Build Your Web Brand
I live in Boulder, Colorado, an affluent town of about 100,000 people with a vibrant downtown, a great mass transit system, and great scenery and architecture. It’s one of the original settlements in the western US, and has historic buildings and districts from the 1800’s.
I am writing this posting sitting in a Starbucks in a town very similar to Boulder where I happen to working for a week on a new project. The town has a population of 100,000 people, a vibrant downtown with shops and bars and restaurants. A great mass transit system, and lots of nice Audi’s, BMW’s and nice cars abound. It’s one of the original settlements in its region (dating from the 1200's), with buildings still standing from the 1600‘s.
Other than the age of the buildings it sounds familiar, but it’s very different. I’m in a town in central England near Birmingham call Solihull. Though everyone speaks English, its the Queen’s English (and slang). The buses are double deckers. People drive their nice cars on the wrong side of the road! The Starbucks here did not open until 10AM on Sunday, and the rest of the town is essentially closed down today, so finding a good cup of coffee or breakfast early is rather challenging.
The towns are very similar on the surface, but as a new visitor you have to listen very carefully to understand others because of the accent and slang, think about where to look as you jaywalk at intersections lest a speeding Audi pick you off from the right instead of the left, and you need to do a currency calculation before you pay for anything to see if it makes economic sense.
What’s this got to do with eCommerce you ask? It’s really all about the brand!
People Like Their Brands
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of branding in eCommerce today lately. Manufacturers realized the importance of their brand early on in the internet era. Many of us who operate eCommerce stores are now realizing how difficult and important it is to develop a brand for your store in a very crowded and competitive market so you will be recognizable in a crowd of sameness.
If you think of Boulder and Solihull as “brands” that are very similar on the surface, you realize that you will be drawn to the one that’s most familiar to you and likely spend more money there over time. Though I can get coffee in either town, it’s a bit more challenging to get to find and get to a coffee shop in Solihull for me because of the navigation issues. If I were in a hurry, checking out may be a problem, because I don’t know a 10 pence piece from a 1 pound piece, etc. It would be very hard to “convert” a large number of Boulder people to shop in Solihull and visa versa. Nice place to visit, but I would not want to live there.......
Websites are the same. If you landed on the top 5 or 6 sites of your competitors, chances are they would all look very much the "same" on the surface. As you start to look for your first item, the differences in navigation, the products, pricing and so forth become more clear to you. If it feels familiar enough and you see value, you may continue to shop. If not, chances are you'll go to a more familiar site, or at least one that feels more familiar to you.
Since it’s more and more difficult to find “new” buyers for your sites, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your website is familiar to your customers, because repeat business is a lot more profitable than one timers. I want abeadstore.com to be known as a place where not only can you find unusual and hard to find beads and findings, but also one that provides a great deal of information about the products we sell and how you might use them. If you are a power shopper, I want you make sure you can use our search to find anything. If you are a browser shopper, we’ll give you good category navigation and lots of detailed information about products. When you have an account established once, it’s very easy to check out the next time you visit. Yes, it’s likely you’ll be able to buy that product in six months and so forth.
You definitely want to attract new buyers with an appealing website, but be careful about following every new design trend. Today, I see 2 dominate trends, be like Amazon, or be “minimalist” by getting rid of traditional navigation. Neither would work for us. We need to have several ways to navigate to appeal to a broad range of our customers, and we want to feel more intimate than Amazon. So, our brand and our website reflect those design elements.
One of our competitors has completely redesigned their website at least 3 times in the last 18 months. Not just a casual change, a complete rework. If I were a customer, that would be bothersome, as nothing is familiar when you go back to shop there. We did a complete redesign 3 years ago on abeadstore.com, and though it has paid off in the long run, it was very painful and cost us loyal customers in the short term.
We will continue to make incremental changes, but fewer than in the past. We don’t want to look like our competitors websites, or the latest trend. We want to be who we are, be easy to find, be consistent and predictable, and build our customer base accordingly.
Know Your Brand, Build on It
The best way to do that is to build your brand. Our brand is our website, our customer service, the products we sell, and ultimately, our reputation. They should all work together to deliver the “image” you define as a “brand”.
Use other tools to build your brand. Facebook is great for that. Newsletters are very useful for driving both sales and brand. Don’t underestimate consistency. Send your newsletters with regularity, post to your blog and Facebook with regularity. Tweet with regularity. Offer both deals and valuable information. We think that’s what our customers want. And we hope to give them more of what they want. In the long run, it’s cheaper than paying Google et al to delivery a fly by customer.
Know who you are, deliver that to your customers, and keep doing it!
You're dead on about consistency. Brand building is all about trust and trust is about them being able to depend on you regularly. That said, newsletters are great and so are social media channels, but aren't About Us pages one of the best places to share who you are as a brand? Visitors are on site and clicks away from product pages. You can include as much information as you deem necessary and in whatever context you see fit. Social media channels restrict you to their stylization.
As amazon might have lacked the intimacy your site required, so Facebook or Twitter might not fit the style vocabulary of your brand. Theres an amazing article from Blue Acorn that talks about not only the importance of about us pages for brand building, but also a few features that you can include. You can read it here: http://www.blueacorn.com/blog/ecommerce-conversion-optimization-about-us/
I agree about the importance of branding and the impact is has on trust and customer relations, but it's also important to calculate what kind of conversions to expect. Great article! Love reading people's thoughts on branding!