Most new entrepreneurs see a “brand” as a logo or slogan. For them, Nike’s brand is a swoosh with “Just do it!” attached.
After an entrepreneur has been around marketing a while, they start to realize that their brand is more than just a logo. It is what people feel about them and the impression their customers get that keeps them coming back. Seeing your logo or hearing your slogan is what triggers that feeling.
Now, is there a difference between branding online and branding offline? The short answer is yes. The long answer is explained below.
The fundamentals of branding
Enakshi Sharma lists 10 elements of branding:
- Brand identity
- Brand image
- Brand positioning
- Brand personality
- Brand equity
- Brand experience
- Brand differentiation
- Brand communication
- Brand gap
- Brand extension
Without getting into a debate over the definitions and merits of each element, I can say that these fundamentals do not vary between offline and offline branding. For instance, a brand that promises an eco-friendly product must make that same promise online or offline.
It is true that a company might have two different audiences. For instance, there might be an older demographic who prefers to shop at brick and mortar and a younger demographic that prefers to shop online. In that case, brand positioning would be different. The question the business would have to ask is whether it’s different enough that it needs two different brands?
A classic example is when Toys R Us branched out into Babies R Us. Two brands in the same “family”, but with a clear difference in brand positioning.
If online and offline positioning are not big enough to justify two different brands, a company has to be consistent in all other elements. Otherwise two things can happen:
- People who shop online and offline will notice the difference and be confused … and the company will lose customers.
- The company will lose cross-demographic customers, such as younger people who prefer in-store shopping.
Consistency online and offline
For a single brand, consistency is critical across online and offline branding. That includes:
- colors on logos, promotional products, uniforms, in-store signage, website banners, etc.
- language used when greeting customers in-store, on the phone and in live chat, as well as in advertising and on the website
- messaging about the product’s and company’s image (luxury, fun-loving, environment, frugal, ease-of-use, etc.)
- style of images used, which should reflect the overall messaging
Some of the most successful branding comes from putting offline products in front an online audience. You must be careful when doing so as you do not want to seem as if you are pushing advertising in front of someone who doesn’t want to see it. Great examples include Kuretake, Lululemon, and GoPro who put their products second while advertising on social media. They spend most of their time engaging with customers as opposed to putting products in front of customers’ faces.
There are differences
There are differences between online and offline branding. One difference is typeface. John Wood shares some interesting statistics on how people read differently offline and online.
Offline, people learned to read with a serif typeface, such as Times Roman. The letters are more clear and obvious, such as the difference between a lower-case L and an upper case I.
But online, people scan more than read, and when they read, it’s often on tiny hand-held devices. They read much better with a sans-serif typeface, such as Arial.
Language is another difference…sometimes. In online chats, customer service should use the same approach to speaking with customers as in-store sales staff would use, whether that is formal, ultra polite, casual, flowery, etc.
Brands also have more options to interact with customers online, and sometimes need to adapt their language to the context of the discussion. Without changing the basic impression of the business, a more relaxed approach might be needed to market on Snapchat, and a less flowery approach on Twitter (although there is more room for flowery with the new 280-character limit than with the old 140 limit).
When we write for businesses, we want to know where something will be published, so that we can tailor that text accordingly. But we are always careful to carry over all the elements of the brand image, regardless of the context.
Another difference is user-generated content, something that doesn’t exist in the offline world. This can include:
- employee stories
- pics of videos from customers
When planning user generated content, make sure it aligns with your offline presence. For instance, make sure employees present the same image online as they do offline. You can’t control the pics or videos that customers send in, but you can control the context, how those images appear, the frames they are in, the pages they are on.
Try to build as similar as possible a customer experience when displaying user-generated content as you do when welcoming customers into your store. Keep in mind the fundamental elements of your brand with everything you do.
You might have noticed that the differences between online and offline branding are small. They are no more than tweaks. Your branding works best when customers get the same messages, the same impression, the same feelings about your brand online and offline.
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Author: David Leonhardt