I originally wrote a blog post about my e-commerce marketing philosophy that revolves around three pillars: product, branding, and sales.
The original blog post ended up being more than 7,000 words. As a result, I decided to split it up into three separate posts.
This blog post ist about the second pillar (Branding).
The 2nd Pillar: Your Branding
Your branding is the Catalyst of your business.
Oftentimes, branding is the difference between a small e-commerce business that is doing fairly well and an 8-figure empire.
Branding is also one of the hardest things in e-commerce. Most people get it wrong or need years to finally get their brand identity and brand message on point.
What is a brand?
There are many different definitions of “brand” and “branding”. Here’s one that I think is the best if you don’t want to overcomplicate this topic:
“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s a gut feeling because we’re all emotional, intuitive beings, despite our best efforts to be rational. It’s a person’s gut feeling, because in the end the brand is defined by individuals, not by companies, markets, or the so-called general public.”
– Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap
Building a strong brand has numerous advantages. It:
- allows you to charge more money for the products you are selling
- builds trust and credibility with customers AND strangers
- makes it easier to persuade people to buy your products
- helps you build a real bond with your customers
- increases customer loyalty
- increases the value of your company
- shapes the customer’s expectation and perception of your products
- opens the floodgates to product line extensions
- improves the customer experience
- gives you an edge over your competition
Brand Positioning is key
Positioning = what the product does and who it is for.
Brand positioning = positioning your brand identity (more on that later) to a particular audience or target market.
Most smaller brands that don’t belong to billion-dollar companies get their positioning wrong because they have never really done their market research. They never defined who their product is for. They think they know their customers but they really don’t. They just have a vague idea of who their customers are.
Market research is the first step to good branding. Once you identified exactly who it is you are selling to, you can use that information and build a strong brand identity and a clear brand message around your ideal customer.
Here’s the step-by-step process I go through when doing market research for my clients:
1) Identify the specific niche you are selling to
This one is pretty easy. You start by identifying the bigger market you are selling to and then you niche down until you identified the specific target you are selling to.
Example: your big market is HEALTH. Your sub-market is cognitive health/performance enhancement. Your niche is Ketogenic Diet. This is still relatively vague and we can even niche down further. In order to do that, we need to create a customer avatar. This will allow us to define an exact specific target we are tailoring our brand to.
Disclaimer: this is the market research I have done for one of my clients who sells a Keto course, but the same exact framework can be used for e-commerce.
2) Create your customer avatar
A customer avatar is the blueprint of your ideal customer. You want to know as much as possible about your target customer.
We will stick to the Ketogenic Diet example. For your understanding, some of the main benefits of a Ketogenic diet are weight-loss, getting rid of brain fog, higher productivity, higher energy levels.
Here is how I designed our perfect Keto Diet customer avatar:
Gender: female + male, but mostly male
Marital Status: married
#/Age of Children: 1-3 children
Location: Canada + USA
Occupation: high-level corporate job or business owner/entrepreneur
Annual Income: 6-7 figures
Level of Education: university degree
- Make a lot of money and succeed in their career
- prestige and social status
- live longer & healthier
- lose weight
- disciplined, hard-working & driven
- knows the value of health
- knows the value of science
- values high-quality products and services
- low energy and constant brain fog prevents them from getting as much work done as they wish
- their productivity has been declining
- their physical shape hurts their social status (and life expectancy)
- their health suffers from making their career a priority
- unhappy with their body and physical performance
- their low energy levels and tiredness have negative effects on their family life (e.g. no energy to play with kids after a long day at work)
- they know how important a good, healthy diet is but they just can’t get their diet on point
Product related problems:
- too much misinformation about keto
- too much information about health and dieting in general
- no clear blueprint to follow if they wanted to start a Keto diet
- don’t know what exactly to eat on a Keto diet
- no emotional support
What keeps him/her up at night?
- Their health
- Their family
- self-sabotaging thoughts (is it really worth it?) or too many thoughts in general
Common objections/limiting thoughts
- I am busy and have no time for a diet
- A diet would hurt my career
- How does Keto even work?
- Who is this guy that is trying to sell me a Keto diet?
- Money is more important to me right now
- Improving Health & Wealth at the same time is not possible
- Keto is a scam
- Keto means I have to suffer or starve myself to death
- Keto is a fad
- I am not disciplined enough to follow a keto diet
- I have tried Keto before but failed
What does an average day look like for the target?
wake up early, go to work early, work a lot, come home to family, have dinner, have no more energy to play with children (and wife), sleep, rinse , repeat
What are things running through his/her head?
- Is it really worth it to sacrifice my health for all of this?
- Money is nice, but if I could live a healthier life at the same time, I could get more out of life.
- If I die, it’s game over. The longer I live, the more I can enjoy all my achievements in life. I need to change.
