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E-brands: The Decisive Factors in Creating a Winning Brand in the Net

By Ioannis S. Tsiames & George J. Siomkos , Athens University of Economics & Business, Department of Business Administration.

Email: ytsiamis@aueb.gr , gsiomkos@aueb.gr

Dr. George J. Siomkos is Professor of Marketing at the Department of Business Administration of the Athens University of Economics and Business. His research and publishing interests include: Consumer Behavior, Strategic Marketing and Planning and Electronic Commerce. He holds a B.Sc. in Marketing, an MBA in Finance, an M.Sc. in Statistics and Operation research, an M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in Marketing and Corporate Strategy from New York University.

Ioannis S. Tsiamis is a PhD Candidate at the Athens University of Economics and Business. His research and publishing interests include: High Technology Marketing, Electronic Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Strategic Marketing and Planning and Electronic Commerce. He holds a Diploma in Computer Engineering and Informatics from University of Patras and an MBA from University of Macedonia, Greece.


This study develops a framework which can be used to build an "e-brand", i.e a company's brand in the Internet. The framework takes account of the information revolution's impact on the establishment of new business models and explains the way that these changes affect the traditional brand building process. During the discussion of brand identity and the two important dimensions in building a strong brand, i.e., awareness and image, the 7 C's framework is analyzed. This framework outlines the major components that add value and contribute to the quality of an online experience. These components are the driving factors in creating a winning e-brand. Finally, issues relating to the transformation of the Innovation-Adoption Model in the Digital Age are discussed.


The information revolution is changing the way business is conducted. E-commerce, an overused and very broad term applied to all sorts of business transactions implemented over the Web (B2B, B2C, C2C) has been the driving force of this change. The evolution of the Internet is considered as the foundation and the pilot of the information revolution. In essence, the Internet can be seen as a common technology platform which allows computing devices to communicate with each other. In doing so, it offers and provides a number of alternative and collaborating channels enabling people and businesses to communicate..

The structure of commerce has changed dramatically due to the Internet's potency. The new business opportunities offered by the Internet alter the competitive balance in many marketplaces, especially those in the developed world. This way, new entrants and reengineered business schemes are allowed to claim the reassessment and redistribution of the established market shares.

A critical element, mainly for the new online entrants, is the development and value association of their brand. Many business failures in the Web are attributed to poor branding due to the belief that novelty attracts consumers. Given the continuously increasing reach of the Web, companies that decide to go on-line begin to realize the value of the e-brand building process.

Internet's Decisive Characteristics

The defining and distinctive characteristics of the Internet as a medium, can be summarized in three key points:

  1. Indifference for Time and Space Barriers. Internet services are by definition space and time independent.

  2. Dramatic Reduction of the Information Costs. The cost of the provision of information as well as that of seeking it is significantly reduced.

  3. Interactivity and Adaptability. This family of characteristics alters the process of interaction among communicating parties, since it allows them to build dynamic and scope-dependent one-to-one relationships.

Web and E-Commerce Characteristics

Web, a multimedia user-friendly interface [1] with its features, boosted Internet's penetration. Today, more than 500 million people worldwide use the Internet [2]. This boost can be regarded as the result of several underlying forces, such as:

  1. The continuous evolution of the multimedia enriching technologies.

  2. The development and incorporation of critical processes such as ordering, billing and payment, which facilitate on-line transactions.

  3. The growth and development of support services.

  4. The inexpensive and functional ease of access to information, companies and products.

Among Web's most important characteristics are interactivity, openness, informality, time and space indifference and ease of personalization. It is one of the most important marketing research tools because consumer data can be easily collected, compared, processed and evaluated. Web Intelligence is the application of business intelligence software and methods to data collected via the Web. It is defined as an infrastructural architecture containing data warehousing and data mining technologies which profoundly aims at customizing the on-line experience for the consumer. Web alters the nature of communication between firms and customers. In addition, customers have considerable control over which messages they receive when exposed to marketing communication tools while visiting Web sites [3].

