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The Net's Next Generation

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The 20th century brought Cyber brands with the first generation of Net brands. What does it take to build a Cyber brand in the 21st century? Find out in this excerpt from Deirdre Breakenridge's Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the 21st Century

The 20th Century brought Cyber brands to life with the first generation of Internet brands leaving a trail of blazing saddles. Then, at the turn of the 21st Century, the vast frontier opened its gates for the new comers (enter the second generation), the e-brands and clicks and mortars that felt the incessant need to rush to meet the requirements of the world’s fastest communication channel. This generation faced the most criticism and saw its share of trials and tribulations. As predicted by the analysts, it was confirmed that as of November 2000, at least 130 dot-com companies had closed their virtual doors. The downsizing continues and there’s an ominous uncertainty in the air. Even the e-brands that were once praised by investors and executives for their new business models “met their makers.” Judgment Day and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Ernest Hemingway must have had a premonition) are commonplace phrases in the year 2000 shakeout. Marketing professionals and investors are only left with the questions regarding the crash and burn syndrome, and accountability for the Net’s next generation of hopeful Cyber brands.

There’s speculation about the third generation of Cyber brands. Will these brands be the winners who capture audiences, both business and consumer, and have arms and infrastructure that extend beyond the Internet? The best brands, world renowned, have stood the test of time. These are the brands, in our history, that have been nurtured, supported, communicated effectively, and have adapted over time to societal and technological changes. In 100 years from now, Coke, Pepsi, Heinz, Campbell’s, Nike, and many other well-known brands, will still capture a remembered feeling or positive experience (whatever the brand means to the user). These brands are more than monikers. They have a place and a stronghold in the consumer’s mind and heart. They have climbed mountains and faced head-on challenges. And, if Yahoo!, Amazon, MSN, AOL and e-Bay continue to brand with the constant speed and strategy that has been exhibited so far, 100 years from now, they too will maintain their powerful brand presences. Cyber brands continue to forge ahead in the new economy despite the overwhelming number of tribulations. Many companies in the year 2000 faced a harsh reality. The weeding process of the Cyber brand losers was fast and furious, and even shocking in some cases (Priceline.com for gas and groceries, Furniture.com, and Pets.com, to name a few). However, with every downfall, there is newfound knowledge to educate the successors, hence the third generation. There is a great deal to learn from the companies that have downsized drastically and/or have recently closed their doors. A few of the key issues plaguing many (the less than sound Cyber decisions in the year 2000), with respect to branding on the Internet are the following:

  • Many Cyber brand visions fell short from the onset, and the success of the brand relies upon living up to what is promised in terms of the technology offered, as well as the timeframe set forth.

  • A promise in Cyber space, like any other promise, must be fulfilled. If a Cyber brand says it will deliver products, services, entertainment, etc., then it had better well do so. Too many Cyber brands make the promise and then fall short in the delivery department, disappointing audiences that will never return to that Web site again.

  • Cyber brand visions that are not backed by organizations, and do not have strong upper management support every step of the way, do not meet Cyber brand goals.

  • Cyber brands that have no more than a static presence will not be the brands that keep an audience interested and stand the test time. In fact, a brand’s existence online focuses mainly on heightened experience, everything and more that’s expected from the brand in a much quicker timeframe.

  • The audience has an instrumental part in deciding a brand’s fate. Even if an audience grants initial permission for the Cyber brand's presence, if that audience is not satisfied with experiencing the brand online, the brand (as an e-brand or click and mortar) is marred.

  • Unrealistic goals for the Cyber brand lead to cash burning strategies, and, ultimately, do not address the “here and now issues” of technology and how to meet and exceed audience expectations.

  • Neglecting to put a continued emphasis on research, planning, strategizing, and troubleshooting from the onset will surely get the Cyber brand off to a less than desirable start (from both a branding and business perspective).

  • Technology and tradition need to come together – brick and mortar brands must step up to the technology of the times and e-brands with Internet savvy need better infrastructure or roots that stem beyond the Internet (a good solid traditional leg to stand on).

