Until recently, insurance companies have developed many Web sites for various products and business units, with little attention paid to consistency in branding, according to Kimberly Harris, senior research analyst at Gartner Financial Services, a unit of Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research and consulting firm."But insurers are beginning to realize they need to focus on an enterprise brand and roll that down to the different channels," she says.

Prudential Insurance Company of America is completing a rollout of its international Web sites, which have been carefully designed to leave customers around the world with a consistent impression of the Newark, N.J.-based company.

Previously, every (Web) site outside the United States was all over the place," says Irene Dec, vice president of international investments at Prudential.

Now, however, all international home pages for Prudential and Prumerica follow a standard format with the corporate logo at the top left-hand corner of the page, the tag line "growing and protecting your wealth" at the top right-hand corner, a choice bar on the left that always contains an integrity statement, the search engine under the logo, and an internal area for business content.

"A lot of companies are trying to create flashy, sexy brands online," Gartner's Harris says. But it's a mistake to deviate from the offline brand, she says. "If customers have inconsistent experiences with different brands, or are confused about what the brand is, (a company) will begin to experience brand erosion."

Prudential is avoiding that problem by using its unified Web format. "If you've ever gone to an Internet site where every time you poke somewhere else you've got to relearn where the search bar is . . . (you'll understand why) creating one look and feel was critical to us," Dec says.

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