Your Website is Your Brand — What is it Saying About You?
I had a meeting at my alma mater recently, where admissions professionals were discussing their amazement at the number of students at orientation who had never been on campus before enrolling.
No school visit during application season. No campus tour. In fact, the first interaction with the university for many students didn’t come until they applied.
These students found the school through Google, through services like the College Network, through university directories. They discovered the school online and explored the website and decided either to apply or not apply based on that website. There was no engagement with live people, there was no opportunity to try to sell them; there was nothing the school could have done to secure an application except have a good website.
And this is increasingly the norm. Not just for higher education, but for many industries. If you are a small business, if you are any business really, save a Nike or a McDonald’s with hundreds of millions of dollars for advertising, your website is most likely your audience’s first exposure to your brand. Your website therefore IS your brand.
Does it fully represent the image you want your company to portray? Do the colors and the font and the language present the same feel and personality of your advertising and how you interact with customers directly?
It should. The hours you spend training your staff on how to engage with current and prospective customers, the nights you obsess over the placement of punctuation in your billboard ads — that means nothing if your website doesn’t have the same care and attention, the same polish; if it doesn’t convey the same feel. Potential customers are finding you on your website, so you better make sure it’s a pleasant discovery.
What does your brand-building website need to be?
Don’t think you can spend the bulk of your marketing budget on advertising and videos and other outreach tactics, and then get by with a $5,000 website. Just because your neighbor’s son knows how to set up a blog doesn’t mean he should build the single most important marketing tool in your belt. Your website sets the tone for your brand, so it better be polished, professional, and extremely well built.
It’s true that you could take an existing website template with a selection of colors that comes closest to matching yours and float your text and logo onto the pre-built pages. And that would be like buying a knockoff Coach bag from someone on the street. People are learning about your company from your website — do you really want to trust the quality of their experience to a ready-made template? Let artists render the vision of your brand onto a beautiful website that makes a statement with its presence.
Perhaps even more important than how it looks is how it works, and that doesn’t just mean whether clicking a link actually takes a user to the intended destination. Solid functionality means your website is structurally set up to accomplish your goals. Does the format and organization lead visitors to your contact form, or to sign up for your newsletter, or to perform whatever action it is you want them to do? Web designers and developers are trained in putting the various pieces together in such a way that drive action. When it comes to something this important, trust the experts.
Your website should feel like every other part of your brand. Is your personality playful? Your website should be, too. Is your organization serious and prestigious? Make sure your website has equal gravitas. This can happen through colors, imagery, copy — a great deal goes into it, but the bottom line is that the tone of your company must be matched by the tone of your website. This is about the full experience — your brand can’t have split personalities.
The importance of a quality website cannot be overstated. Your advertisements direct users to your site. Your customer service probably directs users to your site. When potential customers start their search on Google they come across your site. And at that point, your website is all they know about you. Whether they consider purchasing what you offer then comes down entirely to how your website makes them feel. With that significant a role in your sales efforts, your site better be professional, beautiful, functional, and capture the essence of your company brand. If not, your competitor is just two mouse clicks or finger taps away.