What you need to know to successfully position your brand for a unified image across various selling channels

In today’s selling environment, there’s no movement stronger than multichannel marketing. And as catalogers and retailers move to the Web, and Internet companies start using direct mail techniques, branding is more important than ever. According to a recent survey by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, for example, 80% of online shoppers say their purchasing decisions are strongly influenced by their ability to buy from trusted retail brands and their need to purchase brand-name products.

Regardless of whether you are communicating in print, in a store, or in a digital format, your customers expect to receive the same brand message. So if your catalog image is warm and fuzzy, it better be that way on the Web. If you’re all about lifestyle, you’d better figure out a way to translate that image into a retail or electronic environment. Your clear understanding of your unique positioning is the link between all your selling channels and your customers.

Different channels, different strategies

But communicating the same message across channels is not easily achieved. And it does not mean that branding strategies for e-commerce, retail, and catalog will each be handled in the same way. In fact, they can’t be. We already know that paper is not the same as bricks and mortar. For example, Victoria’s Secret found a way to create sexiness in its stores without the use of the voluptuous models who appear throughout the catalog.

Each environment requires different techniques to achieve and support a unified brand image. The strategies that support and drive that positioning in existing media should be analyzed carefully. This evaluation should then be used to form the basis of creative development for all other media.

Marketers need to tackle distinct areas when strategizing their branding for each separate selling channel. Let’s look at these one at a time.

Name development

We already know that a recognized brand name will get a catalog opened and is more trusted than an unknown brand, all other things being equal. We also know that consumers will have more confidence in a store they know than they will in an unknown retailer across the street. The same goes for the Web. Established company names, those that are recognizable and especially recallable, will have the strongest shot at generating traffic on the Internet. Store chains and department stores probably have a better chance at success than stand-alone catalogers because they have built valuable consumer confidence over the years through their presence and advertising. They have a recognizable brand name.

As for how to create an image with a name, many catalogers and retailers have been successful naming their companies after a person (L.L. Bean, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom, Crutchfield, etc.). It’s easier to create a personality and brand image for a person – real or fictional. This strategy will likely continue to succeed for other catalogers and retailers in the future.

For many of the pure dot-com companies now populating the Web, generic, easy-to-remember names (,,, and can become effective brands. It is easier to build a brand with a name that doesn’t need to be explained. Of course, with these names, being first to market is key.

Creative strategies

How do you effectively translate the branding elements you’ve built in one medium to another? Bricks, clicks, and paper are each a different experience. They each require different shopping and buying behavior on the part of the consumer. And they certainly require different creative strategies on the part of the marketer.

– Logo presentation – Let’s deal with the most obvious creative element of your brand: your logo. It is imperative that customers always know where they are shopping. Every store has its name on the entrance, every catalog has its name on the cover, and every dot-com should have its logo on its home page.

– Brand-name repetition – Because brand building should be happening at every moment, repetition of the brand name is key. In a catalog it should be on the page footers and featured throughout, both editorially and as a label. A good store never lets you forget where you are, and the same thing is true of a good Website. Your logo should be at the head of every Web page.

– Design – One could fill a book with design strategies that affect a store, catalog, or Internet environment. But some key observations can be made:

– Overall design should support positioning.

The same kind of thinking that has successfully created sales for you in one venue should be reinterpreted for other channels.

For instance, use the same models online as in your print catalog. Some of the location photography or backgrounds that work in print may be too busy for the Web, however, so you may need to adjust them.

– Different media require different presentation and design techniques in order to capture attention, create interest, and drive the purchase.

What works in one place will not work in another. Pages designed for a catalog do not translate onto the Internet, because users scroll down on screens rather than turn print pages. Also, a typical computer screen is smaller than the average catalog spread, so you need to be careful about density overload online.

– Clarity, organization, and ease of shopping are key goals for all media.

