A strong online presence is essential to businesses of all sizes in today’s internet-dominated marketplace, so building a resonant online brand is essential. Although this may seem like a daunting task, particularly for new and smaller businesses in the face of competition from much larger brands, there are a number of relatively simple things you can do to help you achieve a brand that stands out.
Firstly, making your site easy to find is critical. If you’re a British business selling to UK customers you may want to consider registering a .co.uk domain; not only can it help show your customers that you are a trusted British business but it is also likely that Google will rank your website higher for relevant searches in the UK. Kathryn Dawson, creative director at Strategy Internet Marketing says, ‘You can have the best website in the world, but if no one can find it when they search for the product or service you offer, it might as well not exist. When looking to build an online brand you need to consider digital content (which also influences your search ranking), social media and site usability.’
On the subject of what content to include on your website, Dawson says, ‘Google often favours content that is considered quality and useful, such as answers to common customer service queries and site search information. You should present this information in easily-usable formats like white papers, online tools, infographics and digital apps.’
This content should be treated much like marketing and PR activity, created specifically to target customer profiles whose behaviours, interests and preferences have been researched. It should highlight exactly why your product or service is perfect for them and why it stands out from the competition.
Alan Moore, head of strategic marketing at online legal service LawBite, stresses the importance of such research, ‘The most important activity to undertake before building any brand, online or otherwise, is conducting thorough research. Without knowing who your audience is, you’ll have great difficulty in drumming up any initial interest before you have a product to sell.’
The look and feel of your site is crucial to the user experience and conveying the brand. Moore says, ‘Users place a lot of value on great design, which will enhance their experience. In turn, it’s important to fully optimise your site for mobiles and tablets, particularly as sales of tablets have increased in the last 12 months by 150 per cent. It is also important to fully optimise all landing pages for Google SEO value.
‘Another great way to boost traffic to your site is having high quality blog content, as well as making use of video technology.’
According to Sam Parton, of sports booking service openplay.co.uk, a good online brand will try and empower its customers to do its marketing for them. He says, ‘Depending on your business, this could be by supplying them with marketing leaflets or simply making it really easy for them to share their experience after they have ordered from you, such as via social media and email.
‘Customer testimonials on your site can also help build you reputation, providing they look authentic. Your biggest challenge is building trust and credibility and there are no better advocates for this than your very own customers.’
Once your site is running, it needs good usability, says Dawson. ‘Failing to incorporate responsive design, so your site works effectively across smartphones and tablets as well as traditional PC formats, is a huge mistake,’ she says. ‘Most design agencies will ensure this happens as a matter of course now, but double check: if your site isn’t responsive you are missing a major trick.
‘A hugely prevalent phenomenon known as ‘multi-screening’ describes the way most people now consume media on multiple screens, and will instantly search for something they see that piques their interest on television, either by subject or brand.’
Social media can be a great way to build an online brand once you have your design, SEO and usability established – but it must be set up thoughtfully. Francesca Cockram, ‘marketing goddess’ at HR consultancy The Chemistry Group says, ‘Before setting up accounts for every social network going think about where your audience is. If they’re young and social then Facebook and Twitter could be brilliant, but if the majority of your target audience is less likely to have an online presence – perhaps they are of an older demographic and not as computer-literate as the younger generations – then these platforms might not work so well.’
She adds that it is important to think about what your brand stands for. ‘Facebook can work really well for B2C but if you’re a B2B business then consider something like LinkedIn.’
Cockram says that one of the biggest mistakes companies make when using social media is to use it as yet another tool to promote their brand. ‘Instead of using it to sell your company, use it to position yourself as a thought or opinion leader, sharing content that your customers will value.’
‘However, the main thing to remember when building an online brand is that really it is no different to building a normal campaign. You and everyone in your company need to have a clear understanding of what your brand stands for and its core values.’