The strength of the brand together with technology has the potential to produce the “Optimum Cyber Brand.” Brand builders in the digital economy must strive for two types of optimum Cyber brands. The first optimum brand is the one that recognizes its traditional roots and can change with technology to develop a strong Cyber counterpart – one that enhances overall brand value. The second type of optimum brand relates to the new dot-com start-up that quickly incorporates several traditional, offline, branding strategies (and builds infrastructure) along with Cyber strategies to have an existence that extends beyond the Internet.

Moving forward on the Internet also means focusing on targeted issues that concern Cyber brands. After concentrating on the many issues related to launching the Internet brand, the success stories discussed in years to come will be from the Cyber brands that realize the following:

  • Attractive design, relevant content and ease of navigation all play a part in the Cyber branding equation. The Cyber brand has one opportunity to provide the user with an engaging experience. These elements enhance the experience and make users want to return to a site again and again.

  • Audiences are not impressed with a site that spurs them off in too many directions or takes too long to find what they need. Online audiences are easily frustrated by too many clicks in the online process. In addition, long download time (from heavy graphics or even poor Internet connections) will send the user scurrying to a competitor’s site.

  • Personalization matters as branders learn that the Internet is not a mass “anything.” Online audiences want everything from simple personalization to customization. As a matter of fact, the Internet is customer orientated and branders need to fixate their strategies on how to build better relationships with customers through the use of Internet technology. Technology allows the Cyber brand to know more than the person’s name when the person returns to a site – the Cyber brand has the ability to know return visitors' preferences and is able to make recommendations. In essence, personalization builds the relationship and thanks the audience for loyalty.

  • The Web also spells out instant communication and rewards. Thus, audiences expect instantaneous service and results – anything less is substandard and is not acceptable in “Internet time.”

  • Online audiences will not be forced to do anything on the Internet – they are in control of the territory they roam. Trying to “Spam” people will not get their attention or cause them to act favorably – only react unfavorably toward the brand.

  • Viral marketing has proved to be a valuable strategy. Just like word of mouth, one of the oldest traditional strategies, consumers trust the word of a friend, relative or colleague over any other type of endorsement.

  • Privacy and security issues are a growing concern and Cyber brands that collect marketing data must also respect an audience’s concerns about the use of that data. Confidence, trust and earned respect on the part of the audience are tremendous considerations – a relationship the brand works diligently to create.

Historians rely on the past and how the past dictates the future, but that is not to say that from this brief historical period in the 21st Century, that every Cyber brand will crash and burn. Each new invention has its casualties and its success stories to shout from the rooftops. This is only the beginning of the Internet. A crystal ball prediction reveals the Internet has the ability to be present in every space occupied by members of an audience – in their homes and work environments, when they are traveling by car, plane or train, or simply when they are at play. It’s exciting to know that companies, such as Microsoft, are currently developing technologies for computing and Internet capabilities from anywhere in and around a person’s home. The ability to connect to the Internet from a telephone, entertainment appliance or kitchen appliance for that matter, will be just as common as reaching the Internet from a PC or handheld device. However, as the frontier gets wider, the size of the frontier is proportionate to the extent of the growing challenges, which need to be addressed continually to secure the long and healthy life of the brand online.

Someday, an Internet museum of the future will proudly display the best online products, and services that the world has to offer. Who do you think will be displayed and what will be attributed to their success? The “Cyber Hall of Famers” will be the brands that (1) rely on the strength of branding and harness the power of the Internet, (2) address and tackle the branding issues that exist in Cyber space, and (3) combine the proper management of technology with a keen sense of how to take a brand message to new interactive levels to fulfill a brand promise. The Internet, hands down and without question, has the capability to impact an audience that not only enjoys its convenience, but also looks to it on a daily basis to quickly fulfill needs. Users are thrilled at the ability to see, feel, experience, and interact with their favorite brands at any given time, at the speed of light. As a result, there is an even greater need to address branding issues on the World Wide Web. The careful consideration of the Cyber brand and the strategies to tackle branding issues are an ongoing practice. By now we know, that all of the hopeful Cyber brands of the third generation are confronted with similar risks and challenges. This will not change. There will always be that rushed feeling with respect to speed to market, tackling the changing competitive landscapes, overcoming technological issues, and meeting the new demands of online audiences. But, the overwhelming pressure for this generation will be that of the need to maintain a strong Cyber presence as increasing numbers of consumers continue to embrace Internet technology.

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