Branding 101

Brand is the rich personality that you project for your consumers. If done well, your brand image can inform your consumers' thinking about your market position, value, quality, price, service level, heritage, size, and anything else that matters.

The consumer's experience of your site translates into the user's expectations and opinions of your entire company, product or service.

Because the web is a low-trust environment, your online presence should be up-front, open and transparent.

Construct a neat, concise online personality, and apply it consistently.


If your company has a certain tone-of-voice or style for print publishing, on the telephone, or in person, you should aim to translate that to your web presence.

This isn't just a case of doing the same online as you do in other forms of communication, because the web is a special kind of environment. (Remember, people are less trusting and more impatient when they're browsing the web).

(See also Stanford boffins' report featuring 10 guidelines for building credibility online).

Your whole message should be punchy and to-the-point.

Don't cajole, or try to intrigue, you don't have time.

Decide on your site's personality, and stick to it.

Tone of voice

Active voice is important: present what "you can do" or "what you can get", e.g. "Register for our newsletter" / "Log in" / "More about Service A".


Soul, heart, guts, whatever term you prefer, if your brand is going to cut it, you need a big dose of heart. That means reality, ownership, and self-belief.

For a brand to work, it has to have credibility. The easiest way to be credible is to believe it yourself.

For me, that means being the "Web Doctor", using "Web Doctor" in correspondence, online, in phone conversations, in press releases. Like a method actor, it means living out the brand, so that it comes through every action and connection.

Because it's so easy to create on the web, a lot of people devalue their own brands even as they create them, not realising this simple secret. I see lots of sites that fail simply don't have the courage of their own convictions. My Bytecon case study is a great worked example.

Focus on the best bits

When you 'own' your own brand, your consumers see what you give out, and what you give out comes directly from what you believe.

The easiest way to increase impact is by choosing the right beliefs.

This isn't about being false, but focusing on the best bits. You don't have to tell the whole truth.

Note: This isn't just great for projecting a powerful brand - it's great anyway!

Talk about positives, and avoid negatives, i.e. say what you do, or can do, what you believe in, how you work, what you have done, what your experience is...

  • If you don't have as much experience, mention any relevant experience you do have.
  • If you're young, talk about your energy, enthusiasm and value-for-money.
  • If you're a small company, emphasise your commitment, availability, and flexibility.
  • If you have fewer skills than competitors, turn them into specialisms and focus.


Usability is crucial for communicating a positive brand impression. Do everything you can to ensure your visitors get what they came for, and have a smooth, positive, enjoyable experience.

There's no point having a web site that looks just like your print brochure, if it's useless.

UIE article on the importance of usability in online brand experience »

Visual stuff

Be consistent with other media output, but don't necessarily apply every brand guideline slavishly, particuarly with colour.

There is no Pantone for the web - you can't guarantee how a colour will appear on your users' monitors, and not every printable colour can be displayed on-screen.

Carrying a brand over to the web is more than following through your corporate colours and fonts. It's more important to translate your offline experience into a positive and compatible online experience.


Starbucks home page

Starbucks site is bland and dull, nothing like as rich as the experience of using their franchise outlets.


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