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"Branding" is the process by which a company employs marketing strategies to get people to easily remember their business and products over anothers...essentially, it's applied psychology.
As a child, I was introduced to a relatively new hamburger chain that had begun in Australia. I still visit that burger chain regularly 25 years later. Not a lot has changed over those years in regards to this particular company and I guess that's one of the reasons that I am still a customer. I know each time I walk into that establishment what I am going to have, where everything is and God help them if they ever remove the item from the menu! Even if they radically changed the decor, it would make me nervous. Many millions of people around the world would feel the same......
One of our countries major supermarkets has a habit of occasionally moving products around in their stores. It works well for them as it increases sales. Customers who usually seek out particular products are exposed to other items as they hunt for their favourites. It is a highly annoying tactic and only works in this situation because the supermarket is very competitive in pricing and range of products. People are not so patient on web sites and continiously moving items around on your site will see you losing traffic....nothing surer.
After having worked in management of another major fast food chain outlet, I learned that once a company has established a presence and become successful, any changes to operation must be carried out extremely carefully. Our patrons became very attuned to the company, they were essentially a part of it. Their perceptions and opinions needed to be taken into account every step of the way, and not just in regards to the products.
We have succumbed to the branding experience..... it makes us feel "safe"
Branding isn't just about logos, it's the entire "feel" associated with a company. In these days of bleeding edge technology and rapid change, people still enjoy going to places that follow a pattern of operation. This very much applies to our websites. Your logo should appear on every page, your domain name and one line blurb contained in every email, your theme consistent throughout your site. Granted, quality content is king, but it's important that visitors remember where the content came from. Branding establishes recall abilities of your site.
Recently, I decided that I was going to change the colour schemes on my site due to the research that I had carried out on the psychology of colour. Many articles I had studied suggested that black was not really appropriate for a site about web design. After discussing the plans with a few regular visitors, I was surprised by the response. The feedback was for me not to change the colour in any way. Even those people who did not feel that black was appropriate considering the nature of site did not want me to change it. They were "used" to it. It was a constant on the site, the same as the logo placement and general navigation structure. So it is all staying. My plans were to make the site look more in tune with other very successful web presences that focus on web design. What was I thinking!?!?!?
Branding is not only about constants, but individuality..........
If some one told you that they were going to establish a hamburger franchise and the logo colour scheme would be red and yellow, you would probably think they were insane. Red tends to signify danger and yellow is purported to be the most annoying colour of all. But try telling McDonalds that.....
But having stated that, if you are just in the planning stages your site, I suggest that you do be careful in your choice of navigation, logos and colour schemes. If your site is established with a good traffic flow and you are considering revamping it, it is of the utmost importance that you consult your visitors first via some sort of survey before any radical changes are made. Otherwise the many hours of hard work that you put into the upgrade, as well as the hours invested in developing the original theme, may be lost.
.... along with your traffic.
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About the Author
Michael is an Australian Information Technologies trainer and web developer. Many other free web design, ecommerce development and Internet articles, tutorials, tools and resources are available from his award winning site; Taming the Beast.net (http://www.tamingthebeast.net)