Think of some of the biggest brands you know of in the world. Shopify, Adobe, Walmart, Nike, McDonald’s, and the likes. Now, visualize the first thing that comes to mind when you think of these brands.
Do you first:
A. Visualize their logos, taglines, messaging, USP, values, and way of doing business?; or
B. Create a mental list of products they sell?
If your answer is option A, you’ve first-hand witnessed the importance of branding.
In today’s day and age, your customers are bound to remember your company more by your branding materials than by the products/services you offer —- and this statement turns itself into a truism the more successful you become.
The benefits of eCommerce branding are obvious —- you gain customer loyalty, build an emotional connection to your messaging, promote your brand’s story, create a visual identity for your eCommerce business, nail your brand voice, and overall turn your business into a memorable one.
So, let’s go ahead and understand what eCommerce branding is and how to create a branding strategy.
What is eCommerce branding exactly?
eCommerce branding is more than just a logo and a catchy tagline; it’s essentially how a customer or a lead recognizes your brand and how your eCommerce brand makes your customers feel.
While you can technically identify an eCommerce brand with a logo and a catchy tagline, the real nitty-gritty of eCommerce branding lies in the way you:
Use your voice for marketing communications (think of Wendy’s on social media)
Understand brand guidelines (e.g., The Guardian Style Guide)
Create an experience for your customers (Trader Joe's vs. Walmart)
Drill into your mission and vision (think of Apple’s Think Different campaign); and
Strategize how to build brand recognition
In the simplest sense of things, eCommerce branding is how you make your brand stand out from your competitors.
There might be a thousand different online businesses that sell the same product(s) as you, but the way you communicate with your audience and make them associate with your brand is what becomes your brand identity and USP (unique selling proposition).
How do you get started with creating an eCommerce brand?
1. Begin by outlining your customers and creating value for them
First thing first —- begin with customer research. Use social listening tools to your advantage and hang out on community pages to gain a sense of what customers are talking about your brand and who your target audience is.
For example, with the help of social listening tools, Tylenol found out a new segment of customers, and Dell found out how their customers would like to engage with them.
You can also tap into your own data (i.e., by either talking to your sales or customer success teams or using website analytics). Many eCommerce brands like BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, etc., will also have such insights readily available.
Getting your hands on this data will not only help you understand who your customers are, but you can also answer questions like what segments you can categorize them into, what they like/dislike about your brand, what they think of your products, and what they’d like you to do better.
With this information on hand, you can begin to understand where exactly you are vis-a-vis eCommerce branding and what kind of branding strategy you need to create to improve your brand image and get more customers to convert.
For example, Ben & Jerry’s knows its followers on social media connect with their values, so talking about its value is one of the key ways the company builds relationships and develops loyal customers.
In fact, this kind of branding has been such a strong facet of creating brand loyalty that the company’s stock went up by 4.47% when its critics called for the boycott of Ben & Jerry’s for talking about its values.
2. Define your mission and values
Leading by Ben & Jerry’s example, let’s talk more about the usage and importance of your eCommerce brand’s mission and values.
We all know that in today’s day and age, your target audience is more conscious about the brands they associate with. But, the question remains: how can you go beyond just writing your mission, vision, and values on your company page?
Well, here are a few tips (and they all boil down to action speaking louder than words):
If you talk about being a diversity-inclusive workplace, showcase the diversity in terms of the content you produce, the faces you post, and the decisions you take.
Or, if you say you’re a brand that supports teachers, do you offer discounts to these teachers when on their website?
The same goes for other social issues like ethical and moral constraints of doing business, such as the effect of your eCommerce business on sustainability practices.
Consider Zomato as an example. One of the company’s biggest stances is they're a business that’s trying to become eco-friendly, and you see the company showing their progress through their Instagram page, orders they fulfill, and notifications they send.
You can showcase your values by offering discounts or creating campaigns on your product page for missions you support.
For example, PandaDoc ran a donation campaign to show support towards Ukraine during the Russian invasion and continued to pay its Ukrainian employees during the war (a perfect example of action speaking louder than words!).
Grammarly is another example you can consider —- the brand used its product to show its support towards Ukraine.
3. Focus on how you communicate with your target audience
So much of being a successful eCommerce brand boils down to the way you communicate with your customers. And this is not true only when creating a branding strategy, but rather in all use cases.
