E-branding could be seen as an extended part of general brand management with some extended characteristics typical to online environment. Therefore, what we know about brand management is also applicable in e-branding, with the difference that the modus operandi, situational factors and customers’ issues could be different. Based on past research and consumer experiences, there could be three key challenges that we need to face when managing e-branding efforts. These are: managing off-line branding, managing online reputation (consists of managing online community, word of “mouse”, and online credibility), and adoption of technology and design. In fact, these three factors are critically interconnected to each other.
First, we often forget the fact that offline branding acts as a backbone for online branding. It matters a lot how offline advertising, pricing and distribution are designed for efficiency. It matters how the product delivers its promise to actual customers to create an offline reputation that will ultimately be reflected in online messages. Think of Apple. Its online reputation is backed by its core product features and offline services.
Second, managing online reputation is a huge challenge. Consumers may have some negative experiences which can have quick and devastating effects on potential customers, even though the percentage of faults may be meager. It matters how quickly the complaints and redress requests are taken care of. Trust is another factor in online environment. Customers need to know that their personal information, including credit cards will not be abused. Flood of spam emails after buying something online may indicate that the company has sold your email address to advertisers, of course, with your inadvertent consent written under “agree” button in fine prints that we hardly read. How careful is the company in sending a quality product, on time, and as advertised in their websites?
Online community is another front that company should take care of. Product enthusiasts write blogs, comment on facebook, or even write opinions in company’s facebook page. The e-branding plan must spell a clear strategy on how these online communities will be managed and engaged effectively. Well-managed and engaged online communities offer three unique advantages to companies. These online forums provide valuable feedback on customer experience, brilliant improvement ideas may come from customers, and customers often help other customers to solve product related problems. Canon camera blogs could be excellent examples where users provide help to other users in their product/photography problems. Some brands tend to have only online presence and almost no consumer engagement (look at the facebook page of Batabd). Mere online presence and no interaction with consumers are synonymous to online notice boards! This is not what e-branding is all about. In contrast, the facebook page of Banglalink Mela could be a good engaging example. Ultimately, employing PR professionals in handling online communities may save money and reputation for the company in the long-run. This is not an easy or trifle job that a company may overlook, underemphasize or underfund.
Third, the technical backbone, particularly security and user-friendly web-design have great impact on online branding. Is your infrastructure geared to handle the peak number of visitors? How secure is it from online threats and information leaks? Do customers feel comfortable to navigate and get all the information they need? In addition, the online environment neither has a front-desk executive, nor any sales person that approaches you for a sale. The web-design serves these difficult roles at the same time! A well-thought-out design is imperative besides offline branding and a vibrant online community.
These challenges are not easy to handle at the same time, when they are blurred by many smaller challenges as well. These tasks cannot be handled by only IT professionals or brand professionals alone. It needs cohesive and comprehensive teamwork under a common e-branding plan. After all, putting up a facebook page like a notice-board is not e-branding.