Ah, 007. Take a look at our new secret weapon

electronic commerce

As business on the Web matures, strong brands will dominate and be used to sell all kinds of products. But, says Mark Vernon, the Web is not so much a fertile plain as a potential minefield.

Successful branding requires a precise control of the medium through which the image is communicated, and the Internet still remains largely unpredictable both in terms of the experience it offers and the audience it reaches.

BMW is one of the strongest brands in Europe, with its close association to state-of-the-art engineering - to say nothing of the antics of James Bond. Last year, the company launched a Web site (http://www.bmw.co.uk) which has since won several awards, including Best Brand Web Site from the Internet Research Council.

Ajaz Ahmed, director of AKQA, which designed the site, says it is driven by the goal of creating an experience that promotes the BMW brand. The question asked at the start was: if BMW was a Web site, what would it be?

"BMW is a car that has the power to do anything that is asked of it," explains Ahmed. "All of BMW's marketing, whether it's a TV commercial or an invitation to a dealer event, cleverly echoes this public perception by developing a world where the car is the master of communication, where wit and cool confidence are key."

For the site, this meant, for example, that the company did not opt for publishing an online magazine (a common feature of corporate Web sites), as this was perceived as a diversion from the brand. Instead, the Web would provide useful information that was not readily supplied elsewhere. Hence the company took out a double-page newspaper spread that advertises not a car but a service on its Web site. This is notably in the form of a used car directory, from which customers in the UK can search the details of certified secondhand BMWs - a process of authentication which reinforces the exclusivity of the brand.

"We actually developed our own database to deliver this function," says Ahmed, "in order to optimise it for Web searching, particularly in terms of speed." Ahmed was also aware of the of dangers to be avoided if the Web was to work with the brand. At a basic level, it was vital that the experience of surfing the site did not conflict with the reputation of BMW cars. Not only was the word crash never far from his mind. He also tried to ensure that the "clunkiness" of the Web did not hinder consumer enjoyment.

"People also have higher expectations from a brand like BMW," says Ahmed. "For example, at the moment we are running a James Bond screensaver download. This could be risky because software is regarded as 'buggy', and it is important that the site demonstrates a reliability commensurate with BMW cars."

With a current hit rate of 30,000 per week and up to 55 per cent of total advertising sales leads deriving from the Web site, it is not surprising that a performance monitoring system is in place so that warnings are given immediately issues arise.

"The idea comes first, then the technology," he says. "Some big brands on the Net have produced not so much multimedia but what we call 'multi- mediocrity'. This creates a quality gap between traditional and new ways in which the brand is represented."

To avoid this it was important not to treat the Internet like an advertising or direct-mail campaign but to understand it as a medium in its own right. "The main difference is an emphasis on service: that is, content which is useful," Ahmed says. "The crucial thing is to offer exclusive electronic facilities that are relevant and which reinforce the brand."

The least controllable aspect of putting a Web site online is also arguably the most important for brand promotion - the individual who views it. With other media, organisations spend significant parts of the budget "placing" the advert appropriately. When it comes to cars this must reflect national preferences: it is perceived wisdom that Italians prefer smaller cars, Germans like high performance, the UK and Switzerland are concerned about safety and the French with status. The difficulty is that on the Web, anyone from anywhere on the globe might arrive at the site. An image of a car whizzing down a motorway may be inappropriate for those who would prefer to see, for example, the car's safety aspects highlighted.

Many sites, BMW included, now make selection of country of origin a necessity before the site can be accessed, a feature which provides the viewer with the appropriate translation of text and customises the content, too.

Nor does that most sensitive of attributes associated with brand - price - roam freely on the Internet. Or, as Ajaz Ahmed says, "BMW actively encourages sales through the dealer network. The site design ensures that the dealer is the main call to action."

No doubt dealers add value to the price of a car but, in this market, at least, manufacturers are making sure that it takes more than that supposed great leveller, the Web, to harmonise car prices across Europe.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?