To begin with, find how you can stand out from your competitors simply based on the way you communicate.
Some of our recommendations would be to:
Share your brand story and the story of your employees and stakeholders (because other brands may sell the same products, but they cannot replicate your story or reason for starting).
Decide the brand’s tone of voice before communicating with your target audience. For example, Zapier prefers to use a friendly tone, NASA uses a humorous tone, whereas Apple's tone of voice is more on the formal side.
Speak in the clearest way possible. This means avoiding jargon (unless you're speaking to a very niche set of customers) and passive voice.
Share user-generated content, either by creating contests, partnering with them, or promoting their sentiments.
Own up to mistakes if you make any. If you find yourself in this situation, the best course of action would be to provide reasoning for the error and showcase how you plan to rectify the mistake.
Keep the customer updated. That’s to say, if a particular process is taking longer than anticipated or you have certain procedures set in place, then be as frank as possible about where you’re at currently and what they can expect in the future.
By the way, being clear and transparent also trickles down to the error messages, privacy policies, return and shipping policies, product demo videos, contracts, terms and conditions, and other materials you write for your brand (and not just content you create for your website, social media, and emails).
4. Create an accessible eCommerce store
Another way to ensure your target audience loves your eCommerce brand is adhering to accessibility standards (you can adhere to W3C standards or other standards stated in your country/region).
Essentially, what you need to do is to keep all users in mind when creating your website and content —- including the folks who have color blindness, ADHD, dyslexia, hearing issues, or other disabilities.
And then, based on the needs of all users, adjust color contrasts, text size, pixel usage, fonts, sentence structures, content structure, and navigation accordingly. For example, fonts like Arial and Calibri are considered easier to read by folks who have dyslexia.
Take a note from Buzzfeed's page. The online business avoids ableist language, addresses communities, has an accessibility auditor, adds alt texts to images, and writes descriptions of images.
5. Under promise and over deliver
Imagine you receive an email from an eCommerce brand you’ve been wanting to buy from for a while. In bold letters, the email promises “UP TO 70% OFF!!”
However, when you’re on the website, you realize the brand meant discounts applicable on a few products, and the items you select only warrant a 2% discount. That would be kind of a bummer, wouldn’t it? Well, for us too.
And that’s exactly why we recommend against this tactic because it’s a perfect example of overpromising and under-delivering. You want to do the opposite — underpromise and over-deliver.
Under-delivering essentially creates an image of your brand, and if this happens often enough, the image becomes hard to lose and can have ramifications for your business.
This is because customers talk, and imagine all the positive reviews you can receive if you deliver a good experience and the negative reviews you will receive if you deliver a lukewarm or bad experience.
For reference, more than 75% of your customers read reviews before buying your product, and almost 2 in 3 customers will leave a review after a positive impression, whereas 1/3 customers will leave a review after a negative experience.
6. Find out how your customers prefer to communicate
So much of building an eCommerce brand boils down to communicating in ways your customers are interested in and showing content in the places they’re active in.
For example, if your audience is part of the boomer generation, you can’t showcase all your content on Instagram because most of them would be hanging out on Facebook.
This is obviously a generalization, but check online statistics and visit different platforms to find out the social channels your customers are most active in. From there on, identify the communities and groups they’re a part of and the influencers and thought leaders they follow.
Doing so will help you in three key ways vis-a-vis building an eCommerce business:
1. You’ll understand the topics and trends your customers are interested in (and you can promote your brand accordingly by jumping on these trends/topics).
2. You’ll identify the indispensable people to partner with for influencer marketing. (Anglers use this strategy, too, to identify industry experts on social media.)
3. You’ll recognize the way your customers talk and the experiences they’ve had.
Once you have a handle on these things, you’ll not only be able to communicate with your customers better, but you’ll also be able to take part in conversations they’re interested in, thus building your brand credibility and making yourself a memorable eCommerce brand.
7. Create a top-notch customer service
Just like the saying goes, your target audience won’t remember what you did and what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
If your customer has had a particularly bad experience with your eCommerce business, a good customer service experience is the only thing that can turn it around.
Think of your customer service as a disaster control —- they can help remedy a bad situation to a good one simply based on how they interact with them.
For example, if they can quickly reply to them, be empathic, and provide quick resolutions, your customer is bound to think of your eCommerce brand in a different way.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that most people only think of the support team as “customer service,” but in reality, all parts of your business and every little interaction you have with your customers (be it through marketing or sales or customer success) make an impact.
