Lately, I’ve noticed quite a few corporate design follies–millions of dollars spent to re-package (Tropicana), re-logo (Pepsi), and re-color (Packard Bell) companies. Designers are absurdly serious about such changes, claiming a shift from orange to purple, and I quote, “would leave anybody breathless.”
But much of this superficial design is a commodity–replicable by any company that can hire a design firm. No where else is this more true than online, where a strong web designer can create a slick visual identity (and cheaply), be it a pretty flash-based website or beautiful CSS.
But if such investments are made, success should come from differentiation, things that cannot be easily replicable. Great branding creates a emotional link (it makes you feel a certain way), not a bullshit color scheme. Here are a few sites that get it done:
1. Woot.com — unparalleled personality
There are 100 deal of the day sites on the Internet, each attempting to replicate Woot’s success of 3 million visits per month. But its traffic is counter-intuitive–the products are mediocre and price points nothing special.
Woot’s secret? It’s personality. Instead of a boring website of one product per day, the site is brilliantly branded with a unique, irreverent, loving personality driving repeat visitors and absurd loyalists.
The above image is for a mystery box of items termed “the bag of crap.” Yes–a bag of crap. Woot describes products for sale using a humorous narrative, often trashing the product and even the customers who are willing to purchase it. The FAQ page reveals even more about the site’s personality. Regarding returns, Woot writes,
“If you buy something you don’t end up liking or you have what marketing people call “buyer’s remorse,” sell it on eBay. If the item doesn’t work, find out what you’re doing wrong. Yes, we know you think the item is bad, but it’s probably your fault.”
2. Moosejaw.com — hilarious e-commerce
If you’ve ever experienced Moosejaw.com, it is one of the few e-commerce sites with a differentiated, branded experience. Moosejaw’s brand identity, “Love the Madness,” breathes in every corner of the site. It creates a ton of content, including monthly contests, dating blogs, Madness newsletters, and an incredibly elaborate loyalty program.
3. Yelp.com — a humanized review site
Yelp’s success puzzled me. It copied Citysearch and didn’t have close to its existing traffic. And for any review site to be appealing, it needs a critical mass of reviews. What is unique? The human element. Yelp’s hyper-focus on user exposure differentiates it from a standard review site to truly presenting its brand identity of “Real People. Real Reviews.” On the front page is a picture of Karen G., with the subtext, “I wanna FUC you like an animal,” adjacent to her review 5-star review of Charlie’s Deli (would you see anything like this on Citysearch?). Members have “badges,” illustrating their “Elite” status, friends, fans, and compliments. 4 random profiles are featured on the front page.
4. Flickr — well-nurtured community
This article from Flickr’s creators sums up the site’s brand and strategy, specifically that, “People don’t like being told what to do.” With fewer rules, the site found that users were more creative and collaborative. With a structure to encourage this activity, the community began to define the site experience. And this experience is humanized. Copy like, ““Get in there,” “Forgotten your password? Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us,” and “Yee har!” differentiates the site’s personality from other photo-sharing sites.