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7 Tips for Achieving Online Brand Recognition

I’ve worked for Verizon SuperPages.com for about a decade now, and it’s always been a bit deflating when John Q. Public asks me where I work, I tell them “SuperPages.com” — and then there’s sometimes this faint look of incomprehension that crosses the person’s face as they fail to recognize the name.  Oh, sure, they recognize the Verizon name, if I drop that – and they often tell me they use our wireless phone service or somesuch.  But do they recognize “SuperPages.com”?  Not always.

Why is it that our brand name doesn’t have wider recognition? I’d wonder.  After all, our site has certainly been around long enough, and has been used by plenty of people. We’ve been one of the primary websites of a Fortune 10 company!

Well, maybe we finally reached the tipping point where this is concerned, earlier this year. We noticed that the SuperPages.com name was mentioned in the Sally Forth comic strip. Did we reach brand identifiability with this?  Is having your brand name mentioned in popular culture media the sign that you’ve finally arrived — that your brand name is at last graduating into the coveted household brandname recogizability status that trademarks like Coca-Cola, Ford Motors, Wal-mart, and yes, even Google, have enjoyed?

It’s made me wonder what it takes to build and achieve a recognizable online brand in this day and age. How is it that a well-founded, major corporation like ours has worked for years, spending millions in promotion, while a relative upstart like Google can come along and zoom past us in brand recognition within just a few years?

I have some ideas on the subject which traditional marketers may not agree with, so read on and I’ll describe what I think it takes to make it into the mass consciousness.

On one hand, if I were being apologetic for our slowness to increase brand name perception, I might say that perhaps Google’s a bad case for comparison purposes. After all, they’re an unusual case for a wide variety of reasons. But, then again, maybe there are some fairly simple lessons to be learned on how to achieve brand recognition at minimum costs, quickest timeframe, and using greatest efficiency.

1st: Do your Product/Service really well – whatever you do, you should do so well that no one else comes close. Do it innovatively, and do it effectively. The classic aphorism is “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” If you want a brandname that stands out, you need to have a product that stands out.

There’s an unstated old advertising/marketing world idea that you don’t really need to be all that better as a product, so long as you “position” yourself well or so long as your advertising is done right. This just isn’t true! The contemporary consumer is far too jaded to be fooled by a slick sales pitch or tricky marketing scheme. Make your product worthy of hype — hardly anyone actually does this! If you’re not able to pursue this first tenet, stop now, go to a different webpage, and forget about trying to build a brand. Just skate by doing whatever you’ve been doing for as long as you can, and make peace with the idea that whatever you’re doing may get overrun by a competitor. In fact, this concept is so important that maybe I should just switch gears and focus totally on this.

For online companies, this means you may need to halt basing everything on assumptions you’ve been working on, and focus obsessively on the consumer, and focus on having visionary people working on your business. If you offer a product or service, how do you differentiate from similar services? Is your differentiation substantial enough that endusers can easily recognize advantage in choosing you above everyone else? Use a lot of focus groups and find out what people want. Build it and then perform usability testing to see what can refine you to the point where your stuff is effortless. For online brands, is it easy to use your site? Is it intuitive to the n-th degree? And have you slashed away at all the annoyance factors that make people hate websites (like oppressive levels of advertising)?

2nd: Choose a good brandname. Using a made-up name in order to be original is great, so long as your business is radically different enough that your name will get traction because your product/site/service will get used by lots of people. BUT – if your product/site/service simply isn’t all that different from everyone else in your crowd, you’re going to get a LOT more bang for the buck by using a simple brandname which clearly communicates what you do.

For instance, if you have just another site that provides information about Hotels, there’s dozens of other businesses doing the same thing.  Even if you believe that your site features and usability mark you out from the crowd, DO NOT use some weird name, unless you have truckloads of money to burn to push it!  This is a case where using a name like “TheBestDarnHotels.com” is going to work a lot better than “Xopetalia.com”.  You’d have to invest a lot of dollars into educating people about what Xopetalia.com does than what TheBestDarnHotels.com does!

This is a case where a little bit of Marketing school theory is just going to shoot you in the foot — people are convinced they know how to make a good brandname, and most of them just don’t. Using some weird, non-intuitive name is like trying to pull everything uphill.  Imagine this: apply usability testing to your brandname and see if it is a tripping point for people.  If it is, you need to make it clearer. The exception to the rule is for businesses which are so unique that no one else is really doing the same thing they’re doing, in the way they’re doing it.  Don’t let hubris go to your head, either — don’t fool yourself: is what you’re trying to do really unique?  Would John Q. Public think so?  If not, use a descriptive company name and logo.  If you are really, truly the most unique thing of its type around, the uniqueness of the business is going to make the brandname known to your consumers. But, this is really something that happens few and far between.

