Managing Your E-Commerce Business

Overview


Intended as a business guide rather than a technical reference, this book offers advice on starting and operating a small business on the internet, using Microsoft technology. It covers matters such as the planning of a site, the uses of a database and transaction-processing system, the hiring of a Web developer, on-line brand-building strategies, trademark protection, budgeting, and customer service. Kienan is an e-commerce consultant with Tauber Kienan Associates.
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Overview


Intended as a business guide rather than a technical reference, this book offers advice on starting and operating a small business on the internet, using Microsoft technology. It covers matters such as the planning of a site, the uses of a database and transaction-processing system, the hiring of a Web developer, on-line brand-building strategies, trademark protection, budgeting, and customer service. Kienan is an e-commerce consultant with Tauber Kienan Associates.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Examines the issues involved in launching and running an e-commerce web site from a management perspective, providing advice on how to create branding, maintain freshness and quality, address legal matters, promote the site, and decide whether to house it on the company server or have it hosted elsewhere. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780735612754
  • Publisher: Microsoft Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 420
  • Product dimensions: 7.35 (w) x 9.15 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Planning for E-Commerce
1 Focusing Your E-Commerce Goals 3
2 Setting Up a Budget and Sticking to It 33
3 Knowing the Legal Issues 59
Pt. 2 Creating Identity and Attracting Customers
4 Establishing Online Branding 83
5 Enhancing Customer Relationships 103
6 Leveraging Community to Boost Traffic 135
Pt. 3 Building Your E-Commerce Website
7 Organizing Your Site Plan 163
8 Tackling Basic Front-End Technologies 191
9 Working with Web Shops, Developers, and Teams 227
10 Understanding the Back End and Hosting 255
Pt. 4 Maintaining, Promoting, and Succeeding
11 Keeping Content Usable, Manageable, and Fresh 291
12 Promoting Your Website 315
13 Assessing Your Success 347
App Supporting Your Business with an Intranet or Extranet 369
Glossary 385
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First Chapter

Chapter 4.

Establishing Online Branding

  • The Elements of Successful Online Branding
  • Naming Companies, Products, and Domains
    • Do You Need a Domain Name?
    • Choosing Memorable, Meaningful Names
    • Understanding the Domain Name System
    • Is Your Prospective Name Taken?
    • Registering Your Domain Name
  • Establishing Your Site’s Brand Identity
    • Identifying Your Audience and What They Want
    • What Does Your Logo Say About You?
    • Defining Your Website’s Look and Feel
    • So What Works?
  • Providing a Quality User Experience
  • Establishing Integrity and Trust

Chapter 4 Establishing Online Branding

When a product, company, or service is immediately recognized by customers and potential customers, its identity has been successfully established through a process known as branding. Branding has a direct effect on a website’s traffic and on whether customers make a purchase.

To understand the effect of branding on consumers, imagine that you need to buy laundry detergent. You’ll probably go to a store you know. In a new town, especially, you’ll most likely head for a store that’s part of a familiar chain. When you get there, you’ll probably select a product you recognize—one that looks familiar and whose name rings a bell for you. Branding will make this sale because it has created an immediately recognizable identity for a particular store and a certain type of detergent, to such an extent that you choose that store and that brand instead of an unknown store and brand X.

Consider these statistics:

  • Forty-two percent of online buyers say that they plan their purchases in advance and that they know ahead of time what brand they want and from which merchant they’ll buy (Graphics, Visualization, & Usability Center [GVU] 10th WWW User Survey).
  • Eighty-two percent of online buyers indicate that recognizing a product’s brand name is an important factor in making their buying decision (Ernst & Young).

To create a brand presence, you must differentiate your website, your product, and your service. You must also create an identity that your customers can and will remember. Admittedly, a corporation with a big budget has an advantage when it comes to creating slick ads and buying media space. But with ingenuity and the pointers in this chapter, you can create effective branding for your e-commerce endeavor. The bottom line is that you must be creative, consistent, and aggressive. And remember: Your competitors will be doing the same thing, so go as many extra yards as it takes.


TIP:
Microsoft FrontPage and Microsoft bCentral (www.bcentral.com) both offer ways to quickly and easily create a consistent look and feel throughout a website. You can find out more about using either FrontPage or bCentral to build your site in Chapter 8.

