Brand Equity
The Economic Times 29 APRIL - 5 MAY Internet Edition

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Cyber branding

Building a website brand is as tough as building a real-world one. It requires detailing on various elements that combine to create a memorable impact

THE VIRTUAL world of the Internet is just an electronic mirror of the real world. Even though this cyber-market is just five years old, competition is extremely fierce-like with products in the real world market-what with over 300 million webpages on the World Wide Web struggling to be noticed.

To stand out and attract the attention of the casual surfer, and more importantly, the prospective customer, the need for a strong, on-line brand becomes imperative.

There are two major types of Internet brands: service and organisational. Service brands are websites that offer the surfer some service-be it free e-mail, a neatly categorised web directory or just neatly packaged news. HoTMaiL, Yahoo! and IndiaWorld are respective examples of these services.

The majority of service brands are entrepreneurial start-up ventures, except in cases of established real-world brands, such as The Times of India or The Economic Times on the web. A dominant brand name can provide an edge over competition and make the price of entry for potential competitors prohibitive.

Says Sunil Rajshekhar, vice president of the Times of India group, ``The off-line brand equity of the Times of India group has definitely helped our presence on the web. Without much active marketing of our websites, we have attracted millions of Internet-users from all over the world-mainly because we are already established as the number one newspaper in the country.''

Says Subramamanian Anantharam, a US-based Indian software professional, ``Since I joined here a year ago, I've been accessing The Economic Times on the Net to keep up with what's happening on the economic front in India. The ET is listed in the bookmarks on my browser and is one of the first things I read every morning. The best thing is, it feels the same, except for the fact that I now read the paper with a mouse.''

With so many websites offering exactly the same service (be it news service, a search engine, or software for download), strong branding is what will keep users coming back to a particular site, translating into advertising revenue for the sites.

Organisational brands on the Web market the organisation itself, providing an opportunity to project a certain image to the world. Child Relief & You (CRY), Arvind Mills, and the Tata group have websites that need tending and nurturing as much as the products and services they offer under their umbrellas in the real world market place. What is it that would prompt someone abroad who has not heard of CRY to donate money on-line? The website becomes the advocate.

The website impacts how a brand is perceived. The building blocks towards such impact include domain name, look and feel, content, service and advertising.

A website should have an intuitive domain name, and if that is the brand name itself, so much the better. Chances are you would never guess Ogilvy & Mather India's URL (Internet address) correctly. It is: http://www.indiaworld.co.in/open/biz/yp/om.html. But you can probably hit Citibank's URL right at first try: citibank.com.

Another nice domain name strategy is using a slogan or association for a particular site. For instance, Magnasound owns the domain name 'music-from-india.com'. Sharad Popli, director, Quantum Link Communications, stresses the importance of this move: ``In terms of technology, our site was slick, but we also wanted to out-think any other Indian music site on the branding front-past, present and future. The domain name had to be generic, instead of the done thing in 'magnasound.com'.'' This move also helps boost rankings on search engine results, when people are searching for ``music from India.''

Surprisingly, though, Magna-sound has not registered the 'magnasound.com' domain name which many Internet users would try to reach by default. The cost of registering a domain name is peanuts-US$ 35 per annum-compared to the brand building that can be achieved through the choice of a proper name. Wise companies make it a point to register not only their names, but common abbreviations, and even slogans, to provide multiple entrances to their site.

IN case of a start-up service brand on the Net, a meaningful name like Webcrawler for a search engine that searches the Web for you, is good branding strategy. Another way to make use of the domain name for brand building is to assign employees e-mail addresses under it. Till recently, employees of Tata Infotech had e-mail addresses under: username%[email protected] tr.unisys.com. Now they have addresses that reflect the company name instead: [email protected]

The look and feel of the site should reflect the image the company would like to project. Hotwired and Hotbot (owned by Wired), both have bright, loud colours that scream for attention and just cannot be mistaken for any other site. The colours are in keeping with the print version of Wired, so a visitor to the site who's read the print magazine feels at home, while the newbie gets a feel of what the actual magazine looks like.

Before Rediff On The NeT created the Citibank site, it studied the 'blue wave' visual identity of the bank, and synergised the entire site with the blue wave. Within three months, all the international Citibank sites followed this branding strategy.

