The Importance of Brand Building & What That Means for Your Ecommerce Store

For a while it appeared as though marketers had solved all of their existential problems with one big umbrella solution: data. Not sure whether your affiliate program really was worth it? Now you knew with absolute certainty.

The growth and sophistication of analytics platforms like Google Analytics and Facebook’s native analytics platform were, and remain, a big benefit for this movement. They’ve given smaller businesses insights that had previously been solely the domain of large multinationals with a wealth of resources.

While this was generally very good for the profession of marketing, it’s occasionally led to a tunnel vision within SMBs that can be harmful. This can be best summed up by the proclamation: “Can’t measure it? Then it’s fluff and needs to be cut from the yearly marketing budget.”

What gets lost in the tsunami of metrics and figures is the idea of brand building, of a broader strategic vision that guides your daily marketing tactics. Brand building is a long-term play that rarely causes an immediate lift in sales but leads to a whole host of benefits down in line. In fact, we would argue it’s what allows SMBs to really grow and grab market share against larger, established competitors.

Instead of getting lost in an endless cycle of “hand-to-mouth” marketing, it’s time to consider a middle ground that allows you to meet your short-term revenue goals while growing your overall presence in the market, i.e. combining both branding and marketing activities.

We take you through what your brand really is, why it’s important, some brand-building activities that you can run with straight away, as well as how to calculate their ROI.

Your Brand is Your Company’s Values

It’s almost a cliché to refer to Steve Jobs when it comes to any discussion of branding.

Why is he still so relevant? Apart from Apple’s continued growth and its likelihood of becoming the first trillion-dollar company, what Mr. Jobs understood was the importance of a company’s core values. He didn’t get lost in the weeds, focusing on product features, price, or competitor slamming. Apple focused obsessively on quality and to this day Apple's core competence remains delivering exceptional customer experience through superb user interfaces.

A lot goes into defining a brand, but the immediate starting point is, what does your company stand for? When you think of Whole Foods you think of healthy, organic groceries. When you think of Patagonia, you think of environmentally friendly outdoor clothing. When people think of your e-commerce store, what do you want them to think?

Too often, brands feel that they can get away with a generic mission statement like “we sell quality food”. No company in the food business would ever dare say that they don’t sell quality food. “Selling only premium, luxury, imported food products” is very defined and gives someone who has no idea what you do an immediate understanding of your brand and position in the market.

This is important because when you discuss values, there are inherent trade-offs. In Europe, the airline Ryanair is known as the low-cost airline and therefore they can’t decide tomorrow to position themselves as competing against airlines like Emirates in the luxury department.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you have great customer service, you may have to have higher prices to maintain your margins. But if it’s a core value that you believe in, then the higher prices are an acceptable externality.

The bottom line is that you can’t be everything to everyone, and that’s okay. It’s possible to build an incredibly successful and lucrative brand by putting a stake in the ground and admitting that you’re not for everybody but you are for those who are picking up what you’re putting down.

Why It’s Important

Anyone who has run any form of digital advertising before knows that cold traffic is hard to convert. New visitors aren’t likely to buy from your website the first time they happen across it – you need to earn their trust first.

This is because digital advertising on Facebook or via search is marketing. For the purposes of this article, we define marketing as any activity where spending money to generate revenue is involved, either as a one-off tactic or an ongoing campaign. On the other hand, branding is a long-term investment in positioning your business. Unfortunately, these two activities work in tandem. If you ignore branding, it makes the task of marketing a much more challenging endeavour (this works vice-versa, you need to be able to promote your brand).

If your e-commerce company is focused solely on marketing, even if you have an impressively low CPC (cost-per-click) and a positive return-on-ad-spend (ROAS), but ignore branding, then it is an incredibly risky marketing portfolio long-term. We’ve worked with very successful marketers who struggle to understand why their yearly sales graph looks like a rollercoaster.

This comes down to two reasons:

  1. Their marketing focuses solely on the short term and therefore only the short term is predictable
  2. You can hack short-term performance, you can’t hack reputation

As Larry Kim wrote here, “the propensity to click on your paid or organic search listings is often based on pre-existing brand affinity. Put simply: searchers are more likely to click on you if they’ve heard of you before.”

brandaffinity

This isn’t just the case for paid search, the same is true for organic search, you may have never heard of Brand X, but if enough other people have heard of Brand X, then it will have a higher average CTR — and a more prominent position on the SERP. This is also true for all of your marketing channels, from paid social, to even traditional means such as print and radio.

The key takeaway here is that effective branding means that your marketing activities will be much more successful.

Branding Activities

Now that you understand the benefits of brand-building, what are immediate branding activities that you can undertake? Firstly, you need to define your brand, and while much has been written on this topic, here is an overview of the core areas to focus on:

Defining your Brand

  • Define a brand mission statement – craft a clear expression of what your company is most passionate about. Use this statement as a guiding light and stop doing anything that misaligns with the mission statement you’ve created.
  • Understand your competitors – understand how your competitors position themselves in the market, what is their niche? Who do they speak to?
  • Be consistent - your brand should be visible and reflected in everything that your customer can see, read, and hear.

Activities

  • Partnerships – try to build partnerships with industry groups or complementary brands.
  • Sponsorships & Speaking Engagements – sponsor and get speaking slots at events with thought leaders within your industry
  • PR – reach out to industry magazines giving them content and pitching your story as a brand.

Calculating Branding ROI

While branding may seem ethereal and hard to nail down, the benefits of branding are substantial and tangible. When you’ve positioned your company with a strong brand, word of mouth increases, which expands reach and awareness, and helps your paid channels perform better. You can measure the effectiveness of a strong brand in several ways:

  • Word of mouth sales
  • Loyalty repeat business and customer retention
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Google search volumes — by monitoring search volumes on your branded terms and watching for fluctuations, you can see if your branding efforts are paying off

Conclusion

Data and direct response metrics are hugely important to marketing in 2018. They allow us to get granular on what works from an execution stand point and without them, it would be difficult, dare we say, impossible to fully understand what works.

However, just like an architect needs to draw up a plan to build a house, marketers need to understand the longer-term strategy and branding vision of their SMB in order to be successful.

It all starts with values; a great brand is built on them. They are hard to create, even harder to live by, but thankfully, they are above all hardest to replicate.