E-Commerce considers the Internet both as a medium and a market for commerce. Its use is not limited to enabling transactions but spans to an information rich and active market space through which buyers and sellers interact. These market spaces are widely characterized as "virtual" because they are not physically fixed or established. The virtual environment lacks the stimulation tools available in a physical marketplace. This implies that the physical markets have a significant advantage over virtual/e-markets. A common example is the clothes market. It is rather difficult for someone to buy clothes without first trying them.

The estimates of the total value of e-commerce transactions vary widely among different research organizations. Still, it is commonly accepted that e-commerce is growing at unprecedented rates. In the present competitive environment, e-commerce dot-coms need to attract and retain high-value customers in order to remain alive. Thus, Web customer loyalty methodologies and techniques receive great value from these companies.

Emerging Changes due to the Internet

Information revolution, i.e., Internet's profound impact, is the alternation of the way business is being conducted; how companies operate, how and where they compete, how and when they serve their customers. New Business Models are emerging, often disruptive to traditional business models.[4] The emerging changes include the following:

  1. Distance. Distance has no meaning and variance in the Internet. Potential markets and competition are everywhere.

  2. Time. Its value is enormous. Immediate interactivity is critical in order to adapt to the changing market demands.

  3. Human Resources. They have become the most valuable asset of the dot.com's because they provide new ideas and new directions.

  4. Product Value. Product value is augmenting exponentially along with market share.

  5. Growth. Network phenomena enhance growth.

  6. Efficiency. Intermediaries' structure is different in the Network Economy because the network environment allows the consumer to meet directly the product supplier. Still, the plethora of individual suppliers and the permanently increasing volume of available information lead to the emergence of a new type of intermediary, the info-mediary. The latter provide additional value to the consumer by being responsible for the combination, the presentation and the management of the vast informative material.

  7. Market: Buyers augment their bargaining power and sellers discover new areas of opportunity.

  8. Transactions: The ease with which information can be adapted or personalized plays a significant role in the augmentation of product and services value.

  9. Matter: Information and Knowledge Management's importance is steadily augmenting. Thus, the firm's value is not limited to physical assets but spans into intangibles such as human resources, ideas and strategic accumulation of information goods.

  10. Distribution: Every product can be easily distributed everywhere. The gap between desire and acquisition tends to close, at least in geographical terms.

In conclusion, the strategic impacts of the Information Revolution and the Internet are mainly business issues. To some extent, the Internet and the new opportunities it presents affect every kind of business. Thus, the competitive landscape and the brand-building environment are in continuous transformation. New opportunities give space to new strategies, tactics and tools for building brands on the Internet

The Brand-Building Process

In general, the brand building process consists of three basic and sequential steps. The first step is known as the preparation and development of a strong value proposition. Next, the company must convince the customers to try the brand. The strength of the value proposition is the decisive factor for providing a satisfactory experience that can lead to repurchases, which is the third and last step. Various promotion methods, aiming at the brand value communication, can be used in order to enhance initial and, subsequently, repeated purchases. Thus, brand equity, the sum of brand awareness and confidence, is composed of the combination and effectiveness of the communication mix and the satisfaction originating from the test and usage experience. Brand equity is defined as the added value with which a brand endows a product [5]. This added value enhances a consumer's ability to interpret and store large amounts of information about a product [6]. Moreover, a strong brand name helps consumers to differentiate and convey the quality of the product [7].

The Distinctive Functions of the Brand

The brand itself adds value to the proposition made to the customer based on its distinctive functions [8]:

  1. Identification: Product recognition is made easier through a unique brand name.

  2. Practicality: Identical repurchases and brand loyalty reduce search costs and time.

  3. Guarantee: Product functionality, characteristics, usability and quality remain unchanged regardless the place, and sometimes the time, of purchase.

