What is brand experience? Yashumi Kasumi, Innovation and Creative Manager at IKEA, says,“A brand experience resembles the experiences you have with the people in your life…[it is] literally everything you have seen and heard — or even felt or smelt or tasted — about a brand.” This reflects a shift in the meaning of the…
Now, more than ever, a B2B website is the front page of a brand. As many businesses shift their focus from the conferences and in-person events that have historically driven so much of B2B sales and engagement, they are considering how to better leverage their digital presence and connect with prospects in new ways. Before launching into the small and large decisions necessary to build or revamp a website, companies must have a clear, comprehensive understanding of their brands, both verbally and visually.
As a B2B branding agency, we’ve know that digital has become increasingly important to our clients, and it’s a vital expertise for our business. For years, we’ve created sites built on the brands we developed — connecting the dots between research, brand development, and digital activation to help our clients make meaningful decisions and grow their businesses in the digital space.
We’ve seen that strategic opportunities are often lost when translating a brand into digital activation. Building a brand is a considerable investment. When the research to define audiences and uncover insights is complete, the focus should be on translating those ideas into clear messages and engaging visuals that meet the needs of key customers. Then this work can be leveraged through advertising, events, social media, and on the company website.
Once an organization has aligned around a distinct and ownable brand, it’s important to set the goals for the site. Depending on the sales and marketing strategy, a website might need to lean towards telling the brand story and communicating value. For other organizations, the website might generate leads and drive conversations. For many firms, recruiting is also a priority for their sites. No matter the goal, when audiences visit a site for the first time they need to quickly find what they are looking for.
Below are six ways we ensure that digital experiences reflect the brands we develop and the unique value our clients bring to the market.
1. Express brand personality with motion.
A brand personality is the sum of the traits evident in all a company says and does. These are usually defined in the brand development process and should inform the verbal and visual style. Firms must employ text that speaks with the brand voice and communicates unique attributes. Likewise, visual systems designed to drive the message home will both communicate company strengths and build credibility. But to create a compelling digital experience, consider adding motion.
UX animation can play a subtle but important role. Think about movement, color, or typographic changes as visitors hover over options. Think about how an image or graphic element enters the screen as they scroll. A fast, swooping entrance might communicate energy and agility while a glowing fade might communicate warmth and expertise. Both can have a big impact on the user as they learn about the company, but which technique does a better job of underscoring the brand personality?
Video assets are another way to bring a brand personality to life. There are two main types of video that live on a website. The most common is branded video content. These are the videos that populate many sites and may explain a product or a service, feature employee testimonials or illustrate the value an organization brings to the market, like this Emerald video, embedded in its About Us page.
The second type of video or motion asset is less instructive and more evocative. Instead of a static photo in the hero of a homepage, consider using subtle movement to bring images to life, as our client Thornton Tomasetti does on its site.
Moving graphics like these create an immersive experience, introducing a brand with impact and encouraging users to engage more deeply with the content.
There is the danger of overkill with motion, though. Movement at every touchpoint and every scroll can be distracting and expensive to implement. In design, things like this are often called “belt and suspenders.” Not every site needs all the bells and whistles, but finding intriguing ways to reinforce the brand through movement can nudge users towards choosing you over your competitors.
2. Use brand pillars to create engaging interactions.
Brand pillars are the building blocks of a brand. They describe what a company does, how it does it, and the why behind the organization. These brand elements make it easy to express value in simple terms. They can also be used as goalposts to ensure you are developing a digital experience that expresses that value clearly and consistently.
Brand pillars can serve as a strong framework to make decisions about what messages you choose to drive home through the interactions on the site. Use them as a guide when thinking about how users will interact with the website. For each interaction, ask “how does this communicate what, how, or why we do what we do?” This quick check will ensure that you are spending design and development resources wisely and not overwhelming users with interactions that aren’t building the brand.
For example, you might create a set of questions to guide users to a personalized product demo. You might offer a calculator for costs or savings. You might create a content platform housing video, articles, webinars, and other media that extends the brand and offers value to customers, prospects, or the broader industry.
Informational websites can be highly functional and often much more affordable. They do the basic work needed to get corporate information out in the digital world and can do some solid brand building. But interactive sites, or interactive features on informational sites, can drive home the value proposition and take more concrete steps to turn site visitors into customers.
