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Website Branding

Website branding extends well beyond a big logo in your site's header; in fact, the size of your logo has no significant relevance today, and a strong online identity is, rather, formed in subtle yet specific ways.

Color Scheme

Colors help bring a website to life, but that doesn't mean that it should include all of them (or any of them for that matter [as in the case with gray-scale palettes]).

For existing companies with a well-defined brand, color schemes are easy to establish. Often based off of a logo, you can apply visual styling that incorporates the contained colors or those within the same palette. Sometimes these are combined with other colors or shades of gray for a brand identity that slightly deviates from that of an offline presence. Many times, the reason for differentiations is simply because it's easier to test new color schemes online - as opposed to print, which requires a much higher investment. Consequently, even century-old enterprises are now driving their branding efforts based on website visitor feedback.

For businesses, organizations, and personalities that operate predominantly online (or had their start on the Internet), choosing an effective color scheme is a little different - with publishers usually delivering a less distinguishable brand identity. At Veb, for example, we primarily use a single color to represent our brand; this goes for many of our customer sites as well. It's kind of our undisclosed trademark. That said, it's most likely not the ideal option for the majority of websites. While artistic and neat-looking in our opinion, well-defined brands will have two or three main colors as part of their identity. Also, with how image-centric websites have gotten, using several colors (to represent fonts, graphics, banners and logos) can offer a technical design flow that compliments natural imagery.

Typography

Not limited by color, brand typography can take on many forms. The key to finding the combination that works, therefore, is to match your brand's underlying mission statement with the closest visual representation of available fonts for headings, text and copywriting purposes. Hairline or bold, light or dark, transparent or solid, conservative or outgoing, sans-serif or script, Web safe or custom; these are all possible choices to be made, and then some.

With the visitor/user in mind, it's important to maintain a balance between a brand's general image and its website readability. Sometimes, an exception needs to be made to accommodate an audience. This is especially true for content-heavy websites representing companies that previously relied on script (and other fonts that are relatively more difficult to read) or bold-only typefaces for store signs, billboard ads, flyers, online copywriting, etc. Generally speaking, as publishers make the contrasting shift from paid marketing to organic growth, it's natural (no pun intended) for their typography to experience the necessary adjustments.

Logos, Slogans & Trademarks

For brands not yet established in the website logo department, various options exist today for materializing a conceptual logo. The professional route usually entails, well, hiring a professional to create it for you. Typically, a graphic designer (hopefully one who's in tune with modern Web practices) will present a few different designs that could effectively push your brand identity forward; then, you and/or your creative/marketing team will take a decision for which would work best.

As a side-note, if you're a solopreneur working with a limited budget, online software (i.e. cloud-based/Web applications) do exist to facilitate the logo design process at affordable prices; that is, per logo or per month. Logos can be completely custom and exported in various formats and file sizes (for example, to be used in print work aside from on your website). Downloadable computer software are also an option, but they tend to ultimately be more expensive and require a significant learning curve.

With all of that said, a professional logo can still be outsourced for pennies on the dollar through a design marketplace via a bidding auction for your project. But for guaranteed quality of work, nothing can replace the word-of-mouth referral of an experienced, expert graphic designer. You get what you pay for in this area; in other words, you need to invest considerable time or money for a unique, well-branded logo. While costs vary, professionals in this area typically charge well over $3,000 USD.

Of course, prior to even contacting a competent graphic designer, you should have an idea of what your custom branded logo would entail. Is it text or image only? Is it the first letter or your company name? Would it be an icon or symbol that graphically represents your identity, values, and vision? A logo can be anything you want it to be, but it does need to be memorable. It shouldn't offend, and it should be relevant without being generic.

Slogans complement logos by offering a little more information on your brand's identity, albeit kept in brief. Generally encapsulated as a single tagline, these mottos help solidify what your website, company, product(s) and/or service(s) are about. Although for advertising purposes, a good slogan will often highlight a value or belief as opposed to what the website offers, who it serves, it being a catchy phrase, or why they're better than others within the same market.

It's difficult to assess which type website visitors would be more receptive to for each brand - leading us to the assumption that presenting your audience with a few options and directly asking them what they would prefer might provide some insight in this area. A more sound suggestion would be to test out the actual slogans one at a time until you and/or your staff (A) receive enough natural feedback from your visitors and/or (B) acquire the customer behavior and Web analytics to support a slogan in favor over another.

With regards to legal issues, trademarking is a viable option for virtually all brands. Since websites can easily and quickly be set up these days, trademarking of companies, products/services, and branding creatives is sometimes put aside to be dealt with at a later point. While it may not be a pressing concern for you, it's something to consider (even for the independent publisher) as your website grows and grows in popularity. With increased traffic comes increased responsibility. Eventually, you'll want to trademark as many aspects of your website branding as possible to protect your company, staff, and clients (where applicable).

Conclusion

On the Internet today, simplicity seems to be prevalent - or, rather, what works best for branding purposes. Less is more in a sense. Website visitors want to know what you're about, and don't like it when things changes too quickly or are diluted. With every decision a user can make in a day, website publishers need to realize that they're lucky for every first-time visitor and long-time fan they receive. Confusion drives most of these individuals away and portrays an image of not caring about the users experience (hence the rise in demand for user experience & user interface design services in recent years).

What about franchises and networks of websites? Whether people like it or not, The MLM industry is not slowing down. Similarly, franchise opportunities (for various types of businesses and non-profits) are on the rise. Websites that represent these brands tend to be consistent in terms of branding, but there are differences that vary depending on the market (i.e. language, demographics, geographic location, etc). Franchisees and network marketers more often than not, won't have much (if any) control over their provided website - which, as a result, then to be generic in form. It's even more apparent when the head company has a singular website to house their entire network's information. That said, those opting for a franchise or MLM venture can (and, in our opinion, should) request to run a separate website that may allow for limited branding control. If given legal permission to do so, co-branding efforts empower these publishers to offer a unique voice in association with their head company's products and/or services. This is not to mention the additional benefits derived from focusing on other areas of marketing which most definitely are lacking in both the franchise and MLM space.