  4. Optimization: The customer is satisfied by purchasing the exact product to fit his/her specific needs.

  5. Characterization: The brand acts as a confirmation tool for customer's self-image and self-esteem.

  6. Continuity: The customer is satisfied by the familiarity acquired when locating the brand in the market space.

  7. Hedonism: The customer is happily linked and related to the attractiveness of the brand and its composites.

  8. Ethical: The customer is satisfied by the responsible behavior of the brand in its relationship with the society and himself/herself, individually.

In addition, brands create significant value for the companies themselves, too. For instance, a typical brand leader obtains twice the market share of the number two brand, and the latter twice the market share of the number three, respectively [9]. Also, the brand leader is the most profitable of all the competitors in a market space [10]. This augmentation in brand leader's profit is due to premium pricing and economies of scale phenomena in production. Moreover, strong brands are more attractive to investors and brand loyalty reduces marketing costs. Finally, the product life cycle applies to products, not brands. In other words, companies can maintain the brand while altering the underlying product.

The Brand Identity

As stated earlier, the first step in the brand building process is the creation of a strong value proposition. To accomplish this task, the company must develop a strong understanding of who the potential customers are, what they value, and how the product offer can be customized and configured to deliver the value needed. As a procedure, it is iterative and must be continuously re-evaluated in order to meet changing consumer needs. The value proposition must possess a distinctive identity and offer an added value, apart from an effective and efficient product solution, to propagate compelling reasons for its selection against other competitive propositions. The brand identity comprises the set of features, name, appearance and promotion methods which are communicated to the public through the brand. The three levels of a brand identity are [11]: the Brand Core, the Brand Style and the Brand Theme. The Brand Core is the genetic code of the brand and it remains unchanged through time. The Brand Style articulates the Brand Core in terms of culture, personality and image. Finally, the Brand Theme reflects the way the brand communicates to the public..

Building a Strong Brand

The next step is the communication of the value proposition to customers through the articulation of the appropriate "marketing mix" (also known as "the four P's") i.e., the product's features, its price, place and promotion. The Innovation-Adoption Model [12] is a conceptual tool for describing the set of distinctive actions from building awareness to establishing brand loyalty and adoption (the third sequential step of the brand building process).

Two dimensions are considered important in building a strong brand: brand awareness and brand image [13]. Brand awareness describes the likelihood and the ease with which a consumer associates a brand with its specific product category. Brand image relates to consumer perceptions about a brand, as reflected by the associations linked to the brand in consumer's memory. These associations give meaning to brands and help distinguish them from one another.


In traditional markets, one of the major roles of a brand is to substitute information in order to simplify consumer's time-consuming process of search and comparison before a purchase decision. The Internet makes search and comparison an easy and inexpensive task, thus it threatens to eliminate the aforementioned role of the brand.

A typical Web transaction requires from the potential customer to submit or to give access to detailed personal information. The latter gave rise to a lot of discussion given both the concern of people when sharing personal information and the outer risks involved with it. Although, certain policies and directives have been enabled, the intangible and anarchic nature of the Internet is still difficult to be ruled. Moreover, consumers buy goods that, in most cases, they have never handled or seen before. All of the above demonstrate the value of trust and security in the Internet. In other words, customers tend to be loyal to those sellers whose transaction scheme has been tested or is known and familiar to them.

In addition, customers tend to prefer those e-marketplaces and e-market spaces that provide a wealth of information and comparison measures, that understand their needs and preferences and those in which the user feels part of them or can relate to them [14]. The above highlight information and relationships as added value drivers in the Network Economy. Topics of interest related to the brand and product characteristics are other sources of added value for the customer [15]. In the Web, interactivity enables companies to interact with individual consumers on a one-to-one basis.[16] Thus, in contrast to the majority of other media, the Web can help the company to establish a more solid relationship with its customers because it enables a two-way communication. This provides a very significant opportunity to build customer loyalty. Yet, it is also a challenge for the company due to the commitment involved.