Photo of your customer avatar
It helps to search for a photo of a person that represents your customer avatar. Add it to the bottom of your Customer Avatar sheet.
Here’s Charlie, our perfect customer who would love our Keto Course:
Do you see what I did here? In the first step, I went from a big market (HEALTH) to a smaller niche (KETOGENIC DIET) and now to a very specific target.
Our specific target is: highly driven professionals who knowingly sacrifice their health for a better career
3) Find out their aspirational identity
Every person on this planet wants to change. It’s the human desire to transform. Everybody wants to become somebody different, somebody better, somebody healthier.
The most successful brands know exactly who their customers want to become. They know the aspirational identity of their customers. Women buy lingerie from Victoria’s Secret because they want to feel and look sexier – and that’s exactly what Victoria’s Secret is making them feel with their products.
The best way to find out the aspirational identity your customers are attracted to is to consider how they want their friends to talk about them. In our example, our specific target wants to become a healthier, better-performing individual.
4) Make a list of their problems and potential objections regarding your product
Identifying problems and potential objections was already part of step 2. However, it helps to write them down again. We can use that information later to write persuasive ads and landing page copy. Write down their biggest problem first, followed by the second biggest, etc. Same thing for objections.
Another thing you want to do is distinguish between internal problems and external problems.
External problems are usually the first problems that come to mind if you think about what your product does.
Example: the external problem Tesla solves is the need for a car. The external problem our Keto Online Course solves is losing weight and living a healthier, more productive life.
External problems typically manifest an internal problem. The only reason our customers buy from us is because the external problem we solve is frustrating them in some way. We want to identify that frustration, put it into words, and offer to resolve it along with the original external problem.
Example: the internal problem Tesla solves is the want to be an early adopter of new technology. The internal problem we solve for our Keto Diet Customer is that he is doubting his own future and relationships that are currently negatively affected by his health.
5) Write down valuable observations
On top of all the information we have gathered so far, you want to write down all kinds of valuable observations you make about your target customer. So far we only looked at problems they have in their lives and problems that are related to the kind of product you sell. However, we also want to look at positive statements, wishes, and desires that we haven’t uncovered yet.
In e-commerce, the best way to do that is to search for similar products on Amazon and reading through every single review. There is a lot of gold inside the Amazon review section. Customers will straight up tell you what they want, what they are happy or unhappy with, and what they wished the products they ordered did. You can also use other forums or simply ask people in real-life that fit your customer avatar description.
If you stumble upon more problems and objections during your Amazon research, add them to the list in step 3.
6) Define their BIG PROBLEM and come up with a BIG IDEA to fix that problem
Look at the list of problems you wrote down in step 3 and combine the biggest problems. You want to point out one BIG PROBLEM your customer avatar has. The big problem should include both internal and external problems your customer has.
Coming back to our Keto example, I came up with this big problem:
The constant trade-off between health and wealth is destroying his body and mind from the inside out. On the one hand, he is driven by success and his career, on the other hand, he knows that he is in bad shape and his health suffers tremendously from his career and his career will eventually suffer from his health.
Then, you basically inverse this big problem and come up with a BIG IDEA. The big idea is the plan you give your customer avatar to solve his problem:
The Effective AND Healthy Executive
A Ketogenic Diet will skyrocket your energy levels and help you get rid of brain fog, become more productive and successful in your career…while at the same time losing weight and living a longer, healthier life!
7) Come up with a BIG PROMISE
Now you want to create the BIG PROMISE your products have in store for your customer. The big promise is related to the success the customer will achieve through your product.
To do that, you basically tie your product to the BIG IDEA you just created and make a promise that will help your customer transform his identity:
Our Keto Course helps you reach a new level of peak performance by following a lifestyle that is beneficial to both your health and your wealth. Get into the best shape of your life while becoming more successful in business than you have ever been.
After you have gone through this seven-step process, the positioning of your brand should be much clearer.
You have identified a very SPECIFIC TARGET, pointed out a BIG PROBLEM they have and came up with a BIG IDEA, and made a BIG PROMISE that helps them solve their problem.
Everything that follows now (coming up with brand values, a brand message, writing ads and landing page copy) should be much easier.
Note: The example I gave you was a very specific one.
If you sell a number of different products that have slightly different target customers, feel free to go through the market research process for every single product. We mainly did this market research for two reasons:
- to have a very specific target customer you can use to build our brand around in the beginning (in the future you will make adaptations to the brand identity and you can broaden your target group)
- to have all the information we need to create powerful product pages and sales pages. That’s why it pays off to do market research for more than one product.
Aligning Brand Identity, Brand Image, Brand Values, and Brand Message
When it comes to branding, you have various different terms that are often used interchangeably.
