During 2010, my colleagues on the Customer Experience team at Forrester and I evaluated the Brand Experience at the Web sites of 14 companies across three industries (and wrote individual reports for each industry). Specifically, we reviewed five auto manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota), four hotels (Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton), and five skin care brands (Dove, L’Oreal Paris, Neutrogena, Nivea, and Olay). We’ve summarized our findings in my latest report, “The Best Of Web Site Brand Experiences 2010.”

Using our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology, we set out to test 1) how well the sites supported their key brand attributes in a manner consistent with other channels (Brand Image), and 2) how well the site supported user goals (Brand Action). While none of the 14 sites Forrester reviewed with our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology passed both dimensions of our tests (Brand Image and Brand Action), there were some good practices that companies across industries can learn from.

Results of Web Site Brand Reivews of 14 Sites Across Three Industries

Best practices in the Brand Action portion of our review include legibility practices from Sheraton and Nissan and Neutrogena’s use of clear language. But one of the better overall examples we found was Marriott’s innovative way of surfacing key content about its properties from the results listing page. When users search for a hotel in a city — say Denver, for example — they get a list of hotels as they would at any other site. But Marriott uses tabs for each property that let users see which amenities are available (in black) and which amenities are not available (in gray). Users can also scroll through thumbnail images of each property. Users can do all of this without leaving the search results page, meaning that when they do click to a hotel page, they can do so with a high degree of confidence that the property will meet their needs.

On the Brand Image side, Dove stood out for its use of imagery. The site uses images of women of all ages, shapes, and skin tones to push the brand’s mission of “widening today’s view of beauty.” In the automotive industry, all sites exhibited high-quality production values, but Toyota stood out for its safety feature demos that show users how vehicles withstand impacts from different angles. But overall, Sheraton’s site stood out as the leader in Brand Image across all 14 sites. Why? Because from beginning to end, the site’s content, functionality, and language consistently hit on the brand’s “connecting” and “sharing” attributes. In addition, a unique color palette and overall high-quality visual design differentiate it from other hotels and other sites in general.

For a full analysis and recommendations on how to put these best practices to work for you, please see the full report.