Brand Strategy / Digital

Brand building precedes web development—or so we thought

by Shachar Meron
08.31.21

Brand building vs web development

You need a strong brand foundation before building a website. That’s what we thought, anyway. Then John Geletka offered another POV: use the web development process to iterate the brand itself. 

We’re interviewing digital leaders about the role branding plays in web development. We believe you want a solid brand foundation before building a site, and wanted to hear the developer perspective.

(Our first talk with Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media was insightful, covering the warning signs and risks of building your site on shaky ground.)

In this second of three interviews, John Geletka of Geletka+ flips the brand-before-web dynamic, goes all-in on iteration, and introduces us to the MVB.

Building from a Minimum Viable Brand

First, the question we ask all digital leaders: how established does a brand need to be before starting web development? What elements do you look for?

John’s first response was fairly expansive. “We need a brand platform, and that usually includes mission, vision, values. Nice-to-haves are personality, voice, tone, vision. Value prop and positioning are our favorites: if we know what the they do, why they exist, who they’re talking to, and what their outcome is, I can craft a good homepage from that input.”

Then he threw a curve: maybe you don’t need all that. 

“In startup land, you can get by with an MVB—Minimum Viable Brand—and then level up later,” said John. If you have that core position you can iterate from there, like by testing three different treatments of your positioning statement to see what resonates best. “You can A/B test dirt cheap today.”

He also noted some of the leadership dynamics that get tested in the process. “We sometimes see conflict between the CMO, who knows better positioning and brand work need to be done, and the CEO who doesn’t want to allocate budget to that but is OK spending on a new website. Can we kill two birds with one stone by testing different hypotheses?”   

A Brand Blueprint can make your brand accessible
Brand elements like mission, vision, values, positioning, value proposition, and persona can be made accessible in a Brand Blueprint.

Static vs iterative mindset

One of the Geletka+ golden rules is TRY. FAIL. LEARN. SUCCESS. They talk about moving fast and optimizing later, and their dynamic whitespace model.

At different times John described a website as a useful tool for understanding your brand, and as a barometer of your brand. He also called it an opportunity to stress test: “the website exposes not only brand gaps, but also business gaps.” 

For Geletka, a static mindset is a dealbreaker. “A big red flag for us is a company that wants to build the website and walk away,” John said. “This world is reliant on participation, engagement, dialog, content. A mindset of ‘one and done’ doesn’t work in this space. Just get a SquareSpace site.”  

When companies enter a web engagement without the right mindset, they underperform. That means failing to maximize their investment, but also takes an emotional toll: “People are disappointed in what they got, if it’s not performing for one of many possible reasons.” 

Brand building through iteration
Iteration is a core tenet of the Geletka+ way.

Content as a brand building experience

John identified content as one of those areas you can test and iterate along the way. But he noted it helps to have a baseline “arsenal of content”—probably language currently (and inconsistently) used by your salespeople, hopefully resonating with what your audience looks for. 

Good starter content helps with search, but also site UX and conversion copy. “SEO is push and pull. It’s how people find you. But it’s also a great tool to understand what people are looking for and what resonants with them. You can do a lot of tech things to improve rankings while also delivering a great experience and great brand in your language. I like to find that balance.”

When Geletka+ needs to dive into the website without a fully defined brand strategy, they can still “start to tell the story of the business, what they are selling, who they are selling it to. You really start to see the holes when you start building the sitemap. And when you start laying down the content, and start to try to prioritize messages.”

brand messaging tools and tips
Need help prioritizing messages? Bluegreen has messaging tools and tips for that.

On design as an emotional brand multiplier

What about design? Our conversations with these digital leaders often revolve around strategy and content and experience, but Geletka had plenty to say about the visual side of brands and how that can impact website development and performance.

“Great design matters because it creates an emotional connection,” said John, who has some firsthand experience as a designer himself.  “Design is a multiplier that will 10x your brand if you do it right. We can quantify the impact of design in some things like shopper marketing, though it’s harder to quantify on a website. But it’s a great investment and we really believe in it.”

To make design work for you in digital, you need to think about it contextually. What does it mean to your brand? To your audience? On this site, on that device, at this moment in the users’ process?

“Design is very strategic. You align your design straight to your brand platform… if you do it well, you’re going to get a lot out of it. That’s your 10x casino multiple.”  Helpful advice if you ever need to request additional budget to make your site (and by extension, your brand) look great.

Though even John notes experimenting with core brand elements requires a healthy dose of planning. "It's just a much more complex process to quantify branding on a website because there’s so many dimensions. It’s a big chunk of the big 'D' in design that includes visual, copy, UX, brand, message, message by audience, engagement, engagement over time, and every measure of interaction you can fathom."

So if you want to iterate your brand online in real time, you may get there fast—but it won't necessarily be simple. Such is the world of modern brand building.

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Bluegreen Branding provides brand strategy consulting with a focus on B2B tech and financial companies. From rapid deployments to long-range missions, we help ambitious brand and marketing leaders articulate their vision, craft communications, and launch impactful campaigns. If you ever talk with John, you know he frequently throws around pears of wisdom that can rock your world, mixed with statements that seem a little BS—see if you can tell them apart.


Brand Strategy / Digital

by Shachar Meron

08.31.21