In a fast paced eCommerce environment, selling well often (and obviously) becomes the crux for every business. The pressure builds up to perform consistently and emphatically where the target audience is both engaged and converted. In many cases, however, this remains a pipe dream.
One of the significant reasons is a lack of differentiated branding. While branding is often misunderstood to be a bunch of well-designed graphics and intelligent copy, re-evaluating your existing eCommerce brand is actually about so much more. And this is why we’ll touch upon more integral aspects of eCommerce branding that you can approach, assess and work around to create world-class differentiation for your eCommerce company.
Build an eCommerce Brand without Splurging: A Founder's Guide
1. Re-emphasize on brand promises through action
The usual trope of eCommerce branding being about the right visuals and a logo that works has come to an end.
Because now is the time when discerning buyers all over the world are matching up to the steady increase in eCommerce brands.
And when you are considering how to build an eCommerce brand yourself, driving brand promises through steady action is the only way forward.
Strengthen your company culture & promote it
According to Harvard Business Review,
If your culture and your brand are driven by the same purpose and values and you weave them together into a single guiding force for your company, you will win the competitive battle for customers and employees, future-proof your business from failures and downturns, and produce an organization that operates with integrity and authenticity.
Here are a few steps you can take right away.
a. Articulate your brand aspirations clearly
We get it that today your eCommerce brand has a specific form. But what’s also true is that you have probably woven your company’s desired future into your vision.
How does that look? What attributes do you want to be known for?
What words would you want your target audience to use for your brand, say 5 years down the line?
b. Identify your biggest cultural strengths and talk about them
The other way to do it is to take inspiration from your brand aspirations and see what you can promote firmly as a cultural quality within the organization.
Let’s say, for example, you are working to bring to market an energy drink.
Culturally, you may want to promote the energy and enthusiasm that goes into seeking good health as an everyday choice.
Once you’re certain about what works for your brand’s culture internally, make sure you talk about it in your branding communications as well.
Fashion brand Zalando, for example, has ensured their work achievements and culture get clearly represented on their corporate site.
Even otherwise, the brand is known to feature a very progressive work culture bringing together fashion and technology.
Create constructive day-to-day experiences
When you’re wondering how to build an online store and how to differentiate it as a brand, know that the basics can reflect most strongly.
Take day-to-day customer experiences for example.
If your brand promise is to be accessible to your audiences around the world, it’s imperative that you develop a world-class customer support system.
Here are a few areas you may want to look into.
a. Focus on fine-tuning your omnichannel strategy
When it comes to emphasizing on brand promises through constructive action, this is a key point.
For an eCommerce brand, a seamless omnichannel experience means customers don’t stumble across touchpoints.
Customer data is accessed once and stored once and for all, reducing friction and increasing operational effectiveness.
To finetune your omnichannel approach, map your customer journey more thoroughly, incorporate more interactive technology (think voice search, gamification and the like) and connect with audiences where they hang out the most.
For example, you may have only charted out 10 distinct touch points relevant to your business - but upon a little more investigation, you may find 10 more that need attention.
(Given how important your eCommerce homepage is as a touchpoint, you may want to read this.)
Sephora, one of our favorite brands, ensures a seamless experience across offline and online channels.
While offline, they have physical product try-ons and informed sales staff to guide customers through the whole purchase journey, online they have enabled AR and VR to mimic a make-up store.
b. Make self-service a reality
Without an instant human face to put to the brand, customers may feel more dependent on conventional customer support.
But you can work to create more efficiency for the latter to be available for the most important and critical queries.
For the rest, work on enabling self-service. This would include supercharging your FAQ page, growing on old content to include new information and enabling a powerful chatbot.
One brand that takes its self-service aspect seriously is Hers.
The brand has introduced a completely separate page to decode and describe how the Hers experience works.
c. Make it easy for customers to access social proof
In the absence of real stores and in-store experiences, potential customers fall back on the experiences of other customers to make purchase decisions.
The easier you make it for customers to access social proof, the more likely they will see it as an extension of what your brand stands for.
Pretty Litter is a brand that makes reviews really accessible.
Not only do they have an option for people to read reviews in the primary menu, they also feature a section on the homepage dedicated to what customers are saying.
Engage with captive audiences through greater personalization
Your brand promises are best known by those who have already bought from you.
