As the world of ecommerce continues to get more and more competitive, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate from competitors, connect with their target audience, and convince people to actually buy from them. Without clear and established guidelines about brand personality, voice, and style in place, new ecommerce companies seem to struggle to survive past even the first few months of operation.
In addition, thanks to the widespread use and popularity of the internet, social media communities, and mobile apps, ecommerce brands now have the opportunity to interact with customers in more places and through more channels than ever before. Gone are the days when you only had to worry about the impression you made on online consumers when they land on your website for the first time. Now, there’s many more places that people are going to find and interact with your brand—Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, email, third-party websites and blogs, mobile apps, etc. To make the right first impression on online consumers no matter where they find you, you have to be consistent when it comes to your brand voice and overall presentation.
If you haven’t taken enough time to think strategically about your brand strategy, or how you want your prospective customers to perceive your brand when they interact with it anywhere online, now is the time. Online consumers are interacting with more ecommerce brands than ever. Unless you already have a well-established brand with a rich history like Nike, Coke, or Apple, you’ve got some serious work to do.
To help put you on the right path, I recently talked with a handful of business leaders and marketers about the importance of branding and the value of consistency. Specifically, I wanted to get actionable recommendations from them on how ecommerce companies can keep their branding voice, and style intact no matter where they are selling online.
With the help of their answers, I was able to put together these eight tips:
Tip #1: Understand Who You Are (and Who You Serve)
When it comes to differentiating as an ecommerce store, everyone I talked with agreed that if you want to survive and grow, you first need to understand who you are, and who you serve. It’s not enough to have the drive and skills to build an ecommerce store, you also have to master the art of branding.
To succeed in ecommerce today, you need a brand that people can relate to, rally behind, and love.
So where do you start? Here are three tips and three resources that can help you better understand what your company is all about (your brand personality, voice, and style), and who your company serves (your customers).
- Tip #1: Think about who your ideal customer is and what they care about. Remember: you’re not building your brand for yourself, you’re building it for your the people you want to ultimately buy your products. When you’re trying to make decisions about your brand voice, style, and personality, think about how your customer talks and prefers to be talked to. What gets them excited? What will help them relate to you? What impression do you want them to get from you when they interact with you for the first time.
- Tip #2: Think about what makes your company or your products different. When you’re developing your branding and your voice, think about your competitors. What makes you different from them? What about them to do like or not like, and how can you use that information to build a brand that looks and feels different to your ideal customer?
- Tip #3: Think about other more well-established brands that you love. It’s also helpful to think of the big, well-known brands when developing your own. For example, how does Coke look and feel, and how do they communicate with people? What about Apple? Starbucks? Nike? Find your heroes and build parts of your brand based on what you love most about them.
- Resource #1: How To Build a $120K per Month Ecommerce Brand in Less Than A Year
- Resource #2: Ecommerce Branding: 11 Examples and 27 Expert Tips to Help Build Your Brand Online
- Resource #3: A Better Brand: Ecommerce Branding Guide (Step-By-Step Guide, Resources & Worksheets)
Once you have your branding in place, you can leverage the rest of the tips outlined below.
Tip #2: Create Documentation
As you work to develop clear guidelines about your brand and the voice, style, and personality you want to use, make sure to document it. “To ensure brand consistency, it’s important to create a style guide,” says Shayla Price, a B2B Marketer. “This document will outline your brand’s standards for tone, voice, and style. With an up-to-date style guide, it doesn’t matter where you sell because your team has specific guidelines to steer the brand direction.”
If you’ve never put together a brand style guide before, there are a number of resources, examples, and templates available online that you can leverage. Here are a few worth exploring first:
- An Example: Brand Style Guide from Wolf Circus Jewelry
- A Helpful Resource: How to Create a Brand Style Guide by 99designs
- A Template: Try the template offered by Frontify (14-day free trial)
As your ecommerce business grows, make sure every employee and partner who helps you understands and has easy access to your style guide.
Tip #3: Stay True No Matter What
Once you have your brand style guide and your standards about voice, style, and personality established, refer to them when working on new projects, no matter the channel.
According to Derric Haynie, CEO at Vulpine Interactive, you can stay true to these standards by remembering one word: authenticity. “It sounds like a buzzword, and all it really means is “Stay true to yourself,” says Haynie. “A brand is simply how you define yourself to the world (and then retroactively how the world – or each individual therein – perceives you). Changing product lines, offers, copy, and creative should not bring into question the core of who you are and what you stand for. If you find that it is, then you have to question your authenticity and consider changing your brand to better reflect your “true identity.””
