Six Steps to Building a Brand

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A banner year for IPOs, 1999 saw more than $100 billion dollars flood into newly public companies.


Seventy percent of those companies were newborn Internet outfits faced with the task of building national name recognition overnight. So they spent millions and millions of precious investor dollars on flashy network television ad campaigns. It's a silver bullet mentality that may generate media buzz and a spike in site hits, but is short-lived.


In such circumstances, many bricks-and-clicks retailers may boast a strong brand, but they still face challenges associated with stretching the brand to encompass new online capabilities. No matter if you are a start-up or an established company, building or evolving a brand is not easy, but it is manageable if you focus on the following six building blocks for a successful marketing campaign.


Segment the market: Like any marketplace, the Web is not homogenous. Internet customers are individuals with vastly different interests. You can define the Internet customer universe in hundreds of ways; but you must define it and target only those customers you want and those whose needs mirror the products and services you offer.


Once you define your customer, learn all you can about him: That knowledge then enables you to anticipate his needs, thus leading change in the marketplace rather than responding to it. The result is that your brand is recognized as cutting edge.


Invest wisely: Once you define your target customers, you can begin sketching out a marketing investment strategy that determines the most efficient and effective way to reach them. Evaluating the potential return for each type of customer helps you decide how much you want to invest to acquire that person's business. You may decide it is worth the investment in a professional sales force to reach customers who have the potential to generate significant revenue for your company, while relying on the lower-cost e-mail channel to draw those customers who might not spend as much.


Media and communication approach: Formulating your message and how to get it "out there" should come only after you determine who your customers are and how much you want to spend to attract them. Most dot-coms attempt, in vain, to begin building their brand with this step. That's why millions of dollars of IPO revenues turned into white noise in the sea of dot-com ads that flooded the airwaves last Christmas. That money would have been better spent on customer-relevant messages in media vehicles tailored to effectively target and reach your prospects.


Poll and test: E-tailers must measure and test their efforts. Polling your customers for comment and criticism is an effective way to determine what brings cybershoppers to your site and what keeps them coming back.


Plus, there is a lot we still don't know about e-customer habits. What, for instance, turns a browser into a buyer? What happens in that pre-purchase period that either leads to a sale or is a barrier to one? The answers to questions like that may provide new opportunities for e-tailers to send the right message through the right channel.


Process improvement: Once you've tested your site, measured its usability and weighed your customers' comments, you have reached a critical point -- you have to act on that information. Make the Internet shopping experience better. The priority should be acting on your customers' feedback.


One of the major reasons people use the Web is for the convenience of shopping from home or office. If you aren't providing the convenience your customers want, don't have the products they need and can't get them the goods on time, you are not building brand, at least not the kind you want.


Leverage infrastructure: The best way to ensure the quality of the customer experience is to leverage the people, processes and technology you have in place. Branding is not just multimillion dollar ad campaigns; it is the sum total of all customer contact. Just as crucial to building brand are the processes and the people who are the nuts and bolts of your business -- operations like order fulfillment and customer service. If you don't deliver, or if your shopper doesn't get satisfaction when there is a problem, your brand will suffer.


Brand is much more than a name. It is a reputation. Building brand takes time and a focus on these six steps. Brand names that generate loyalty consistently meet or beat their customers' expectations.


When it comes to building name and reputation, there is no such thing as front end and back end; a customer simply recognizes a name and remembers the experiences with it. If your brand doesn't deliver a quality encounter with the customer, your efforts to build sustainable customer relationships and revenues are all but wasted.
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