The Case of Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart is not just a person; she’s a brand. As recognizable now as Betty Crocker was in the 1950s, Martha can put her stamp on anything related to fine homemaking or living a comfortable, pleasant life in town or country. For a lesson in online branding (and branding in general), look at MarthaStewart.com’s Martha By Mail (at www.marthabymail.com). On this site, products are easy to find, the information customers need is right there, the product photos are clear (users can see a larger photo quite easily), and the transaction system runs like clockwork. When a customer makes a purchase, he or she receives an immediate e-mail confirmation, a follow-up surface mail postcard, and quick delivery. If shipment will be delayed for any reason, the customer finds out about it quickly via both e-mail and surface mail. Martha’s smiling (and highly recognizable) face, the user’s experience, and the design all establish and support Martha Stewart’s branding message. And Martha extends her brand relentlessly through appearances, books, her magazine, and other means. Now that’s branding.

The Elements of Successful Online Branding

In the brick-and-mortar world, branding includes differentiation (making your product stand out from the crowd), recognizable packaging, and a relentless releasing of messages (TV and print ads, media announcements, and so on) to make sure that the name and appearance of your product are firmly rooted in the minds of the buying public. (Can you sing the Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle?) It’s no accident that UPS trucks and FedEx trucks look completely different from each other. Each company—UPS with its brown trucks and staid look, and FedEx with its white trucks and bright colors—is trying to distinguish itself from the other. One look might seem to say "Reliability"; the other "Energy." Each company, through its look, advertising, and messages about its service, underscores those themes at every opportunity. Creating those opportunities and taking advantage of them is known as extending the brand.

In an online setting, branding includes:

  • Identifying the goal of your e-commerce endeavor and making sure that the identity you’re creating furthers the goal without muddying the image
  • Selecting an appropriate, easy-to-remember domain name and making your site’s URL a snap to find
  • Creating a look and feel that is appealing to your target audience, is recognizable, is differentiated from your competitors, and, again, furthers your goal
  • Providing your customers with the right quality of experience—in other words, making sure they have a positive experience when they enter your place of business (your website)
  • Building a website with fine usability, which includes smooth, logical navigation; clear organization; general ease of use; appropriate placement of images and media; and smooth readability
  • Offering features and content (as well as products and services) that are of interest and consequence to the people in your target market or audience
  • Maintaining integrity of service by seeing to it that your business practices are up to par with your customers’ expectations, that your systems and products deliver, and that your customer service is solid
  • Putting forth the relentless message that your product is good, your service is good, and your company has its customers in mind

Christina Cheney, President and CEO of Simmedia (www.simmedia.com), says of online branding, "First impressions are critical and so is the ease of use of navigation and information design. Every aspect of a site, from the functionality to the logo placement, communicates your brand."

Banner Ads Can Boost Visibility

Banner ads can be an effective tool for getting your message out to the public. (See Chapter 12.) Don’t expect a lot of people to click those ads to get to your site, however. A "click-through" rate of half a percent is considered more than decent. (That’s half a person (!) for each 100 people who view the ad.) Think of banner ads—along with print ads and, if your budget allows it, radio and even TV ads—as a method of putting forth your image. A joint study by Stanford University and the Poynter Institute (www.poynter.org) showed that even if they don’t click, users opening and glancing at a web page do focus on the banner ad on that page for perhaps one second. That one second, according to the study, was determined to be long enough to get a branding message across. For tips on using banner ads effectively, see Chapter 12 in this book as well as ClickZ (www.clickz.com) and ICONOCAST (www.iconocast.com). For a focus on smaller businesses and on swapping ad space with other sites, visit Microsoft bCentral at www.bcentral.com.

Do you need a "hook"? Well, you do need a targeted message. A recognizable tag line and a certain attitude that is communicated in your text, color scheme, and product and domain names can set your brand apart. Whether you expect your ad to result primarily in click-throughs or in delivering a branding message, your ad will be clickable. When a user chooses to click, he or she should arrive at a page on your site that delivers on the "promise" made in your ad. Appropriately applied site features, product demos, key information, or downloadable freebies can work. In your ad, animations can add pizzazz to your identity and attract attention, but as always, don’t junk up your image. Make sure that whatever you use is appropriate and not distracting. After all, you want positive attention. Don’t festoon your ad or your site with gimmicks. One striking image or animation is an accent. Too many is just…too much.