Furthermore, the Web enables companies to gain control over almost every aspect of their interactions with potential or established customers. Therefore, brand building and brand-enhancement accordingly must first recognize and take into account all the phases during the interaction process with the customer. The term "Interaction" describes customer's total visits to the e-market space. It, therefore, has a continuous validity. Moreover, in order to maximize both the customer experience and the amount and quality of information collected, companies have to find innovative ways of leveraging the elements of their relationships with their customers.

The 7 C's Framework

The 7C's Framework [17] refers to a cognitive tool developed from research organizations in order to outline the major components which add value and contribute to the quality of an online experience. In essence, it is a continuation as a well as a restatement of marketing's traditional 4P's (Product, Place, Price, Promotion). The 7 C's are: Content, Customization, Customer Care, Communication, Community, Connectivity and Convenience (Figure 1).

Figure 1 : The 7 C's Framework. Adapted from "Creating a High-Impact Digital Customer Experience," An A.T. Kearny White Paper, 2000.

Convenience describes the customers' ability to access and display information rapidly and unhindered. It has a significant value as a characteristic [18]. Among the most important factors in establishing e-brand loyalty, ease-of-use, fast response time, familiarity and information relevance are distinguished. On the other hand, the most common e-brand loyalty killers are site downtime, outdated information, slow response time and poor customer service [19]. Figure 2 shows the contribution of all of the above characteristics for and against Web brand loyalty.

Figure 2 : Drivers and Killers of E-Brand Loyalty. Source: Business Week Magazine, October 29, 1999

Content , often referred to as a 'sticky' application [20], is relevant, useful and multimedia information directed at the needs and interests of the targeted audience. It entices and propagates site visitors to spend longer time periods browsing the e-market space. As relevant studies have shown, 31% of online consumers prefer the Web for collecting product information despite the type (online or offline) of their purchase. Similarly, 20% trust it for after-sales support [21].

Customization/Personalization involves tailoring the Web-site appearance, content and functionality, based on stored and continuously user-profile information. The main and most commonly used approach in personalizing the interactions of a system is the concept of stereotypes [22]. With stereotypes, the users are grouped into classes. In each class, all the users share similar characteristics. Systems interaction and response (the "personalized presentation") are based on the knowledge of the characteristics of the users in a class.

(Online) Communities are gathering places for consumers with similar ideas and interests. Communities allow consumers to exchange information and share a wide range of services. Online Communities foster a sense of belonging among their members [23], provided that they meet the following requirements [24]:

  1. The content can be easily and precisely tailored to the need of every member.

  2. Members gain mutual benefits when participating to community activities.

  3. Members have the opportunity to shape the development of the Website.

  4. Interactivity is a fundamental functionality of the community design.

  5. Awareness of other likeminded users is an active feature.

  6. Members can identify with the brand.

Connectivity refers to the ability to build online active connections among users sharing relative ideas or users with sites which are related to their needs and their ideas content. This kind of connectivity is known as site-to-site connectivity, or traffic building. Likewise, user-to-site connectivity refers to the incentives given to the user in order to visit the site again in the future.

Customer Care or Customer Support describes the offering of assistance and assurance to the consumer regarding their transactions with the site.

Communication refers to the creation and maintenance of active relationships and interactions with the consumers. Communication actions are not limited to in the time horizon of a user visiting in the e-market place but span in news updates and mail notices sent periodically to the user.

The Transformation of the Innovation-Adoption Model

Based on Consumer Behavior theory, in order to purchase products, consumers typically progress through the stages of information search, alternative evaluation, purchase decision and post purchase evaluation and learning [25]. The Innovation-Adoption Model [26] describes the way potential customers learn about the existence and adoption of a value proposition. It consists of five stages: awareness of the existence, expression of interest, evaluation of the proposition, trial, and adoption or rejection of the product (Figure 3).

Figure 3 : The Innovation-Adoption Model. Adapted from Rogers E. (1962), "Diffusion of Innovations," New York: Free Press, pp. 79-86.

