Knowing when to change your branding can be the difference between life and death for your online store. Branding is very important when it comes to ecommerce businesses as that is the first thing that potential customers will experience before purchasing.
There is no way for a potential customer to determine the quality of a specific product or service online. They have to use their gut and trust what sellers claim, and the best way to create that trust is through branding.
What is Branding?
A customer might say, “I feel tired, I need Starbucks” instead of “I need coffee.” That’s what you want for your online store. You want your brand to be the first thing that comes to mind when your customers think of a product or service. But that’s just the surface.
In this article, Tony Hardy, Founder and Director of Canny, says that branding is “a marketing technique that helps companies establish a unique presence in the marketplace whilst differentiating from their competitors.”
When people think of fast food, what do they think of? McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. That is the power of branding. When people think of a product or service, it’s the brands they think about. And that’s the beauty of the free market. Customers have the choice to pick which product or service they want. And most of the time, what they want is specific and unique to their needs.
A common misconception is branding is just the goods or services you offer. It’s that and so much more.
Branding is visual, sensory, and more
Your brand is not just your name, logo or your products. It could include your color theme, ads, faces, influencers, website design, etc. And that is just talking about the visual side of your brand. Brands can be divided into two parts:
This is the part that appeals to the senses of a customer. It’s sounds, smells, textures and visuals that your product or service is known for.
Have you heard the Nokia monophonic ringtone recently and suddenly felt nostalgic; landed nervous in a foreign country but suddenly comforted by the familiar smell of Cinnabon at the airport; or have you been in a dark bar and handed a bottle and immediately known that it was Coca-Cola?
Ecommerce businesses don’t have a lot of options to target the other senses unless they have goods. The aesthetic focus for online stores is usually on the visual side.
Being recognizable from just an icon is what you should aim for. Visual branding can go as simple as a logo on your email signature to something complex like the exact shade of green that your site and logos have. Each should have meaning and invoke a strong reaction.
Emotional connections brought by sensual stimuli makes a brand memorable, which in turn makes them profitable.
This part of the brand cannot be quantified by the senses but instead, appeals to the sensibilities, principles and emotions of its target customers. It includes your slogan (think of Nike’s Just Do It), mission, vision, advocacies, etc.
This is where the reputation of brands fall as well. Today, the abstract part of a brand has a very large effect on the success of a business. Many large brands could get boycotted by the angry internet mob if their reputation gets tarnished.
The best (or worst) example of this was Papa John’s when it’s CEO claimed that the 2017 racial protests in the NFL caused the poor pizza sales for that year. Obviously, it was met with a backlash, but it compounded when white supremacists and Neo-Nazis claimed Papa John’s was their official brand. After that, Papa John’s sales tanked and they had their worst profit year to date.
It had nothing to do with the quality of their pizza. Their business was affected because their abstract brand was disgraced.
It’s not just for large companies
Most of the examples we listed so far are big companies and big brands, but branding is essential for small businesses.
A strong branding system gives a gentle and friendly nudge to a customer to purchase.
Let’s say a customer has 2 choices to buy a vase from an online store. First choice is pretty much what she wants, based on the photos, but the online store itself is very generic, there is no personality, and it lacks details. The second a vase being sold by a “branded” store, which tells a story, has character, and the product has a lot of details and multiple pictures. Consumers tend to lean towards brands where they have an emotional connection. The first store was not helping its case.
The face of your store
Your brand serves as a bridge customers cross to purchase from you.
The aesthetic and abstract parts of your brand, although obvious, rely on the symbolism and implied meanings to have a better effect. Subtle communication like this aims for the subconscious, long-term memory of an individual.
Think of branding as the face of your store. It creates a pattern in your marketing. Humans are hard-wired to recognize faces & patterns from birth. People trust what is familiar. That’s where branding starts.
Everything is part of your brand
Have you ever been to a mall you’re not familiar with and become frustrated because it took you hours just to find the item that you need? It’s going to be the same experience for customers if your website is disorganized and confusing.
Everything is a part of your brand. Customers expect ease of use and intuitiveness of your online store, in addition to recognizable branding like colors and logos.
Refresh, Rebrand or Sub-brand
Have you noticed issues within your business that points back to your brand? What’s do you do? Well, there are 3 options. Refresh your brand, create a sub-brand, or completely overhaul your current brand.
This will be the solution if a total rebrand is not necessary. It’s usually for changes in the focus of a company or just updating the business logo – significant but not major changes, like when Starbucks dropped its name “Starbucks Coffee” from its logo. Their reason for this refresh is they are already known for their coffee, but it’s not just coffee they offer.
If your existing brand already has a solid reputation, branching out into sub-brands retains the reputation of the old brand and carries some of the reputation to the new brand as well.
But sub-brands are separate entities and should the worst come to them, the main brand won’t be affected.
One good example of this are guitar brands like Fender and Gibson. They already have a reputation for being the trusted quality guitars they are. Trust and quality in brands translate to a higher price so in order for these brands to target the market that needs cheaper guitars, they have sub-brands Squire and Epiphone, under Fender and Gibson, respectively.
People still trust them as they still have the reputation of their original, more expensive main brands. It’s a win-win situation. The main brand doesn’t have to confuse their market when they make affordable, lower quality guitars, but making a new brand for cheaper guitars widens their market.
Rebranding is the most intensive of these three. It involves an overall change in all aspects we talked about earlier. Here are some solid considerations for the need to rebrand.
When Should I Consider Rebranding?
