An aspiring entrepreneur with a great product faces a double-edged sword. On the one hand, eCommerce and Amazon have torn down the barriers to enter the market. On the other hand, that easy access has allowed competitors to swarm the market in the millions.
Amazon marketplaces alone have something like 5 million sellers worldwide. It’s difficult to imagine what that might look like in the physical world. A mall stretching to the horizon in every direction?
In any event, the story for brands was different before eCommerce. Back in the day, you came up with hot line of casual wear or a crafty range of micro-brewed beer or an innovative retail concept. You invested a lot in the product. Then you plunked a lot more capital in building your channels and your supply chain.
Of course, that part hasn’t changed. New brands still need to pound the pavement to find business, build a brick-and-mortar experience if that’s part of their plan, lease warehouse space, dazzle with purchasing agents.
The key difference is, again, marketplaces and eCommerce are inexpensive starting points to launch a killer brand into a competitive landscape. The question is what do you do next?
A Toolkit for a Killer Brand
Technology hasn’t just lowered the barrier of entry to market. It effectively shattered old and rigid definitions of business. So while many brands today start off as online-only business and later expand to the brick-and-mortar world, many other brands today can more easily combine direct-to-consumer and wholesale channels.
In other words, it’s no longer the case that manufacturers, distributors, importers, wholesalers and retailers occupy their own niche. Any brand can be any of these today. The tools you use to build a killer brand, then, depend on the novel way you do business now, and intend to business in the future. Here are a few tools that we’ve identified to building a killer brand.
The omnichannel describes both how a brand speaks to customers through social media, email and other marketing channels, and how it fulfills orders using multiple sales channels. From a marketing perspective, the omnichannel retailer recognizes and caters to each customer’s preferences and spending habits. Whether they shop in a store or online doesn’t matter. It’s about what you can give your customer. Similarly, from a sales perspective, the omnichannel caters to the customer’s preferences for how they shop.
The capacity to recognize and serve customers has saved big retail brands by recapturing sales their physical stores lost to eCommerce and online marketplaces. Thus, for example, Home Depot’s ability to provide click-and-collect and ship-to-store led to a 28% year-over-year increase in online sales. The fact is, without that capacity, a retailer like Home Depot could have easily lost that business to competitors with that capacity. More importantly to retailers of any size, customers spend, visit and recommend an omnichannel brand more than non-omnichannel retailers. Providing flexible fulfillment, then, is a proven tool to creating a killer brand.
Nobody knows what to get people for Christmas. That may be an exaggeration, but only slightly. According to a recent survey, gift cards will be the most popular item on shoppers’ Christmas lists this season. The advantage to the consumer, of course, is it saves them from the risk of disappointment. Why give something that a loved one or co-worker won’t like when you can give them the power of choice instead?
Retailers benefit from gift cards in two ways. First, the gift card turns its purchaser into your brand ambassador, in a way. It prompts a visit to your store or website from someone that may never have seen you before, with the potential of getting them to buy more than just the value of the gift card, or even turning into a loyal customer. Secondly, a gift card gives you cash upfront for an exchange that may never happen. This isn’t a long-term benefit, or even anything to rely on as a business model, but the fact is that $1 billion in gift cards go unredeemed every year.
The way you communicate with your customers says everything about your brand. We’ve seen plenty of companies attain killer brand status by using the social media channels that appeal exclusively to their target customers. Instagram leaps to mind, particularly for fashion brands that know how to produce fantastic imagery with a signature aesthetic.
The truth is that not everyone can make their brand voice heard above the din. Good content marketing requires creativity everywhere: product descriptions, email campaigns, websites, social media, Google Shopping channels, and on and on. There’s a technical side to it, as well, such as optimizing your website to increase customer visits. But if you can master these tools, you can increase your brand recognition, drive sales and build customer loyalty.
A retailer makes transactions; a killer brand stirs the soul. That’s the goal, anyway: while a shopper may buy a product because of particular feature or an irresistible sale, a customer buys again because of how a brand makes them feel. Everything from website and store design to customer service and fast checkout contributes to an overall feeling. Eye-catching window displays, attentive customers service, slick website design, fast checkout, omnichannel fulfillment options all work together to create an overall feeling for your brand in your customers’ hearts.
In a way, then, customer experience embodies your creativity and people skills along with the more mundane, but no less critical operations and technology. A breakdown in customer experience—an irritable salesperson, a long wait at the register, a website that takes too long to load, poor store lighting—can leave a bad taste in a customer’s mouth.