Anvar Alikhan, creative director, Rediff On The NeT, explains how the agency developed Asian Paints' branded site. ``Two things that come to mind when you think about Asian Paints are Indian and Gattu (the mascot). So we gave the site an ethnic Indian look and feel, showcasing the colours of India through festivals, fashions, everyday clothes, and even mehendi! The site is called Ashiana ('home' in Persian). The site also taps Gattu, with its creator, R.K. Laxman, describing its birth and evolution. Using the Net, we brought Gattu to life, something that has not been achieved using any other medium.''

Factors such as attitude, tone and voice should also be in keeping with the image of the desired branding. The site of web designers, PlanetAsia, portrays a young and trendy image, quite the opposite to the serious tone adopted on the Tata website.

One of the most common aphorisms related to the Net is ``content is king.'' While that is true, looking at it from another angle would help the branding process. If he comes to a website expecting something (yes, the Internet user is still predominantly male), and does not get it, what are the chances he'll come back? If his expectations are met, he may spread the word through a small e-mail message to friends.

For a service-based site, this translates into living up to his expectations of the service-even if the service comes for free. On a news site, it's natural for a user to expect factual, interesting and regularly updated news. If the site fails to live up to these expectations, it takes just a few mouse clicks for the user to bookmark any of the tens of others offering better content.

Netventures Communications (India) Pvt. Ltd. has created content-based sites such as Goa Interactive, Kerala Interactive, and NRI World. Joel Sequeira, business development manager, agrees with the need to pamper the Internet user: ``Take NRI World. We initially started it as a monthly magazine with news of interest to the NRIs. Site visitors wanted more and sent us feedback asking us to increase its frequency. So we now have a dedicated team to update the site on a weekly basis, and the response has been tremendous.''

An organisational site would need to ensure that any non-classified information the user is looking out for is easily available. So while a corporate site may have a product catalogue on-line, it still remains window-shopping till real-world access information is also made available. The UPS site asks the user for his residence address and in a matter of seconds churns up a map of that locality, showing the nearest UPS collection centres and contact details.

In the event that the user interacts with the real world organisation through e-mail, he should be attended to promptly. That's service. ``I'd go so far as to say that no e-mail reply should be delayed beyond 24 hours,'' says Ananth Appathurai, CEO, India On-Line, an Internet consultancy. Internet users have a different mindset when on-line: if they have a problem, they expect an immediate response, tending to get irritated if they have to wait.

No site or brand can say it doesn't need online advertising. Web-vertising, largely in the form of banner ads are of two basic types: transaction- and brand awareness-driven. While transactional ads try to entice the user to click on the banner and take further action on the site, brand building banners do not necessarily require user participation but are used when introducing, branding, or promoting a product or service and announcing special events or products.

The effectiveness of the banner ad can be tracked by measuring impressions (number of times the banner was seen). The most common complaint of web advertisers is that the click-through rate (clicking on the ad to go to the advertiser's homepage) is a depressing two-to-three per cent. What they fail to realise however, is that for the 97-to-98 per cent who haven't clicked on the banner, their money is not wasted. Recent research by the Internet Advertising Bureau indicates that on-line campaigns can raise advertising effectiveness and brand awareness some 30 per cent in branded-banner campaigns.

The Amul Butter campaign is a case in point. It is a unique multi-media campaign simultaneously appearing on TV, press, hoardings, and now, on the Internet. On the Internet, Amul's topical campaigns are converted into banner ads and advertised on IndiaWorld. Says Jayen Mehta, head, marketing at Amul in Anand, ``Displaying our topical messages on the Web has helped us revive our relations with thousands of Indians residing abroad.''

Bharat Pandya, senior group head, da Cunha Associates-the agency that handles the campaign-confirms that not only do the banners lead to brand enhancement, but also result in a significant click through to the Amul site, where people are treated to recipes, and more topicals.

Service and organisational brands which manage to build a trusted brand name on the Internet will have an enormous advantage over the competition. Yahoo! the Web directory is regarded as the biggest brand building successes on the Web-it's virtually the default site Internet users turn to, when they need to find something on the Web. In fact, Yahoo! is pegged as the single most recognised name associated with the Internet.

Amazon.com, an on-line bookstore that has no corresponding brick-and-mortar shop, is regarded as one of the more contemporary achievers as far as success in on-line brand building goes. Its brand impact is so strong that the reputed real world bookstore, Barnes & Noble, has been struggling for the past two years to match up on-line.

That's cyber branding for you. As Alikhan aptly put it, ``The Net is a brand builder's wet dream come true.''

LYNDON CEREJO, MUMBAI. The author is an Internet consultant.



The Times of India

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