A brand will only truly work online if it accurately reinforces its core values: the dynamics that differentiate it from the competition and engage and motivate its target audiences. By reinforcing these, you will be reproducing the brand's formula for success and so will stand a greater chance of making the desired impact online.
If not detailed in the brief, your client may be able to supply you with guidelines outlining the brand values and set out how the brand should be executed - some impose exacting specifications on how branding should be implemented online whereas others seek to benefit from the creative's interpretation.
However, if the guidelines make for a poorly executed brand then that brand will execute poorly online - of course, this may present you with an opportunity to suggest a review of the brand identity and infrastructure in question. Also, there are still brands out there that have been developed primarily for use offline - for example, the colour palette may not work online.
In the absence of brand guidelines, it's worth collating as much material as you can from your client to build a holistic view of the brand, its key messages and to understand the ways it's executed across different materials. Developing this brand style to work successfully online can be a challenge - essentially, all elements within a web page design (away from the all-Flash websites) are contained within boxes. However, there are many workarounds for creating visually appealing designs which appear less 'boxy'. The limits imposed on web design often generate interesting and innovative solutions; the secret is to know what's possible with the technology available.
It's also vital to ensure that you have a clear understanding of your target audiences and their online behaviour. Are they seeking interaction and entertainment? Do they have the time to explore and experiment? Or do they want to get in and out with the minimum of fuss through clear signposting to specific information?
You should also consider the role of the media you're producing for. For example, how does the online element integrate with campaigns across other media that the client may be running? Is the online element required to just satisfy requests for information or to encourage consumers to purchase?
So, understanding the brand, your target audiences and the role of the media you're producing for are all key. By working closely with your client and asking the right questions, you will develop a clear brief that will drive look, feel and functionality.
The following tutorial focuses on some practical measures you can take to get brands working successfully online - creating and sending branded content in the form of a newsletter and achieving improved brand visibility online through the creation of an XML sitemap. Having recently rebranded Katapult, we've used elements from our own branding to illustrate the processes involved.