The interactive nature of the Internet led to the expansion and reformulation of this model to a new one, named "Interactive Brand-Building Model" [27]. This model also consists of five stages: Attraction, Engagement, Retaining, Learning and Relation (Figure 4).

Figure 4 : The Interactive Brand Building Model. Adapted Adapted from Kierzkowski, A. McQuade, S. Waitman, R. & Zeisser, M., (1996), "Marketing to the Digital Age", Mc Kinsey Quarterly, No2 , pp. 180-183 (www.mckinseyquarterly.com).

Attraction: In order to build awareness, the company must communicate its value proposition to its target customers. The absence of physical presence along with the plethora of Web sites complicates the above endeavor. The major tools used to accomplish this promotion endeavor effectively are e-mails to Customers, Affiliation Methods, Public Relations and Mass Media Coverage. An interesting point is that the popularity of these tools is not always coherent with their effectiveness. Affiliation Methods constitute mere evidence of this observation. Figure 5 presents the popularity and the effectiveness of the Attraction Tools. As observed from this figure, Communication and Connectivity are the two most fundamental underlying concepts included in the Attraction Tools.

Figure 5 : Popularity and Effectiveness of the Attraction Tools. Adapted from "Targeting Consumers via the Internet" (2000), Forrester Research as cited in Economist Intelligence Unit Report (www.ebusinessforum.com).

Engagement: This notion describes the generation of interest and the will to participate in the actions featured in the Web site. Therefore, Convenience, i.e., ease of use and Content are the key regulative factors.

Retention: This set of actions can be seen as the extension of the engagement and refers to the notion of "sticky applications" which was discussed earlier. Important drivers to maintain online contact with the customers are Content, Customization and Communities.

Learning: It refers to the building up of a knowledge base containing useful information regarding customers demographics, attitudes and behaviors. When used properly, this information can lead to fully customized offers and Web site presence enhancing the whole value proposition for the customer and, thus, building customer loyalty. Therefore, important drivers are Communication, Customization and Communities.

Relation: It can be seen as the imminent positive adaptation of the services to be provided to a recognizable customer, through the process of learning. As a consequence, Customization, Customer Care and Communication are the important drivers.

Still, limitations of the Internet as a medium can be easily distinguished. Its penetration power is less than that of other direct Marketing tools or Mass Media Coverage. Not all product categories can use Internet's virtual interactivity, as they need to stimulate more senses than simply vision and hearing (e.g., smell).

Strong E-brands

E-brand awareness and e-brand image are defined next. E-brand awareness describes the consumer's likelihood and ease with which he/she associates a dot.com e-brand with a product category. Similarly, an e-brand's image relates to consumer perceptions about a dot.com as reflected by the associations linked to the dot.com in consumer's memory [28]. Industry analysis shows that reliability, personalization, velocity and ease of navigation are critical factors in establishing a positive e-brand image [29]. Equally important to the generation of positive perceptions for the e-brand image are consumers' sense of security and privacy when accessing the dot.com [30]. Another notable research result is that consumer experience with the on-line brand is an indicator not only of the e-brand but, also, an indicator of their intention to visit it again. Research has also found that e-brand awareness is affected by marketer and non-marketer communications, whereas design features, product and service factors, vendor characteristics and marketer and non-marketer communications influence an e-brand's image [31].


The Internet as a medium is here to stay and develop [32]. This is not necessarily a blessing [33]. As every business tool, it has its strengths, limits and weaknesses. Speed is regarded as a fundamental change that the Internet has brought about. As a notion, it spans through the building of the online firm from its launch to maturity. It compounds the need for the dot.com to establish firmly loyal customers as quickly as possible before the next online competitor gets in the act.

Online businesses must find ways of successfully reaching consumers. It is generally accepted that the brand's value is worth as much as the number of consumers willing to pay the price asked for it. The key issues to consider when building effective online brands are: the compelling factors of the value proposition, the e-brand's communication strategy, its distinctive character, its online experience, its network externalities and strategic alliances, its customer focus, its promises, and its commitment to innovation and content.


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