– Color – One of the most striking things about creative in Web development is the commitment to and the use of color as a brand builder. Everyone expects to see IBM blue or Tiffany blue in every media outlet, across the board. Discovery Channel and National Geographic continue to be creatively differentiated by their use of primary brights and earth tones, respectively. Victoria’s Secret uses a sexy red-pink, and Godiva’s Website is an explosion of the gold that is its signature in both packaging and advertising.

– Selling copy and voice – Creating a voice is a strong component of brand building. It’s a challenge because consumers tell us (in research and their actions) that they don’t want to read any more than they have to. But copy is still a brand-building element that shouldn’t be ignored or homogenized.

Selling copy has slimmed down. In some cases it’s bare-bones. The best marketers work hard at developing a voice for even the shortest copy. Lands’ End, for one, translates its strongly branded voice from paper to screen flawlessly. The Internet provides a new opportunity to test copy length and presentation in a way that was not financially viable for stores or catalogs. Not only is testing different lengths and styles easier, but you can also give consumers the option to “click here for more information,” so you can manage your information presentation to them, so they get it as they want it.

– Information as brand support – Many catalogers have effectively used editorial content to provide added value and build their brand. Williams-Sonoma provides recipes, Lands’ End writes about the stories behind its product (and in fact has provided fictional stories as well). The Web provides marketers with this same opportunity, and it is even more cost effective. Tiffany’s Website, for example, promotes downloadable information on “How to Buy a Diamond,” or “How to Buy Pearls,” as well as etiquette tips.

– Price presentation – The way in which price is handled is important in every media. Price presentation is also one of the first indicators to customers (next to density) of the “value equation” a company offers. Large or colored type, icons, and price callouts in art are immediate indicators of a price-driven business. Smaller, slimmer type is indicative of a business in which fashion, uniqueness, or quality play more of a role in the purchasing decision.

If marketers really understand their customer and have established tangible and meaningful elements of value, that needs to be communicated in the design and presentation of price.

– Photography – Almost every cataloger and retailer entered the world of e-commerce with existing photography. Why spend a lot of money to reshoot for (in most cases) an unprofitable sales channel? Also, how to shoot for the Internet was a huge question.

Today, however, many marketers recognize that the experiential differences among shopping on the Web, at retail, and by direct mail require a difference in product presentation to be effective. As a result, different photography strategies are slowly evolving for each medium.

Retail photography primarily supports the brand and creates energy. Consumers in a store can touch and feel the actual product – that’s why they’re there. There’s no copy to support the products with retail photography, which tends to be similar to store signage in that it is designed mainly to generate excitement and interest to drive store traffic.

Catalog photography needs to show product. Brand building is always balanced with the realities of selling product and density requirements. Location photography can create interest and a sense of place, as well as indicate usage. Lighting can’t be as dramatic as in nonselling store photography, but it should be dramatic enough to create interest and communicate quality. The printing process has been perfected. It does an excellent job reproducing color and texture.

Internet photography is probably the most challenging. Part of this stems from the fact that the color your customers see on their computer screens can’t be controlled. You do, however, have the opportunity to show more than one photograph of an item on the Internet, without adding the same levels of cost required in a catalog.

Internet photography seems to be most effective when there is a mixture of silhouettes and location shots. The balance depends on the company, the product mix, and the desired brand personality. Don’t abandon your style – whether it’s a grid format such as home decor cataloger Crate & Barrel, or lifestyle photography a la women’s apparel cataloger J. Jill – but modify your style to fit the online medium.

– Models – A key brand-unifying element can be the use of models – in bricks, clicks, and paper. Most major apparel Websites are using the same faces that you see in their catalogs. (Part of this is due to their use of existing catalog photography, of course.) And this is not a bad thing. For a customer shopping across different media, it’s comforting to see the same faces and imagery associated with the brand. Catalogers that are using models in this way include Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, and Victoria’s Secret.

Unfortunately, several apparel Websites I visited recently reshot with a minimum of (or no) fashion models. These sites now seem foreign to the brands I know. Over time, however, companies will better identify segments of their customers and market to them more effectively, including using different models and styling. For instance, you might create Web pages or special e-mail promotions for younger – or older – segments of your customer base. But within each segment, the “look” of the presentation should be consistent so that customers feel a familiarity, no matter which medium they are shopping.

