Designing for Your Customers – 2 Very Contrasting Brands

Take a step back and look at your website – how well does it reflect your brand?

There are many good examples of brands that translate their brand experience through to their website. And there are also a few examples of websites which are not pleasing to the eye and from the outside look a bit of a mess – that do bring their brand to life.

Let’s start off with a company that do a great job of communicating their brand through their website.

John Lewis is a British department store steeped in customer centricity and quality. You know when you’re in a John Lewis store. The clean and crisp feel of the store as you walk around, helpful, friendly staff and a wide range of quality products. Not the most affordable place but also not the most expensive. John Lewis has big brand advocacy with a loyal following, because they know John Lewis won’t let them down.

How do you translate this online? A clean and visually appealing website. Ease of navigation and simple but effective design. A friendly, helpful tone throughout the website and email. Features and functionality that improve the experience: easy to use faceted navigation for example. (go take a look for yourself)

Many internet marketers use John Lewis as benchmark for site design and usability, and rightly so. But what if your brand is a tad bit different? I mean, what if your ‘brand’ is the exact opposite? Eccentric, chaotic, wild, buzzing, non orthadox?

But my site is different!

So onto another site which does a great job of communicating its brand through its website. When I first saw the site I was appalled. I felt I’d been warped back to 1996 with crazy fonts and graphics. I felt completely lost on the site. I laughed and used the site as an example of not just bad website design and usability, but prohibited design and usability practice! A good example of how NOT to design a website.

Now let me tell you something about this site. It churns ¬£millions a year (2005 figures – ¬£10m+ in revenue). It too has a loyal following. Customers use it for some big ticket commitments. They like the humour across the site, but more importantly understand the honesty that LingsCars brings out through the humour. The site translates the business owners brand better than any web agency could have come up with. It’s brash, messy, confusing etc and did I mention I don’t like it?

How many colours can you spot?


It appeals to its customers, it amuses, uses good persuasion techniques and is highly successful. Could it be improved? Indeed. But the art of Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO as commonly referenced, is not just about what looks good, it goes deeper than that. Understand who you’re selling to. Do they expect a John Lewis site experience on Lings Cars? If a clean and simple layout worked for everyone surely websites would look more uniform. They don’t. And I will again stress that I don’t like the user experience on LingsCars however what I do back is designing a website experience that is right for your customer.

Here’s a quote I found online from Ling herself: “Really, living in my web page means that when someone logs on, they are visiting my home. They really can have lunch, order a coffee and have a chat with me, wander around or relax, or just look at my car deals. I can’t find another business that has the same attitude about their web page; most are decided in a boardroom or committee. My web space really represents… me”.

How refreshing is that? The challenge for any big or medium-sized corporation is in pleasing those many stakeholders that have strong opinions on how the website should look and should be run. The bigger challenge is in giving control to those that are closest to your customers and to those that really know how a website should be run.



Online Branding & eMarketing Techniques

I’ve spoken to a number of leading companies in the ecommerce arena recently including retail, advertising, investment and travel. Most of the brands, which will go unnamed for reasons of trust and confidentiality, have a strong traditional ‘offline’ brand, well known as being leaders in their industry. However, they share 1 commonality – using their brand strength to drive online revenue, without too much focus on recreating the core brand messaging online.

What’s wrong with this if your company has continued to grow from strength to strength since early 2000? The problem is both of market saturation and losing out to your competitors. Using the stronghold that your brand has on a particular sector to drive online sales, will eventually mean you are losing out on a chunk of online sales of customers that do not know your brand well enough.

A true multi-channel sales approach considers online as more than an end-point and instead uses emarketing as an integral part of your marketing strategy. Consider direct mail; how many of your direct mail customers also receive the same marketing message via email? Which one do you consider most valuable? The DM piece that lands on their doorstep for immediate attention? The email that can be fully tracked from opening to clickthrough? How about using both mediums in tandem, holding back on emailing those that have received DM with a follow up email if they’ve not responded within a certain amount of time? Or perhaps you want to reduce print and distribution costs and encourage more customers to use their emails?

The key here is to think about your website as complimentary to traditonal marketing tools.

So how does this relate to online branding? What I’ve found time and time again is that brands are reaching a point now where they’re finding it difficult to continually grow the online channel, with 2 key elements missing from their websites; brand proposition and user experience.

Brand proposition is the portrayal of your core brand values; who are you? What do you do? Why should I buy from you? Why should I choose you over a competitor? How much? What’s in it for me? Etc etc

With brands driving traffic online through traditional marketing channels and seeing a heavy bias towards brand searches online, they’re not increasing their visibility online and not converting ‘brand virgins’ with their ‘buy from us if you want’ mentality. Sorry guys, this won’t cut the mustard too well these days, in a world of millions of choices and websites. Today, you need to maximise potential conversion of every visitor to your website to stand out against the competition.

User Experience covers your brand, product, marketing, pricing, competition and of course the look and feel of your website, ease of task completion and cohesion of each page to delivering a sale or lead. So much to cover, just where do you start?

You know your brand proposition right? You know your product(s) and you have a website. That’s a great place to start. Next, put yourself into the shoes of your customer and look at the various marketing messages you throw at, sorry deliver to your customers. Does online and offline carry a unified message? Do the designs and branding at least look like they’re from the same company? The place to start is to see things from the perspective of a new customer. Do you ‘get’ the brand and would you have enough information to at least visit the website?

Marketing material is as much a hook into your website as it is a communication channel. That’s why the user experience spans each customer touchpoint before you even consider how well your web delivers the user experience.

There are lots of optimisation techniques to hook potential customers in, but i’l leave that for another article. The next stage is how to give the customer what they want when they visit your website. Now worth pointing out is to appreciate and understand 2 things.

1) your customers expect to be able to find what they want quickly. They are the most important person on your website at that moment in time.

2) your customers don’t always know what they want!

Kinda tough to please everyone? Using a basic understanding of the hunter, tracker, explorer model of user journeys, you should at least cover off 80% of you user’s needs. For the other 20% ensure they can call or email you with ease.

Landing page optimisation is also in itself a key area of study, with numerous techniques and tools at your disposal. However, don’t rely on a one-size fits all design and consider instead at the very least, creating 2 landing pages for your marketing; for new and for repeat visitors. Their likely needs will vary with a number of areas of crossover.

Note: whilst this may not be the case for all businesses, invariably customers do not always type forward slash web addresses in. They simply go directly to the homepage. So if your DM campaign directs people to a dedicated microsite, you may be missing a trick if it is not also accessible via the homepage (an obvious challenge for below the line marketing).

Considering you have created 2 basic journeys into your website, again ask yourself whether you really fulfill the majority of customer needs. This is where an internal brainstorm with your brand/product team or external focus group with potential customers can really make a difference in uncovering hidden gems.

Creating a compelling brand journey doesn’t require a completely new approach to the layout of your website. Instead, incorporating existing collatorol into your key product and sales pages can in itself make a huge difference.

The point I wish to stress is to assume nothing. Once you crack it, your website will not only serve as a fully functional tool for those that already know your brand, but will also become a central platform in driving new business through your brand marketing.

What brand marketing challenges do you face? Get in touch for some advice or feedback.