Building Your Brand
Now that you've established and strengthened the foundation of your e-commerce business, you're ready to take the next steps in this process. We'll outline why you should concentrate on building your brand and what it takes to stand out from the crowd.
Most retailers can quickly rattle off the names of major corporations with well-established brands. Apple...Disney...McDonald's. These are brand names known worldwide for what they represent to consumers. But when it comes to their own branding, many retailers choose to ignore it or simply hope that it will grow on its own over time. That's because there are a lot of unknowns about what goes into branding. A brand is not simply a logo or a catchy slogan. It's also not something that can simply be bought through advertising.
Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, has said that "A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is; it's what the consumers tell each other it is." And that's especially true in today's world, where consumers routinely go online and share their opinions, reviews and experiences. But how can you build and maintain something that other people have so much control over?
Before you can answer that, you have to first understand what branding is. At its simplest, branding is that unique feeling or image that a person gets when they think about your company.
The Smash Test
Back in 1915, one of the world's most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola, asked a designer from Indiana to redesign its bottle. Specifically, the company wanted a bottle design that consumers could still recognize as a Coke bottle, even after it had been smashed into a hundred pieces. It's safe to say that the designer succeeded. A century later, the same design is still in use and is as recognizable as ever.
Many brand marketers still use Coke's unique design challenge as a guide for their own brands. If you removed your logo from your website, products, or even stationery, what's left? Would your consumers still relate those items to your brand? To begin, examine the following brand factors to see if they convey a consistent look and feel:
Even the way your employees speak about your company in public or how they answer the phone play a part in creating a recognizable brand. Your brand should not only be instantly identifiable, but it also has to be consistent.
Why Is a Brand Important?
Your brand is a powerful business tool. It has the power to influence people. With the right brand, people will go out of their way to buy from you, even if your competitors are easier to find and charge less money. These consumers are your brand ambassadors. Not only do they tell their friends and family about you, but they're also emphatic about your company and what it represents. It's part of their lifestyle. It's the reason that Ben & Jerry's is able to charge two dollars more for a carton of ice cream when less expensive brands are sitting next to them on the shelf. People are in love with what that brand stands for. They identify with it and want to be a part of the brand experience.
We know what you're thinking. Both Coca-Cola and Ben & Jerry's are long-standing global brands that have millions of dollars to invest in maintaining their brands. But even small niche businesses can own a unique brand. These brands will simply resonate with a smaller customer base. Remember, these mega brands were once small businesses. They grew into what they are today by building and delivering an exceptional brand experience.
Components of a Brand
To help you understand what goes into making a great brand, think of how a young child views his favorite blanket. It's the only one of its kind. Nothing else can take its place. It's familiar. It's soft and warm and cozy. The blanket comforts him when he's sad. It's always there for him. It even protects him from the monsters under his bed.
An easy question to ask is, do your customers see your brand in this way? While it may be unfair to try to compare a website that sells fashion accessories or auto parts with a child's single most important possession, it should give you a good idea of what to keep in mind when building your brand.
Your brand experience should be distinct and unlike that of your competitors. What separates your company from others in the industry? What service or experience do you provide that drives consumers to choose your brand over other brands?
Is your brand recognizable across all your properties? Consumers should be able to identify your brand in even the smallest elements of your site and marketing materials.
Besides generating revenue for you, what value does your company provide? Do you deliver a service that makes the lives of your customers easier or more pleasurable? Is your brand trusted? Do customers feel good about doing business with you?
What does your company do to improve society? Customers feel better about doing business with a company that gives back to the community.
Is your company steered by a single guiding principle by which everyone associated with your company operates? Do you and your employees practice what your brand preaches? You need a mantra to keep your brand on track. You should be able to state what your guiding principle is quickly and clearly.
How to Get Started
With all the components that go into a brand, you can see how there's no easy fix to establishing your identity. Every situation is completely unique. The challenges and pains you experience will even differ from those of your biggest competitors. And the way you approach your strategy should be unique as well. To help you get started, here are a few basic steps that you can take:
Know your audience
A brand doesn't exist without an audience. You won't be successful if you can define and understand who your audience is and what drives them. You must get this step right before you can begin to craft a brand.
Create a vision
Once you know the audience, how are you going to align with them? How do you want to be seen? What's unique about what you do that will make your audience choose you over your competitors? What's going to be your guiding principle for you and your employees?
Next, it's time to take stock and identify your brand strengths and weaknesses. Which brand components do you have already? Which ones do you need to improve to get you where you want to be? You already have access to a ton of data that will identify these components. Ask customer service what they're hearing. What are people on social media saying about you? Are they saying anything at all? What are your employees saying in their surveys? Also, where do you stand in the market against your competitors? How are they different from you? All of this information will steer you in the right direction. In fact, it may surprise you. You may be trying to make your brand say one thing, while your audience is interpreting it in a completely different way.
Now that you've reviewed all this data, it's time to prioritize the hurdles and define how you'll remove them. It's important to be realistic when developing these solutions. Always keep factors like budget and timing in mind.
Commit yourself to allocating the appropriate resources and people to achieve your new positioning. Unfortunately, there aren't shortcuts when it comes to building a brand. You and your employees must be completely committed.
Now, Get Social!
Now that your brand is established, ensure that your voice is audible among the growing clamor of today's social media channels. Start by visiting our Establishing Your Social Identity page on the SSC to learn how.