Build Your Brand Before Your Website
How strong branding impacts a website’s success
I’m willing to bet most people would agree that having a website is a key part of running a modern business. Think about it from the customer’s perspective:
- Where do you turn to find a new coffee maker?
- How do you find a new restaurant to try?
- What happens when you need a handyman for home repairs?
If you don’t look for customer reviews right away, it’s likely you’ll at least visit a company’s website for more information to inform your decision. This pervasive habit alone is enough to make modern-day business owners aware that, when they start their company, they’ll need a website to guide prospective buyers’ purchasing decisions.
But, unfortunately, building a strong brand is often viewed as an unnecessary step or “easy enough” to do in-house during or after website development. Because of this mistaken logic that so many companies follow, branding either gets left by the wayside or rushed, leading to higher spending on development, delays in launching websites, and fewer sales.
Advice For Getting Started With Branding
As someone who builds websites and brands for a living, I’ll be the first to offer two pieces of advice that I (and clients, too) had to learn the hard way:
- Don’t rush the process of building your brand.
- Wait to build your website until after your brand is planned and documented.
Client A had a longstanding brand that they didn’t love. They also couldn’t internally agree on any branding changes. When Client A sought a new website to stand out from competitors, they could never identify specifics about what they didn’t like in a website mockup. Though each mockup was based on user-centered design principles, Client A couldn’t set personal preferences aside and requested additional out-of-scope revisions that set the project back month after month after month.
Client B was launching a new business. They worked with an entry level designer on a logo, fonts, and colors to save money but neglected foundational branding principles, which led to Client B’s mission and business model switching halfway through the website build. This branding misalignment led to out-of-scope changes, requiring the website to be rebuilt from scratch, thus doubling the developer’s work and the Client B’s website development cost.
I’ve witnessed firsthand clients who jump into website development without thinking about their brand, and it has always led to extra time and money on the project, which could’ve been avoided.
If you already know the importance of branding or already have a website, congratulations! Click for a simple website audit on ways you can improve your existing site. However, if your thinking falls somewhere along the lines of “But I need a website before I can launch my business” — read on because this post is for you.
When I first meet with potential clients about building their websites, one of my first questions is always “Do you already have a brand guide?” The response is usually one of the following:
- “What’s that?”
- “I’ve already sketched my own logo”.
- “I don’t need that. I only need a website.”
I understand where they’re coming from. They’ve likely already set aside a budget for the website, and it might sound like I’m simply trying to sell them something. But let me explain: A branding guide is a framework for how your business presents itself to and interacts with customers, which is valuable because your brand walks with people throughout their journey to becoming your customer.
Someone might interact with your brand three or four times before making their first purchase. If you haven’t defined your brand in a concrete way, you’re not ready to create a website that drives traffic to your business and offers clear value to your audience.
How Branding Impacts Website Design
Many business leaders don’t realize how crucial of a role branding plays in website design. That’s because most people who dismiss branding don’t understand the steps or outcomes involved in the process. To understand why you must have a brand before a website, you need to first grasp these two branding fundamentals:
1. Successful brands are built with a specific audience in mind in order to identify and appeal to potential customers.
At the heart of both website design and branding are your customers. Your business wouldn’t exist without them. Yes, you may have started your business because of a passion or a dream, but your customers and clients are what keep it alive.
So doesn’t it make sense to build your website and your brand around the people who are most excited about buying into what you do? To truly cater your online presence to the right people, you have to do the research and audience development work to identify who your audience is and what they want and need from your brand.
2. An established and consistent brand builds trust with its customers, and that developed trust leads to higher customer engagement and conversion over time.
Your brand is more than its colors, fonts, and logos. At its core, your brand is how you want people to perceive your business. Brands are built around a company’s values and character.
In the simplest sense, your brand guide will inform every design and marketing decision your company makes. In a broader sense, your brand guide will ensure consistency across all your communications channels — from social media to email campaigns to your website.
Branding and Website Development: Better Together
Strong brand foundations lead to successful website builds, which is why agencies often package the two services together. Think about everything that goes into building a website:
- Every page has written content (known as copy). Where does the language come from? Is the copy casual or formal? Is it wordy or to the point? Is it full of technical jargon or does it use colloquialisms?
- Every page has imagery, whether it be photography or graphic designs. Are the tones warm or cool? Do the images focus on people or products? Are they minimalist or maximalist?
- Every page has a flow or an organized layout. Does the page tell a story? What color are the buttons and text? Where do you want your potential customers to end up as they click through the website?
All of these website content and design decisions should be determined by the brand. Without a clear brand guide in place, website text misses out on an audience-driven focus and becomes convoluted, imagery feels inconsistent, and navigation around the site is disorganized.
These issues are all missteps that break down trust with visitors — and website perusers become customers only after trust is established. To combat this issue, brands are developed as stepping stones to build trust and connection with potential clients. Websites aligned with the brand often make the difference between one-time site visitors and site visitors who convert into loyal customers.
If a brand is meant to connect with its customers, the website should too. When a user clicks on your Instagram ad, the website’s look should be consistent with its social media so the user knows they’re on your business’ website. The website should mention any pain points addressed in the ad to provide story continuity; a user shouldn’t think twice about whether or not the social media profile and website are run by the same business.
A good website designer knows how to use a solidified brand as the starting point in building a website. Without a well-thought-out brand, you won’t know where to start or how to communicate what you want out of your website with a developer. You’ll either end up rebuilding it multiple times because you can’t quite put your finger on what’s “off,” or you’ll repeatedly ask your developer to refresh the colors or the layout because you’re not sure how it should look. Giving your developer a brand guide can save you time and money by reducing the number of project revisions and helping keep everyone on the same page.