TIP:
Associate your site with an attitude or point of view. Stand for something. Just make sure it’s an attitude or point of view your target audience will find appealing. Having some people disagree with you is not so bad. You can’t be all things to all people, and trying to do so leaves you undifferentiated.

Naming Companies, Products, and Domains

When people think of your website (and therefore your e-commerce venture), one of the first things that will pop into their heads is the site’s domain name. Choosing and registering a good domain name might be the most fundamental thing you can do to brand your site and make it easy to find. Your domain name might be based on your existing company’s name, or you might prefer that your website have a different name. If your site sells a single product, you might want to use that product’s name as the site’s domain name. (But if you have more than one product or you’ll be expanding your product line, consider the implications of having a domain name for each product. Supporting a website for each of your products can be unwieldy, expensive, and labor-intensive.)


NOTE:
Internet domain names are not at all related to Microsoft Windows or to Microsoft Windows NT or Windows 2000 network domains. Network domains provide a method for organizing groups of networked users, whereas Internet domains describe the location of a network or server that’s attached to the Internet.

Do You Need a Domain Name?

Your domain name will be your online address and will provide you with a business location as well as credibility and an opportunity to create branding. So for the highest level of e-commerce positioning, yes, you need a domain name that fully distinguishes your site.

However, not everyone who wants to engage in e-commerce should feel compelled to set up and maintain a website. (See Chapter 1.) If you plan to sell only a few hand-loomed scarves, you probably won’t want to spend much for site setup and maintenance, and the relatively small fee required to register a domain name might actually be too big a bite out of your budget. You’d be better off selling your product via a page on a site that aggregates craftspeople into an online mall. You would then use the mall’s domain name and would have no need for your own.

Let’s say you are planning to launch a site, but you aren’t quite ready yet. You might be concerned that someone else will nab your chosen domain name before you get around to building your site. The dictionary, after all, has only so many words in it, and many of them are already registered as domain names. So are a lot of people’s names. There is simply no time like the present when it comes to nailing down a good domain name. Register your chosen domain name now, and you can let it sit like a piece of real estate on which you plan to build someday.


NOTE:
You can "reserve" a domain name for a limited time; this is not the same as registering a domain name. Reserving a domain name is a bit like reserving a hotel room; you have a reservation but you actually register at the hotel when you take possession of the room. To actually use the domain to launch your site, you must have server space lined up to host your site.

Choosing Memorable, Meaningful Names

Whether you are building your site now or next year, you need to consider the issue of your domain name carefully and make sure the name represents your business well. Your company and product names should convey what you’re all about. So should the name of your site and your domain name.

In some cases, using generic words as a name is a great way to instantly communicate what your company does. But many people have used that method already; you might have difficulty finding a generic word that both describes your business and is available.

In another twist on the concept, generic words can be used within the domain name. For example, 1-800-Flowers is clearly the name of a flower company that you can reach by phone. It contains a generic word that describes the company’s primary product, but notice this: The company name implies using the phone to order, not the Internet. Still, translating that name into 1800flowers.com for the company’s e-commerce incarnation can work mainly because the brand is already so well established. If you provide a product or service and your name is already known and trusted, you might want to capitalize on that fact when naming your e-commerce venture.


TIP:
These days, Internet users often dispense with search engines and simply guess at a domain name. If you want your customers to have a reasonable chance of getting your name right, choose a name that is logical and easy to remember.

Tips for successful naming

In devising the perfect name for your e-commerce venture, keep in mind the following guidelines for naming domains and e-commerce products:

