At Business Logs we have been in talks with a couple Silicon Valley startups about design and logo work or what they like to refer to as “branding”. I always find this interesting because although I think many of us agree that quality design and aesthetics can play a major role in the success of your company, is it safe to assume that this is the only thing that makes up your brand?
What a Brand Isn’t
A brand isn’t a logo. A logo is merely a symbol that represents the brand. Your corporate identity, the stuff found on letterheads and signage, isn’t a brand either. A brand isn’t the product or service that you make. So if a brand isn’t all of these things what is a brand?
A brand is how an individual feels about a company. It’s an individual’s feeling because a brand is defined by how an individual feels about the brand, not what the company wants an individual to feel. Sure companies can’t control how an individual feels, but they certainly can influence the feelings of an individual by properly communicating the qualities that make their brand special.
Branding and Web 2.0
First when I say “Web 2.0” I am only using it to reference this particular period of time in our lives. I will avoid saying that a product or site is a Web 2.0 product and just say that it is happening during this period that many are calling Web 2.0.
With everything being created during this period I am surprised to see the lack of branding involved and how well companies are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. What is Bloglines to you? How is it different from RSS aggregators #2-#99? How is Bloglines offering an approximate and distinct understanding of their product and service? To me they aren’t and besides the designs of the sites there isn’t that much separating RSS aggregator #1 from agg #87
Brand is Your #1 Asset
It’s perplexing to me why companies don’t spend more time focusing on communicating their qualities to their customers and helping to shape the brand in their customer’s minds. What do you think the general public’s view of Ning and Flock’s brands might be? What’s the message that they are trying to communicate? What are the qualities? I have a hard time answering those questions so I can only imagine what the general public might be thinking.
A major problem with this phase of the web that many people seem to miss isn’t that companies don’t have a business model, it’s that they aren’t doing a great job of communicating their message and their qualities to users. Look at the survivors from the last boom and what separated them from the rest of the field.
Amazon didn’t start off selling everything on the face of the planet like Buy.com or Overstock and it’s a good thing they didn’t because what message could have they communicated? Instead by starting off with books they could brand themselves as the largest bookstore in the world. That’s powerful. When they did start to sell everything under the sun you could argue that they lost some of their brand’s power, but were able to maintain growth due to the sheer size of eyes they were in front of.
What about Odeo? What message are they going to communicate that will make them different from Apple and Yahoo? The problem isn’t that they are competing against larger competitors, the problem is that I don’t have a clear idea of what their message is.
This was a major problem we encountered with the 9rules Network. Our focus from the beginning was always quality content and that was it. Amazing what you can accomplish when you narrow your message down to two words. However, the problem we were encountering was that people were trying to look too deep into what we were trying to do. Instead of just seeing our message for what it was, many expected there to be a catch when there wasn’t one at all. What could we do about this? Simple, we just had to remain consistent and continue to emphasize quality content and I believe many more people now are understanding our message more clearly.
When someone visits a 9rules site or thinks about the Network itself, we want them to have the feeling that they are getting quality. We can’t force them to have those feelings, but we definitely can make sure to communicate those qualities enough to them that hopefully they begin to see them as well. When your competition is Weblogs, Inc. and Gawker Media you have no choice but to place greater emphasis on the brand you are projecting and this is the #1 reason why I feel no other blog networks will really compete with the top 3-5 networks around today (unless the top ones start to lose their focus).
Branding and Pretty Things
With all this talk of communicating your message does that mean you can get away from having to spend money on a quality logo/avatar/design? Most certainly not, because these help to communicate your message as well. I’m sure many of you remember not too long ago when it was tough to go a week without reading an article or column on the death of Apple. No way could they compete in a Windows world as a desktop manufacturer and I think Steve Jobs understood this. He quickly changed Apple from an alternative computer computer to a quality entertainment device company.
What are your feelings when you think of Apple? I think of:
And these ideas are reinforced whenever I encounter something from Apple be it in an ad, their website, their products or even their packaging. Your brand can not occur at just one stage of the user’s experience, it must occur at all stages.
Apple was dying and Linux was thriving. How much talk of Linux/BSD do you hear today in comparison to Apple news? Mac OS X uses BSD as its foundation, an operating system that has been around for some time yet never even had the press or market penetration that OS X is receiving. Why? I’m sure design had a small part to play in its success.
What Does This Do?
Competition on the web is fierce and it seems that to differentiate themselves from the crowd many companies simply add feature X without any regards to their brand. When making any changes/additions to your site, products or services you should always end up asking how will this hurt or help our brand. If it doesn’t help it in anyway why should you proceed with it? It’s very difficult to add a new feature today that your competition can’t add tomorrow. Features aren’t what will separate your company from the crowd, your brand is what will do it.
As you could imagine I could carry on with this topic for quite a bit longer, but I will end it here for now and ask this question. In this era of the web what companies are doing a great job of building and maintaining their brand and what is their brand to you?