Ron Rogowski, principal analyst, Forrester Research

User goals and brand positioning

Companies want their Websites to build their brands. But few sites both support user goals and reinforce brand attributes—the two key requirements for building brand online. When it comes to building brand with content, companies should focus on both what they say (providing value) and how they say it (staying “on brand").

The language on a website must therefore:

• Be clear to target users. Sites must make it easy for consumers to understand key selling points by avoiding jargon and "marketing speak." Good online copy takes users’ subject matter knowledge into account, talking to them in familiar language. The best copy uses short sentences and paragraphs to ease comprehension. And where industry-specific words can’t be avoided, sites should provide contextual help in the form of child windows or callouts that give detailed explanations of terms.

• Infuse key brand attributes to create the right tone. Site copy—whether delivered as text or via audio and video—should not only reinforce a company’s brand positioning but should also stay consistent with the overall tone and manner used in other media (such as print ads and brochures). Standout copy differentiates the site from competitors by virtue of its creative approach.

Clear and engaging language

Building brand with language is a difficult proposition that requires a balance between clarity and colour. Some examples of companies that strike the right balance include:

Instead of merely showing the status of its load progress, Mini USA displays phrases such as “No two Minis are exactly alike as the configurator loads and “0% body fat while loading the first image of the Mini Hard Top. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

• Morgan Stanley backs its commitment to connecting "people, ideas and capital to help clients achieve their financial aspirations" with copy that reads, "You and your Morgan Stanley financial advisor, with access to the full scope of our services and resources, work closely towards achieving your financial success." The site’s language relentlessly reinforces the firm’s focus on customers by emphasizing the pronoun "you" — in sharp contrast to its competitors. And when it’s time to deliver on the promise of describing how the company works with customers, the site uses clear and direct language. For example, in its Statement Of Commitment To Investors, the firm promises that, among other things, it "will provide timely account and transaction information that accurately reflects the investment positions you hold with our firm."

Clear and enticing copy

Writing for the Web is a challenge unlike writing for other media. It requires language with the clarity of an instruction manual that can evoke the right feeling about a brand in users’ minds. To strike a balance:

• Start with copy that’s clear and concise. Begin by drafting language that explains key features with vocabulary that users are sure to understand. To guide writers, constantly refer to design personas that detail the target users’ subject matter knowledge, making sure to avoid industry terminology — unless you’re talking to industry insiders. Strive for short sentences and paragraphs that will keep users focused on what they need to accomplish their goals.

• Choose the right words to bring your brand to life. Once copy is drafted, refer to a list of the brand’s attributes and look for places to substitute more scintillating language while being careful not to cloud the message for readers.

For example, when Lexus substitutes "luxury appointments" for "interior features," it adds colour without sacrificing clarity. Additionally, look for opportunities to add interest to otherwise boring parts of the site. Instead of merely showing the status of its load progress, Mini USA displays phrases such as “No two Minis are exactly alike" as the configurator loads and “0% body fat" while loading the first image of the Mini Hard Top.

• Review language for style before publishing. Before publishing any text or video online, user experience experts and brand managers should formally review it to make sure that the style is clear, on brand, and consistent with offline marketing campaigns. In order to get signoff, each new piece of copy should be judged by its importance to a site’s two major responsibilities: informing users and differentiating the brand. Don’t strive to make every page, audio, or video support every brand attribute, but do ensure that no content contradicts even a single brand attribute. Take Mini USA, for example: The site infuses fun into descriptions of high-level features, but vehicle specifications—where shoppers just want easy access to valuable content—are clear and concise.

At Forrester, Ron is the lead analyst in Web globalization research, and helps customer experience professionals improve strategies for global Web design and organization, understand how rich Internet applications (RIAs) are transforming online customer experiences, and align their Web sites with their firms’ brand values.

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