Now as you work towards strengthening them further through relevant action, make sure to incorporate greater personalization.
According to McKinsey, personalization results in higher conversion (by 10% to 15%) as well as greater customer satisfaction (by 20%).
Here are a few things you can do to improve personalization for your target audience.
a. Bring in personalized bestseller lists
More than customers knowing what’s selling like hot cake generally, they may be more eager to know what’s selling like hot cake in the categories they truly care for.
Depending on the nature of your product, you could bring in the climate angle and introduce geography-based bestseller lists, for example.
You could even show bundled product suggestions that are deeply personalized.
Ikea as a brand is known to ace at the game of personalization.
In the following piece of communication, the brand brings together the best of deals in one place, creating immediate inspiration for someone ready to buy.
b. Introduce relevant on-site popups
The typical popups are geared to wheel back the customer who is trying to leave an eCommerce site.
With hyper personalization, they continue to do the same - except that they feature very specific language and offers.
Let’s say person A is coming to your site for the first time and person B for the fifth time.
Hyper personalization will ensure the way they are addressed, the points that are used to create curiosity and even the offers on display, would all differ.
Candle Delirium, for example, ensures first time visitors walk away with the feeling that if they sign up, much more awaits them. The giveaway? “VIP List”.
No matter which actions you choose to deliver your brand promises, take care to keep them consistent. Studies have found that only 25% companies follow some form of brand guidelines, but that 80% love a brand only with experience.
Looking for more ways to nurture your leads? Top 20 lead nurturing emails in eCommerce is right up your alley.
2. Ensure more memorability and engagement
There hasn’t been a more trying time for eCommerce brands to make a mark and sell to their target audience.
More businesses are shooting straight into the scene everyday and many amongst them have what it takes to create the right emotional connection with customers.
But memorability is the magic recipe that few brands are able to really crack over a longer period of time.
A Havas study for example noted that 49% consumers feel overwhelmed by brand messaging, whereas only 15% realistically remember what they saw.
Here are a few intrinsic points to cover if you want to take up space in your customers’ minds.
Develop content more aligned with your vision
There’s a reason why misaligned content does not work. Whereas content aligned with your vision can clearly show the world where you’re headed and also want to go. To be able to do this, you’ll have to ensure the following without fail.
a. Work on articulating a clear vision statement
Remember that the most successful vision statements are those that simply state the reason behind a brand’s existence and purpose. Let’s take the example of Warby Parker, a brand we admire for its succinctness, honesty and flair for being direct.
Warby Parker’s vision statement is:
To offer designer wear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
Only 15 words that let you know how the brand is attempting to make a difference not just in the lives of people unable to afford expensive eyewear but also in the business landscape. (The following is a screenshot of how the business communicates through their About Us page.)
b. Make the statement drive your marketing & content strategies
This is one of the few ways your target audience will begin to notice cohesion in the way you communicate and create superlative experiences.
Nordstrom is a case in point. The fashion retailer’s vision statement goes like this:
To serve our customers better, to always be relevant in their lives and to form lifelong relationships.
The brand has gone on to successfully carve every move to match this powerful vision it has for itself. It spans from the kind of offers they bring to celebrate the company’s important dates to the real-time integration of offline and online channels. (Yes, they were amongst the very first brands to declare curbside pickup long before the 2019 pandemic struck!)
Publicize your brand evolution
Since every brand journeys along the mission, vision, values and beliefs, it’s necessary for some of it to percolate into what customers view and read. Publicizing what your brand stands for and how it is evolving in an authentic, wholesome way can potentially bring more of your target audience to you.
a. Make the origins known to create brand awareness
Customers love a good story, but they love it more when it comes straight from the horse's mouth.
Brands that are able to tell the stories that led them to come into existence create the potential for more organic engagement with their audiences.
Here’s how Snug, the sofa company, declares how they began, and how their origins have influenced what they do.
b. Use regular customer communication to plug in brand beliefs
This is one way a brand can establish how serious, evolved or committed it is. It is a direct reflection on what values it stands for and why a customer might want to engage repeatedly.
Here’s an example of an email sent by Burt’s Bees on Earth Day. All parts of the visual and verbal communication make it clear that the brand stands for a better planet.
c. Make UX a very big deal in your online brand experience
The eCommerce universe has moved from the point where having an app or website was enough.