  • Make it memorable. Your domain name can be your company name, a brand name, or a word that describes your product or service. But make it something people don’t have to write down.
  • Make it easy to spell. Keep the name’s spelling simple and easy. If your product is commonly spelled two ways (for example, donuts and doughnuts), consider registering a separate domain name for each spelling, along with domain names for any common misspellings. Avoid domain names that include hyphens (such as coffee-express.com) to separate words.
  • Keep it short. The perfect domain name is less than six letters long, followed by .com or some other suffix. Short domain names are easier to remember and type. However, let’s be realistic: Fewer and fewer one-word domain names are left with each passing hour. So…
  • Be flexible. If your perfect domain name is taken, dream up alternatives. Consider concepts and creative variations. If your company name is Southridge Video, it’s a virtual certainty that southridge.com, video.com, and movies.com are all taken. Instead, you might be forced to break some rules and go with southridgevideo.com or southridge-video.com (shudder). You might also consider a solution such as the one that Ryder (the truck rental company) came up with when it named its domain yellowtruck.com after the distinctive coloring of its vehicles. You might even score with a clever domain name that reflects what you do—for example, an earthquake retrofitting company might decide to go with something like stopquake.com, if it’s available.
  • Think about the future. You don’t want your name to be too limiting. What once was called Software.net is now called Beyond.com because the company envisioned selling more than just software (and, perhaps secondarily, because it wanted a more memorable and more standard dot-com name instead of a dot-net name).
  • Give products their own names. Your website can have the same name as your company, or it can have the same name as your product (if the website is about that product alone). But give your company and your product distinct names. Giving them the same moniker makes it difficult to distinguish the two, and if and when you have more than one product, you’ll have a hard time associating your company with the new products. For example, Netscape the company originally marketed only Netscape the web browser. When the company introduced other products, it renamed the browser Navigator, but many people continued to call the browser "Netscape."
  • Investigate the competition. To succeed in business, you must have one eye on the competition. Take a look at their domain names. If a rival grocer has registered bobsgroceries.com, you might have an opportunity to grab perfectproduce.com.
  • Avoid trademarked names. Single words cannot be copyrighted, but they can be trademarked. (See Chapter 3.) Phrases and domain names can also be trademarked. What’s more, styles of naming can be more or less trademarked (at least enough to defend in court). For example, it’s best to stay away from Mc-anything or Gadgets R Us to avoid the unwelcome interest of lawyers representing McDonalds and Toys "R" Us. Note, too, that even if a big company hasn’t yet registered its trademarked name as a domain, that company will defend its right to do so with great legal vigor. (See Chapter 3 for more information about trademarks and intellectual property.)

  • CAUTION:
    Do your homework. Research a potential domain name. Investigate whether the name is taken (via bCentral.com or at NetworkSolutions.com), whether it’s the name of a corporation that might legally take the domain away from you, and whether it infringes on trademarks or copyrights. Conducting a trademark search might involve a lawyer but can be worth the savings in anxiety and lawsuits.
  • Consider registering more than one name. Registering variations of your chosen name will help guide users who might otherwise accidentally stray to sites with similar domain names. If your domain is propertymgt.com, you might want to register propertymanagement.com and property-management.com as well. (You don’t have to actually post your site at all the different domain names; talk to your hosting company about redirecting traffic from the variations to the main domain name.) Registering a lot of domain names gets expensive (discussed in the section titled "Registering Your Domain Name" later in this chapter), but it might be worthwhile to also register negative versions of your domain name. The online publication Slate (www.slate.com), if it had also registered stale.com, might have stopped a scathing parody in its tracks. Disgruntled consumers have expressed their hostility by registering company or product names in unflattering variations; you might or might not want to go to the trouble and expense of preempting that kind of registration.

To dot com or not to dot com

Whether your company already exists and has a name or you are starting and naming a new company, product, and website, you must think carefully about your domain name. It’s your primary identifier on the Internet. You might wonder why some companies use .com in their URLs and others use .net, .org, or even .pro. The next section explains what the different suffixes mean. Suffice it to say here that most users in the United States assume that URLs end in .com. Some organizations (and individuals) that are not at all commercial (com stands for commercial) use the .com designation simply to make it easier for users who make that common assumption when they look for a site. You certainly have alternatives, and some alternatives might suit you better than .com, especially if your perfect domain name is taken in its .com form. To get a grip on how domain names actually work, read on.

Understanding the Domain Name System

A domain is a network or single computer that’s represented as a server on the Internet. (For more about servers, see Chapter 10.) The system that keeps all of the domains distinct from each other is the Domain Name System (DNS).

