The reading level for this article is Novice

Whatever branding used to be — referring as it does to a one-way activity involving terrified cattle and a glowing iron — it ISN’T now in the world of the web.

(Okay, I’ve begun this piece with a classic, hyperbolic grabber. But it’s certainly more true than false.)

Your brand’s web presence offers (or should offer) all manner of ways for people to click on it, navigate through it, be amused and informed by it. With this come risk and opportunity.

Inconvenience or confusion at electronic checkout time affects your brand unfavorably and will cost you sales. The apparent confidence of offering your visitors a comparative shopping engine or some third-party articles providing industry context and education will work in your favor.

(I’m convinced, by the way, that Progressive Insurance’s wonderful and confident television campaign offering offline comparative shopping — even if it means they end up identifying a competitor’s policy — is a direct response to the reality of web-empowered customers.)

There is, to be sure, a hierarchy of site visitor interactions. I mean, one or two dead links on a fourth-level page does not a sullied brand make.

However, the absence of obvious privacy and transaction security policies will hurt your brand, as will huge graphics that take forever to download, and the over-use of non-words like “synergism.”

(I would also argue that there is a tendency for web sites to be about a company rather than actually being the company — for example, drawing prospects into the generative ideas, feelings, and people that are at the core of a successful business. The “about” approach, while certainly informative and safe, is what I would call blanding rather than branding!)

The point here is that your web brand has more surface area, more points of contact than its offline correlate. Think of a sponge that may not look particularly big, but has all these little nooks and crannies that vastly increase its surface area. Now how do you manage all this surface area to greatest effect?

Too big a question for here and now. But I will say that if you approach your brand’s web presence with a heightened awareness of how every possible interaction is part of the overall brand experience, you’ll be ahead of many companies.

A final tangent. Lately, I’ve become very interested in something called intelligent surfaces. I’ve been told there are advanced shoe stores that measure the size of your foot when you first step on their carpet.

Imagine walking into your bathroom and pausing on a large blue tile that measures your weight and percentage of body fat, and announces the results — okay, maybe that’s not such a good thing to imagine. Now take this thought of intelligent surfaces and apply it to your web thinking — especially if you have a web technologist in the room.

Or think of all the possible intelligent surfaces your company can have. Think of your sales force or telemarketers as surfaces, places where your company comes in contact with the money (prospects, customers) that can make or break you.

Now, just how intelligent are these surfaces? Maybe a wonderful computer telephony application that attaches knowledge bases to incoming calls would make a difference. Or perhaps capturing the best practices of your top sales folks and applying them to every presentation in the field would close more deals.

This is a good brain virus. Catch it.

This Marketing article was written by Chris Maher on 3/18/2005