"Which is more important: brand or usability? Does there have to be a conflict between the two? Today, we'll tackle the subject and try to find a middle ground between form and function. On one hand, best practices enable better usability. But adhering to them too much stymies innovation and possibly brand differentiation.
Does your site represent a strong brand? If not, you've probably built one that looks like every other site on the Web. If your brand doesn't have a strong voice, your site's voice is generic. If you don't have a strong visual brand, users probably can't tell your site from anyone else's. You don't want your company's services and products to become a commonality, but you don't provide enough brand experience to generate any real loyalty.
On the other hand, maybe your brand is carefully guarded and has very clear style guides and rules about its look, voice, and feel. In this case, your site has probably eschewed accepted standards of common sites in an effort to make it stand out. If you have a strong offline brand (e.g., luxury brands, highly differentiated retail brands), you may have striven to adapt that offline brand to online. While it may make complete sense to your current customers (who get your brand, voice, and nomenclature), how does this experience work for new customers who aren't brand loyalists?
A Strong Brand Equals Loyal Customers
First things first: if you want to have loyal customers, you need a strong brand. Customers are attracted to the things that differentiate you. I spoke at a corporate conference a couple years ago, and Gary Hoover (of Hoover's) was on the panel with me. In a discussion about brand, he mentioned the supermarket test. It's simple: if you're knocked out and wake up in the frozen food section of a supermarket, can you immediately tell which supermarket you're in? In general, the answer is no: all supermarkets look the same.
But if you're in a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe's, the answer is yes. Their brands aren't just the signage they use. They're embodied by everything in the store. Mind you, those two companies follow best practices for grocery store layout. But they do it with their own flair and attention to detail; every shelf and aisle reflect their brands." (Continued via 4Hoteliers, Jack Aaronson) [Usability Resources]