Single online brand identity

If you plan developing a range of websites, then creating a brand identity is an important element to think about. Should each website be its own separate brand, or should you create a brand identity that is consistent across the range of websites that you own?

This question was raised on the a4uforum this week and is something that I have been giving some thought. I call the single brand identity the "Virgin Theory". From the outset, Richard Branson built one brand and that brand was carried across all his businesses as they emerged. The strategy proved to be very successful. Each new business venture benefited from the brand awareness and good will that had already been built up by the main brand. As time went on, that additional benefit become more and more powerful as the brand awareness increased. NTL and Telewest have always struggled as independent brands and were of little concern to competitors like BT and Sky. But when Virgin Mobile merged with NTL and Telewest, the competitors moved into panic mode. They know full well how powerful the Virgin brand is and how much damage it can do to their business.

Of course, this does not answer the question, is the "Virgin Theory" fitting for an online empire. I have broken this down into a few pros and cons.

Pros

  • You can reduce your overall marketing cost by marketing one brand.
  • The goodwill of the brand will be transferred to the individual websites.
  • You can cross sell from one website to another with more ease.

Cons

  • The message of each site may be diluted. Will the customer think that your site about green widgets is just another element of your overall operation rather than being a dedicated green widget expert. The customer may prefer the expert.
  • Using keyword focused URL's has SEO benefit (some debate its value though). Using a brand name dilutes the keyword in your URL.

While there are obvious benefits to having a single brand, I think the answer as to whether you should employ this technique depends on the type of websites you are developing. If they are closely related, then the benefit of a single brand is more important. If they are not related, the benefit in the online world is probably quite small. It may be far better to concentrate on good, keyword focused domain names for each website rather than worrying about the brand name.
After all, most people use search engines to find what they want on the net. And they generally search for a product or service rather than a brand name.


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