Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Building Brands in Cyberspace
By Liz Montalbano http://www.phoneplusmag.com

In cyberspace, marketing is more than just finding a catchy way to get the masses to buy a product. There are myriad factors a brand considers when jockeying for position in a competitive industry--among them the speed of the Internet, the sheer number of users online at any given time and the relative inexpensiveness of creating a website.

To say traditional, offline branding tactics--such as TV advertising's demographic targeting--don't necessarily translate well online and that companies, especially in a heated market such as telecom, must find new ways to reach and retain customers might be stating the obvious. But, according to Rob Frankel, president of robfrankel.com, a Los Angeles-based brand consulting firm, it's surprising how little so-called marketing experts know about the Internet.

"The web is confusing to a lot of people because it appears as if the web is a mass medium, but it really isn't--it's one of the most one-to-one media in the world," Frankel says. "But a lot of these guys don't get it--and we're talking major ad agencies because that's where I come from, I know how little they know. These are guys who really don't understand the whole culture and the dynamics of how the web works."

For Frankel, branding--especially cyberbranding--isn't about being a better solution for a prospective customer than the next guy, it's about being the only solution. He says this philosophy is applicable to both offline and online branding, but it's particularly important on the Internet, where there are a wider variety of options that can be accessed quite easily by the click of a mouse.

Therefore, Frankel says, it's absolutely essential to have a website--among other things--that reflects a strong company identity. "Everything flows from ad brand," he says. "So you have to first decide what is your very, very strong brand, and then you let that stuff flow through the way you do your business on the web, the way that you advertise, the way that your offline operations work even down to the way that you answer your phone."

So although cyberbranding and offline branding aren't exactly apples and oranges, they don't grow on the same tree, either. There are particulars that should be considered carefully when attempting to create a credible brand--or maintain an existing one--online. Attention to a few details can save time, money and headaches, not to mention achieve the goal of a strong brand and customer loyalty.

Psychographics vs. Demographics

If the branding philosophy Frankel espouses were a religion, this would be the first commandment: Use psychographics more than demographics.

"Psychographics has much more to do with people's likes, attitudes, inclinations," Frankel explains. "In traditional offline mass media ... demographics will work OK. [But] the web is completely flipped. If you're a smart buyer, you're buying off of psychographics, not demographics."

Frankel admits using demographics on the web should not be discounted totally, but the technique should not be relied on as heavily as it is in offline branding. This is one reason, he says, that the banner ads that have popped up all over the web in recent years aren't working anymore.

"Let's be real accurate and say [demographics] takes a backseat to psychographics because demographics do count. [But] the biggest problem we have today on the web is a bunch of offline media knuckleheads from traditional ad agencies who think that it is just ports," he protests.

"They think: 'OK, well this site is getting a half a million hits a day, so we'll just put this banner ad up here and just like a TV commercial--it's getting half a million viewers for this half-hour, so we'll play the numbers and a couple of percentage of them are going to drop in and we'll make a sale.' That's a big myth."

The truth is it's easier to target people's likes and dislikes via the Internet, and also easier for cybersurfers to click to something else if they don't like what they see. If entrepreneurs aren't crazy about the long distance service they are using, they may go surfing for interexchange carrier (IXC) websites. When they do, it's a given that there will be more than one IXC website to choose from. If the first site they find doesn't immediately capture their interest, they can visit another with little more than a finger twitch.

Differences Between Offline and Online Branding

Description

Offline

Online

Ability to instantly add value to a brand No Yes
Ability to instantly deliver added value to prospect No Yes
Quickly expand awareness/distribution with programs (affiliates) No Yes
Requires large budget to raise awareness Yes No
Instantly transports prospects to point of purchase No Yes
"Word-of-mouth" rate of travel/market-reaction time Slow Fast
All phases of branding 100-percent multimedia compatible No Yes
Response based on individual prospects' lifestyle No Yes
Communally-based No Yes
Ability to co-brand Slow/difficult Fast/easy

Source: Rob Frankel, robfrankel.com, Los Angeles

This is why Mark Bauman, director, brand group for Sprint Corp., believes companies must create a more interactive way to attract customers. He says the interactive nature of the Internet "makes it a better choice as far as getting people's interests."

