right?

Orange – combine red and yellow and you get the combination of happiness, and joy with energy and power. Orange is often used to represent excitement or enthusiasm.

Green – when we see green, we think nature. Green conveys growth and harmony, and is also associated with safety and security.

Purple – combine blue and red and you end-up with a balance between energy and stability.

Black – black is often used to convey power and elegance, but can also be used to describe mystery or something unknown.

White – white conveys purity, light and also can be used to describe something that is both cool and clean.

Website

Every brand needs a website. Period. A website is often the first thing a person will see when they hear about your brand. If your website looks old and out of date, this could also make your brand look the same. If your website is hard to navigate or contains spelling errors, this could also impact the perception of your brand. The website is the front-end, think of it as your salesperson, your brand ambassador. When a potential customer or client visits your site they should feel more comfortable doing business with you.

Here’s a great example of how a website can impact your brand, which dentist would you rather go to based on the websites below:

dental_website1

dental_website2Most people would pick the second website because of the better branding and site design. Front and center you see the dentist, he is making eye contact with you as the visitor. There is an ad at the top for a complimentary cosmetic consultation, again with a photograph and eye contact. The telephone number is big and highly visible, above it is the welcoming words, “Contact us for a free consultation.” Other little details like the tagline of “The Smile Transformation Expert” – all of these little details come-together to make a stronger brand.

Now let’s take a look at the first website. There are two photographs on the front page, the first is of the bottom of large stone columns. I don’t know about you but when I see these I usually think a courthouse so I think it’s a lawyers site. I then looked-up and confirmed thought that I was even on a dental website. The logo is all lower case, with the word “dental” in red, “arts” in grey, and “dentistry” in black. If you look back at our color charts, red means fire and energy, purple, as we read combines red with yellow conveying a feeling of stability.

The first website has a second picture on the front page, a photo of the hallway before their office. If you want to brand yourself as a great dentist, you should probably have a person, with great teeth, on the front of your website. In the case of the second website there are actually three people all with great teeth…and one of them is the dentist himself. The contact information on the first page is very small, I’d say the phone number is probably 1/8th the size of the telephone number on the second website.

What I’m trying to say here is that the website is a critical part of your brand, and having a bad website could impact your business. Having a great-looking, easy-to-use website, that follows good design principles is critical to building long lasting brands online. I used the dental websites as a case study because they are things that we all understand, finding a dentist. Now let’s look at online brands, in some cases you might not really understand what they do – think, how many people know what a social media marketing agency is? Online brands can be held to an even higher standard because they are dealing with the online world, how could someone who does most of their business online have a bad website?

When you are building a brand online, your website is everything, make it shine!

Domain Name

A domain name is an absolutely critical piece to any brand and overlooking this could impact your chances of success dramatically. Here’s an example that I like to give, knowing nothing but the domain name, which business do you think would be more of an authority on the topic of landscaping, 123landscape.com, thelandscapers.com, or landscaping.com. I’m pretty sure that 99% of the people reading this would pick landscaping.com, now let’s take it a step further, suppose all of these domains are on the first page of Google, which do you think gets the most clicks?

A domain name is an intrinsic part of a brand and owning your brand in the .COM TLD is the best choice. In some cases this is not possible, the domain name you want may be too expensive or owned by someone that is using it for themselves. You really have two options in this scenario, you can change your brand name, or you can buy the name in another TLD. Like I said above, I feel that .COM is the best choice for your brand but I still do think that great brands can be built on other TLDs. The problem with not owning the .COM is that whoever has that name can take a lot of your traffic and become easily confused with your brand. Many times when you hear about something you remember the brand name, but you probably won’t remember the TLD and you’ll go to the .COM first. If you hear about a brand when the TLD is not being used then you will always go to .COM.

There are two different ways to brand your company with a domain name. You can go with a generic word or phrase like, “Car.com” or “BuyCar.com” or you could come-up with your own word like “Google” or “Twitter” either way don’t make-up something that you can’t get the .COM. That being said, don’t be afraid to spend some money on a good domain for your brand. Yes, it’s hard to go-out and pay $10 to find the domain of your dreams, but that shouldn’t be a big surprise. While you don’t have to spend $200,000 if you’re just starting out, spending $2,000 might be what you need to get started.