So when should you consider rebranding your business? Here are a few key signs you should start thinking about a rebrand:
The competitors are too similar to me
Branding is what separates you from your competitors. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of the brand because it really fits your statement. But it would be necessary to rebrand if your brand is too similar to your competitors.
Similarities aren’t just for website design or products. Sometimes, the tone or attitude of your online store’s content may be identical to your competitor.
This could confuse potential buyers. Your buyers could go to your competitors to purchase or vice versa. What’s worse is it could create a vacuum for potential customers. Instead buying yours or your competitors’ goods, they might choose something else.
Consumers like options. If presented with similar products or stores, they will choose what’s different as it gives them the validation that they made the right choice.
The internet is a vast sea of information and the market is easily saturated with the sheer number of websites and online stores, not to mention huge brands. Standing out, even a little, is important.
Another issue with branding similarities is the unintended generalization. If a brand similar to you has a negative reputation, your store could suffer the same reputation.
There is a negative association
Marketing blunders, gaffes, faux pas, controversies and scandals spread fast like wildfire. Sometimes they die down, but some leave a nasty mark on your brand. The internet doesn’t forget. It’s true, but people do forget. Easily.
The best way to avoid carrying a long-lasting bad reputation during the heat of the moment is to not engage. Avoid having the Streisand effect. If marketing first aid does not work and there is still damage, a rebrand is the best course of action.
Leaving the bad press behind and having a new brand could reform and recreate a new trust in customers. But make sure that the new branding is authentic. People are aware of image changes that are not sincere.
The products and services do not speak for themselves. They need branding. To give them a chance, a negative status must be removed by rebranding. Bad publicity is still publicity. But it’s also still bad.
Times are a-changing
Everything moves very fast these days. When products do not fall in line, they risk obsolescence, and this applies to brands too.
Many businesses change their brands to keep up with the times. Some even do multiple changes. Your target customer base might even change preferences and it’s important that you’re up to date.
There are many factors for changing the brand such as technological changes, trend changes, legislation and other external factors. These big waves of changes can be devastating to brands who resist it. It’s sometimes wise to ride the flow especially for survival.
There is growth
Brands are symbols of what your business represents. And if there is growth, a rebrand is sometimes expected.
Your avid customer base should feel that you are getting bigger through your brand. It could give a sense of pride to them. Also, this growth could attract new customers as they would think, “This business is growing. They must be doing something good.”
Your brand is the face of your store. Naturally, if your store grows, there are going to be changes to your store. It would be awkward if a baby’s face was stuck to a body of a grown man.
Lastly, art imitates life and life imitates art. Symbolism has subliminal effects on businesses. Plans of growth can necessitate rebranding. Consequently, rebranding because of plans of growth could make the growth more likely do develop.
If rebranding is really what your online store needs, here are some pointers that can help you with the process of changing your brand.
If you’ve decided now is the time for a rebrand, here are a few pointers you need to know:
If you don’t have brand guidelines yet, a rebrand would be the perfect time to create and implement it. Brand guidelines are the set of rules governing the specifics of your brand. The dimensions of your logo, the fonts, the specific tone or voice, your brand personality, etc.
This will be useful for people who will promote your brand and for the people in your business to know how to properly and consistently project your brand.
A brand is also the people
Your team should be thoroughly involved in the process of rebranding. The brand does not only reflect your statement, it also reflects your people. Having a brand that your team would want to represent is always good for business.
Time is a big factor
Not only on implementation, but in preparation and the effects of the rebrand, it’s going to take time. Sometimes lots of it. People will need to acclimate to the change first. So have lots of patience when working on a rebrand.
Think of the customer
Rebranding your online store is an internal decision, but do not forget the larger external factor, your customers. Get their opinions throughout the process. Don’t be phased by an adverse reactions at first. Value the feedback from your customers, but not the audience as a whole. While onlookers may become customers over time – they are not yet, and do not let them lead you astray.
Keeping your customers top of mind keeps you top of mind for your customers.
A dose of skepticism is healthy and some customers will have doubts about these changes to your online store’s brand. Customers will also be discerning about the motives of these changes. They can smell BS from a mile away.
In this world full of digital things, the emotional impact still counts. Sincerity is going to be a very big factor.
Stories are a big part of what’s trending today. If it’s not integrated into your branding, you may want to include it during a rebrand. For example, instead of having an “About Us” page, some businesses prefer to use “Our Story.” It’s more human and relatable.
The best example of including story in branding is Nando’s. They have stories for each of the branding choices they made.
People these days do not just buy the product, but they buy the story behind the product.
Make a big noise
A big change needs to be treated as a major event. It should be noticed by a wide range of people. A rebrand is a big opportunity to get new customers and appeal to your core customers. Avoid any leaked information as much as possible and don’t have a soft launch, make it memorable for people, especially your team.
Rebranding for Success
Knowing when to rebrand can be a saving grace for your online store. Conversely, failure to do so may be the final nail in the coffin. This decision should be an all inclusive decision for the whole team.
A brand is your store’s flag. It represents not only your products and services but also your statement, story and the people behind it.
Not all rebrands will be well received. It’s part of the change. The impact of this change should serve the core and target customers well. The public should be taken into consideration but not a priority.
Remember, these are just guidelines. These are not hard and fast rules. Branding is as important as your products or services, such as marketing is as important of an investment as your inventory. Changing a brand is a very big change and it’s going to be resource-intensive. Time and money are going to be spent. But in the end, it can be worth all the hassle.
Chase Clymer is co-founder of Electric Eye, an Ohio-based Shopify Marketing Design & Development agency.