Book Review: The Art of Digital Branding

The Art of Digital Branding by Ian Cocoran is intended to provide a set of best practices for marketers who want to ensure their branding message is conveyed at least as effectively on the Web as anywhere else. The intended market for this book seems to be Web marketing neophytes, though even more experienced readers may pick up useful tidbits here and there.

At conferences like WebmasterWorld’s Pubcon, some of the more interesting sessions are site reviews – sessions in which experts in ecommerce, SEO, or other aspects of Web marketing dissect the websites of attendees brave enough to subject themselves to the process. Even though the sites almost never closely resemble sites that I work with, it’s instructive to see how others look at the site and I often get some very useful insights. I’ve served as a site review panelist as well, and even that can be instructive – analyzing a site I’ve never seen before in front of a few hundred other critics is a good reminder of best practices that may sometimes get overlooked. So, it’s little surprise that some of my favorite parts of The Art of Digital Branding are those where Cocoran reviews major sites that either do a great job of branding for the web or make a complete hash of it.

The site designs Cocoran reviews may be long gone, and some of the technology employed in cutting-edge consumer sites may have evolved, but the principles of examining a website’s congruence with a firm’s branding don’t change. The site reviews are diminished by being limited to a few black and white screen shots, but Cocoran makes his points clearly.

Neuromarketing enthusiasts won’t find much of interest until late in the book. In discussing luxury brands, Cocoran touches briefly on sensory branding and the challenge of creating the luxury experience within the confines of a web site. Unfortunately, much of that chapter focuses on analyzing the many reasons luxury brands fear the Web, leaving less room to discuss effective ways to produce a high-end customer experience. Cocoran does illustrate some of the sites attempting to tap the high-end consumer market like eLuxury.com and net-a-porter.com. (I visited the current incarnation of these sites and found them to be fairly typical-looking ecommerce sites, with the key difference being the brands offered and the prices – a featured dress cost $7,000 instead of the $70 you might find at a mainstream shop.)

Near the end of the book, Cocoran speculates on the possibilities of building “emotionally intelligent” web sites. Emotional branding isn’t a new concept, and Cocoran doesn’t provide much in the way of prescriptive advice for making emotionally engaging websites. Still, this is an issue that will be increasingly important as the possibilities of richer interaction with visitors increase. He does provide a simple model for scoring the emotional intelligence of a website on multiple dimensions.

Overall, The Art of Digital Branding raises some good issues, but is hardly a step-by-step guide to transferring your brand to the Web. The level of detail is sometimes a bit much – do web branders really need to know how IP addresses work, or the details of Daniel Goleman’s theories of emotional intelligence? This is a book that most marketers will want to read in fast-forward mode – glossing over the parts that may not interest them, and delving more deeply into the pieces they find relevant to their needs. There’s little doubt that many firms haven’t thought enough about reinforcing their brand by appropriate web design, and there’s plenty in this book to get them thinking.

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