To see how the DNS works, look at this URL:

http://www.microsoft.com/catalog/product/superstuff.html

URLs go from the specific (a document, which is shown on the rightmost end of the URL) to the general (the protocol used to access the document on the Internet, shown at the leftmost end of the URL). The document is in a subdirectory, which is in a directory, which is on a computer, which is part of the network of computers that make up the Web. The fictitious URL in our example shows the document superstuff.html within the subdirectory product within the directory catalog on the server microsoft.com, which is a web server (www) accessed by using Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http://). The www.microsoft.com portion also indicates that, in this case, the web server is in the domain microsoft.com. The domain name shows who "owns" the URL, but it can also be used for other purposes. For example, in the e-mail address someone@microsoft.com, the user someone receives his or her messages on the e-mail server whose domain name is microsoft.com.

The suffix .com in the URL example indicates that this domain is commercial and presumably, but not necessarily, located in the United States. (Because a .com suffix is expected by so many users, many European, Asian, and other companies now use it.) Domains that use .com are very common, but other suffixes do exist. For example, most countries have a suffix that can be used by the domains registered within that country. Here are a few examples:

.de     Domains registered in Germany
.jp     Domains registered in Japan
.ru     Domains registered in Russia
.uk     Domains registered in United Kingdom

You can find out more about domain suffixes on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) website at www.icann.org.

Domains originating in the United States are so numerous that the .us country suffix is rarely used. Many U.S. domain types are instead identified by the following suffixes:

.com     Commercial (profit-making) domains
.gov     U.S. government domains
.edu     Educational institution domains
.mil     U.S. military domains
.org     Not-for-profit organization domains
.net     Network provider domains

Other domain name suffixes that describe more specific types of entities (such as museums (.museum), co-ops (.coop), and professional people (.pro) have also been approved for use; however, as of this writing, they have not yet been widely adopted. See the ICANN website at www.icann.org for developments.


NOTE:
As mentioned earlier, some European, Asian, and other companies register their sites with the .com suffix. Nothing prevents them from using this or any of the other suffixes commonly presumed to be for U.S. sites. For example, paris.net is as likely to be in Paris, France, as in Paris, Texas.

Domains are assigned names because names are easy for humans to remember. The domain name must be unique among all domain names so that the computer or computers it represents is not confused with other computers on the Internet. However, computers are machines, and machines understand numbers better than names. For this reason, in the DNS, each domain name corresponds to a unique numeric address—called an Internet Protocol (IP) address—that specifically identifies each computer to all the others. In other words, a domain name is a kind of pseudonym for an IP address. As an example, www.microsoft.com is a pseudonym for the computer known to other computers as 131.107.1.240, which lives in the domain microsoft.com.

Is Your Prospective Name Taken?

One simple (but not foolproof) way to check whether a domain name has already been registered by someone else is to open up your web browser, enter the name as a URL (preceded by www. and followed by .com), press Enter, and see if your browser locates a website. This method isn’t completely accurate because not every domain has a currently operating website, but it is quick and easy.

A far better way to check whether a prospective domain is available is to use a domain lookup service such as those provided by all the standard domain registrars. Microsoft’s bCentral website offers such a service, as does Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com). Verio Domain Name Registration (home.verio.com) also offers domain name lookup. Usually, looking up a domain name to verify its availability is a quick matter of typing the domain name of interest into a simple online form, clicking a Submit button, and getting an immediate report showing whether the domain is taken. If your prospective domain name is available, scoop it up immediately. If you don’t, you can be assured that someone else will.

Registering Your Domain Name

After you’ve determined that your prospective domain name is available, registering it is a simple matter. You can usually do it through the hosting company that will house your site. (See Chapter 10.) The hosting company will provide the appropriate form or forms and might charge you a small service fee for getting your domain set up. It will also provide the DNS with all the information (the IP address and so on) that’s needed.


TIP:
You can also use the service at bCentral to register your domain name.

No matter who registers your domain name, you will receive a bill. To finalize your registration, you’ll have to make payment. You’ll renew your registration by paying annually thereafter.


NOTE:
The process for registering a domain name might have changed by the time you read this book. Check www.icann.org to find out more.

If you prefer to register your domain yourself (for example, if you’re hosting the site on your own server at your own location, rather than through an ISP), you can do it through any of the domain registrars, such as Network Solutions or bCentral. The forms on those websites will step you through the process. You’ll need information about your IP address and other items, so check what’s needed and gather that information before you start.

So now you know what your e-commerce venture is trying to achieve, and you know what you are going to call it. The next question is: What will your site look like?

