How to Build a Brand Today – The Future of Your Online Business Depends on It

December 23, 2008 - Written by Gyutae Park  

red ball brandingJust how powerful is branding?  Think for a moment about the products that you buy: the electronics that you use, the clothes that you wear, and the food that you eat.  Do you notice any sort of trend?  If you’re like most people, you’ll find that you favor specific brands – either because you’re used to them or because you associate them with a certain type of benefit.

A strong brand is a marketer’s dream and makes promotion exponentially easier.  In fact, a brand is often just as important as the product itself.  For example, what’s the difference between Pepsi cola and generic cola?  They’re almost identical in content and yet one does billions of dollars in sales and the other is ignored on store shelves.

Strong brands alter the perception of consumers, who then believe a product or service is relatively better even though in reality it remains the same.

brands mixTo illustrate this point even further, brand power is the reason why people pay for information when they can get it free online (e.g. For Dummies books, favorite authors, info products, exclusive forums), why people will buy from Amazon when they can get the same items cheaper somewhere else, why caffeine addicts will happily pay $4 for a latte at Starbucks, why clothing brands can charge 10 times the cost of production and still attract rabid fashion enthusiasts, and why John Chow can write about his dinners and still get a ton of traffic (“celebrities” essentially have strong personal brands).

Branding is extremely powerful and is becoming increasingly important online as the web matures.  Google is giving preference to strong brands in its search results and Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently went as far as to say that the Internet is a cesspool. Brands will rise above the garbage of the web to provide trusted information and products that combat misinformation and poor quality.

If you want to stay competitive with your online business – or rather, if you want to survive in these times, it’s crucial that you develop a strong brand in your chosen niche.  Otherwise, you may find your site swept away into oblivion in the next couple of years. Build that brand now and reap the benefits.

What can you do to develop a strong online brand?  Below are the most important factors.

7 Steps to a Strong Online Brand Presence

1. Screw SEO for a minute – Focus on branding

adidas nike apple brandsToo many times I see webmasters overly focused on SEO rather than on branding.  They buy domains that incorporate generic keywords and “optimize” their sites but fail to save room for crucial branding opportunities that potentially leave lasting impressions on customers. For example, imagine if Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to name their search engine “search-engine.com” instead of Google for SEO purposes (ironically). Would it be as big as Google is today? Probably not – even with the same technologies.

Rather than making SEO keywords your #1 priority, shift your focus to branding. What can you do to give visitors a unique experience and make them come back for more? It could be something as simple as a name change. Once you have your branding strategy in place, you can always go back and optimize your site for the search engines. Strong brands have a big advantage in search rankings anyway so it’s a win-win situation.

2. Your brand = what? Be specific

focus blurTo maximize effectiveness, your brand should be closely tied to your niche or specialty. Rather than branching out into a wide array of unrelated niches, keep your brand focused and specific to your core competencies. In an ideal situation, your brand would be so closely associated with your niche that the two would be interchangeable. Examples include: Google = search, Kleenex = facial tissue, Xerox = copy, Q-Tips = cotton swabs, Band-Aid = bandages.

Keep your brand specific to what you’re offering and split off into new brands if you have to. Kraft foods, for example, has separate brands for each of its food items (e.g. Oreo, A1 steak sauce, California Pizza Kitchen, Planters, Ritz) and has created a huge empire in its industry.

Lesson: If you want to build a strong brand with your website, keep it niche/function specific.

3. Stand for something – Core values and competencies

zappos founderAs mentioned previously, being specific with your chosen niche is important in building a brand. However, that’s only part of the equation. You also need to stand for something (i.e. have key selling points that make your online business unique) and own your ideas. Why should anyone visit your site over any of the other competitor sites? It could be a distinct product, your personality, background, or values, your relationship with others in the industry, exceptional customer support, high quality, etc. For example, Zappos was able to gain market share as a leading online shoe retailer because of its remarkable customer support. They even pay employees to quit if they’re not passionate about what they do.

Why should people buy from you? Develop a few key selling points based on your main strengths and play to them every chance you get. For example, do you have great connections in the music industry? Interview rock stars and leverage your relationships to develop a reputation by association. This is how Perez Hilton got to be such a big and successful celebrity gossip blog.

4. Looks matter – Give off a good impression

looks image cartoonLike it or not, looks matter online. I don’t care if you have revolutionary content that’s to die for. Unless you have an attractive web design and a legitimate logo, no one is going to take you seriously. Be sure to do everything in your power to set up a unique site with a presentable layout that looks professional. This includes vivid images, effective navigation, detailed product images, and attractive fonts and headers.

