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Christopher Parr of Parr Interactive wrote the following article “Beyond Branding” for Corporate Report Magazine in November 2001, talking to the top marketing leaders and digital agencies in Madison, Wisconsin. He recently rediscovered the article — and is publishing it as a 10 year retrospective on online marketing. Has much changed and improved or are we heading toward another dot-com bust?

Beyond Branding

Billion dollar lessons can be learned by the recent online failures. With the demise of “successful” brands, like eToys and, we know that a company can’t be built on brand alone. The branding-only mantra is now only an echoe in empty dot-com offices.

A best strategy is to offer a product or service that people actually want, and a brand that supports it.

“A brand is nothing without something to stand for,” says Kevin Wade, Creative Director of Planet Propaganda, based in Madison, Wisconsin. “You have to back it up with the real stuff if they show up.”

Hiebing Group interactive developer Troy Janisch, also based in Madison, admits it’s not that branding is dead on the web – it’s that branding alone isn’t enough.

“The experience that your web site offers says more about your company’s brand than the information contained on many of its pages,” he says. “It’s easy to lose credibility when your web site isn’t working for your customers and doesn’t follow thru by providing useful customer service features.”

Any organization providing exceptional customer service, and delivering goods and services on time, is taking the first step in establishing a positive branding experience. Be flexible with return policies. Answer emails within 12 hours. Perform as promised. Discover customers’ unique needs and mine that information. By respecting the customer and offering value, the stage is set for repeat business and word of mouth recommendations.

Marsha Lindsay, President/CEO of Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, stresses the need to focus on the wants and sensitivities of each customer.

“Profile your customers in sophisticated ways that are helpful to them. Amazon has done this so well. When I order a book on jazz or Peru they politely offer 5 other books related to these subjects, thus encouraging a deeper relationship with me that meets my needs, as well as theirs,” Lindsay says.

After the sale, interaction with the customer allows the relationship to thrive. Product updates and company news delivered by email encourages the customer to pay a visit. Sending non-aggressive email reminders is an affordable marketing tactic.

“Individuals spend more time using email than using the web,” says Janisch. “And, email subscriptions provide the basis of a great long-term customer relationship. It’s like being invited into their home.”

If customers request no e-mail contact, respect their privacy. Trust and customer loyalty is damaged when their privacy is violated with unsolicited emails.

The mixture of online and off-line marketing reinforces branding and the customer experience. Having acquired the shopper, create a relationship that can be nurtured for a lifetime.

Many of the failed Internet companies were instantly hatched into a large office, carrying a staff of 50, an untested concept, no customer-base, and a great brand.

A majority of the dot CEOs had little merchandising or customer service experience. When the financial horizon began to appear dark, it was only typical for the leadership to change gears on a daily basis. In trying to reach profitability, sites would retreat to quick fixes. Manic dot-com scrambling pushed the customer further and further out of view.

Only after focusing on the customer will a brand gain significance. Off-line and online, the relationship is the message and investment.

“Customer acquisition and retention are quickly moving to a science,” Lindsay says. “But customer acquisition programs – via telemarketing, the Internet, direct mail or any other means – have and always will work fastest and with the greatest efficiency, when they come under the umbrella of a strong brand.”

Christopher Parr, CEO of Parr Interactive, is an award-winning writer and online marketing strategist. Since 1995, the Madison, Wisconsin-based internet pioneer and marketer has launched numerous successful web projects, viral videos and online marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. In addition to creating blogging and buzz marketing platforms, services include web design, social media marketing, digital marketing and SEO in Madison and Milwaukee (WI). Visit to learn more.