Now it’s about how well any of these assets can be navigated, browsed through and used to purchase products.
Focusing on consistent and clutter-free UX can often be the start of better memorability and engagement.
One brand that we love for its on-point UX is North Face. Their pages are simply laid out with clear CTAs and a menu that can be easily understood.
What’s even better? When you try to exit their website within the first couple of minutes, they even serve up a relevant feedback form.
While trying to create a memorable eCommerce brand, try and work with a hyper-focused target group. This will narrow down your messaging and also help you develop experiences that this specific group would appreciate and enjoy.
Love what you're reading? Read eCommerce Product Launch: The Most Comprehensive Guide Ever to keep the inspiration going.
3. Deepen customer focus
While considering how to differentiate your online brand, you’ll need to put the customer first.
Gone are the days when a support number or email would be enough to drive home the message that customers will receive timely help.
Given that most customers are browsing multiple brands across multiple brands, the problem is a lot more complex.
And that’s why you’ll have to bring your attention to the following areas.
Implement an omnichannel support system
The logic is simple. If customers have omnichannel exposure to your brand, they also need to experience omnichannel support.
In an omnichannel support system, your customer data will be recorded once and made available across channels when necessary through an integrated dashboard.
This can reduce delays by reducing information repetition and increasing timely response.
Enhance available real time support
This is because the customer otherwise has to search for your support page, click on it, wait for it to load…you get the drift.
The idea is to make your online brand stand out for ease, speed and reliability. And very few things such as real-time customer support can drive that point home.
This is why customer-focused brands like Grove Collaborative offer live chat across their sites.
Take help from your customer journey mapping process to understand why a customer is likely to reach out for help. By assessing the micro journeys, you’ll be able to know if your customer support requires a change or other touchpoints like website, app or the product-in-use needs tweaks.
4. Make your brand narrative stronger
Customers understand and appreciate brand stories. Customers understand and appreciate brand stories even better when they realize a strong narrative is setting their tone.
So, when you’re trying to drive differentiation through your eCommerce brand, you’ll need to fortify your brand narrative to be a stable springboard for all your strategic and creative communications to fly off.
Test your larger narrative with internal stakeholders
You could be a five-person business entity or a growing 50-person strong eCommerce business.
Pulling in internal stakeholders to test how your existing brand is landing on them is important.
This is because on one hand they would have a clearer view of your values and purpose and on the other, may also readily be able to see themselves in the shoes of your target personas.
a. Create an internal survey
Have it feature questions on how shoppers relate with the brand and its offerings, if they share a consensus on who the target audience is and what their understanding is of your brand’s go-to market strategy.
b. Take feedback on the most important brand channels
Gain an understanding of their experience, how they perceive communications across these channels and what according to them would better convey your narrative to the external audience.
Realign with your overall strategy and direction
It’s not enough to be seen only as what your target audience expects and anticipates your online brand to be. In the process, you’ll also have to look at how you started, how you are faring currently and where you are headed.
a. Focus on your key value proposition
If it doesn’t exist already, bring about a statement that sets out to articulate the clear, measurable and demonstrable advantage a prospective customer can enjoy by buying from you. This ties in directly with your bigger brand strategy and in what direction you are anticipating and planning that the brand grows.
b. Bring the spotlight onto the shared purpose
Considered a few steps ahead than the value proposition is the shared purpose. Quite literally, this is the purpose that you share with your target customer as you walk the brand journey.
Consider Nike’s mission for example, which goes like “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. Through “Just Do It”, the slogan which is part of Nike’s larger narrative, Nike aims to inspire athletes around the world to show up and do their bit.
So the shared purpose happens when Nike brings innovation to release the best athletic shoes and clothing, and athletes bring their drive and their discipline.
Ensure all your touchpoints convey the same narrative
Because gone are the days when customers would interact only through one channel (let’s say, an offline store) and buy from there. If all the varied brand touchpoints, which are anywhere between 6 and 8, are not laying stress on similar look, feel and tone and voice, then it’s a problem.
a. Narrow it down to the different stages of the customer journey
Remember to factor in pre-purchase, during purchase and post purchase. Notice how your existing brand narrative plays out across these stages and whether the target audience receives a unified, seamless experience that conveys an integrated narrative.
b. Pay special attention to easily missable touchpoints
Let’s say you instantly know to sort out your branding narrative on your product pages, for the pre-purchase stage.