Use colors and logos to establish your brand. For instance, if no one is using the color green in your industry, use it and make it an integral part of your site. You want to do everything you can to set your site apart from the competition and help users to remember you. Colors and images are visual tools that can do just that.

Don’t skimp out on your logo. It represents your entire brand and you should start off with one that you can proudly place all over the web. Create a design contest on 99designs and get a logo for as little as $150.

5. Strut your stuff – Highlight social proof factors

napoleon dynamite danceA strong brand is trustworthy and credible because other authoritative sources say that it is. For example, if Winning the Web was featured on CNN tomorrow and praised as a great resource for Internet marketing, how would your view of the blog change? Would you trust it more? It’s obvious that recommendations and references from top authorities count for a lot in building a brand.

Knowing that, emphasize and highlight all of the associations and accomplishments that you’re proud of on your site. Here are some examples that you can use.

  • A list of high-profile clients
  • Positive testimonials from clients and customers
  • Badges of the top lists that you’re a part of (like the Internet Marketing Top Blogs list)
  • Prestigious awards that you’ve won
  • Credentials and qualifications (e.g. Adwords Qualified Professional)
  • Hackersafe badges (mainly for e-commerce sites)
  • Interviews that you’ve done
  • Statistics (subscribers, traffic, etc)
  • “As seen on…”
  • References and reviews from big media publications

People like to follow what’s already popular. If you give visitors proof that you know what you’re talking about, they’re more inclined to give you a chance. A brand is essentially a reputation that you need to build and leveraging social proof is a quick and effective way of doing it.

6. Spread it virally – Build a community of evangelists

viral marketing ear messageReferences from authorities are great for building credible brands. Recommendations from friends, family, and co-workers are even better. The web is becoming more and more social and the more you can encourage buzz from your target audience, the better. Get people talking about your brand, launch viral campaigns, and utilize the power of social media sites like Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit to get the word out. If you have a noteworthy message, you absolutely need a community of passionate evangelists to spread the news. It’ll make your job as a marketer much easier and do wonders for your brand.

If you sell a product online, create a lucrative affiliate program to attract a team of highly-skilled affiliates to do the selling for you. Again, the more people you have on board to spread your message or sell your products, the faster you’ll be able to build your brand. Just be sure to set clear and strict guidelines for your affiliate program. You definitely don’t want affiliates to be overly aggressive in their marketing and taint your image.

7. Collect eyeballs – Build exposure continuously

eyeballsFinally, get as much exposure to your site as possible. Buy banner advertising and pay-per-click ads, write guest articles on popular blogs to demonstrate your knowledge, and generate traffic through social media sites. You want to get your brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible and stick in the minds of people exposed to your site. The more that people see your brand, the more likely they will be of remembering you and eventually buying from you. Why do you think big companies like Apple run so many TV and banner ads? I’m sure almost all of you have seen the series of creative “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” commercials.

Your job is to build exposure and traffic. Without it, your website brand won’t stand a chance – no matter how good it is.

What are you doing to build your brand today? With the Internet quickly changing the way it is, strong brands will soon take over and rule the web – much like they have in the mature offline business world. Get started now before it’s too late and the window of opportunity closes.

For more on building a brand for yourself, check out Gab Goldenberg’s how-to guide on brand building online for Internet marketers.

Do you have an established brand ready for your online future?

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Comments

60 Responses to “How to Build a Brand Today – The Future of Your Online Business Depends on It”

Ant Harper on December 24th, 2008

Great article. I’ve been dealing with corporate identity for years now, first in graphic design, now in web design and all of this rings true.

Gyutae Park on December 24th, 2008

Thanks Ant! With your experience you should definitely understand the benefits of branding – especially with graphic and web design. Anything I missed in the “Looks matter” section?

 
 
Todd Mintz on December 24th, 2008

Dude, you’re on a heck of a good roll with your latest blog posts.

Gyutae Park on December 24th, 2008

Hehe, thanks Todd. I’ve been trying to write more useful articles to build my reader base. I hope it’s working!

Lisa Barone on December 26th, 2008

I have to agree with Todd. You’re writing some great stuff, Gyutae! 🙂

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Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Thanks Lisa! That means a lot coming from a blogger like you. Love what you do at We Build Pages!

 
 
 
 
Meg Guiseppi on December 24th, 2008

WOW, terrific stuff! You’re completely on-target, Guytae.

I’m right with you, especially when you advise focusing on branding and “collecting eyeballs”, instead of SEO.

Too many people trying to build a solid online brand footprint neglect their readers – the very people they need to connect with. A balance can be struck between feeding search engines with relevant key word phrases and providing valuable advice and information to attract potential clients.