"When it comes down to banner ads, I think that most of the advertisers are finding that while they had more success early on, a simple banner ad these days, which is not interactive or does not have some interesting element to it, is really losing its effectiveness," Bauman says. "I don't think that in the end that people are going to think of ads on the web as branding anymore."

User-Friendly

Though banner ads may draw a potential customer to a website--even if it's just out of curiosity--if the next screen isn't user-friendly, the user may suddenly develop the attention span of a 3-year-old and move on to what he or she was looking for in the first place.

The same is true for websites that offer little more than eye candy. That's why Bauman and other brand developers at Sprint have taken into consideration the complexities of branding on the web in the development of a recently launched site www.sprintpcs.com. Practicing what Bauman preaches, Sprint has made the site interactive, enabling customers of Sprint PCS (personal communications service) to enter a personal identification number (PIN) to monitor their minutes of usage and view the accessories of their phone. An online marketplace for Sprint products and bill payment and presentment also is in the works for the site.

This is where a telco's value-added web services make their entrance. Since it's quite difficult in the competitive telecom industry to promote a company as the only solution for a customer who wants telecommunications services, carriers must distinguish themselves by what they can offer a customer online. Providing bill payment and presentment, account status and e-commerce for customers via a company's website is another aspect of taking the brand to the web that's becoming essential to give carriers a leg up on the competition.

Increasingly, users expect websites to be commerce-ready. And in telecom, the ability for customers to handle their billing, particularly troubleshooting, online is much more efficient than sitting at the end of a phone listening to music while waiting for a customer service representative (CSR) to handle a call.

As Bauman says, "You'd much rather be able to look at your bill, perhaps highlight a section of the bill, attach a note to it and send it to customer service asking them to look into this charge and get back to you via e-mail. You don't spend any time on hold, and it can be taken by the customer service reps without you having to waste any time on it."

Ease-of-use and value-add also are factors the No. 1 long distance carrier is concerned with on its website, and developers considered customer feedback--something that isn't as easy to gauge in offline branding as it is through the Internet--in constructing the site. When AT&T Corp. redesigned www.att.com in July 1998, according to Marlene Beeler, vice president of AT&T Interactive Group, making the site user-friendly was one of the motivating factors in the redesign.

"What our customers are telling us is: 'Make it simple,'" she says. "We're finding that the whole customer experience end to end is really, really key. It really comes down to: Make it easy, make it simple and let me get to what I need to do and provide me with the functionality so that I can do it."

Beeler says AT&T achieved this by taking a corporate site that had focused on information, and added more customer service-oriented features, such as bill presentment and payment, the ability to sign up for One-Rate Online long distance service and product catalogs.

"Before it truly was focused at press releases and investors and potential investors, and it wasn't focused at customers and customers of certain products--whether you're talking business side or consumer side--and giving them a capability that they want to do self-servicing," Beeler says of the site before the overhaul. "But now ... for that community of folks that want to do business with us [online], we now have the opportunity and capabilities for them to do business with us that way and before we didn't. It was always a phone call, it was always a paper bill, you always had to call someone."

Great Equalizer

In the long distance markets, Sprint and AT&T have ubiquitous brands. But if there was any way a new company could challenge them, it would be over the 'Net.

"The web is as level a playing field as you're going to get," Frankel says.

The great equalizer is the ability for anyone with dial-up access and an Internet account to build a website, explains Dennis Rainer, principal for Bizword (formerly Name-design), a San Jose, Calif.-based branding firm.

He likens the Internet to another technology breakthrough of yesteryear, the laser printer. "Before the laser printer came out and you got a letter from someone, you could tell whether it was a big company or a small company," Rainer says. "Once the laser printer came out ... you couldn't tell [because] it gave everyone the nice-looking font. On the face of the materials people received, companies were perceived as equal.

"The same thing [is true of] the Internet--if you have a really nicely designed website, ... it's hard to tell how big someone is or how long they've been around without getting any [outside] information. I think it levels the playing field."

Frankel concurs, saying, "You really find that if you have a cheap PC (personal computer), flat-fee access and an online account, all you really need is a good strong brand and you really, truly are in business."

Liz Montalbano is copy editor for PHONE+ magazine.

Copyright © 1999 by Virgo Publishing, Inc

 
 
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