7 Ways to Carve a Rock-Solid Online Identity
by Bob Baker
Branding has been a business buzzword for many years. But the term has implications far beyond corporate logos, mission statements and theme songs. Effective branding is all about telling customers who you are, what you do and how you do it.
Despite recent tragedies in the U.S. and the bad rap that the Internet has received over the past year, more people are spending time and money online than ever before. That's why it's vitally important for small businesses and solo entrepreneurs alike to use the Internet to make an impact.
Here are seven tips to help you carve a focused identity online.
1. Define your brand up front. When visitors arrive at your web site, let them know immediately what you do and why they should care. Far too many web sites shroud their identity in flashy graphics and ambiguous slogans without telling people what the company or person actually does.
View your Web site through the eyes of a new visitor. Does it spell out exactly what your brand stands for? If not, redesign it so your purpose and identity are unmistakable. For example, Terri Lonier's Working Solo site at www.workingsolo.com does a good job of establishing her as
a resource for freelancers. The opening paragraph lets visitors know exactly who the site is for.
2. Lead with what you do, not who you are. It may defy logic, but making your company name the most visible element on your home page may not be the most effective way to reinforce your brand. A Web-based or e-mail marketing message should state a benefit right off the bat. Which of these paints a clearer identity: The business name "Dog Owner Central" displayed in large letters or the more specific description "Training tips for busy dog owners"?
3. Use a real person as a figure head. The online world can be a cold, mechanical place. Your branding efforts are more effective when you add a recognizable, consistent human element. Think of the way Dave Thomas promotes Wendy's.
If your company has a CEO or spokesperson who is closely identified with the company offline, make sure that connection carries to the cyberworld. If you run a business by yourself, by all means, put your name, photo and personal message on your web site. Nothing creates mystery and distrust more than a site that is void of a human contact and asks visitors to send e-mail to the "webmaster."
4. Develop a fan-club mentality. Most online marketers try to generate readers, visitors or users. I encourage you to switch gears and create fans. "Users" are people who visit your web site, subscribe to your newsletter or buy your products and services. "Fans," on the other hand, cheer you on, rave about you to their friends and eagerly follow everything you do. Which would you rather have?
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