It’s so tiresome to read a laundry list of hot words with no substance behind them.

Happy holidays to you and your readers!

-Meg

Gyutae Park on December 24th, 2008

Meg, you’re absolutely right. Little do they know that search engines follow the trends of real people – not just keywords. Those of build solid brands with big followings today will be rewarded with favorable search rankings as well. They go hand in hand really.

 
 
mangatoread on December 24th, 2008

I agree with you..
Branding is important..
Now I must make logo for my blog

Gyutae Park on December 24th, 2008

Yep, remember that it’s not just about your logo. It’s a combination of all of the steps I listed out in this article.

 
 
Charles Sipe on December 24th, 2008

I’m glad I found this site. I 100% agree that a strong brand name for a site is more important than keywords. It seems that most of the great sites online have great brand names, e.g. Digg, Delicious, Mahalo, Google.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

I’m glad that you’re here, Charles. Keywords are much harder to compete for because new competitors come in every day and could potentially overtake your position. Brands are much more sustainable and you ultimately have control over your image. Not only that but strong brands get a boost for relevant keywords anyway.

Isiah Sevenly on April 29th, 2009

I work for WhitePages and the URL for sure is how we created the traffic more than 11 years ago, but we have just in the last 2 years started to really build our brand. The term White Pages alone is not enough for us to stay at the top. We have a series of posts on our corporate blog about the process of brand building here >> http://blog.whitepages.com/index.php/whitepages-brand-building-series/ >> the story is unfolding as we are preparing to launch our new site. We have definitely taken all of the steps you outline here and you will see in future posts our reality of building a brand. Check it out if you get the chance and please let us know what you think.

Great post,
Isiah T Sevenly.

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Jason Garfield on October 18th, 2009

GReat series on Branding an online company. WhitePages now has a face and a personality.

Mr. Garfield

 
 
 
 
Donna Maria @ Indie Business on December 24th, 2008

I love this post for many reasons, not the least of which is that it compares the value of SEO to the value of branding. So many think SEO will be a quick fix, but in reality, while SEO may get me to your site, in and of itself, it won’t make me stay there. And it certainly won’t make me come back. It’s the experience, the professionalism, the unique content that will resonate. SEO or not, it’s y-o-u-r performance that counts, not the performance of your SEO professional. Thanks!

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Great points Donna! SEO and branding both have a lot of value – but they should be used in conjunction for maximum effect. An SEO-only site might receive a lot of search traffic but retain no loyal visitors and therefore no long term value. A brand-only site (that’s not optimized for SEO) won’t get as much traffic to build their brand and gain momentum.

 
 
Marios Alexandrou on December 24th, 2008

“I don’t care if you have revolutionary content that’s to die for. Unless you have an attractive web design and a legitimate logo, no one is going to take you seriously.”

I disagree with the above. Looks can help, but they’re not critical to success. Jacob Neilsen’s site is a prime example of an expert with an ugly site. Could Reddit be any less visually appealing? And what 5 year old couldn’t come up with Craigslist’s design? 🙂

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Hey Marios,
I agree with you that there are quite a few popular sites out there that are horribly ugly but have massive followings (e.g. I just checked out Jacob Nielsen’s site and wow..). I guess instead of “attractive”, “unique” is a better word to use. The ugly layouts are not visually appealing but they contribute to a unique brand image that sticks in the minds of visitors.

In other words, looks still matter – a site can be ugly or beautiful, but it still has to be easy-to-use and unique. Cookie cutter templates for sites don’t work well for establishing brands.

Thanks for the clarification. 🙂

 
 
DJ BackSide on December 24th, 2008

Dopeness. Thanx for this. Always a good reminder. I even think sometimes my ‘name’ brand is bigger than me at time. I’m sure that more than half the people that ‘know’ DJ BackSide, haven’t even see me spin.

That being said. Branding time.

http://www.djbackside.com
http://www.twitter.com/djbackside

And Go.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Hey DJ,
You know what, that’s actually a very valuable asset to have. Since you yourself aren’t tied to your brand, you can easily build on it without having to include yourself (i.e. train other DJ’s and franchise your brand for others to represent you). Something like that could work – much like in the restaurant industry.

 
 
Ben Pei on December 25th, 2008

Lol Gyutae I really wonder where you find all these cool graphics for your post each time?

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Flickr and Google Image Search are your friends. 🙂

ZK@Internet Maketing Blog on January 7th, 2009

Some of them are so relevant to your posts , do you have a designer to tweak these

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Associate Money on December 25th, 2008

Branding is the difference between a common commodity and a prized asset.