You might again benefit from using social listening tools and asking sales/customer support teams for their insights and then communicating with customers or guiding them with resources to ensure their doubts are addressed.
8. Figure out how your eCommerce brand fits in with other parts of your business
Alright —- suppose you have gone through the whole nine yards of figuring out your target demographic, their wants and needs, creating a documented content strategy, and a branding strategy. What’s next?
The obvious step here is the execution, and this can only be done by aligning your other teams, such as customer support, sales, marketing, customer research, etc., to figure out how you can communicate your brand message and refine your strategy.
For example, if you’ve restructured and centered your eCommerce brand values around building revolutionary products, you can push this messaging to:
Marketing teams so they can create a marketing strategy accordingly
Sales teams so they can promote features like product quality when talking to leads
Customer insight teams can gather data on what the target market would like to see
Customer support teams so they can learn about their own products
Editorial teams so they can create a document content strategy
Consider Microsoft as an example — the company spreads similar messaging on its entire site and social media platforms.
9. Stand out by being specific
We’ve previously touched upon this before, but this point is so important it cannot just be touched upon, so here’s elaborating on this further.
Regardless of whichever kind of business you make a part of, there’s a strong possibility your competitors exist (it doesn’t even matter if they’re direct or indirect competitors, so as long as they exist).
Now, researching the marketing campaigns, value proposition, brand voice, branding efforts, brand persona, social media posts, and the eCommerce website of your competitors is something all brands do —- so there’s essentially a way or another that your competitors will get inspired or might copy the branding efforts of your own eCommerce brand.
The only way you can perhaps stand out is by being specific about your own brand story, your customers, your employees, and your experiences. This might perhaps be one of the best ways to build your brand’s authenticity too.
Consider Dr. Squatch as a point of reference. The brand’s About Us page not only tells the reader about the brand story but also what was the reason behind starting the business and the key benefits of its products.
10. Focus on the subconscious bias your brand might have
We’ve done this gimmick before, but can you please visualize the blackberry fruit? What are the few words or ideas that come to your mind when you think of it?
The folks at BlackBerry (the brand) thought it sounded instantaneous, reliable, and quick. This was an opinion the linguists from Lexicon agreed upon. Aside from that, they also thought the phone’s keyboard resembled the fruit an awful lot.
Another example would be Apple (the super successful brand!). The reason why it was named after the fruit was not because Steve Jobs had a Newton moment, but rather because Apple sounded fun, non-intimidating, and spirited.
Certain names invoke your subconscious bias, which makes you think of a product in a certain way. If you’re a new brand, you can analyze the linguistic implications certain names can have. This can even further translate to the fonts, colors, and styles you use for your eCommerce store.
For example, according to experts, straighter fonts convey stability, whereas slant fonts convey fast movement. Similarly, rounder font styles convey comfort, whereas angular styles showcase formality. In the same vein, colors like blue (think Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) are known for bringing different kinds of reactions.
On the flip side of the coin, though, one instance where it wouldn’t make sense to add new linguistic implications to your brand is if you’re already established in the industry. Consider SurveyMonkey and Twitter as examples (both name changes didn’t go down quite well!).
The only situation where it makes sense to rename an established brand is if you’ve bought a company with goodwill and want to use that goodwill/the actual product to your advantage.
For example, consider HelloSign being bought for Dropbox’s customers and Grofers being bought for Zomato (both companies changed the names of these iconic brands to match their service offerings).
11. Treat empathy like your BFF
Last but not least, treat empathy as your BFF. Obviously, certain brands like Wendy's and Duolingo can get away with being quick and snarky, but mostly, customers don’t want to be intimated when they interact with you.
And more importantly, you don’t want to come across as a jerk when communicating with your customers. So, use empathy to treat pain points and make your customers feel valued when they interact with you.
Here’s what you can do to ensure you’re always using empathic language when communicating with your target audience:
Don’t assume anything about their experiences or life. Instead, if you wish to showcase a point, share your own life examples.
Always use accessible language and pronouns that will make your audience feel comfortable.
Try to address their problem in a thoughtful way. Instead of answering a question like “Oh, this is silly doubt!” try to shift your tone towards something like “We totally understand where you’re coming from!”
