An online business has a greater chance for success if those who buy its products and services recognize its brand. A recognizable brand also makes a business's site more attractive to potential advertisers and partners.
But remember: Recognizable doesn't necessarily mean universally known. It simply means that a business's brand increases its chance to compete successfully for attention and market share in the appropriate space. It doesn't take an expensive global advertising campaign to brand your business. Branding can be accomplished through partnerships, direct marketing, a robust Web site and a modicum of good public relations.
Fundamentally, branding online is pretty similar to branding offline. The palette is different because the medium is reduced to a screen instead of a billboard or a print advertisement, but the opportunity for messaging is the same.
When a brick-and-mortar company takes its business to the Web, an online brand usually serves as an extension of its offline presence. Think of FedEx, AT&T, or CNN. For these companies, their online brands reinforce or influence what people already think about the companies.
On the other hand, think of Amazon or Yahoo. They have developed brands that, for the most part, only exist online. Dot-coms need to carefully execute their brands and remember that there are more restrictions due to the constraints of the Web.
Your logo is a visual cornerstone of a company's brand. Your company's identity is visually expressed through its logo, which, along your company's name, is one of the main things that makes your business memorable. Think of eBay, Google, and Yahoo. Each one of these companies has a distinctive logo that a large percentage of people would be able to describe without seeing.
Your domain name is also an essential part of your branding efforts. Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly difficult for companies to find available domain names. While a URL certainly has to be unique and easy to remember, it doesn't necessarily have to relate to what you sell in order to be successful. How does the name "Amazon" relate to books and other products? "Google" to a search engine? These are successful names and brands, but it's a stretch to say they have anything to do with the companies' offerings.
Even if your business is an Internet-only venture, that doesn't mean you can't brand offline. You can get offline brand exposure across lots of different media through TV, radio, print advertisements, and public relations efforts. Remember, even for dot-coms, a brand is something that constantly reinforces a business's identity. You probably already strengthen your brand in ways you probably don't even think about -- distributing business cards at trade shows, sending invoices, letters and holiday cards to your clients, wearing your company's logo on a T-shirt, and through a variety of other activities.
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