Have you ever played one of those games that ask you to identify brands simply by their logo? They’re fun, no? But as a marketer, these games are a bit frustrating. Getting to this point is a dream that sometimes feels a bit too out of reach. But while it may be difficult to reach the heights of Coca-Cola and Nike, it is very possible to build a strong brand for your ecommerce company.
And this is something you should be trying to do. A strong brand is a tremendous asset to your company. It encourages loyalty by giving people something to connect to; it brings people to you by helping you stand out from the crowd; and it gives your business a huge boost in value, something very important if you ever plan to sell your business.
Building a brand, though, can seem daunting. Yet if you understand what goes into a strong brand, then you can begin building one that can help take you to the next level. Here are some things to consider to help you build a strong brand for your ecommerce business.
Focus on Authenticity
You must put your money where your mouth is for your branding efforts to work. We are all familiar with companies that say one thing and do the other. Their branding falls on deaf ears, and it can sometimes even have a negative effect by damaging any trust you’ve built with people. For some large companies that sell something we all need, they can get away with not being authentic (think Comcast). But for an ecommerce brand, you will not be given the same leeway.
To be authentic, the first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly who you are as a company. Just like in our own personal relationships, trying to be something you’re not just to please someone else simply doesn’t work. And the same thing goes for your company. If you try to promote a brand you can’t back up with your actions, people will see through you and tune you out.
To improve your authenticity, define the following concepts at the beginning of your branding campaign:
It’s important to remember that your business exists to help people solve a problem. So, your vision is your version of the world where you’ve been able to solve this problem. It’s okay for this vision to be abstract—or one you can never realistically achieve—but by broadcasting your vision to your audience, you’re helping them feel included in making some change in the world.
Most of the time your vision statement will be related to what you do, but it will always be much larger. For example, Facebook’s vision is to build a world that’s more connected. Apple wants to see a world focused on simplicity and innovation. No matter what it is, the purpose of a strong vision in branding is to make people feel they are participating in something important by buying your products or services.
Your mission statement is your stated plan for helping to make your vision a reality. To return to our earlier example, Facebook is building a connected world by providing people with a platform they can use to communicate and share. The point of the mission statement is to demonstrate to people you have a plan. If they can easily see this, they’ll be much more likely to jump on board.
Core values & brand personality
To determine this part of your brand, think about your company as a person. What would it be like? What would it care about? What are some sacrifices it would never make? One of the goals of a brand is to humanize your company. To build brand affinity, you want to position it as a human your audience would want to call a friend.
Walk Around in Your Customers’ Shoes
For your branding to really resonate with people, it’s important you try to understand them as much as possible. Here are some ways to help you do that:
The “Ideal Customer”
One useful exercise for understanding your audience is the “Ideal Customer” exercise. In this activity, you create a fictitious audience member. You give them a name and write out some aspects of their life and personality, going as deep as you can. The goal is to distill some of your audience’s values and beliefs so that you can create messaging that speaks to what’s important to them. If you have different audience segments, then do this exercise for each one, looking for similarities among the different groups.
Customer (User) Journey
After you’ve done this, you should work to understand the journey your customers take. There are two ways to do this. One is to analyze the day in the life of an audience member.
Take one of the fictitious audience members you thought up earlier and visualize their day. Start from the moment they wake up and go through all the things they do until they go to sleep. At each action, identify if it’s a positive or negative experience, giving special attention to the negatives. Why are they so bad? What is standing in the way of them being positive? And then decide what is the best way to reach that person at that particular moment. These are known as pain points and touchpoints.
Again, the purpose of this is to try and figure out what’s important to people. A strong brand will be about more than just the products you sell, so you need to find what else makes people tick. Being able to offer solutions to their problems and align yourself with their values will go a long way towards building a strong brand affinity with your audiences.
The other way to do this is to consider the overall journey people take when they decide to make a purchase. Generally, people follow the same path. They begin by gathering information, then they consider and compare the different options, then they look for the best deal, and then they make a purchase. Your job when doing this is to try and figure out what will get people’s attention. What are they looking for at each point in their journey? And what resources do they use to find what they seek? You want to make sure you’re saying the right things in the right places so that you can snag people’s attention and bring them to you.
Aligning Expectations with Reality
While it’s important to be true to yourself, if you’re not sensitive to what people are looking for from the brands they use, then this authenticity will not help you create a strong brand. And on the other hand, if you simply pander to what people expect from you, then you’re going to come off as inauthentic, and your efforts will be equally as ineffective.
To help you find this middle ground, consider writing out the main findings of your previous efforts. Focus on core values and beliefs, and determine which adjectives most strongly define you as a brand, as well as those that are most important to your audience.
Throughout this process, look for similarities and parallels. These will be the values and beliefs that will define all of your messaging, if you can successfully find this sweet-spot between what you are and what people want, then you now know what you need to communicate to your audiences to help make your branding efforts a success,
Once you figure out what messaging is going to be most important, your next focus needs to be on consistency. For these messages to be effective, your audience needs to receive them at every touchpoint. So, whether they reach out to you over email, learn about you on social media or stumble onto your website, you need to make sure each medium conveys the right message.
A useful way to make sure you’re consistent is to create brand guidelines. These norms help define the types of content you will and won’t produce, making it easier to craft messages that serve the purpose you want them to. But these guidelines will also help you define some of the more subtle aspects of branding. Things such as fonts, colors and images all say something to your audience, so it’s important you get these right every time you communicate with people.
You may also want to consider creating a content calendar or schedule. Thinking long-term about the types of content you’re going to produce will allow you to be more strategic. And it will also make it easier to be consistent. Instead of having to come up with content on the spot, you’ll simply need to carry out a plan that you’ve already thought through.
Never Forget Trial and Error
All of these things are going to help you build a strong brand for your ecommerce business. But as you begin thinking about the type of brand you are and want to be, remember it’s impossible to know right from the start what’s going to work and what’s not. Make sure you’re flexible and don’t be afraid to try new things. As long as what you do is grounded in research and an understanding of your audience, then you should be able to build a strong brand that can help bring your ecommerce business to the next level.