Building Brands in Cyberspace
By Liz Montalbano http://www.phoneplusmag.com
In cyberspace, marketing is more than just finding a catchy way to get
the masses to buy a product. There are myriad factors a brand considers
when jockeying for position in a competitive industry--among them the
speed of the Internet, the sheer number of users online at any given time
and the relative inexpensiveness of creating a website.
To say traditional, offline branding tactics--such as TV advertising's
demographic targeting--don't necessarily translate well online and that
companies, especially in a heated market such as telecom, must find new
ways to reach and retain customers might be stating the obvious. But,
according to Rob Frankel, president of robfrankel.com, a Los Angeles-based
brand consulting firm, it's surprising how little so-called marketing
experts know about the Internet.
"The web is confusing to a lot of people because it appears as if
the web is a mass medium, but it really isn't--it's one of the most one-to-one
media in the world," Frankel says. "But a lot of these guys
don't get it--and we're talking major ad agencies because that's where
I come from, I know how little they know. These are guys who really don't
understand the whole culture and the dynamics of how the web works."
For Frankel, branding--especially cyberbranding--isn't about being a
better solution for a prospective customer than the next guy, it's about
being the only solution. He says this philosophy is applicable
to both offline and online branding, but it's particularly important on
the Internet, where there are a wider variety of options that can be accessed
quite easily by the click of a mouse.
Therefore, Frankel says, it's absolutely essential to have a website--among
other things--that reflects a strong company identity. "Everything
flows from ad brand," he says. "So you have to first decide
what is your very, very strong brand, and then you let that stuff flow
through the way you do your business on the web, the way that you advertise,
the way that your offline operations work even down to the way that you
answer your phone."
So although cyberbranding and offline branding aren't exactly apples
and oranges, they don't grow on the same tree, either. There are particulars
that should be considered carefully when attempting to create a credible
brand--or maintain an existing one--online. Attention to a few details
can save time, money and headaches, not to mention achieve the goal of
a strong brand and customer loyalty.
Psychographics vs. Demographics
If the branding philosophy Frankel espouses were a religion, this would
be the first commandment: Use psychographics more than demographics.
"Psychographics has much more to do with people's likes, attitudes,
inclinations," Frankel explains. "In traditional offline mass
media ... demographics will work OK. [But] the web is completely flipped.
If you're a smart buyer, you're buying off of psychographics, not demographics."
Frankel admits using demographics on the web should not be discounted
totally, but the technique should not be relied on as heavily as it is
in offline branding. This is one reason, he says, that the banner ads
that have popped up all over the web in recent years aren't working anymore.
"Let's be real accurate and say [demographics] takes a backseat
to psychographics because demographics do count. [But] the biggest problem
we have today on the web is a bunch of offline media knuckleheads from
traditional ad agencies who think that it is just ports," he protests.
"They think: 'OK, well this site is getting a half a million hits
a day, so we'll just put this banner ad up here and just like a TV commercial--it's
getting half a million viewers for this half-hour, so we'll play the numbers
and a couple of percentage of them are going to drop in and we'll make
a sale.' That's a big myth."
The truth is it's easier to target people's likes and dislikes via the
Internet, and also easier for cybersurfers to click to something else
if they don't like what they see. If entrepreneurs aren't crazy about
the long distance service they are using, they may go surfing for interexchange
carrier (IXC) websites. When they do, it's a given that there will be
more than one IXC website to choose from. If the first site they find
doesn't immediately capture their interest, they can visit another with
little more than a finger twitch.
|Differences Between Offline and Online Branding
|Ability to instantly add value to a brand
|Ability to instantly deliver added value to prospect
|Quickly expand awareness/distribution with programs
|Requires large budget to raise awareness
|Instantly transports prospects to point of purchase
|"Word-of-mouth" rate of travel/market-reaction
|All phases of branding 100-percent multimedia compatible
|Response based on individual prospects' lifestyle
|Ability to co-brand
Source: Rob Frankel, robfrankel.com,
This is why Mark Bauman, director, brand group for Sprint Corp., believes
companies must create a more interactive way to attract customers. He
says the interactive nature of the Internet "makes it a better choice
as far as getting people's interests."
