Do your online customers love you?
We’re often approached by clients who have great products to sell. They might be manufacturers or have sourced products they can sell at a profit. Others are long-time brick-and-mortar companies wanting to move into the online selling arena.
They come to us for help in building their online store and helping them get started — or improve — their e-commerce efforts. Innocently, these well-intentioned business owners focus on the products and pricing as the USP (Unique Selling Proposition). They’re quite surprised when we tell them that product and price is not what’s important. For us, it’s something we call Brand Articulation.
Brand is Everything
First, let me say right up front that you do want to sell great products at a competitive price. But, consumers have shown over and over again that market growth is more than the price-value proposition. Buyers cozy up to brands because they make them feel good. Great brands are safe, prestigious, chic and/or trusted. The best brands are all of these.
And these are what we want to feel. We want to feel that when we buy a widget from Acme, we have made a great purchasing decision. Someone else might sell a less expensive widget, but maybe it’s not as dependable. In many cases, we might want to simply own an Acme widget, as it makes a statement about who we are.
Take Apple, for instance. While millions choose Android smartphones, many prefer the iPhone because of the Apple brand value. Apple products are incredibly well engineered (so far no batteries have exploded), they tend to create technology niches others jump into (smartphone, tablet), and Apple backs their products with very good service and support.
Yet, Apple products are not always the least priced on the market.
But, it’s much more than simply the products that continue to feed Apples sales: it’s the brand itself. Apple works very hard at building an entire brand experience, from it’s iconic stores — which completely turned electronic retail on its ear — to the legend of Steve Jobs. It’s the culture of the company itself as a benevolent corporate citizen.
I contend that if the Apple brand was simply attached to products, it would not be nearly as successful a company as it is today.
What Are Your Brand Values?
So, when we begin working with a new client on an e-commerce store, we focus our initial requirements discussion on much more than the technology, products or logistics of the planned endeavor (all very important, to be sure). We begin by asking them to “describe your brand.” For us, immersing ourselves in their brand helps us produce a much better outcome.
Unfortunately, most clients have trouble describing their brand. Many say something like “we provide great service,” or “we’re the leading seller of Acme widgets in the Midwest.” For us, these are outcomes of the brand, but not the brand itself.
Think about your brand for a minute. Then, answer the following questions (our responses are in italics):
- How do you want your customers to describe your company? novusweb delivered better than anticipated results.
- Why would your customers return to buy from you again? To increase their online e-commerce success.
- What makes a customer remember your company name? We cuddle our clients, making them feel very special. We provide them with ongoing, helpful advice.
- What is the one word that you want used when describing a customer’s experience with you? Profitable.
We call these answers your brand values. These are the attributes of how your brand adds value to your selling proposition.
You’ll probably answer these differently from us — and you probably should — but notice that, for us, “price” is not mentioned in any of these answers. We believe customers will pay a fair price for great results; that price discounting is not always the key to success. That said, we also don’t feel we over-charge our clients. We keep our rates competitive, but certainly more than many other e-commerce agencies — especially those overseas. And a majority of our clients have come to us after working with a lower cost provider, having had less than ideal results. These clients have been with us for many years, too. Not because of price, but because we live up to our brand.
Articulate Your Brand
Once you have established your brand values, as an online seller, you have to turn to how you communicate your brand through your e-commerce efforts. These methods are what we call the Brand Articulation: the specific things you do to increase your brand’s values among consumers.
The following are just some of the many aspects of creating an online selling program that we discuss with clients as part of their Brand Articulation:
Logo’s are funny things. Many companies opt for complicated designs that try to communicate a brand’s entire value proposition. However, simpler designs (e.g. Apple, IBM, Dell, Nike, Macy’s) work better as they can be applied across multiple media, used as backgrounds, etc. More versatile and more immediate recognition by customers. Focus on simplicity over message.
Logos need to be used throughout your site, including email notices. If possible, add your logo to packing lists and even outside packing cartons. Just look at the Amazon logo: when we see it on the side of a box, we know it’s from Amazon.
The more places your logo can be, the better.
It’s not uncommon to want a mobile-ready website, but is everything tested on a mobile device? How easy is it for your customers to navigate your site on desktop or mobile? Is your navigation too complex? We’ve seen sites with literally hundreds of product categories; others with many, multiple category levels. Why punish your users?
Is your checkout process simple? Does it suggest security and privacy? Everything your customers experience represents your brand.
Returns and Refunds
We know it costs money to process returns. And no business likes making refunds. However, if you’re worried about offering full refunds and handling returns, you may not be selling good products. Just look at Zappos for an example of how a completely new brand built to a huge success (now owned by Amazon) by offering free returns (including shipping) and full refunds. On shoes!
If you’re not offering free returns and full refunds, you’re turning off lots of online customers who expect this. Of course, some businesses can’t honor this (some B2B cases, to be sure), but in most consumer products, it’s a standard expectation for consumers.
The question now is, “can you offer something that your competitors don’t?” For our own business we built starting in 2005 (later sold in 2009), we were unique in offering 100%, 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee and free remote software installation services for buyers of digital dictation equipment. Our competitors were penalizing returns with a 15% re-stocking fee and charging for any installation services. Within a few months, we were out-selling 95% of our online competitors. And, over the 5 years we owned the business, we had a less than 0.2% return rate on purchases. By helping our customers install the accompanying software and training them to get more from the equipment (all by telephone or remote screen sharing), customers were much less likely to return their purchase.
Help and Support
If possible, we highly encourage clients to employ a live chat capability. Even if you can’t man it 24 hours a day, letting your customers know that help is instantly available is very valuable. We use LiveChat even on this website, as we want anyone visiting our site to have the ability to reach us without having to call a number or send a “Contact Us” inquiry (although we make those easy with an 800 number and simple online form).
Build robust FAQs and, if possible, include a knowledge base with complete use information, manuals, guides, etc.
One of our pet peeves is products with scant information. It takes time to write great descriptions that sell, but it’s by far the most important thing you can do to increase sales of your products. Customers want to know what they’re buying. They want to feel good about their purchase. They want to be sure what they buy will satisfy their needs.
Images should be large and well produced. If you’re selling clothes, the photos should be detailed enough to see the stitching and trim. For electronics, show all sides, especially various plugs and jacks. Show your products in size context by using models or showing your products next to other things with which people are familiar.
By all means, include product reviews, too. So simple, yet so incredibly powerful.
There are many more brand touchpoints we discuss with our clients, but I hope you understand the gist here: don’t overlook anything.
Dedicate to Your Brand
The bottom line is that you have everything to gain with Brand Articulation, and no down side. Whatever you do to build your online business, be sure you measure everything against your brand values. If it supports your brand, you’re most likely on track. If not, reconsider.