Establishing Your Site’s Brand Identity

The look and feel of your site starts with the palette (selection of colors) you use. Web design books are full of information about selecting a palette. For a calm, soothing look, the experts suggest choosing cool blues, greens, and grays. These are classic, corporate colors. (Think IBM.) For a hipper, more modern look, choose the colors in the current week’s ads on MTV. Also consider a general look that conveys the image you want to present: If your site is chock full of stuff, go for a busy look; to convey that your site is backed by a stable, trustworthy company, go for an uncluttered look.

Use Browser-Safe Colors

Some computers "recognize" and can display only a certain range of colors—216 of them, to be exact. That range, known as browser-safe colors, includes yellows, blues, purples, and so on. It even includes ranges of fuchsias, magentas, and the like. But it does not include all tints or hues of all colors. Yellow, for example, is a notorious problem. There are only a handful of browser-safe yellows, and they are not all terribly attractive. When you select your site’s palette and the colors of logos and other identifying elements on your site, your best bet is to stick with browser-safe colors. (See Chapter 8.) You might even want to check out these colors before selecting colors for your signage and print materials. More than one large company has found that its signature color simply cannot be reproduced on the Web, causing no end of dismay for their marketing staffs.

Identifying Your Audience and What They Want

Go back to what you know about your target audience. (See Chapter 1.) Select a visual style that appeals to that audience. Set aside your personal preferences in favor of what works for that audience. If you hate purple but your site sells herbal products and the color lavender will work for your target market, so be it. If you love chartreuse but your target audience is not that adventurous, you might have to go with cobalt. Presumably, your e-commerce site is not a vanity site. It’s there to serve your customers. Know your customers, and meet their needs. Think about the following questions:

  • What is your product?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How and why does the product appeal to this audience?
  • Are you already reaching an audience you’d like to retain?
  • What new audience do you want to reach?
  • Does most of your audience already know you?
  • How do they see your company or product?
  • How do you want them to see your company or product?
  • Do they have any general or specific attitudes you ought to take into consideration?
  • Where are the greatest opportunities for growth, given your current or projected audience?
  • What is the risk that you might lose your audience?

The answers to these questions will help you form a basis for thinking about the development of your website from a branding perspective.

As your business grows, stay close to your customers. FedEx changed its name (and branding) from Federal Express to FedEx at about the time its customers were starting to refer to it as FedEx and even coin the verb "to FedEx" meaning to send an express parcel.


TIP:
Brand messages (ads, for instance) take two general forms: those that tell you about a company and those that tell you about its product. Company messages might mention the products ("the makers of WingTips Toys") if they are well known, and product messages might mention the company name ("brought to you by Contoso Pharmaceuticals") if the name will help sell the product. But seldom does one brand message try to do all things. Consider this separation as you create your online brand messages.

What Does Your Logo Say About You?

Your logo (visual identifier) is the stamp you place on all your products, including your website, to identify them as yours. For online purposes, your logo must be available in a horizontal form (to fit pages, banners, and ads more conveniently). It can also be in a vertical form, but that can’t be the only form available. Think about how it will work in postage-stamp-size ads. (See Chapter 12 for more about advertising.) Also think about how it will look with a tag line attached to tell people who you are or what you do. Try out different versions of your logo so that you have flexibility in advertising and page design.

Consider the logos of two online brokerage sites, Charles Schwab (www.schwab.com) and E*Trade (www.etrade.com). The logo for Charles Schwab, the more traditional company of the two, uses a font with serifs (those little dangly things hanging off the corners of each letter), which is a more traditional style. The logo itself is in one color on a navy blue, pinstriped background. The E*Trade logo is in a more modern sans serif font (one without serifs) and uses three colors (one of which is lime green!), and although navy blue does appear on the site, most of the page backgrounds are black or white, heightening the contrast of the lime green accent color. The differences between these two companies seem obvious from their logos. Both deal with people’s money, so they have to inspire trust. But E*Trade, the purely electronic brokerage firm, seems a tad more modern than Charles Schwab, the more traditional, click-and-mortar company.

Defining Your Website’s Look and Feel

The design of your site’s pages should be consistent with your logo’s look. Remember: The key to branding is to be relentless in conveying the branding message. If your site is company-oriented, carry over the look of the company’s logo to the site. Repeat the color scheme, the design elements, the fonts, and so on. If your site is product-oriented, repeat that product’s look in the site design. It’s all about identity.

