It’s been said that, “People don’t buy products—they buy brands.” It’s dramatic … but it’s not true in all cases. Sometimes you just need a kitchen towel, and you don’t care about the brand.
But new brands entering the fiercely competitive ecommerce space, heed this advice: Creating a clear brand message that resonates for people is an excellent way to stand out from the crowd and build a loyal following of superfans eager to give you money.
In this article:
- I’ll clearly define what branding is and offer a plethora of examples and analogies.
- I’ll show you how to use branding to create a crystal-clear marketing message that your existing and future customers will love.
Let’s break this down and go a bit deeper into branding. Everybody knows what a product is (shoe, cellphone case, laptop), but what exactly is a brand? What’s the relationship between a brand and a company?
For starters, let’s define branding:
- A company’s branding is the personality of the company. It’s what the company stands for, what they represent, like, and dislike.
- That branding is also a promise. It creates a crystal-clear expectation of what the customer receives if they do business with you (for example, you have a very different expectation about staying at a Hilton Hotel versus a Motel 6).
Branding in Action
Luxury clothing brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, and so on do an excellent job at branding. The personality of these brands says things like:
- “Luxury is worth the high cost.”
- “Attractive people are more valued in society”
- “Wearing cheap clothes is boring and won’t earn you people’s respect.”
- “If people know that your clothes are expensive, they’ll envy you and think you’re rich, super cool, successful, and so on.”
Contrast that with a bargain clothing store such as Marshalls, Ross, T.J.Maxx, and so on. These brands say the polar opposite of what the luxury brands do:
- “You don’t have to spend a lot to look good.”
- “Paying for overly expensive clothes is stupid.”
- “People are impressed if you tell them how much money you saved.”
- “Overly flashy clothing is for insecure people who crave attention.”
Here are two completely different approaches, and both are effective with different audiences. The luxury brands have their loyal customers who agree with their branding and so do the bargain brands. Each brand takes a stance with opposing ideas of how much clothes should cost. And that right there is the key to good branding—not being afraid of offending one group of people in order to make another group fall in love with you.
The Power of Being Polarizing
You can go further than just “not being afraid.” Nike provides a perfect example of the power of choosing to be polarizing in branding. In a recent campaign, they used Colin Kaepernick as their spokesperson. This reminded people of the controversy surrounding players kneeling during the national anthem. Nike also took an extremely bold stance by pledging their support to Black Lives Matter.
Involving Kaepernick outraged a lot of people. Many took to social media, burning their Nikes and swearing never to buy another Nike product again. Despite this backlash, Nike saw an increase in sales of 31% after that ad campaign aired, according to TIME magazine.
In marketing, you’ll always do better with a mix of 80% (people hating you) and 20% (people absolutely loving you) than if 100% of people think you’re “just alright” or “pretty good.”
Don’t Try to Be a Jack of All Trades
The power of a brand is inversely related to its scope:
- The more tightly focused your brand is on a certain product, idea, or belief system, the better.
- In contrast, the more widely focused your brand is, the less it actually stands for.
Let’s take an imaginary company and call it “Larry’s.” At first, Larry’s just sells staplers, and nothing more. Eventually, they branch out to selling paper clips, Post-it notes, and pens. Since they no longer stand for staplers exclusively, has their brand power been destroyed? Not destroyed—but it has been weakened—and here’s why: they aren’t seen as “the stapler specialists” anymore.
Imagine you’re in the process of building your dream home, and you need to hire someone to do the electrical work. You have two candidates: One is a jack of all trades (plumber, roofer, general handyperson, and also does electrical). The other is strictly an electrician only. Who are you more likely to hire?
Most people would choose to hire the one who does electrical only, because they feel that candidate is more specialized in the field and thus will have great expertise. This is why you never see someone competing and winning the Olympics in multiple sports like boxing, skiing, and gymnastics. They focus on one sport only, and that’s how they’re able to achieve true mastery.
Back to the Larry’s example: He sold staplers only at first but by adding more products, he has somewhat diminished his branding power. So expanding is a bad move, right?
Not necessarily: All of these products are related enough that the brand can still stand for something under the “general office supplies” umbrella. If adding products leads to a significant increase in sales, this can be a good move. But exercise extreme caution whenever stretching what the brand stands for. What if he started selling ice cream next? Then jet engine parts? What does the brand stand for now? Absolutely nothing.
If you sell organic and/or environmentally friendly home-cleaning products, stay within that field. If you want to sell some nice brushes or towels to compliment those products and increase average order value (AOV), that’s fine. How about laundry detergent as well? Sure. A car-cleaning product? Maybe … but what about personal hygiene products such as shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant? Slow down, Sparky—now you’ve gone a bit too far off course. And what’s next … other home products such as kitchen utensils? Now you’ve lost your mind!
A quick point: Whenever this conversation comes up, some people like to point to Amazon, which sells practically everything. These giant corporations are the exception to the rule. You aren’t Amazon, so you can’t break the rules.
Creating a Clear Marketing Message
McDonald’s stands for cheap, fast, greasy, and delicious burgers and fries. It’s not meant for the fitness-crazed 21-year-old yogi, and McDonald’s is okay with that.
Disney stands for family-friendly stories that bring people together. They don’t also make slasher horror movies on the side.
Build Grow Scale stands for scaling ecommerce companies through superior website optimization strategies. (Shameless plug—sue me!). We don’t do SEO, we don’t teach affiliate marketing, and we certainly don’t dance on TikTok.
What Does Your Ecommerce Company Stand For?
Returning to Nike as an example, have you noticed that they never talk about the quality of their shoes in their ads? They don’t talk about how great the fit is or the high-quality materials they use. Instead, they opt to talk about social justice issues. People would rather buy what they stand for than buy the actual shoes.
In fact, there’s something even more important than what, specifically, the company stands for and that’s that they’ve chosen to stand for something in the first place!
So keep those factors in mind when crafting your own company’s brand identity, and use this list as a guide too:
- Keep it SIMPLE.
- Keep it FOCUSED.
- Keep it CLEAR.
- Bonus points if you can make it POLARIZING as well.
Have you heard the term “elevator pitch”? Your elevator pitch is a clear, concise description of what your company does, the value it provides, and what makes it unique. The most important word in this sentence is concise. Hence the term elevator pitch—you should be able to explain it to someone in about the same time as an elevator ride (maybe 30-60 seconds).
If you can explain what your brand stands for in 30-60 seconds and it’s extremely clear, focused, and easy to understand, then congratulations! You’re on the right track.
Oh, and massive bonus points if you can make it polarizing—even slightly offensive—to a certain group of people, in order to make another group of people fall in love with you.
Anybody can sell a T-shirt, but what’s the personality—aka the brand—of the company selling that T-shirt?
- Do a percentage of the proceeds contribute to ending global warming while giving the oil-friendly folks heartburn?
- Does it support 2nd Amendment rights while pissing off all the anti-gun people?
- Does it cost $500 and promise to make other people jealous of you?
However you end up defining your brand, remember to keep it simple, focused, clear, and concise and, if you can, make it polarizing too.
Creating and communicating a strong brand is one of the most effective ways to stand out in a fiercely competitive ecommerce space and to win big.
Martinez, G. (2018). Despite outrage, Nike sales increased 31% after Kaepernick ad. TIME.