– Providing ease and speed in every channel – The Internet finally did it: It’s a medium no one can keep up with.

Speed is a design requirement of e-commerce. Speed of loading, use, pagination, and all other aspects of Internet shopping need to be built into the design of a Website. Speed will, therefore, become an integral part of the brand image.

You have to be fast – faster than ever or you’ll lose customers. Customer loyalty on the Web is strongly influenced by the speed of downloading and the ease of navigation, according to focus group research by Cognitiative, a San Francisco-based consulting firm. Ease of use is most important to 37% of online shoppers, familiarity to 36%, and content to 27%. Consumers want speed; they want real-time service. Your technologies have to allow superior speed of access and use.

Creative has to support this. Sites need to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. According to research done by Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., “Users prefer concise text that is easy to scan, with a liberal use of highlighted keywords, bulleted lists, and subheads. They detest fluff and feel that companies have something to hide when they spend more space on promotional writing than on giving the facts.” (“Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity,” Fortune Small Business, spring 2000)

Remember that speed and ease of shopping are becoming more important in other marketing channels as well, thanks to the Web. That means your print catalog must be easy to read. That also means customers have to be able to get information from your print vehicle quickly. Clean design and layouts, good pacing, and uncomplicated backgrounds will make it easier for your catalog customers to shop from you.

The retail channel needs the same attention to detail, with traffic flow and organization of product designed to get the customers to the back of the store. The location of key destinations, from the sale racks to the bathrooms, also helps enhance the retail shopping experience.

– Service with a personal touch – Internet marketers are experiencing high levels of shopping abandonment toward the end of the sale, because customers with a full shopping cart are not completing their transactions at high rates. The most frequent answer to the question “why” is because these people want or need some level of personal contact – in most cases to answer a service question.

It will be imperative to offer Internet shoppers a level of personal contact through the Web or by telephone. Real time and 24/7 service will be important. It may become just as common to see 800-numbers promoted throughout a Website as it is to currently see Website addresses along the footer of a catalog or in a retail store ad. Human contact is certainly important in providing information, service, and technical support. It may also provide a key component in privacy issues and closing the sale.

And human contact is an area in which retailers and catalogers have an advantage over the Web. There’s no substitute for face-to-face service in a store – such as that provided by legendary upscale cataloger/retailer Nordstrom – or the technical expertise that a customer service rep at electronics cataloger Crutchfield can offer.

No matter the sales medium, you’ve got to provide the products, service, and speed that your customers have come to expect. And your brand will go a long way in reassuring customers that they will have a consistent experience in shopping with you, regardless of the channel.

According to a recent ActivMedia Research study, “Capturing Online Markets: The Definitive Guide to Consumer Loyalty,” for their last online purchase, 64% of online consumers surveyed bought a branded product (defined as having a well-known brand name that others might recognize). The remaining 36% purchased a minor brand or an unbranded product.

ActivMedia also notes that the buyers who are new to the Internet are slightly more inclined than the experienced online shoppers to buy branded products. “Perhaps the security of knowing what to expect from a branded product helps new online buyers feel more comfortable with their first online purchases,” the study claims.

As for brand influence by market or product category, ActivMedia says that a large percentage (81%) of computer/ electronics buyers surveyed bought branded products. It makes sense that purchasers of these high-ticket items seek out names that are familiar before shelling out big bucks.

Far fewer of those who bought personal interest (54%) and collectibles/ hobbies products (56%) say the product last purchased online had a well-known brand name.

One measurement of brand loyalty, according to the ActivMedia study, is whether a consumer feels he or she can buy a product anywhere without worry. Thus, a branded product would be expected to be the same regardless of the channel or source from which it is purchased.

It’s important to note, however, that in ActivMedia’s study, the brand focus was more on manufacturers’ brands, not company brands.

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