Go back once more to what you know about your target audience, and ask yourself the following additional questions as you consider how to create your site’s look and feel. (If you are using a web shop, you might also want to provide this information to the designers before they begin the project.)

  • What is most distinctive about your company or product? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weakness?
  • What products or services do you offer? Do you plan additions? (If so, describe what and when.)
  • Where are you located? Do you prefer to market and sell locally, nationally, or internationally?
  • What is the main purpose of your website? Does it have a secondary purpose?
  • What image do you want to convey to your audience? Which of these words describe it most closely: conservative, contemporary, modern, creative, elegant, innovative, exciting, earthy, calm, warm, casual, witty, personal, confident, formal, sophisticated, serious, professional, educational, technical, artistic, smooth, dramatic, sympathetic, fun, energetic, or easy? Can you think of any other words to describe the image you want to convey?
  • Is there a general image to be avoided?
  • What photographs or illustrations will convey the site’s message? Are any types of photographs or illustrations to be avoided?
  • In order to convey its message, should the site include the company’s history or philosophy? What about staff biographies?
  • Will case studies, testimonials, or other evidence of customer satisfaction help convey the site’s message?
  • How long do you plan to keep the site running after launch? Do you plan to minimize maintenance or add fresh content frequently? What sort of content, and how often?
  • Will the site need to be tied in to other branding efforts, such as print brochures, the look of your real-world location, or the look of other sites?
  • What are your overall marketing objectives?

Sound and Video as Part of Your Branding Message

Identifiers certainly can be audio or even video, as evidenced by the Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle and those computerized tones that identify the Intel Pentium processor. But don’t use bells and whistles you don’t need. Sound and video might be appropriate for high-tech sites, especially if bells and whistles are the product, and you might want to use them to deliver a message that adds a personal note to your site. Excellent use has been made of animation, sound, and video, but usually as an accent. And accents, by definition, are sparsely applied.

For an example of an e-commerce site with a strong branding that extends into the topics it covers, its general angle on offering branded e–commerce information, and even the tone of its text, take a look at ClickZ (www.clickz.com). And to see a cleanly designed and highly functional site that was created for a nonprofit organization, look at the Redland Baptist Church site (www.redlandbaptist.org).

So What Works?

As you define your branding message, take a look at what works for other companies. Consider what you might learn from the campaigns of companies that hire high-priced branding consultants. Along with what has already been described in this chapter, your research will tell you:

  • Trade on what you have. If you are number one in your industry, say so. If you are not, you might be able to turn a seeming disadvantage into a source of inspiration. Remember the Avis campaign from years gone by? Avis was number two (behind Hertz) in the rental car industry, and it very cleverly made a whole campaign out of "trying harder."
  • Get there first to own the space. It’s always easier to stake a new claim than to take one from someone else. Yahoo!, Amazon, and eBay are all examples of companies that were first to market and defined the playing field for others.
  • Market your brand offline. Use your signage and any print advertising to further your online brand. If your company isn’t in a position to launch a print campaign, consider partnering with a company whose brand is already known or a company that is also putting in the effort to get known.
  • Be relentless about getting out there. Make friends, affiliates, and linking partners. It’s the Web, so use links, get reciprocal links, share content, barter for ad space, and build some co-marketing agreements. Work with suppliers to co-market. Create your own affiliate programs. Curry favor with the press. Offer freebies to users who will display your logo or text link on their sites, and never give up the cause.
  • Be consistent. Maintain a consistent look and message among your packaging, products, ads, and site design. Within the site, don’t confuse people by switching the design and color scheme from page to page or from area to area. Make your site’s style of writing consistent with its look and feel. A conservative site should have a formal look and more formal writing; a site with a cutting-edge attitude should have an intrusive look and in-your-face writing. Be sure your transaction pages follow through with whatever style you choose for the rest of your site.
  • Actually deliver value to your customer. Now there’s a concept! Make your product or products strong, your service impeccable, and your site’s operation smooth. Nothing does more for branding than being the best.

NOTE:
Chapter 12 discusses techniques for promoting your site both online and using traditional promotional methods.

