In E-commerce, Do Brands Still Matter?

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In E-commerce, Do Brands Still Matter?

Successful online merchants–whether they’re serving consumers or businesses–will tell you their brand is the foundation of their business. They know having a recognized, trustworthy image is the most effective way for them to stand out from competitors and foster long-term customer loyalty.So they make the investments and sweat the details that will build and extend their brand’s value.

But in an online marketplace transformed by search engines, does branding still make a difference? It’s a fair question: consider the recent decision by Procter & Gamble–the company that put the “soap” in soap operas–to discontinue daytime TV advertising in favor of online ads.For decades, many advertising experts have viewed television as the most important medium for brand-building.

Recently I talked with Kevin McSpadden and John Fernandes, cofounders of marketing consultancy ThinkBrandNew in San Francisco. Their experience in building online brands is deep. Both played key roles in creating and growing eBay’s brand, working as senior marketing executives during the online marketplace’s formative years.Before eBay they held marketing leadership positions at Levi Strauss & Co., where they made important contributions to that company’s global brands and led the effort to launch e-commerce on and back in 1997.

These guys know marketing and e-commerce–and they don’t see brands becoming any less important in the online world. “There’s no question that search engine optimization has made managing and communicating product attributes very important,” McSpadden said. “But a brand is about so much more. Your brand fuses your business vision and your operating plan. A crystal-clear brand articulates what you’re thinking. It inspires employees–whether you’ve got two or 2,000–and helps you to ensure that every part of the customer experience delivers on that vision.”

Fernandes agreed. “Google changed the Web by optimizing clicks–that’s important, but it doesn’t tell a story or create real engagement with your customers. We believe all business is personal, and while the search side of the business has brought incredible efficiency to e-commerce, it’s as important as ever to create a human connection. The basis of that connection is your brand.”

That’s not to say online merchants can ignore search engine optimization.Doing business online presents companies with additional sales and marketing tools that augment, rather than displace, traditional brand-building efforts.Search is one such tool. It efficiently organizes a huge variety of product attributes: features, colors, sizes, availability, location, price and more.Put another way, it takes care of the “what.”And nowadays, social media is providing businesses with a vital new way to present their brand to customers, providing a critical “why” to influence purchase decisions.

“Ironically, today there’s a paradox of choice” facing online shoppers, said McSpadden.”Search engines give us so many results, it’s just overwhelming.Social networks like Facebook allow us to discover fewer–but more relevant–choices by giving us a way to tap the opinions and experiences of friends we trust.”

It’s the difference between asking a stranger what kind of car you should buy, and asking friends who know your needs, your personality and your tastes. The quality of the guidance you’ll receive can’t be compared. Nor can the quantity. Instead of a simple input/output search engine query, social networks enable conversations with people whose opinions you respect. The conversation can go on indefinitely, and you can reach out to as many friends as you like, gathering as many perspectives as you need.

<>That context–where human connections are the fabric that makes up the experience–is fertile ground for brand-building. Facebook offers multiple tools for starting and maintaining conversations with relevance and meaning that was difficult to achieve before.quot;If you have a clear brand concept–if you can communicate clearly the few key points that define your business vision–there’s nothing like Facebook to make it palpable to your customers,” said Fernandes.”You can engage with them one-on-one or in groups.You can promote offers. You can ask for their input on product decisions you’re making. Most importantly, it gives you an outlet to show your passion, your product expertise and your personality on a daily basis. Between your own website, Facebook and Twitter, there’s almost no limit to how you can get your brand vision across.”

After we talked, Fernandes’s comment about “key points that define your business vision” stayed in my head for days. Great brands have a simplicity and an elegance to them.Think about Apple, or Nike, or BMW. Each calls to mind a few simple attributes communicated in simple, compelling ways, consistently over long periods of time. That’s the blueprint for effective brand-building.

Brad Williams is a seasoned PR and marketing strategist based in California’s Silicon Valley.He’s held leadership positions with eBay, Yahoo! and other Internet and technology innovators.Brad’s two daughters helpfully and frequently remind him of how much he still needs to learn about how people use the Internet.

BrandsE-Commerceonline shopping

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