Just look at Tiffany and how they can command a premium over their competitors when they are essentially offering the same things.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Examples of strong brands that command a premium are everywhere.. clothing brands, restaurants, Apple computers, jewelry, furniture, cars, etc.

 
 
Russell on December 25th, 2008

We have tried with our local search engine click2connect.com to come up with a good brand name and logo. Take a look and see if you like what we have done.
Any comments welcome!

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

I think you can improve on the design and make it look more attractive and professional but I think you’re on the right track. You have a set color scheme and a catchy logo. After that, you have to deliver with your product.

 
 
Dan Schawbel on December 25th, 2008

This is a great post to illustrate how important branding is, especially in a digital environment. A brand is what you trust, and do business with. A logo and other graphics, slogans, etc is what you remember so you revisit that brand. When it comes to building a powerful online brand, there are many tools we can all use to push our brands (corporate/product/personal) out to the world.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Like you mentioned, branding is especially important in the digital world because your offering isn’t tangible (i.e. they can’t see you or your product up front). This is the reason why you have to establish yourself and make an extra effort to get people to remember you through your brand. Thanks for the feedback.

 
 
Vikram Rajan on December 26th, 2008

For personal brands….
a logo — is best as our face (plus iconic clothing/accessory)
a jingle — our 1-liner (shorter than even a 30-sec elev pitch)

For corporate brands…
mascots and leading execs — can personify the brand
1-liner song — sing along with me: 1-800-MATTRES……..

~ Vikram Rajan
PracticeMarketingAdvisors.com

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Haha, good examples. Thanks Vikram. Now that I think of it, I can remember a lot of slogans and songs from a bunch of commercials on TV. Now that’s good branding..

 
 
Evan on December 26th, 2008

I think this is a great post – an excellent summary that gives clear ideas and places to start.

One disagreement. I don’t think (in blogging) that looks matter a whole lot. (They probably matter more for websites.) With the prevalence of feeds people probably don’t look at blogs a whole lot anymore.

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Thanks Evan! I’m glad you liked the post.

I agree that people visit blogs less with the prevalence of feeds, but this only applies to regular readers – not new people who visit the blog for the first time through links and search. A blog is just a type of website and requires the same branding components to see success. Looks do matter for blogs too.

However, a blog does require more personal branding from the blogger especially if it’s written in his/her voice.

 
 
Kathy@ Virtual Impax on December 26th, 2008

Absolutely LOVE this post. SEO without a target audience in mind is an exercise in futility.

It’s amazing how often businesses overlook your 3rd point. You can’t strut your stuff or build a viral campaign without FIRST knowing the answer to “Why should people buy from you?”

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Awesome, thanks so much Kathy.

You’re absolutely right. Knowing your core competencies and selling points will drive the direction for future branding and marketing opportunities. That area needs to be covered first in order to know how to brand your business.

 
 
Lindsay on December 26th, 2008

Nice job with this post. I think, when you’re building a web-based business, it’s ideal if you can think SEO *and* branding. It’s possible to create a brand name that has your preferred keyword in it (SEOBook, frex).

Thanks for the read!

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

That’s a great point, Lindsay. Thanks! Everyone should take note of what you just said.

A brand name that takes SEO into consideration with keywords is already ahead of the game. However, it’s becoming more and more difficult because a lot of the good domains are already taken. You might be able to find a few gems though.

 
 
Hugo Firth on December 27th, 2008

I have to completely agree with you on the importance of Point one mate ! I was faced with a similar decision recently when starting my blog : whether to go for a domain which included the keyword entrepreneur in it, or go with a more catchy name/phrase.

Also look at succesful sites like youtube or meebo, theres a reason they aren’t called tvonline.com and/or msnanywhere.com . They have developed a famous brand that sticks in peoples heads, and is far more valuable (in terms of viral marketing and the word spreading about their service) than any keyword optimisation.

Cheers for a good article

Gyutae Park on December 28th, 2008

Hey Hugo,
I agree with you catchy names work well for branding. The most popular sites online have funky names for a reason. However, it might not be a bad idea for you to try and incorporate a few keywords into your name as well (while still being catchy). Take a look at Lindsay’s comment above. Entrecard, for example, is a new word but still gets the point across about what the site is about with a keyword (half of one anyway).

 
 
André T on December 28th, 2008

Hi,

After being a year (with marketing) online, I have discovered some powerful things I would refuse to do or I did not see the value of when I started out.

I have had some success (and many failures) during this year, but it`s in the past couple of months I think I finally “Get It”.

