Should web brands reflect the mother ship?

Lots of discussion around the new AZCentral web site. It’s a discussion around whether the new site reflects the newspaper brand. It doesn’t, and I wondered if that was accident or intentional heresy. Take a look at AZCentral. If you’re in Arizona, you probably remember the cluttered site that bore no resemblance to the newspaper it was an extension of — The Arizona Republic.

We all worry about two things when it comes to online presence: Usability and Branding. Often we get all fired up over the latter, and pay lip service to the former.

The rhetorical question I often ask is, does an online product need to reflect the branding of the mothership? And often the answer is, “Yes of course!” But if we probe a bit deeper, we may find that the audience for the online product may be looking for a different experience than the audience of the physical product. Even if some part of the audience patronizes both. Do users walk away from an online experience because it is different from the physical entity? Will a McDonald‘s user walk away from the site because there is no giant golden arch on the landing page? The McDonald’s.com site is quite plain in comparison to the physical store. Mcdonald’s USA on the other hand is a lot more interactive than its mothership.

If we design web sites based on who our users are, and how they visit us, maybe our online brand deserves its own identity. Ikea is one huge confusing place that encourages people to get lost, and find plants and window drapes when they only came in to buy a ice bucket. But the Ikea site is organized by the way people search, not the way store customers go to get lost. There are just seven tabs for seven rooms, and one more for three others. It’s that simple. The store is supposed to slow down customers. The site is supposed to speed things up. Usability took home the trophy, for a good reason.

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