To build a strong ecommerce brand, make a habit of always questioning the words, phrases, visuals, and other components that you use for every campaign you work on and for every website you develop a presence on for your company. Never deviate from the standards you set in the branding and style guide you create.
Tip #4: Put Your Customers First
For Tracey Wallace, Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, keeping your branding, voice, and style intact no matter where you sell is all about putting your customers first. “Ultimately, it’s about keeping the customer in mind,” Wallace says. “Is this [copy] helpful? Is it too long? Does it give enough background? Does it tell it as simply as it can? Will this really help them –– do I have proof that it will? What examples can I show them? Who can I ask to make sure this works? Who else can I ask? Those questions guide every single piece of work I do. As a marketer at a SaaS company, it isn’t lost on me that my company serves as an extension of our customers. They hire us for a job. The best I can do to win their loyalty is help them do theirs better.”
As mentioned earlier in this articles, your success is very dependent upon your customers understanding who you are, and what makes you different from your competitors. By thinking about your customers at every turn, you can build a brand and leverage a style that they can easily relate to, trust, and actively want to support.
Tip #5: Put Someone in Charge
Another great way to keep your branding, voice, and style standards intact no matter where you’re selling is to literally put someone on your team in charge of keeping everyone accountable.
“All teams need a keeper of the brand,” says Jack Appleby, Director Of Creative Strategy at PETROL Advertising. Sometimes that’s a strategist, serving as a de facto brand manager of sorts. Sometimes that’s a creative director, ensuring their team meets established quality & style necessities. The big mistake is assuming someone will take those responsibilities – clearly assign the role ahead of projects to make sure you nail it.”
The person you hire for this role should essentially take on the role of quality assurance manager. They should be the one who knows your brand and your guidelines best—better than yourself even. Their job is to work with team members when campaigns are being created, sign off on projects before they go live, and bring attention to examples where projects missed the mark.
Tip #6: Create Sources of Truth
For Ryan Kopperud, Brand Marketing Manager at Drip, keeping branding intact is all about creating what he calls ‘sources of truth’. “At Drip, we’ve prepared branded examples for nearly every occasion, and we try to maintain a single source of truth for those examples,” Kopperud says. “Our brand book is a bible to us, and has sample copy and style instances for web, social, customer interactions, advertising, and more. That way, when we need to speak in a specific place or time, everyone has, at a minimum, a unified compass for what that should look, sound, or feel like.”
Approaching consistency in this way is a great option if you find that you’re scaling your business and hiring more people to help a lot faster than you thought you would.
You can save and share examples with your team in a number of ways: you could create a Google Drive or Dropbox folder, a Pinterest board, a Slack channel, a private Facebook group, or an email chain. The key is to make it as easy as possible for your team members to pull up good, relevant examples that they can refer to when they are getting ready to build, QA, or launch a new campaign.
Tip #7: Be Consistent Everywhere
The best and strongest ecommerce brands are the ones that leave no stone unturned when it comes to leveraging branding voice, style, and personality standards. They take every opportunity possible to let their branding voice shine through. Not just on product pages or social media updates, but in email footers, About Us sections, and even career pages.
“For a fast growing startup, “selling” includes recruiting the best talent to your team,” says Laura Roeder, Founder at MeetEdgar. “We are highly strategic with our careers page, painting the picture of what it feels like to work here just as we paint the picture for customers of what it’s like to experience our product. We have photos, videos and even go in-depth on the philosophy and strategy of how each department is run. We had a marketing copywriter finalize the page instead of our ops department to make sure it is on-brand and shows off our personality.”
As the owner of your ecommerce company, think of all the places you could be inserting your brand voice and style standards. The more places you can think of and update, the stronger your brand will ultimately become.
Tip #8: Reinforce Standards
Finally, make sure to always reinforce and remind your employees, contractors, and partners of the standards you created. This goes back to the importance of creating a document that people can easily find and refer to when they have questions about your brand. “The best way to keep your branding consistent is to document it,” says Cara Hogan, Content Strategist at Zaius. Create a brand guidelines document where you outline and clarify your brand’s voice, style, and more. Then, share that document with the team and reference it often. If you see an email go out that doesn’t follow the brand rules, call it out and make sure it is updated accordingly. Branding takes constant reinforcement and effort, but it is possible to keep it consistent if you carefully define it.”
As Hogan mentions, look for inconsistencies and help your team improve. Update your branding guidelines document accordingly and often in order to boost consistency and strengthen your brand over time.
Over to You
What steps do you take to ensure your branding stays intact across all channels and campaigns? Tell me in the comments below.