First of all I started to build a business. I understand now that this is business and not just a game, We`re dealing with real people here and should therefore also talk *WITH the real people.* (Not to)

Second what I`m starting to discover here is the value of building a brand or your name. If you do this, you will gain much more trust. You will also keep your followers, your prospects, your clients, your mailing list, whatever you want to call them, you will keep them for a much longer period. Because they know who you are and they trust you.

Now, what I`m going to tell you here is what shocked me the most. My mentor, Alex Jeffreys, told me to stop chase the money… He told me to stop thinking of money at all.

What he told me to do was that I needed to give my prospects, my clients, my mailing list TRUE value and stop hunting down the money from them.

That`s what I did… Guess what?

They all trust me because I give them a ton of free value and they know who I am. They follow me and are also following my suggestions and tips.

I never promote something to them as long as I cannot back up my offer.

Giving Value and Branding is should be the new IM mantra.

All the best,
André T.
http://AndresMarketingEvolution.com/blog

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Hey Andre,
Thanks for sharing your learnings with us. You’re absolutely right. In order to find the money, you have to forget about it and provide real value first. It’s the reason why so many of the successful Internet entrepreneurs started off with hobby sites – they did it because it involved a topic that they were passionate about, even if it meant not getting paid for it.

 
 
newshoemedia on December 29th, 2008

Good post – SEO can provide the traffic, but that traffic is useless if your site doesn’t give them a reason to stay.

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Well put. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 
 
tattoo ink allergic reaction on December 30th, 2008

Great blog post! While branding is important, never forget the SEO perspective – especially offpage SEO including link building and social media optimization. I work in the SEO/SEM business and also do some domaining and freelance SEO copy writing on the side. I’ve seen many great success stories with the right branding and the right SEO work. Great post!

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

SEO and branding should be working together side by side. I recommend focusing on branding though because a successfully branded site is much easier to promote in the search engines. On the other hand, a well-SEO’ed site can swiftly be removed from search without anyone noticing.

 
 
Paull Hamilton on December 31st, 2008

I am one of Alex Jeffreys students also and I am having to learn a lot of new strategies fast. One with top priority seems to be making yourself a name for reliability and for giving value. Providing loads of free information before ever thinking of introducing a anything which looks like a sales pitch. I enjoy reading your blog and find it very informative.
http://www.paullhamilton.com

Gyutae Park on December 31st, 2008

Thanks for the feedback Paul. You Alex Jeffreys students seem to be everywhere around here. You’re right – provide value and the money will come. Keep at it. Good luck in the New Year!

 
 
Make Money Online on December 31st, 2008

By the way, congrats on hitting such good no. for your RSS subscribers. Almost 2000 =)

 
ZK@Internet Maketing Blog on January 7th, 2009

Another to notch post on branding and identity, your posts are getting great exposure …keep rocking

 
Proven Online Business on January 22nd, 2009

You are right that most people forget about the importance of brand building when they first start up in online business. It is all well and good getting techno and applying SEO techniques, but you should also leave room to build and GROW your brand!

 
The Baldchemist on January 24th, 2009

Yes, establishing a brand, branding and brand placement are far more essential than seo. Punters come for information not to see the same phrases mentioned umpteen times.

Let’s be clear, displaying your business in a badly written, poorly created, low budget, unattractive, same as everyone else light – guess what you get? Exactly what you pitched for! A small piece of the low budget, same as everyone else, unattractive market and your prospects will suspect that if they do business with you, they will get more of the same! And that is never good for your brand.
Nice Article, thanks.
Have a great year. Cheers . The Baldchemist

 
Kayvan on May 5th, 2009

Most articles I read on the importance of branding usually miss the opportunity to emphasize it’s pragmatic value to small and mid-size companies. Your article was thorough in that offered actual tips to improving a brand’s identity – like posting affiliations on your home page. My company focuses on New Media Marketing including SEO and we are in the process of redeveloping our website and brand identity. Just by reading your other article – on “Finding a Nice” – I was able to see a clearer and better defined path for our company. Thanks a lot!

 
Damon Denim & Company on January 30th, 2010

Thank You for sharing such a wonderful article on the importance of branding. We are in the fashion industry so one can only imagine the very essence of the important value of branding there.

I agree branding and brand placement are more of a significant value though do not disagree the added benefit of SEO.

I know the importance however also know having the right person and support team designated to focus on building our fashion brands. So if anyone out there interested or have freelance brand building company we can use your services.

On that note thank you G.P.

Please if you guys dont mind check out our soon to be launched brand at http://www.Sixty7Redd.com.

 
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