Online Branding: Creative Strategy in Web Design

Rub elbows with the greatest names in web design and get all of the latest tools and tips for online branding and creative strategy in web design at the HOW Interactive Design Conference.


The following piece on online branding is an excerpt from the first lesson of Dave Holston’s HOW Design University course, Managing a Web Design Project from Start to Finish. Over the last decade, the old model of push advertising through expensive print and broadcast advertising has given way to pull approaches that use search engine marketing and social media. The reliance on the trusty press release has been replaced by viral campaigns that rely more on word of mouth than big news distribution channels. However, coordinating all the online tools available to communicators can be daunting.

In this course, Dave Holston teaches students about the key research and planning phases that inform the online branding and creative strategy process in a web design project, and about project management tools and techniques that can create efficiencies for you as a manager. In the end, you’ll walk away with the ability to deliver a website that is strategically focused to attract, engage and convert visitors. The course begins Monday, August 8, so register or check out more online web design courses today!

web-design1photo from Shutterstock

Online Branding: Creative Strategy in Web Design

by Dave Holston

Branding is a critical aspect of any organization’s online presence. [Online branding] influences everything from the navigation to the messaging, design and even the keywords in page titles, links, headlines and content. Having a well-defined brand strategy helps establish online goals that reinforce the brand’s awareness. (For more on branding, check out my Brand Strategy Development course)

Brand strategy is at the core of most successful organizations. It is a pervasive intangible asset that is expressed in not only how the organization looks but how it behaves. Consider the strategic importance of brand positioning to organizations like Coca-Cola, Nokia or Starbucks. What’s interesting about these leading companies is that what they provide are simple commodities — soda, cell phones and coffee. These items are ubiquitous and cheap, but when they’re wrapped in well-crafted, well-maintained brand strategy, the everyday objects become desired by audiences and profitable for their respective organizations.

Strong brands provide a number of advantages including the following:

  • Providing a competitive advantage: All organizations compete. Whether non-profit or for-profit, organizations compete for resources, funding, talent and audience attention. To win in their category, organizations plan and implement strategy — a roadmap that outlines specific action and measure for reaching their goals and out maneuvering their peers for needed resources and profits. When done correctly, the organization’s brand is a mirror reflection of the strategic plan, helping to promote strategic areas and initiatives that will move the organization forward by articulating the unique and valuable strategic offerings.
  • Brands provide a stable asset: Products might fail, companies are bought and sold, and technologies change on a daily basis, but brands carry on through all these changes. Brands are the most sustainable asset of any organization and, when aligned with the overall strategy of the organization, become the central organizing principle for every decision. Consider that the Coca-Cola brand has been around for more than 120 years, and most of the world’s most valued brands have existed for more than 60 years, where as most corporations only last 25 years.
  • Brands provide economic value: Brands are considered “intangible assets,” but they have real economic value. Again, consider that the Coca-Cola brand name alone is worth $67 million and accounts for more than 54% of the stock market value of the organization. Or consider the value of brand to a non-profit such as the Red Cross and the importance of their brand in attracting donations and volunteers.
  • Brands set expectations: At the heart of branding is the promise that is made between the consumer and the company. The promise tells the audiences who you are, what you believe in, and what unique value you provide them. The ability to fulfill your promises at every stage of the engagement is the defining factor for most organizations success or failure. When the promises are broken, the reputation of the organization is called into question, and the brand suffers. When promises are kept, audiences respond with loyalty and affection for the brand.
  • Brands create the experience: In the last decade, advances in the psychology of consumer buying behavior and the development of new techniques for understanding and measuring brand impact have emerged. Savvy organizations invest time and effort into developing their brand experiences, knowing that visitors who have a seamless, positive experience with a brand are much more likely to become long-term loyal customers.
  • Brands expedite the buying decision process: People form preferences based on brand. Brands help the selling process by providing products and services that audiences are familiar with and trust. Brands expedite the selling process by creating a buying behavior — audiences don’t have to think about every purchase they make if they have an existing relationship with a brand. Through brands, people are able to recall positive experiences and the brand promise so they don’t have to explain themselves at every purchase decision point. The brand provides a concentrated idea of what the experience will be. Brands provide consumers a shorthand for understanding the qualities of and the experiences associated with a product or service.
  • Brands create differentiation and competitive advantage: Differentiation strategy focuses on creating and communicating unique customer value. Differentiation can take the form of unique products, services or a brand. By offering a unique value to a segment of the market, organizations create a defensible position. As Rodney Fitch, CEO of the design firm Fitch, reminds us, “Only one company can be the cheapest — the others have to use design.” One of the challenges many products face is that of commoditization. Products and services such as coffee beans, minerals and oil are all basic products. Differentiation mitigates commoditization. Consider how Starbucks is able to sell $4 cups of coffee through a well-managed and consistent experience.
  • Brands increase the success rate of organizations: With the advent of the Internet, more and more companies have the ability to enter the marketplace without all the traditional costs associated with traditional businesses. With this unprecedented increase in competition, the ability for established brands — or brands that can build brand equity quickly — have a better chance of grabbing an audience’s awareness, creating interest, communicating value and creating loyalty.

Learn more about online branding in one of Dave’s online web design courses, the upcoming Managing a Web Design Project from Start to Finish.

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