Building an emotional and social connection with shoppers can create lasting relationships that produce both pleasing shopping experiences and increased profit. This is most commonly referred to as “branding” and it can be one of the most important keys to ecommerce success.
In July 2009, Amazon announced its plans to purchase 10-year-old online retailer Zappos for $850 million. One could argue that Zappos had been growing sales and making a lot of money, but in reality what Zappos had that was so valuable was not its revenue, its website, its logistics, its inventory, or even its famously extravagant customer service organization. Rather, what Amazon is really buying is Zappos’ brand and the promise that brand offers to customers and potential customers. Through ads, through press releases, and through consistently excellent customer service, Zappos developed a brand that customers liked and responded to.
The Secret of Brand: It Is a Promise
At the heart of Zappos’ brand was a promise to provide excellent customer service. Zappos advertised its customer service and often told the press about its commitment to providing exceptional shopping experiences. For example, Zappos representatives often told members of the media that although the company was based in Las Vegas, Nevada, it had a shipping operation in Kentucky, which was, said Zappos’s personnel, a stone’s throw from FedEx’s shipping hub. This meant, according to Zappos, that it could get your order to the shipper faster than its competition. The company also publicly announced that it paid trainees to quit because it wanted only committed employees taking care of its customers.
Essentially, Zappos was successful because they made a brand promise—great customer care—and they did everything they could to live out that promise.
Make Your Own Brand Promise
While it may not be realistic for your online store to try and match Zappos’ brand success, you can still develop an authentic brand promise and enjoy the success and opportunities that come with a solid reputation.
Your store’s brand promise will consist of one central and concise statement that describes your mission, strategy, values, communications, and behavior. This statement, your brand promise, must be authentic and true. Zappos was committed to customer service. That was and is the company’s brand promise. And it affected every aspect of its operation.
Try to develop a single sentence that describes your company’s brand promise.
Once You Have a Brand Promise, Live Up To It
An effective brand promise will be evident in every aspect of your ecommerce operation, including your website, your customer care, and your advertising. And if you are really going to gain some equity from your brand, you need to make the promise a systemic part of your operation.
For example, let’s imagine that you sell extra large shoes for guys with extra big feet, and your brand promise is to “provide hundreds of shoe styles in sizes 13 to 20 at competitive prices.” This brand promise would inform your actions. You might personally contact hundreds of shoe manufacturers asking them only about their larger sized offerings. You could—if you had big feet—personally test every style that you sell, since finding and trying out shoes would be consistent with your brand promise.
Having done this work, you could send out a press release about how you wear a different pair of shoes each week and then write your own review of the shoes, posting those reviews to your own website. In the release, you could mention that if you don’t like the shoe you stop carrying it.
A brand is really a promise and a relationship that can lead to many happy shopping experiences for your customers and increased profits for your business. It is also a defining mission statement that can and should guide how you do business. In the long run, well-branded companies outperform the no-names.