Brand identity is how you want your brand to be perceived and includes pretty much everything. Your name, your brand values, your story, your brand message, the visual branding (color palette, logo, typography, website design, marketing materials such as brochures, ads, flyers).
Your brand identity is what you stand for with your business and products.
While your brand identity is how you want to be perceived, the brand image is how your brand is perceived in reality. It’s possible (and common) that there is a gap between your brand identity and your brand image. That gap can be closed by consistently communicating your brand identity to your target market.
Here’s a simple four-step process for creating a strong brand identity and aligning your brand image with your identity:
1) Define your brand values
During your market research, you should have found out what your ideal customer’s values are. Now you need to define your own values for your brand.
Imagine your brand as a person. What values should that person have in order to be attractive to your customer avatar?
Your brand values are very important because they inject personality into your products and brand. However, don’t overdo it. Don’t squeeze in 20 different values and try to appeal to everyone. Your brand needs to create a consistent perception that is congruent with the products you are selling. And that’s easier if you have only a handful of brand values.
2) Come up with a clear brand message
Once you defined your brand values, you need to come up with a clear and concise brand message people understand.
Here’s a quick test to see if your brand message is clear enough:
Within five seconds of looking at your website or marketing material, can your audience answer:
- What do you offer?
- How will it make their life better?
- What do they need to do to buy it?
There’s a great book called “Building A Story Brand” that shows you exactly how to build a clear brand message by following a simple 7-step process. I highly recommend reading this book and applying it to your brand.
A great shortcut to creating a brand message that sticks, is to create a one-liner. A one-liner is a single statement that answers the question “What do you do?”. Anytime someone asks you what your business or product does, you answer with the one-liner you created.
Your one-liner should include these 4 elements:
- The Specific Target
- The Big Problem
- The Big Idea
- The Big Promise
Example for our Keto Course:
The Target: highly driven professionals
The Problem: bad diet and health is destroying his body and mind
The Idea: the Ketogenic Diet makes you more productive and healthier at the same time
The Promise: better health and cognitive performance
Our one-liner will then be:
We help professionals who suffer from bad health adopt an easy-to-follow, efficient Ketogenic Diet to get into a better shape while becoming more productive and successful in business.
3) Polish your visual branding
The visual appearance of your brand includes your website design, logo, typography, color palette, product packaging & labeling, and the design of all marketing materials (offline and online).
All these elements should align with your brand values and deliver a coherent message.
By polishing your visual branding, you are non-verbally communicating your brand values and your identity to your target market. But we also need to verbally communicate it. This is done in step 4:
4) Communicate your brand identity
Consistent marketing and messaging leads to a consistent brand identity.
Every single paragraph on your website, marketing materials, social media, and ads can be used to communicate your brand identity. You know that you are successfully communicating your brand identity when your customers are starting to repeat your own marketing messages.
This is a very interesting phenomenon that I have encountered when running Facebook ads for some of my clients. After a few months and reaching millions of impressions, happy customers started commenting on the ads. They were using the same exact language we used in our ads. Sometimes they even used the same exact words and phrases to talk about our products.
One of the sentences we used in some ads was “the best [product category] you’ll ever own”. A few weeks later, we started seeing comments like “the best [product category] I’ve ever bought”.
If that happens, you know that your brand message is on point and communicated in the right way.
The spillover effect on Product and Sales
A top-notch branding improves customer experience. With top-notch branding, you can turn a good product into an amazing product in the customers’ minds. Amazing products = higher CLTV = more word-of-mouth marketing = increased customer loyalty = you can spend more money on ads per acquired customer.
Once you built a strong brand inside your niche, you can leverage the power of your brand and extend your product line. That means introducing new products to your existing audience under the same brand and in the same product category (e.g. offer additional Keto online courses).
Or, you could enter new product categories under the same brand but within the same niche (brand extension). For example, we could start selling our own Keto supplements on top of our Keto course. Launching new products is significantly easier if you have a strong brand and customer-base.
When it comes to the sales part, good branding improves the profitability of your ads. People are willing to pay more money for a product that is branded towards their own values and beliefs. It is also much easier to sell your products to people who don’t know you if your branding is on point. Remember: a strong brand builds trust and credibility.
The goals of the 2nd pillar
To summarize the second pillar, you should aim to build a brand that:
- has a strong brand identity consisting of
- core brand values, clear brand message, and visual branding that
- are communicated to and aligned with the values of your customer avatar, so that
- you are able to charge higher prices, retain customers, and launch new products
This will lead to:
- higher profit margins
- higher CLTV
- increased customer loyalty
- more profitable ads, as well as an
- increase in the value of your company and brand
The 3rd Pillar: Sales
Click here to read about the third pillar of my e-commerce marketing philosophy.