3. Use UX writing to build brand and drive decision making.
Another place for brand building that is often overlooked is UX writing. A relatively new discipline that grew out of software development, UX writing is the text that guides a user through the digital experience. The simplest examples include the navigation categories of a site and the short copy in call-to-action buttons, though it extends beyond those examples.
Our client, Myriad360, uses its navigation categories to describe its process. This is a straightforward system that gives users an immediate sense of how they think and what type of work they do.
Because this discipline grew out of software development, conciseness and clarity are primary goals. This type of writing needs to feel intuitive, as it helps your user find what they need. But it should also make it easy for them to convert to customers, in a way that feels inevitable.
This kind of writing can also work to communicate the brand. Imagine you want to drive home the idea that a brand is visionary. If this is the goal, you might change a call to action from “Read more” to “See more.” While it is unlikely that a user will consciously notice these small moves, this kind of attention to detail is how you create a cohesive and differentiated brand.
4. Make iconography work harder.
Most visual brands include at least a simple iconography system. In print, icons are used to break up text blocks, simplify complex ideas, or emphasize messages, among other things. In the digital space, icons are even more important because, when used well, they can help guide users through a site, leading them to what they need to make decisions.
Obviously, every B2B website is different, with unique navigation and content organization methods. To create a user-centric site, it’s important to make wayfinding simple and intuitive. Iconography orients users and helps them get to the information they are looking for without difficulty.
A risk when translating a brand to the web is relying on stock icons to make navigation and design simple. A strong, ownable iconography system, like Myriad360’s, deployed with UX best practices, can not only make that user experience seamless but can also ensure that the brand is expressed consistently throughout the site.
5. Highlight the client experience story.
Not only is a website the front page of a business, communicating the brand story and value to new and returning clients, but it is also where they start to understand what it will be like to work with the organization.
Communicating a compelling client service and experience story starts by defining it within the organization. A strong brand platform positions the company in the market and differentiates it from its peers, is internalized within the organization, and manifested across touchpoints. Understanding how the brand is expressed in the experiences clients have with your people will define how the brand should be expressed in a digital experience.
A major difference between B2C and B2B marketing is the interpersonal relationships fundamental to sales and partnership for many B2B organizations. Our technology client, Myriad360, is committed to building strong and trusting partnerships with its clients. To provide insight into the real humans behind the business, they used quotes from employees in online bios. This gives voice to their people and helps build connections with clients.
Once you’ve determined priority messages about client experience, you’ll be surprised how many opportunities there are to communicate these messages with users.
6. Highlight the employer brand.
Websites are not just for selling products. For many organizations, the most diverse and engaged audience for a website will be potential employees. That robust visual historical timeline built for a milestone anniversary? Potential clients may be less interested in that content, but current and future employees can find great value in learning about the company’s history and culture.
Like the customer-experience story, to engage this audience it’s important to understand your value proposition as an employer. Think about the diverse roles you hire for, and the realities of necessary skills and aptitudes across the organization — it can feel daunting to find a way to appeal to all recruits on a careers page. The simple answer is that the strongest employer brands are intrinsically linked to strong corporate brands. When these two messages mirror each other, it simplifies the story. And when there is a mismatch between what you are telling potential employees and how your brand is expressed, or how the organization behaves in the market, the perception can foster distrust. People are pretty good at sniffing out inauthenticity.
Thornton Tomasetti uses its employer brand to connect its client value to the ambitions of the talent it’s trying to recruit. It also use its careers page to paint a comprehensive picture of what it’s like to work for the world-class firm.
B2B websites have a lot of moving parts and many decisions need to be made to create a seamless online experience. Starting with a strong brand foundation provides a strategic rubric for making those decisions. Bringing a deep understanding of both your brand and the nuanced needs of your audiences will ensure that a site is a meaningful and effective brand experience.
To learn more about building an online brand experience, contact us.
About the author
Lillian Pontius-Goldblatt is a strategy director and brand storyteller at DeSantis Breindel, where she leads projects in partnership with global B2B clients. Her brand work aims to unite how organizations operate with how they exist in and respond to the real world.