I'm really hoping this 'Dot Oh' term takes off - kind of like Dot Com, ay? :-) Anyway, Paul Scrivens has written a great post on the value of branding in the Web 2.0 world. Scrivs wrote:
"A major problem with this phase of the web that many people seem to miss isn't that companies don't have a business model, it's that they aren't doing a great job of communicating their message and their qualities to users. Look at the survivors from the last boom and what separated them from the rest of the field."
He goes on to mention Amazon and their initial brand as 'the largest bookstore in the world'. He also mentions Apple's brand of quality, simplicity and beauty. Those are both excellent examples.
My thoughts... I think the big Internet companies that have branded well are Google and Yahoo!. Google's brand is based on technical innovation. Their seemingly arrogant and engineer-focused "we're the number 1 technology company and we know it" attitude - that's all part of their allure. Yahoo!'s brand is the mainstream Internet company - taking care of The People, but making sure everyone knows they're technically astute too. They're also morphing into a media-technology company, which is positioning them beautifully in the current and future age of We Media.
I find Microsoft's brand in the Web 2.0 era to be confused. They used to be the number 1 technology company, but in this new world they're more fast followers than innovators. They're at least hard on the heels of Google and Yahoo!, and perhaps that's all they need to be at this point in time (given their huge resources and wealth).
Apple is great brand, no doubt about it, and they're almost above the Web 2.0 world. I once compared them to The Fonz. As well as the aesthetics angle that Scrivs mentioned, I think they have that 'cooler than thou' attitude that transcends the Web 2.0 meme.
Of the smaller companies, I have to hand it to 37Signals - even though personally I don't identify much with their brand. I think Feedburner has built up a great brand, as has Adaptive Path.
Blogging brands are important too. Indeed I joined Scrivs' 9rules network because they value quality individual blogger brands. Web design is one part of that, but much more important is the blogger's 'voice' and the things they represent. After all, RSS hides a lot of the web design branding from readers - so the voice and community aspects of a blog must shine through in its words.
Branding in Web 2.0 is just as important as it was in 1.0 and in the 80's even. RSS has thrown up more challenges and has made the 'voice' of a blog or company far more important than it used to be. I see that as a good thing, because media and communications have become more personalized and - yes - human.