Branding and Your Website
Since 1993, there has been a small and steady footwear manufacturer in Zemun whose rise to recognition has been less than meteoric. It is a boutique shoemaker, designing for both men and women, and bringing out new and interesting models each season. Reasonably priced and attractive, this brand should be taking the country, the region, and maybe even the world by storm.
But you will not find them on the web.
Labrador Shoes. Ask anyone around me and you will see that I have been puzzling about this brand for at least two years. I am puzzled by the strategy. I am puzzled by the existence of a website address that has nothing behind it (for at least two years). Worse still, it also shows a web address that belongs to another company! I am puzzled by the shoemaker’s ambitions and goals. Are they only interested in Belgrade? Only Serbia? Is there a reason? All things that this inquiring mind wants to know.
Labrador has a Facebook page, adorned with lovely photos of the shoes, listing retail outlets, but not referring us to any kind of headquarters. Perhaps they have the market they want. Perhaps they are happy with organic growth – after all, they have been in business now for 24 years even if I only discovered them relatively recently. Clearly, there is a reason for it. I would very much like to understand it.
It makes me think a lot more about the nature of today’s brand and business environments. There was a day when having a shop on Main Street was your ticket in. You opened your doors, you had a listing in the Yellow Pages, you perhaps took out a few ads in local papers, and Voilà! You’re a brand!
In those days, no one could imagine a low-cost vehicle that placed you immediately in front of the entire known world. Dependence on word-of-mouth was high and, if supplemented by advertising, would be just about all you could do to get your brand out there and understood. Brands were built more slowly before the Internet: people grew to love them over time, with experience, and by testimonials.
Fast-forward to today, however, and the story is completely different. People use the web as a first resource in learning about products and brands, and even people. How many times has someone mentioned a name in a meeting and you have Googled them? Or checked them out on LinkedIn? We have developed an info-reflex that we trust more than our own brains and memories.
In this environment, it is a mystery to me how a company like Labrador – ostensibly a brand that wants to sell and wants to win hearts and minds – can be happy not having a working website.
Sine Qua Non
The reality is that a website is all but indispensible. You may not use it to sell your brand online, but it is a showcase for your brand and its messages. All the stories, the values, and the character of your brand can come out of your website. It encompasses all the value of word-of-mouth marketing in one place.
Very importantly, having a website is a legitimizer. A company without a website will not be taken as seriously as one that does. A business that only uses social media could be regarded as “cheap” or untrustworthy. Just like the Yellow Pages once was, when you can set up a website for the price of a good meal, it makes people wonder why you do not have one.
But a word of warning – your website must also be good. Since everyone else is out there online, you have to cut through the dross of bad content and poor resolution photos. You must make your website into your Brand Ambassador, always dressed for the occasion. Writing for the Entrepreneur, Tim Knox puts it nicely:
“It’s actually better to have no website at all than to have one that makes your business look bad. Your site speaks volumes about your business. It either says, ‘Hey, look, we take our business so seriously that we have created this wonderful site for our customers!’ or it screams, ‘Hey, look, I let my 10-year-old nephew design my site. Good luck finding anything!’”
– Tim W. Knox, Entrepreneur
Cyberspace, once a word reserved for Sci-fi films, is now the place where our businesses live. We owe it to ourselves and our brands to give them life and fill them with everything necessary to get to know us.
Being without a website in cyberspace is just not an option.