E-commerce branding framework in the age of ecom growth

Must-follow tips for creating a relatable and marketable e-commerce brand for the target audiences of today and tomorrow.

Each day we are targeted by at least 4,000 (and up to 10,000) brand messages and ads, with this number set to rise in 2020. With competition for consumer attention at its peak, and our tolerance for poor brand communication at an all time low, e-commerce has never been more challenging for direct-to-consumer brands and platforms looking to gain and retain mindshare. Certain products may appear go viral in a blink of an eye, and new brands seemingly take industries by storm overnight; ‘instant’ success, however, rarely comes without months (and sometimes, years) of meticulous preparation and execution.

What needs to be done for an e-commerce brand to succeed? First, you need a clearly defined brand strategy. In 2020 audiences shift their loyalty based on the relatability of a brand’s values, therefore it is crucial your strategy is based on an emotional connection and a mission that resonates with your target user. A focussed strategy will help you develop a strong visual identity and correct messaging, allowing you to build long term loyalty with your target audience by speaking their language.

In my career, I’ve advised and built brands for companies at different stages of maturity, from agile startups to slow-moving global corporations; regardless of brand size, age or industry these 4 strategies are always on my checklist.

Define who you serve:

Knowing your customer demographic is not enough: you have to know their pains, needs and wants.

Building trust with users is core to any business, but it is especially important for e-commerce businesses. Why? Your users will not have an opportunity to visit your location, experience a personal touch or try on products before making a purchase.

The more you know about your user, the more relevant, trustful and efficient your communications will be. Thorough customer research is one of the most fundamental pillars of e-commerce branding.

Question who you are:

Every brand is multifaceted. To define yours you must consider all aspects of your business: your vision and mission (or what you stand for and believe in), your product (what you offer), and your key differentiators (what makes you unique). The answers to these questions inform your messaging and visual identity - the two fundamental parts of your brand.

Though it is important to work on your messaging with a professional strategist or copywriter, you can start small by creating key messages yourself: I recommend reading the Messaging Framework from the Salesforce Pardot blog.

When it comes to brand visuals we typically advise young e-comms to start with a simple brand kit as opposed to a complex brand guidelines. In a nutshell, a Brand Kit is an abbreviated guide to your visual identity that contains the important assets needed to ensure all collateral is on brand.

A quick note to lovers of 5-minute Upwork logos: if you want a strong e-commerce brand your visuals must be rooted in brand strategy.

Take a look at the example below: 4 different logo options for an e-commerce and retail company, San Francisco-based dispensary Basa Collective. Each logotype is based on one of their brand values and therefore conveys a different meaning.

What are the brand characteristics your company wants to highlight? Playfulness? (top left option) Traditions? (top right option) Simplicity? (bottom left option) or your local heritage? (bottom right option). These are the questions you should ask yourselves before designing your visual identity.

ecommerce branding examples

Learn to communicate authentically:

Creating a dialogue around your product and industry builds bridges between your customers and your platform in an authentic way.

Helpful, industry-specific content that preemptively answers consumer questions encourages trust by providing value to the user prior to purchase. Getting noticed, being talked about and maintaining constant dialogue with the community is core to maintaining an authentic brand in 2020, a year that values transparency, relatability and openness.

You have to be prepared to invest time (and / or money) in generating useful, sharable branded content. This content can be categorized into various streams:

  1. Your own blog (both written and video content)
  2. Guest posts (media & influencer relations)
  3. Social media (your own channels; plus, participation and knowledge sharing on platforms like Medium, Reddit, Quora etc., depending on your business)

Do not be afraid to take a stance:

If there was ever a time to create unbreakable bonds, show empathy, and take a stance 2020 is it. According to Edelman Earned Brand research, Millennial and Gen Z consumers will stand by companies that take a stance, value community and form part of a greater purpose - whether it’s climate change, Covid-19 initiatives, or social activism. Nowadays, users want to feel good about making a purchase, they want to contribute to positive change while shopping; if you are able to help with this you will get your deserved share of attention.

2020 is the year of crisis but also a time of great opportunity for digital-first business. To those of you who are just moving from retail to e-commerce due to c19 or launching a new online shopping brand, these five fundamental e-commerce brand strategies will prove vital in building a longstanding and loyal customer base.

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