An expert shares 7 tips for creating a compelling website and digital presence.
Whether you’re transitioning from a part-time business or launching a brand new venture, a strong digital brand will help you succeed.
A digital brand tells a visual and written story about who you are and what people can expect from you. And it can be a valuable asset – a consistent brand presence across all platforms can increase revenue by 23%, according to the State of Brand Consistency report published by Lucidpress.
“Especially in this day and age, your digital brand will be people’s first contact with your business,” says Rachel Ritchie, director of creative services at digital marketing and design agency Good & Gold, based in Portland, S.C. “If a business is looking to grow, scale and build an audience of interested customers who remember it and come back, digital brand should be a meaningful priority.”
Ready to get started? Rachel shares 7 things to focus on to build a strong digital brand.
1. Define your positioning
Start by thinking about your brand and what it needs to convey. Focus on why someone would want what you offer, thinking about the impact it has on the lives of the people who use it. Also, think about your target audience, including who they are and why they are attracted to you. From there, you’ll be able to put together a selection of words and images that will help convey your message.
Keep in mind that when you’re trying to stand out, a compelling part of your story can be not only what you offer, but also where you get your materials from. Or it could be the experience people get from your business. In 2020, user experience is projected to be the number one brand differentiator.
“If people are going to recommend something, it won’t be because of the formulation or the heritage of the business,” Rachel says. “It will be because the product was great and the experience was easy.” The experience is a huge part of the puzzle.”
2. Choose a brand voice
The process of finding the right brand voice and tone will be different for every business, depending on the market you serve and your own personality. “Figure out what is authentic and real to you,” Rachel says.
The brand voice should be consistent across all digital mediums, as well as any offline channels such as direct mail, print, point-of-sale or presence at in-person events such as festivals or trade shows.
A consistent tone will make your brand seem more authoritative and trustworthy to users, giving them a clear picture of your core values. Think about how you want to be perceived – your tone will help convey honesty, awareness, reliability, friendliness – all kinds of human values.
Brand voice can change over time, Rachel notes. Look at what people are responding to in different channels. Evaluate how you interact with your audience, and don’t be afraid to change your approach to improve audience reach.
3. Create a timeless style
The visual elements of your digital brand are one of the first things a visitor will notice. Your color, font, and other style choices should be fresh, but not too trendy. Once you’ve decided on a color palette and fonts, create a style guide to give each member of your brand a clear direction and common language to visually express your message. Rachel notes that there isn’t one “right” color and style choice. “Everyone is different, and everyone has different feelings about color and typeface,” she says.
“You want to reference what exists – for example, high-contrast colors or color blocking,” Rachel continues. “But you have to stay away from fonts or color schemes that seem too trendy not to look like every other site.
Instead, look for a timeless visual aesthetic that will last. Fonts should work across channels, including social, video, email and your site.
“Think about the fact that things can go in different directions over time,” Rachel says. “The last thing you want is to have to redo your site in six months because it looks outdated.”
4. Choose the right images
While the abundance of stock images readily available online can make it tempting to quickly grab something and add it to your website or social feed, think carefully before you publish.
Develop a common approach to what images fit your brand so that you have a consistent visual style across all digital channels.
Rachel explains that this can vary greatly depending on what your business offers. If you’re selling a physical product, quality photography is something you shouldn’t skimp on. “It’s an investment that should be made with brand guidelines in mind and how visuals can integrate across all channels.”
For other types of organizations, stock photography can be a great option. “There are plenty of high-quality stock photos — some of them free — and it’s a great way to illustrate many sites,” she says. “This is an area where businesses can definitely save money.”
5. Take your time with templates
According to Rachel, an early wire-framing process, in which you essentially determine the layout or plan for your site, is very important.
“You want to spend a lot of time developing the layout and structure,” she explains. “A good site is intuitive for the user, not distracting or random when they’re looking for information or content.
Scalability should also be considered. If you offer a few products today, think about how the site will function when your business grows and you offer more. If your site is a content portal, you need to make sure that readers can easily find both archived articles and new, topical posts. A nonprofit organization will want to be able to cover pop-up fundraising campaigns tied to current events or holidays, in addition to annual events.
6. Develop an eye-catching logo
A brand’s logo is its calling card both online and off. To design your logo, look at what other brands are using in this area and talk to people who work with different aspects of your brand. Get their opinions on what they think your audience will respond to and what feels right.
“Listen to all your stakeholders before you start creating sketches,” Rachel says. “You can go into a project thinking you know everything and then find yourself completely wrong.”
As with all design elements, make sure your logo doesn’t seem too fancy and is durable, designed to be used on different platforms. A good logo works in a variety of colors and can be altered. For example, if the logo is in a red font on a white background, it should also work as a white font on a red background.
You should also create different versions of the logo for use in different formats – horizontal and vertical, for example. But don’t go overboard with creating alternate versions. Develop 2 or 3, and give precise instructions as to which version should be used where and when.
7. Think cross-device and cross-platform
Finally, remember that anything you develop should not only work on different digital platforms, but also on different devices.
For example, when you’re designing your website, think about email design as well, Rachel says. “My philosophy is that email shouldn’t seem like a copy of your website, but it should live in the same universe.
Look at all your details and pay attention to how design elements can be adapted to other channels, keeping in mind that not every channel has the same requirements. “What might catch someone’s attention in an inbox might use the same elements as your website, but each channel has to feel different,” Rachel says.
Also, keep desktop and mobile needs in mind when designing, and remember that many elements of your site will display differently on a PC, tablet or phone.
“We still design for desktops because that’s where things look best, and the design can live and breathe and provide the best user experience,” Rachel notes. “But mobile devices can’t be an afterthought. We’re constantly thinking about customizing the mobile experience.”
Unleash the power of your digital brand
A consistent digital brand strategy with strong copy, visuals, design and positioning will help you find and grow an engaged audience. Choose digital design elements that are durable and work across channels, and you’ll tell a compelling story and create a strong online presence for your brand.