Businesses are starting to figure out how to leverage the power of the internet to further their brand and maximize profits. From the brick-n-mortar stores to online only enterprises to the “brick-n-click” (those businesses who employ both strategies equally). But there are still many more who really haven’t figured out how to utilize the internet to their best benefit, let alone adding the dizzying world of social media to complicate things. How can you build a brand online? Should you? When shouldn’t you? Here’s one way to look at how to look at the internet to help you develop a strategy to building your brand online and off.
Businesses must determine if the internet is a business or a media channel. Each business is unique and must make their own determination. By knowing which is which, a company can then decide the right strategy in incorporating the internet into their overall marketing plans. By knowing which you are, you can then build your brand in both the online and real world appropriately.
The internet as a business – The internet is a business if the vast majority of how you make money is from online transactions. In simple terms, without the internet, it will be very difficult for you to make money. Think Google, Priceline, and Groupon. Building a brand online is extremely critical to the success of the “internet as business” company. You can’t treat the internet as just another marketing channel. Everything a company does must be in alignment to attracting the right prospects and getting online sales. This is the pin-point focus of this application of the internet. In building an online brand, PR creates the brand and advertising sustains it. This makes sense because social media and the social aspect of the internet is more like PR than advertising. To me social media is just the electronic version of traditional PR.
The internet as a medium – If your brand lives in the physical world, then the internet is best used as a media channel. Your brand and it’s success doesn’t depend on the online world. Coke’s brand lives in the brick-n-mortar stores. The online world doesn’t have much power in driving massive direct sales. Best Buys, Nordstroms, and Starbucks are all physical brands who leverages the internet as a media channel, not as a business. The approach is different than the internet as business model. The internet and all of it’s tools and advantages are best used to further a personality for the company. It is ideally suited to putting a human face on an otherwise non-human corporation. The internet as medium is a way to share stories and forge deeper connections with your customers by having two-way conversations and giving them tools to help make their lives a little easier, cooler, more exciting. In this scenario, advertising creates and sustains a brand while PR helps in creating strategic short-term spikes.
If a business can clearly define which of the two the internet applies to them, they can then leverage the internet and it’s power to the fullest. It’s a big waste of money and time to try to use the internet as a media channel if it is your business. Amazon would not be nearly as successful if it treated the internet as a media channel focusing on creating cool online applications and promotions instead of creating great customer experiences that drive sales. It’s also equally wrong to leverage the internet as a business when your brand equity is in the physical world. Nike’s brand lives in the physical world. They aren’t a brand that will dominate the internet because they aren’t an online business.