"When it comes down to banner ads, I think that most of the advertisers
are finding that while they had more success early on, a simple banner
ad these days, which is not interactive or does not have some interesting
element to it, is really losing its effectiveness," Bauman says.
"I don't think that in the end that people are going to think of
ads on the web as branding anymore."
Though banner ads may draw a potential customer to a website--even if
it's just out of curiosity--if the next screen isn't user-friendly, the
user may suddenly develop the attention span of a 3-year-old and move
on to what he or she was looking for in the first place.
The same is true for websites that offer little more than eye candy.
That's why Bauman and other brand developers at Sprint have taken into
consideration the complexities of branding on the web in the development
of a recently launched site www.sprintpcs.com. Practicing what Bauman
preaches, Sprint has made the site interactive, enabling customers of
Sprint PCS (personal communications service) to enter a personal identification
number (PIN) to monitor their minutes of usage and view the accessories
of their phone. An online marketplace for Sprint products and bill payment
and presentment also is in the works for the site.
This is where a telco's value-added web services make their entrance.
Since it's quite difficult in the competitive telecom industry to promote
a company as the only solution for a customer who wants telecommunications
services, carriers must distinguish themselves by what they can offer
a customer online. Providing bill payment and presentment, account status
and e-commerce for customers via a company's website is another aspect
of taking the brand to the web that's becoming essential to give carriers
a leg up on the competition.
Increasingly, users expect websites to be commerce-ready. And in telecom,
the ability for customers to handle their billing, particularly troubleshooting,
online is much more efficient than sitting at the end of a phone listening
to music while waiting for a customer service representative (CSR) to
handle a call.
As Bauman says, "You'd much rather be able to look at your bill,
perhaps highlight a section of the bill, attach a note to it and send
it to customer service asking them to look into this charge and get back
to you via e-mail. You don't spend any time on hold, and it can be taken
by the customer service reps without you having to waste any time on it."
Ease-of-use and value-add also are factors the No. 1 long distance carrier
is concerned with on its website, and developers considered customer feedback--something
that isn't as easy to gauge in offline branding as it is through the Internet--in
constructing the site. When AT&T Corp. redesigned www.att.com in July
1998, according to Marlene Beeler, vice president of AT&T Interactive
Group, making the site user-friendly was one of the motivating factors
in the redesign.
"What our customers are telling us is: 'Make it simple,'" she
says. "We're finding that the whole customer experience end to end
is really, really key. It really comes down to: Make it easy, make it
simple and let me get to what I need to do and provide me with the functionality
so that I can do it."
Beeler says AT&T achieved this by taking a corporate site that had
focused on information, and added more customer service-oriented features,
such as bill presentment and payment, the ability to sign up for One-Rate
Online long distance service and product catalogs.
"Before it truly was focused at press releases and investors and
potential investors, and it wasn't focused at customers and customers
of certain products--whether you're talking business side or consumer
side--and giving them a capability that they want to do self-servicing,"
Beeler says of the site before the overhaul. "But now ... for that
community of folks that want to do business with us [online], we now have
the opportunity and capabilities for them to do business with us that
way and before we didn't. It was always a phone call, it was always a
paper bill, you always had to call someone."
In the long distance markets, Sprint and AT&T have ubiquitous brands.
But if there was any way a new company could challenge them, it would
be over the 'Net.
"The web is as level a playing field as you're going to get,"
The great equalizer is the ability for anyone with dial-up access and
an Internet account to build a website, explains Dennis Rainer, principal
for Bizword (formerly Name-design), a San Jose, Calif.-based branding
He likens the Internet to another technology breakthrough of yesteryear,
the laser printer. "Before the laser printer came out and you got
a letter from someone, you could tell whether it was a big company or
a small company," Rainer says. "Once the laser printer came
out ... you couldn't tell [because] it gave everyone the nice-looking
font. On the face of the materials people received, companies were perceived
"The same thing [is true of] the Internet--if you have a really
nicely designed website, ... it's hard to tell how big someone is or how
long they've been around without getting any [outside] information. I
think it levels the playing field."
Frankel concurs, saying, "You really find that if you have a cheap
PC (personal computer), flat-fee access and an online account, all you
really need is a good strong brand and you really, truly are in business."
Liz Montalbano is copy editor for PHONE+ magazine.
Copyright © 1999 by Virgo