Try not to speak about topics that might be triggering, but if it’s necessary to do so, then add a content warning.
Don’t have a holier-than-thou approach when trying to develop relationships.
Promote your audience, the user-generated content they create, and their voice on different marketing channels to show them you care about their thoughts.
What are some of the dos and don’ts of eCommerce branding?
Dos for eCommerce brands
Invest in your business. “Invest in a robust, efficient, and user-friendly eCommerce website. This is because it takes about 0.05 seconds for users to form an opinion about your website. Therefore, website aesthetics, navigation, and overall functionality should never be underinvested.” — Ryan Mckenzie
Use customer data to your advantage. “Ignoring data and analytics can hinder your ability to understand your customers, track performance, and make informed business decisions. Implement analytics tools to monitor key metrics, gather insights, and continuously optimize your e-commerce strategy.” — Ilia Mundut
Optimize the content you upload on your site and social channels. “Many website visitors will disregard outright an eCommerce brand that doesn't also boast a strong website and distinctive social media presence —- so get active and begin optimizing your content!” — Arham Khan
Make content mobile friendly. “To ensure their content is mobile friendly, eCommerce businesses should ensure that the text aligns properly, images match descriptions, links work seamlessly, and content is optimized for speed.” — Cody Candee
Focus on voice search. “Over 42% of all searches begin with the use of a voice activated technology. Therefore, it is imperative that eCommerce businesses optimize their websites to include the most commonly vocalized keywords, long-tail phrases, and contextual clues to activate SEO triggers.” —- Derek Flanzraich
Don’ts for eCommerce brands
Treat your online store like a brick-and-mortar business. “The digital marketplace operates with a different set of parameters, and understanding these dynamics is fundamental for success.” — Ryan Mckenzie
Forget personalization. “Lack of personalization is a critical ‘don't’ for eCommerce brands. Data from Epsilon indicates that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.” — Ryan Mckenzie
Ignore the importance of local search. “Striking a balance between global and local SEO can create strong organic traffic and boost sales.” — Daniel Chabert
Overcomplicate the user experience. “Overloading your customers with choices can indeed harm your brand. Numerous studies have shown that customers can experience 'choice overload,' causing lower conversion rates. Keep your product lines streamlined and focused.” — Daniel Chabert
Underestimate the importance of visuals. “If you can, invest in high-resolution photos and videos to make your products look their very best. Not only does this draw in curious eyes, but it also shows that you as a brand think what you're putting out in the world matters and will add real value to customers' lives.” — Arham Khan
Prioritize product push over customer value. “eCommerce brands must ensure they're providing significant value and superior customer experiences rather than just pushing products, because customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.” — Ryan Mckenzie
A few examples of successful eCommerce branding
Now that we’ve gone through the roller coaster ride of understanding the dos and don'ts of creating a branding strategy, and tips and tricks you can implement, let’s dig into the meatier bits and look at some of the most successful eCommerce brands that have an excellent branding strategy.
Amazon is one of the eCommerce stores we all know of. However, regardless of how much we hate its business practices, the reason why Amazon is a clear winner in terms of sales is because of its branding.
The company invests heavily in making the customers’ life as easy and convenient as possible with unlimited options, generous return policies, low subscription fees, and guaranteed one-day deliveries.
Its logo is possibly another brand study in itself, mainly because of the way the subconscious bias it invokes with the style, name, colors, and arrow.
Since the past few years, due to the negative concoctions perceived with the brand, the company is also trying to change its image with the help of heartwarming video ads.
The online retailer also doubles down on other best practices, such as sharing its brand story, creating top-notch customer service, defining its values and mission, and focusing on the customers.
Glossier is one the most successful eCommerce sites, which is known for its distinct messaging and branding — skincare first, makeup second.
The company adopts this value in different parts of its business by creating products for this niche, choosing authentic ambassadors, and using real faces.
Moreover, to understand its customer sentiments, the company even has a dedicated Slack channel with its most loyal customers who provide regular feedback.
The brand’s authentic messaging, emphatic tone, focus on values, use of real people, understanding of its target audience, and unique brand story all lend themselves to making Glossier the successful it is today.
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Juwaria is a freelance writer specializing in the fields of SaaS, marketing, and health/wellness. Backed with 3+ years of experience, she helps brands build content that adds value to their business. In her free time, you can catch her reading her favorite books or studying the latest trends online.