Although experts agree that an engaging online presence is a must for any business, a user-friendly website and compelling products and services aren't enough to distinguish your brand from the rest of the pack. "Getting your brand out there and setting yourself apart should be easy, but it's not," says Mary van de Wiel, CEO of branding and communication design consultancy Zing Your Brand. "You've got to be fearless, and you've got to live out loud--make yourself unmistakably unforgettable."
Here are some suggestions for making it happen:
Establish an identity. "If you can't work out what the unforgettable, differentiating spark is, you're a dead brand walking," Van de Wiel says. "It's a matter of working out what you want to do and working out the attitude of your brand. Your brand has a behavior and a tone. Brands like to show off and have fun. It wants to come out."
Be easy to find. "You want to make sure you're not invisible to search engines--that's why some people avoid all-Flash websites," says Mike Whaling, president of online branding consultancy 30 Lines. "Make sure you're represented in all the local directories. Go to GetListed.org, type in your business name and see where you come up on searches."
Steal good ideas and make them your own. "It's important to create a look and feel that represents your business in the best way, but not everyone has a design aesthetic, so you might need a little bit of help along the way," Van de Wiel says. "I recommend that people look around and see what speaks to them. If you can identify that, then track down the person who worked on that website. But be accountable, give the designer some benchmarks, and be clear about how you want to express your business."
Watch for opportunities. "Lots of people miss the boat in terms of call-to-action. Once you get people to your website, it's not always clear what you want them to do," says Nicholas Chilenko, principal of web design firm Nicholas Creative. "Make sure there's a clear path of motion through the site. The goal is to get customers to convert. Insert subtle cues throughout the copy, and give them some incentive to make that initial contact."
Remember other marketing channels. "Don't forget about basic digital tools--e-mail marketing still works," Whaling says. "E-mail can feature posts from your blog; repurpose content you're using elsewhere. Also, leverage your offline promotions to complement what you're doing online. For example, list your Yelp page on your business card and encourage customers to go there to let you know how you're doing."
Lighten up. "Some people are so intense about their brand, but it shouldn't be a struggle," Van de Wiel says. "We like people who are friendly and relaxed. So have fun." --J.A.
Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.