Building a Brand On Amazon and Off

by Diana Ratliff, on January 20, 2016

In my last post I covered Amazon as part of your larger eCommerce selling network. Whether you develop your own store or sell on existing marketplaces, however, you face a marketing challenge that you absolutely must conquer if you want to make any money – and that is how to convince someone to buy your product.

What makes your product different or better? Why should someone buy it?

The answer to that is part of your branding. A brand is usually thought of as a company name and logo, but it is much more than that. Your brand is the sum total of the perceptions and experiences that people have with your company.

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another,” writes Seth Godin. “If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

It doesn’t matter if YOU see your company as being caring and ethical, if your prospective customers don’t. It doesn’t matter if YOU see your product features as being significantly better than your competitors, if your prospective customers don’t.

Brands give people shortcuts – they don’t have to think (much) about what restaurant to choose or what type of car to buy, if a brand is immediately associated with the benefit they want. (E.g. Volvo = Safety. Apple = Innovation. McDonald's = Convenience.)

For our purposes, let’s look at your brand as your “unique selling proposition.” If you’re going to make any money selling Wonder Widgets, you have to clearly state why someone should buy.

Is yours different? Better? Cheaper? And can you convince someone of that?

Lingerie and Tai Chi

A lady who owns a brick-and-mortar lingerie shop once contacted me. She’d set up an eCommerce store with about 700 items in it and needed some technical help. No problem, can do. But she also wanted help marketing her store - and that’s where her real problems were.

There was no good reason to buy a bra or nightgown from her store. They weren’t cheaper. They weren’t exclusive. They weren’t targeted to a highly specific market segment (say, bras for women who’d had mastectomies). There were no compelling benefits like “free shipping” or a loyalty program.

When I asked the lady why people bought from her local shop, she said “I’m an expert bra fitter.”

Ummm… how is she going to use or demonstrate that expertise, on a website?

Another example: A gentleman created a free video course about learning tai chi and was having a hard time getting signups. Upon analysis, the invitation was pretty generic; there wasn’t a targeted audience. And there are all sorts of free tai chi videos on YouTube, most towns have free or cheap places to learn tai chi too. He didn’t come across as anything special.

So he repositioned his offering as “learn tai chi and you’ll sleep better.”

Once he positioned his tai chi course to a specific audience (insomnia sufferers) with a specific and unusual benefit that other tai chi instructors don’t offer - in other words, once he developed his brand- his signups took off.

Make your Brand Unique

So if you’re thinking of starting your own store or developing a product line, spend some time on your brand, first. Figure out who you’re going to market your products to, and how you’re going to reach those people. Who needs them, and why? Where can you reach those people?

Remember: It doesn’t have to be a completely new product, although creating something unique helps. The way you deliver it, the extras someone gets, the customer service you offer – all can help cement your brand in someone’s mind. And more important, help them prefer it.

Look at competing products, too - their features and benefits and the marketing language used to sell them. If they’re on a site like Amazon where people leave reviews, read the reviews – they may give you ideas on how to make your product better.

Your brand impacts, for good or for ill, whether or not someone buys. And you have a brand, whether you deliberately create it or not. Your product may not be unique, but in any case, if you cannot identify your unique selling proposition, it’s going to be harder to make sales - unless you’re the cheapest. And there is always someone willing to do it cheaper!