If you don’t build your brand, you won’t survive.
November 8, 2019 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In ecommerce, your brand is your lifeblood. The reputation you have, the experiences you create, the ways you differentiate — everything rolls up to brand.
Can you technically sell products online without an established brand? Sure, maybe for a short period of time. But can you build and grow a sustainable, profitable ecommerce business without one? Good luck. Can you compete with other companies that market and sell the same products in the same category to the same group of people? Doubtful. Can you create something memorable that keeps people talking and coming back for more? No way.
Without an established brand in place, you won’t survive. To make it, you need to create and manage something unique that customers can experience and interact with. You need something that influencers can get behind. You need something that people can brag to their friends about. You need to build a brand.
Here’s how to start building one for your ecommerce business:
1. Create a brand book.
To build a strong brand for your ecommerce business, a good place to start is by creating a brand book that all employees, contractors and agencies can rely on when creating experiences for customers.
This resource is your single source of truth. It’s a living document that everyone can reference and use when they want to understand and portray your brand voice, personality and style.
It should include information that is core to the ongoing development and preservation of your brand, such as your brand promise, mission statement, core values, key messaging and positioning statements about your products, customer personas, visual style guide and communication guidelines for each channel and medium you use when interacting with customers.
A brand book can be as simple as a Google document shared with all members of your team, or it could be a professionally designed and printed resource that you give to each employee or agency who works for you. What matters at the end of the day is not the look of the resource, but the value and usefulness of the content inside.
Want to see a real example? Flip through this digital brand book from Urban Outfitters.
2. Turn customers into micro-influencers.
There’s been a lot of talk about influencer marketing this year. In fact, it will probably go down as one of the most overused and misunderstood marketing concepts of 2019.
Is it worth all the hype (and the investment)? My take is yes, as long as you realize one simple truth: you don’t have to hire the Kim Kardashians of the world to get the kind of ROI you’re looking for. In fact, you’re probably better off avoiding big-name celebrities and well-known influencers altogether. Instead, you should be partnering with micro-influencers.
Here’s how micro-influencers are different than influencers. An influencer is a well-known social media personality or real-world celebrity with a huge audience of followers — we’re talking in the millions. You can hire them, but campaigns are expensive, and you might not get the level of engagement you’re looking for.
A micro-influencer, on the other hand, is someone who is less known but still has a decent amount of followers — think more like 5,000 or 10,000 — and influence in a particular industry.
More brands are turning to micro-influencers for two main reasons: they are less expensive and their posts tend to lead to more engagement, comparatively. In fact, Buffer found in a recent study that the less followers an influencer has, the better engagement they get.
So where do you find these influencers? Before embarking on a quest to discover, negotiate with and hire an obscure stranger that probably knows nothing about your product, turn to your existing customers instead. The best ones are probably already talking about your products to their friends anyway.
3. Build a brand photography library.
It’s time to say goodbye to stock photos. Your brand deserves better, your customers deserve better, and you deserve better. You work hard to build products that solve problems and create delight for your customers. The lifestyle photos you use in marketing campaigns should align with the standards you set for every other aspect of your brand — product quality, messaging, customer support, etc.
Stock photos are convenient, but they rarely allow you to create the emotional response you need to create to convert an interested buyer into a loyal customer.
To build a stronger, more recognizable brand for your ecommerce business, you need to spend time building a library of brand photos that help you connect with customers, showcase products and differentiate from competitors. Think of this photo library as an extension of your brand. You create standards when it comes to your logo, your fonts and the copy in your product descriptions. Your photos should also have a distinct style that customers can quickly recognize when scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.
Need help getting started? Dig into this helpful resource on ecommerce photography from WooCommerce.
4. Become a publisher and a storyteller.
Marketers have been saying it for years, and it still remains true today: content is king. If you want to connect with prospective customers, you have to build trust and credibility with people. The fastest way to do that is by creating content and positioning yourself as a knowledgeable thought leader in your industry or product category.
In previous years, that meant creating a blog and sharing articles — or if you were really ahead of the times, you might have created videos. But today, winning the content game isn’t about creating a blog or writing articles — it’s about creating an entire publishing arm for your brand that allows you to create and share many different forms of content, from podcasts and interactive presentations to printed lookbooks and long-form interviews with customers.
To compete in the world of ecommerce, you need to have an established brand. To win, you need one that is uniquely delightful and unforgettable in the minds of your customers. You can’t get there overnight, but you can get closer each day by becoming hyper-focused on and obsessed with how people experience your brand on social media, on your website, on Amazon, in email and in real life. And if you need a little more inspiration, read Brand Intervention: 33 Steps to Transform the Brand You Have into the Brand You Need, by David Brier. As Daymond John says, “David Brier is a branding genius.”