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Key Lessons for Building Your Brand Online

Strengthening your brand online is critical for growing your business. Read these best practices from an ecommerce pro for inspiring brand loyalty and increasing revenue online.

By: Chad Buckendahl  

Building a brand online creates a direct connection with your customers — generating long-term revenue and growth opportunities. A strong online brand wins new sales, retains customers, then turns those same customers into brand advocates. 

After 25 years working in the ecommerce space, I understand the clear connection between brand awareness and overall business success. I spent my entire career in performance marketing and know there’s ample opportunity for performance marketers to move more products and earn more revenue. And online brand building is the way to do it.

It’s no secret we performance marketers feel pressure to quickly surpass revenue goals, much like winning a sprint instead of a marathon. But creating an emotional connection with customers through branding can be extremely beneficial, both right now and in the future. In fact, customers who form an emotional attachment to a brand are 52% more valuable than those who are just highly satisfied, according to a Harvard Business Review article

Look at these five lessons I’ve learned from working with hundreds of online companies and see how to build a more powerful online brand — setting your operation up for long-term success. 

Lesson 1 – Perform In-Depth Market Research

Market research is the process of understanding buyer behaviors to identify your best customers. It determines industry niches, market sizes, customer pain points and buyer personas to reveal how successful your services or products can be among your target audiences.   

I started my marketing career as a researcher for an advertising agency in the financial services industry. I quickly understood the business impact of in-depth market research, and you should too. Conducting market research will help to properly assess the health of your brand and fine-tune the direction you’re attempting to forge.

Use market research to understand if your customers know and support your company’s values, as well as if your company is optimally positioned in the industry.

Here are some ideas for research sources and research types you can conduct on behalf of your business: 

Research Sources

  • Surveys (customers, prospects and employees)
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Secondary (magazines, journals, government publications/statistics)
  • Transactional data
  • Search engine keyword analysis

Research Types

  • Competitive analysis
  • Brand association
  • Market segmentation
  • Product testing
  • Pricing

Lesson 2 – Create Internal Brand Alignment 

Developing a solid brand identity serves as the critical groundwork for nurturing customer loyalty and retention, as well as creating a competitive advantage. Results from your market research should guide your brand persona development strategy. 

If your brand was a person, what words would you use to describe this individual? If your brand entered your office or home, how would describe it? What emotions do you want your customers to feel when they encounter your brand?

Answers to these questions will help you carve out a brand persona, but the work does not stop there. Next, you will need to align your whole organization and external partners around that identity. 

Create a brand book if your company does not already have one. These guidelines will detail how and when to use fonts, logos and colors to best represent your brand persona. Beyond suggestions for visual components, the brand book should also offer directives on what kinds of words should be used to communicate with customers and partners. Ensure every team member aligns with these answers and can easily access your brand book as they work from different locations.

It’s no accident that companies like Tesla, Airbnb and Uber are commonly described as rebellious, confident and daring. And companies like Chick-fil-A, Trader Joe’s and CVS can be called humble, predictable and friendly. These businesses spend time cultivating and internally aligning their brand personas to create an emotional connection among their customers. That’s exactly what you can do as well to build your online brand. 

Lesson 3 – Test Branding & Messaging Elements

Brand messaging can be extremely subjective — from the copy in a Call-to-Action button to the type of lifestyle imagery that best conveys a brand’s positioning. That’s why properly testing your branding messaging efforts is so important. It removes the guesswork from this key component of building your online brand.

Start by breaking down the elements of your campaigns for more accurate testing. Use the 40/40/20 rule to create separation between the campaign elements you wish to test. The rule states that 40% of your success in direct response depends on your audience, 40% depends on your offer and 20% depends on your creative. 

Here’s a closer look at the 40/40/20 rule: 

  • 40% Offer: The offer component of the equation is the discount, rebate or bonus that move customers to act. Some examples include free shipping, 25% off, free samples and buy-one-get-one-free deals. 
  • 40% Audience: The audience is the target group for your message. Consider splitting your larger customer files into segments to fine-tune your messaging to the most appropriate audience. 
  • 20%   Creative: The creative component isn’t just the copy and design, it’s also about the delivery (date, time, medium) of your message. 

Once you have pinpointed the finer details of your campaign, I suggest testing messaging elements based on predefined criteria, such as conversion rate, Average Order Value and Customer Lifetime Value. 

