The Internet and branding

What constitutes a successful online brand? Is it an e-commerce site with high levels of traffic? Is it a brand with good name recognition? Is it a profitable brand? Or is it a site with more modest sales levels, but one that customers perceive as providing good service? Although sites meeting only some of these criteria are often described as successful brands, we will see that a successful brand is dependent on a wide range of factors.

The importance of building an effective online brand is often referred to when startups launch e-commerce sites, but what does branding mean in the online context and how important is online branding for existing companies?

Branding seems to be a concept that is difficult to grasp since it is often used in a narrow sense. Many think of branding only in terms of aspects of the brand identity such as the name or logo associated with a company or products, but branding gurus seem agreed that it is much more than that. A brand is described by Leslie de Chernatony and Malcolm McDonald in their classic 1992 book Creating Powerful Brands as an identifiable product or service augmented in such a way that the buyer or user perceives relevant unique added values which match their needs most closely. Furthermore, its success results from being able to sustain these added values in the face of competition.

This definition highlights three essential characteristics of a successful brand:

• brand is dependent on customer perception;

• perception is influenced by the added-value characteristics of the product;

• the added-value characteristics need to be sustainable.

To summarise, a brand is dependent on a customer's psychological affinity for a product, and is much more than physical name or symbol elements of brand identity.

De Chernatony (2001) has evaluated the relevance of the brand concept on the Internet. He also believes that the main elements of brand values and brand strategy are the same in the Internet environment. However, he suggests that the classical branding model of the Internet where consumers are passive recipients of value is challenged online. Instead he suggests that consumers on the Internet become active co-producers of value where consumers can contribute feedback through discussion groups to add value to a brand. De Chernatony argues for a looser form of brand control where the company facilitates rather than controls customer discussion.

Branding

The process of creating and evolving successful brands.

Brand

The sum of the characteristics of a product or service perceived by a user.

Brand experience

The frequency and depth of interactions with a brand can be enhanced through the Internet.

Brand equity

The assets (or liabilities) linked to a brand's name and symbol that add to (or subtract from) a

A further method by which the Internet can change branding that was suggested by Jevons and Gabbott (2000) is that online, 'the first-hand experience of the brand is a more powerful token of trust than the perception of the brand'. In the online environment, the customer can experience or interact with the brand more frequently and to a greater depth. As Dayal et al. (2000) say, 'on the world wide web, the brand is the experience and the experience is the brand'. They suggest that to build successful online brands, organisations should consider how their proposition can build on these possible brand promises:

• the promise of convenience - making a purchase experience more convenient than the real-world one, or that with rivals;

• the promise of achievement - to assist consumers in achieving their goals, for example supporting online investors in their decision or supporting business people in their day-to-day work;

• the promise of fun and adventure - this is clearly more relevant for B2C services;

• the promise of self-expression and recognition - provided by personalisation services such as Yahoo! Geocities where consumers can build their own web site;

• the promise of belonging - provided by online communities.

Summarising the elements of online branding, de Chernatony (2001) suggests successful online branding requires delivering three aspects of a brand: rational values, emotional values and promised experience (based on rational and emotional values). We return to the notion of brand promise at the start of Chapter 7 since this is closely related to delivering customer experience.

An alternative perspective on branding is provided by Aaker and Joachimsthaler (2000) who refer to brand equity, which they define as:

a set of brand assets and liabilities linked to a brand, its name and symbol, that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm's customers.

So, brand equity indicates the value provided to a company, or its customers through a brand. Assessing brand equity on the web needs to address the unique characteristics of computer-mediated environments as Christodoulides and de Chernatony (2004) have pointed out. These researchers set out to explore whether additional measures of brand equity were required online. Based on expert interviews they have identified the additional measures of brand equity which are important online, as summarised in Table 5.1. As we would expect, this includes attributes of the digital medium such as interactivity and customisation which combine to form relevance and a great online brand experience. Content is not stressed separately, which is surprising, although they do mention its importance under site design and it is also a key aspect of other attributes such as customisation, relevance and the overall experience.

Table 5.1 Traditional measures of brand equity and online measures of brand equity
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