But know that what you do with your landing pages is equally important. Similarly, the checkout may draw all your attention within the during-purchase stage.
The truth, however, is that you’ll have to keep your brand narrative alive even through your confirmation emails.
The following example is from Asos, the fashion retail brand, which always stays super relevant in the way they communicate their brand personality through their confirmation emails.
Focus on your brand’s message architecture while you try to develop or refine the narrative. Creating a message architecture will help you crystallize vague or unclear goals into deeper context, which in turn can enable your narrative building process.
5. Revisit your existing brand assets
Everything physical and non-physical that conveys your brand’s existence, truth and spirit to the world outside, fall under the category of brand assets. At a time that you’re seeking to drive greater differentiation for your brand, these would need revisiting and reassessments.
Check how aligned your branding is with your values
If your eCommerce brand exists today, a big part of it is because of its core values. To begin revisiting your assets, you need to start assessing them in reference to your company’s purpose, personality and value proposition.
Let us give you an example. Take the instance of a cosmetic brand that stands on the value of using sustainable materials.
However, when you go and assess what visual and verbal language their assets are speaking, you discover excess, pomp and just too much of everything.
Shoppers find it as easy to notice such discrepancies.
Many businesses make the mistake of creating brand assets loosely based on their values, mission and vision at the get-go but struggle later.
However, the following checklist can make it easier for you to do this without breaking your bank.
a. Check for consistency
A number of scattered messages across channels may convey a picture to your target audience, which isn’t essentially true - that you don’t know what you’re doing and how to put it across.
Let’s say you run a music subscription business, and on your Instagram, you keep talking about how music and related resources need to be more accessible.
But when people land on your website, they find that most of your valuable content needs a membership fee.
You see how that creates a discordant experience that few shoppers would ever forget? This is why consistency is so important as part of aligning to values.
Without consistency, there’s no recall, and without recall, there’s no brand.
b. Recheck/ refine brand and usage guidelines
After all, if your messaging and visual identity are not doing justice to your brand purpose, essence and values, it might mean your guidelines are not doing justice.
The typical list of components, give or take a few, include - color, logo, iconography, illustrations, tone of voice, typography and photography.
c. Initiate the development of a clearer brand voice
Think vocabulary. Think language. Think articulation. How you speak to your target audience is what your brand voice is about.
Thankfully, if you feel your brand voice is off while revisiting your brand assets, you can always bring in ready changes.
What’s better, you can even incorporate these tweaks in the way you communicate across channels.
A brand we love and thought can give you inspiration is Frida. Their brand voice is straightforward yet fun, no-nonsense yet imaginative.
Across communication, they make it clear they stand for babies, mothers and fuss-free parenting.
The following snapshots are meant to give you an idea of how they use language to create a distinctive brand voice.
Improve the emotional quotient of your brand
It’s wishful thinking to believe eCommerce is mostly about technology.
The truth is that it is still about people when you take away the screens, the apps and the widgets.
When you’re trying to work actively on creating greater differentiation for your brand, you’ll have to weave in the emotional quotient as reliably as possible.
The following is a quick checklist to make it more accessible.
a. See your brand through the human lens
You read that right.
Look at your brand as if it were a human being with a distinct personality, and way of coming to the world. How would this person behave? What would this person stand for? Why would they be given preference over competition? What story would they like the world to know about them?
b. Ensure the five aspects of EQ
They are self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
When Daniel Goleman concluded these are the qualities that made a human being high in EQ, it became amply clear that brands would also need to reflect these qualities to be perceived as responsible, accessible, adaptable and attuned to CX.
c. Assess your inside-out cultural approach
An audit to understand how your brand is perceived by employees may be a good idea.
This will give you a sense of how well the brand image is working - are the stories told and heard internally and externally the same or similar?
The more aligned inside-out you are, the more the chances of all your stakeholders walking away with a similar understanding of your eCommerce brand.
Depending on how aligned your branding is to your company values, vision and mission, you may either need a complete rebrand (a full overhaul of assets) or a refresh (making tweaks based on what’s already existing). While a rebrand takes way more budget and effort, a refresh can be an interim solution to move closer to alignment.
The best brands are not built by gimmicks. They actually stick to the promises they make. They are genuine. They engage with people, with care, with empathy.
They leave people with memorable experiences.
More power to the people!