While there are numerous ways to achieve valid messaging test results — both pre-launch and post-launch — I have had the best success with post-launch messaging testing with conversion optimization through A/B split testing, multivariate testing or a combination of both. I usually start with A/B split tests to establish a control, then roll into multivariate to ensure the elements within the control are optimal. 

When you establish your control messaging, apply your findings across your business so your brand is not disjointed. Be sure to use testing tools that seamlessly integrate into your other systems to drive efficiency and simplify the process.

Lesson 4 – Deliver on Your Promises

There’s a great saying I like to refer to that encompasses the following lesson: If you promised the moon, deliver it along with a handful of stars. You want to shine in your customers’ eyes.

Delivering on your promises is doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. You build trust every time you follow through on a commitment. Keep in mind that the opposite is true as well. Set clear expectations with your customers and make sure you're living up to your commitments. Don’t be afraid to exceed expectations. 

When it comes to doing business online, there are a handful of challenges that can hinder your team from delivering on promises, such as: 

  • Shipping time  Sending products around the world is no longer a serious challenge. I have seen most failures happen when companies need to get orders into the carrier’s hands. Closely monitor the time is takes between a customer submitting an order and your warehouse putting the package on a truck.
  • Email privacy  It should go without saying that you should not contact customers who have opted out of marketing communication. But if you’re not properly integrated with your Email Service Provider (ESP), you’ll inevitably fall short on this promise.  
  • Call center hold time Monitor your call hold times and manage them to acceptable levels. Keep disposition records for both call type and customer hold time feedback so you can adjust your target hold times accordingly.
  • Product quality  Make sure your supply chain allows you to deliver consistent quality products that best represent your brand. Create quality assurance protocols to mitigate any issues before they arise.
  • Packaging  Far too many shipped products use packaging that diminishes a brand’s image. Consider how you want your product to look as it arrives at your customers’ doors. Does it align with the brand guidelines we discussed in Lesson 1? If not, it’s time to reevaluate your packaging.  

Lesson 5 – Establish & Track KPIs

When I look back on my 25-year career in ecommerce, I know the single most important success factor when launching and growing online brands has been a strong commitment to making data-driven decisions. Unite your testing efforts with robust reporting to track Key Performance Indicators. “Key” is the operative word here. I’ve seen too many instances where companies track every granular data point, but don’t translate that data into actionable insights.   

Even if you’re an analytics rock star, make sure you establish and track these KPIs to effectively measure your branding efforts: 

  • Customer Lifetime Value — CLTV is the projected revenue that a customer will generate during their lifetime. (I’m not listing typical brand performance measures such as sentiment, brand recall, purchase intent and customer loyalty because CLTV captures the essence of those metrics.) 
  • Conversion Ratio — Conversion Rate (orders ÷ visitors) is the ultimate measure of your marketing messaging to consumer fit. If you generate a conversion rate of 2.5% with one marketing promotion and 3.1% with another, chances are good that it has something more to do with your offer or audience for those particular promotions than anything else. 
  • Abandonment Rate — This is often referred to as “bounce rate,” and is the measurement of the number of prospective customers who enter a page or series of pages (i.e. shopping cart) and leave your site. Higher ratios on your product pages can mean prospects do not find your offer compelling, while low ratios can indicate people are engaged with your messaging.
  • Cost per Acquisition — CPA is the total cost of acquiring a customer via a specific campaign. The CPA measure is different from Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) by its granular nature. CPA is a measure of the cost of acquiring customers within a specific business application (i.e. channels, campaigns, tactics) whereas CAC is more global measurement, typically used in reference across the business. Both are important metrics to keep tabs on and each should have a place in the decisions you're making on a regular basis.
  • Net Promoter Score — NPS is the leading standard for customer experience metrics. It measures customer loyalty on a scale from zero to ten, then classifies respondents as “promoters,” “passives” or “detractors.” The wide array of business actions the data represents, paired with the clear potential for action, makes NPS a valuable metric. 

The Bottom Line 

These five lessons are a great start to build your online brand and generating more revenue. You’ll also need to position your brand to adapt and evolve with new customer demands and business landscapes. Set up feedback loops to hear suggestions from your employees and prospects. Keep an eye on the competition with consistent competitive research. And be sure to launch new products and services to stay on the cusp of innovation and delight your customers. As brand ambassadors, it's our responsibility to find new ways to create closer emotional relationships with targeted audiences by showcasing what our business stands for. 

Back your online branding efforts with an agile ecommerce platform. Schedule a demo to see how sticky.io creates lasting customer bonds.