Providing a Quality User Experience

In the world of e-commerce, the customer’s experience is a major component of branding. You need to create a positive experience by making sales easy and service solid. Take a look at successful mail-order companies such as Lands’ End, and then consider these guidelines:

  • Don’t keep people waiting. Pages should load quickly. Don’t assume that customers will have the fastest connections. Unless your audience is primarily high-end techies, design for the lowest common denominator among the target audience you have specifically identified. You don’t have to take into account every browser that ever existed and modem speeds that went out with the last century, but do figure out (as best you can) the likely range of browsers and modem speeds members of your audience might have and design for the slowest systems among them.
  • Put the goods out in the open. Make it easy to find what you’re promoting or selling. Put links to sales pages in prominent places (such as your home page). Present pertinent information clearly. A confused customer is a customer who will simply walk away. Don’t let that happen.
  • Create multiple ways to search your online catalog. Make it easy to find items based on the price, size, color, brand name, year, topic, and so on.
  • Don’t place barriers between the customer and a sale. Make it easy to pay in as few steps as possible. Don’t require registration (the providing of e-mail addresses and survey information) before the customer can make a purchase. Reduce the number of hoops that a customer must jump through to a bare minimum.
  • Build trust. Online shoppers are a skeptical bunch, and rightfully so. Like all customers, they want to know what they’re getting, when, and how it will be delivered. They want to know how you’re protecting their credit card information. They also want to know to whom you’re selling their name and e-mail address (which they’d prefer you didn’t do, by the way) and what you’re doing with any marketing data you might have gleaned from them. According to a survey by IntelliQuest, an Internet research company, people who do not buy online cite the following reasons for their reluctance:
    • Concern about fly-by-night retailers (81 percent)
    • Don’t want to deal with returns (72 percent)
    • Concern about using their credit card online (69 percent)
    • Concern about getting a lot of junk e-mail (63 percent)
    • Prefer to see and touch what they buy (62 percent)

Given that data, it seems evident that the e-commerce industry as a whole must provide reasons for Internet users to become Internet customers. And that means that e-commerce businesspeople have to instill trust in their customers.

Establishing Integrity and Trust

People want to know what they’re getting. In an online setting, the most tangible way to convey what you are going to deliver is via pictures and words. There are, however, other methods for gaining the sort of trust that inspires people to do business online.

First and foremost, be predictable. Follow through on your promises, and deliver what you said you would on time, without fuss. According to online branding pro Christina Cheney, "The most common mistake people make is to overhype and overpromise. Don’t launch too fast—make sure you’re ready. And don’t offer anything you cannot deliver. Of course, time to market is incredibly crucial to an online brand, but follow-through is even more important."

In general, make sure yours is a quality operation. Show your merchandise in detail. (Provide thumbnail-size photos as links to larger images if necessary.) If you are a retailer, feature name-brand products the customer will recognize. Make communication with you or your staff easy by making an e-mail address obvious and including both a surface mail address and a customer service phone number on your site. Display testimonials from satisfied customers. Publish your privacy policy, telling customers what you will and won’t do with their e-mail address and any personal information they have provided by registering on your site or making a purchase. (bCentral offers resources for creating a privacy policy.) Assure customers that if they are victimized by fraud while shopping at your site (an unlikely event if you’ve addressed security issues; see Chapter 10), you’ll cover any charges. Create, stand behind, and publish a no-hassle return policy that allows customers to send back merchandise for a refund or exchange. If possible, affiliate yourself with a respected association or a large, known, and trusted company.

Here’s a thought: Use a face—a well-known spokesperson or, if not the face of a celebrity, then your own. Consider the example of a website for a real estate consultant. His smiling face appears beside a brief description of his credentials and the various associations he belongs to. A navigation bar provides links to standards of practice and other information that can inspire trust in potential clients. If you’re shy, perhaps a cartooned likeness can step in for you. But don’t use Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, or any other trademarked image. They are part of someone else’s brand, and using them will both muddy up your brand and cause the company that owns those images to defend their brands by coming after you. (For information about trademarking, see Chapter 3.)

One final tip: When you use technology to bolster your branding by providing a strong user experience, you have to constantly look ahead. Don’t rely on whatever created last year’s buzz. And don’t just toss in the latest bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles. Make sure they count for something, that they further the brand message, and, most important, that they add quality to the customer’s experience.

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