So what if you can’t get the .COM of your brand? This is where many Domainers disagree – there is a division where some feel that if you don’t own the .COM you don’t own the brand vs. people that feel you can build brands on other TLDs. It’s absolutely true that huge brands have been built on other TLDs and you can do it too. Just know that you’ll have to work harder on the marketing-side and you will lose some percentage of your traffic to the .COM. Owning the .COM of your brand gives you a huge marketing bonus and prevents anyone else from coming in and stealing your thunder.

 

Social Media Presence

Real brands are on Facebook and Twitter now, many using it to their tremendous example. Delta Airlines actually has an entire social media room with a task force monitoring their social media world. Just think, five years ago when someone complained about a brand it was all private, between that person and the company. Now people can complain publicly about a company using Twitter and Facebook, and companies can actually respond publicly.

Social Media is still taking-off and while many companies have Twitter and Facebook accounts, tons aren’t using them for much. This means that the companies that are using Social Media are forging relationships and making connections with customers their competitors can’t. Here’s a great example, we were going to Paso Robles for wine tasting last weekend and I mentioned it on Twitter. Shortly after a winery called Cipher Winery Tweeted back and invited us to stop by for a tasting. They were the only winery to do this and the first stop on our trip…had they not reached-out on Twitter we probably would have never visited them.

Let’s be clear about what I’m saying here, you don’t need social media to build an online brand, however most successful online brands are using Twitter and Facebook to their advantage. If you want to do everything you can to generate a buzz around your brand online, Social Media is the way to go now, and will be the way to go five years from now, this is only the beginning so get on board!

 

Business Cards

This may seem like an odd one to have on the list but while I know it won’t be like this forever, it really is a necessity now. I mean honestly, in a world of smart phones aren’t apps like Bump going to make business cards obsolete? I think they will, it will definitely happen, however I can tell you, it hasn’t happened yet. When you meet someone in person and start talking to them about your brand, hopefully they’ll become interested enough to ask for a business card to find-out more. Sure, some people will just enter your information into their smart phone but most people want a physical card.

Here’s where branding comes in again. When I come back from a conference I’m always interested to see which business cards catch my eye and which scare me away. There are of course those business cards that are really flimsy and you can tell were made on someone’s home ink jet printer. Is that really how you want to represent your brand?

You business cards are an extension of your brand, they should have a unique look and feel and express the brand image. You don’t have to get too fancy but use your company colors, include your logo if you have one, and make sure the text is legible and easy to read. Business cards have become incredible cheap to print and you can usually get a nice set of 500 cards for under $50 online. You might not need business cards a few years from now but if you have a brand, online or offline, you still need business cards today.

 

There you have it! Core elements of a successful online brand as seen through my own experience. What has amazed me the most is how missing one element of the brand can hold you back. Not having a Twitter account when people are mentioning your business, having a terrible website, not having business cards, all of these are factors that could directly impact the success of your brand. As I build my own brands these are the qualities that I examine carefully. One of the last points I wanted to make may be the most important point in this article, ask for feedback and use that feedback to drive change. Don’t live in a vacuum, take the time to understand what your customers like and don’t like about your brand, and then do everything you can to make your brand everything that it can be.

 

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Leonard Britt August 31, 2011, 3:39 pm

    IMO branding is what a business represents in the minds of those who are familiar with the products and services a company sells. If they are looking for X and your business sells X, do they know you exist? If they know you exist, do they want to do business with you? Why? Do they know how to contact you / where to find you?

    A domain name can help a consumer remember where to go to find a business online. A premium .COM domain can aid in consumer mindshare. Personally I would prefer a premium name in another recognizable extension such as .Net, .Org (in some cases), or .TV over a desperate looking four-word .COM which is not easily remembered (because it is not a common search term or common phrase). As an example, I have a .TV site where the GAKT exact search volume is only 3600 monthly but this month broke 6K visitors due to long-tail search traffic. Over the last six months direct traffic is close to 6% of total traffic.- perhaps less than premium .COM domain websites but evidence some visitors are coming back and remembering the .TV extension. Note that outside the US, .COM is NOT the default extension.

    Reply
    • Morgan September 1, 2011, 12:11 am

      Excellent points at @Leonard, I definitely think your thinking is solid.

      Thanks for the positive feedback @RH – it’s a topic I’m very passionate about and learning more every day!

      Reply
  • RH August 31, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Really well written Morgan. It seems to be an area that domainers don’t care about, but I think you are on the right track.

    Reply
  • Music Talk September 1, 2011, 5:31 am

    I felt the second website looked way too ‘busy’ whilst not over impressed with the first one i would want it over the second, sometimes ……less is more

    Reply

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