Using an intuitive brandname typically has the added benefit of including keywords which bring benefit from a search engine optimization standpoint. This further underscores my point about trying to drag your business uphill — having the right keywords as part of your brandname will inherently give your site and pages some keyword weighting that you’d otherwise have to build through other means.

3rd – Use the Power of the Blogosphere. Most companies are not taking sufficient advantage of the blogosphere, but the power of it can be extraordinary. Do you have millions of dollars to burn in promotion? If not, look first to bloggers. If you’ve read the Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, you’re aware that some particular people are mavens and information resources. Those people are uniquely able to convey information out to many others. They’re influential, and if they endorse or even just mention something it can be worth a lot more than broad television advertising. So, how can you tap into this?

See my first rule — your product/service/business better be worthwhile and differentiated from the rest. If you’re very sure it is, you might try researching out who the experts are for your particular industry — particularly the ones who are bloggers, and invite them to check out your business. Give them free copies of your product to evaluate! Provide your service to them for free in return for evaluations!  Ask them to beta test for you!  Don’t try to bribe anyone to treat you favorably, but deal with them openly, generously, and respectfully, and you may convert them into being evangelists on your behalf! If they are not as receptive to your business as you expected, you might want to treat their criticism or recommendations very seriously — perhaps they’re pointing out a key weakness with your product that you never anticipated. If you solve any problems identified, you’ll be making progress, since my first rule is being achieved.

You can also set up your own blog for your company, but make sure you completely understand the blogosphere, and try to keep a light, informal tone. A corporate blog should be considered to be a candid, informal conversation with your consumers, and not just another hard-sell communication. Lots of companies get this wrong, and end up just deploying their publicity releases in a blog format. Ineffective! If you can’t do this right, stay out of the space. But, if you do understand it, it can be very valuable to you as a communication medium with your devotees.

4th – Use some Viral Marketing. Do something humorous with your product or brand, and put it up on your site. Make a video about it and put it on YouTube. Create a cool little app and provide it for free. The idea here is to create something compelling that pepole will want to tell their friends about or email to one another. On the internet, the new-wave term for this is “linkbaiting“. Good viral marketing will get other people to do your promotional work for you at a grass roots level, and they can push your brand out further and more effectively than if you are trying to buy your way into the public consciousness. One good example is the Mentos video that was sent around to an astonishing degree.

Humor’s really one of the best, most consistent ways to do something that becomes viral. Most major corporations are incapable of expressing a sense of humor, so the world at large really notices when a company does it. Is there anyone left in the USA who hasn’t seen the Mac vs. PC ads that have been running? The humor of the ads has promoted their message far beyond the costs of their media buys.

5th – Be as open as possible with your APIs and support commonly-used formats. If you have an online business that offers various unique content and services, make it easy for your users to tie in with your stuff. Interoperability and syndication can help you develop stickiness and dependence on your service. Deploy RSS where you can, and allow people to transport content to mobile devices, into email programs, etc. This also extends to your website — don’t ban users of common browsers from accessing your site. Free is also the name of the game. Don’t make users subscribe for stuff that they can get elsewhere for free. Newspaper websites are just not getting this concept!

6th – Be good to your customers. One loud, unhappy customer can make you look worse than you really are, degrading your brand image. Treat folx right, and they might even become a spokesperson for you.

7th – Don’t rest on your laurels. Keep pushing to improve over time, and to be rapidly responsive to your consumers and to the changing landscape of online business. Consistency and responsiveness will keep you in the running while the flash-in-the-pans fall by the wayside.

 

Notice how none of these tips depend upon advertising your way to the top! In the Web 2.0 internetocracy, it may not be necessary for online companies to advertise their way into brand name recognition, if they’re clever about it.

Following these tips is a good formula for succeeding with brand recognition.

1 comment for 7 Tips for Achieving Online Brand Recognition »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I do agree with the most of the points given. Still, I am quite unsure of Point 6. Frankly speaking, this point is important in real life. But speaking of online branding, being good is very vague and unclear. We like repeating this, but cannot fully explain what being good to a client in online world means. :)

    Comment by Guerrillero — 8/12/2007 @ 10:54 am


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