We live in a time where the illusion of success on the internet is easy to achieve.
You can buy followers, spend an afternoon cat-fishing without leaving dry land, and build a retail business without a single brick or sack of mortar. But in cases of the latter, what does need to get built, is a brand.
How the Digital Age Redefines Good Branding
We’re all searching for authenticity in the content & products we consume. And whether you’re setting up a dating profile or crafting a DNVB*, remaining true to your brand at every touchpoint is paramount to a good experience for the person on the other end of the screen.
*Woaaah did you catch that new buzzword I just used? Dee En Vee Bee. It stands for Digitally Native Vertical Brand (also known as a v-commerce brand) and means exactly what you might assume. It is a brand that begins online that may, or may not, grow into a physical location. Its digital existence eliminates the preliminary risk and loss that the “old school” startup had to undergo. Because the barrier to entry is so low, entrepreneurs everywhere are sprinting to try their hand at success. That means it’s time to begin viewing branding as the holistic, immersive experience that it is if you want any shot at differentiating your brand against the crowd.
There is a reason that Warby Parker, Casper and Bonobos are at the top of your client’s list for inspiration.
Let’s make something clear — real success in this industry (not the on-screen illusion mentioned earlier) will never be achieved without that fire-under-your-ass, authentic-as-hell, passion project of a brand to perpetuate its survival. There is a reason that Warby Parker, Casper and Bonobos are at the top of your client’s list for inspiration.
Differentiating Your Brand
Investing in great branding means more than just paying someone for a logo and some colors that pop. Every touch point needs to wrap you in a consistent look and feel that gives you the comfort and trust you’re used to from brands that regularly win your allegiance. Users identify value based on look and feel of the site and apply that directly to the product being sold. They don’t even know they’re doing it!
Lucky for our UX designers, strategists, and eCommerce teams, this implicit bias is something we can harness to improve the presence and consumption of the brand. The key is to make the website an extension of the brand in such a way that the user feels they have had the experience of walking through a well designed store or chatted with a sales associate. It’s the sounds, it’s the colors, it’s the tone of voice, it’s the imagery.
Here are four tips to enhance the branding on your website for UX & eCommerce teams:
1) Establish strict guidelines
Consistency is crucial when it comes to developing great branding. You wouldn’t trust a coffee shop that served different quality cups of joe depending on the day of the week. And you certainly wouldn’t stick around to work in one that played a mix of heavy metal and classical on shuffle either. Similarly, a brand without consistency loses trust and respect. Don’t mistake guidelines as a deterrence to innovate, but remember you have an identity to maintain
Developing Your Guidelines for Web
Ideally, you have brand guidelines created by a branding agency. At the minimum these should include colors and type styles for web & print, image styles, samples of brand voice, logo usage, and the brand mission statement. If you’re on the services or agency side of things, you will need to develop these one step further to create a UI kit following web best practices, but be careful not to stray too far. Even if you don’t love the guidelines you’ve been given, implementing subtle changes to them over time will lead to more success than the jarring introduction of a new font or color on the site that begins to weaken the brand’s credibility. Full redesigns are the preferred process when the brand guidelines are calling for a face lift but it can be done iteratively as well with carefully applied strategy.
If you don’t have brand guidelines to work with (and if it’s clear you won’t be getting any), it’s time to pull some together from the various touch-points that exist to determine the rules of the brand’s online presence. You’ll want to consider the existing packaging, digital and print ads, email campaigns, informational flyers & brochures, etc. Be adamant about getting samples of all of this. Understanding how the brand looks and feels in your hands is going to help you mimic that feeling on screen.
2) Fill the nooks and crannies with intention
Great branding is found between the lines. It should be oozing out of all corners of the website, so attention to detail is key. What’s the 404 page look like? Does the brand call for warm tones of grey and black to feel homey, or cooler tones to feel more clinical? Does the cart icon match the brand’s other iconography in both stroke weight and style?
Don’t overlook the microcopy & microinteractions that help guide or follow actions the user takes. For instance, consider a scenario where “Nicely Done!” bounces into view upon adding an item to cart, or the ‘Log In’ button shakes and is accompanied by a friendly error message telling the user specifically what they did wrong so they can proceed. Define the style & personality of motion when it occurs (are animations fast and sharp or soft and floaty)? Take any opportunity you can to make the details special and you will make it feel like home.
3) Become a master impressionist
Know your brand’s voice & personality. You need to be able to embody it as if you do impressions for a living. Whether or not you boast copywriting skills on your resume, there’s opportunity for you to be the guardian of the digital tone. Suggest new copy with branded personality if you can, or spot the cheesy headline that doesn’t belong and fight to change it.
Beyond words, how is the brand communicating the rest of its values and differentiators? Consider recurring promotions, charity donations, the models used in photography, etc. While skimming for these and other details, put yourself in the right mindset by playing music that a brand persona might listen to. Be a nerd about how thoroughly you embody the brand and your attention to detail will show with a lustworthy je ne sais quoi.
4) Always always always, remain authentic
I’ve saved the best and most tricky for last. Sorry y’all — authenticity is not something you can pull out of your ass. But that’s what makes it so desirable.
First, users lose interest in a brand with no story. They want to know how or why it got started and they want to LOVE the people behind it. The “About” shouldn’t be at the top of your hierarchy but it needs to be easily discoverable information. If you’re going to fake this part, please refer to tips 1–3 so your dirty little secret stays safe. There’s nothing worse than finding out Santa Claus isn’t real.
Second, authenticity often falls victim to too many cooks in the kitchen. Learn to assess when your team is spinning its wheels and help bring clarity. Conversely, don’t be a blocker yourself. Your focus should be on growing this passion project — it’s not about inserting personal voice — it’s about protecting the voice and vision of the brand.
There you have it friends!
With these four tips, your team can better recognize the thoughtfully executed details that exist in the brands you favor and are armed to develop your brands into full blown experiences. It’s time to get to work.