In 2014, Marketing Sherpa published a report on customer acquisition costs (CAC) in e-commerce. According to this report, the median CAC is somewhere between $12 to $25. These costs add a lot of overhead to your business. If you're a low-margin business, like most e-commerce stores, high customer acquisition costs can sink you fast.
Related: 8 killer email marketing tools for e-commerce
One way to bring CAC down is by building a bigger brand for your business. Branded e-commerce stores attract a lot of loyal customers. Such customers tend to shop several times throughout the year and are instrumental in improving profitability.
Let's take a look at some strategies that can help e-commerce businesses establish themselves as a brand.
Establish stringent brand guidelines
The first step in the brand-building process is to establish stringent brand guidelines. These guidelines must include parameters like the "tone of voice" used in your messaging, logos, color palettes, fonts, photography style, and so on. Basically, it should cover anything used in your marketing materials.
To establish better brand equity, it's important to accomplish two specific objectives. First, invest in building a style guide that will set you apart from the competition. This includes picking unique fonts and colors that aren't common in your industry. You could also invest in creating unique image filters that will give your photos a distinct identity. Second, follow these guidelines across all your marketing channels: social media, website, TV, print and any other form of marketing.
A good example of this is Frooti, an India-based fruit juice brand. Although it's not strictly an e-commerce brand, you can see that all their visuals adhere to a brand philosophy that includes flat design and a limited color palette.
The reason this works is because your target audience tends to associate these visuals with your brand. This contributes to better recall and builds loyalty over time.
Pro tip: Lucidpress has a template-locking system that can help you adhere to brand guidelines consistently. Read more about it here.
Find your competitive advantage
There are many factors that contribute to an e-commerce sale. One of the most powerful ways to establish a brand is by identifying one factor where the rest of your competition sucks and mastering it. For instance, if you're in a niche where the leading sellers take at least a couple days to ship, you might invest in overnight shipping. Alternatively, if all your major competitors charge for shipping, you could choose to offer free shipping.
This is exactly what Zappos did to establish themselves as the online shoe seller of choice. CEO Tony Hsieh realized early on that customers tend to have unique tastes for shoes, and in order to succeed, they'd have to make the return process ridiculously simple. The company provided its customers with prepaid return shipping labels that they could print for free returns. In doing so, Zappos outdid all competitors and established the most well-known brand in online shoe commerce.
The reason this works is because doing something better than others gets noticed by customers who then associate your brand with it.  In addition to bringing word-of-mouth publicity, this strategy also gets your customers to return for future purchases. While such strategies can cost a lot of money, they also help to establish a brand name and improve customer loyalty.
Know your customers' values
Learning your customers' values means building a relationship with them that goes deeper than just producer/consumer. When people recognize and trust your brand, it's because they see their own values reflected in it.
One of the easiest ways to learn about your customers' values is simply to ask them. You could do some informal research on social media (or your blog) by covering certain topics and testing the engagement. Or, you could be even more scientific by conducting surveys and focus groups to learn more about the audience you're pursuing.
After you've done this research, look back at your company. What do you already do that's aligned with the values of your customers? These are the messages that will ring out the loudest.
When you can back up what you say with what you do, people will trust you and be drawn to your brand. [ ] Begin by looking for the values you already share with your target audience, then find ways to embody the others.
Know your brand story
For as much as things have changed in the world, people still love a good story. Whether it's the story of a hero, an underdog, or simply the shared challenges and pleasures of the human experience, a good story moves people's hearts and minds.
Every brand out there has a story—every one. The challenge is to share that story in a way that's authentic and relatable. It might take some time to discover the best way to communicate your story to your target audience.
Start by zeroing in on your company's purpose, or more specifically, the problem you solve. Let's consider an example.
Say you manage an e-commerce brand that sells eco-friendly furniture and clothing. What's your story? In short, you provide people with comfort and security in an environmentally friendly way.
But there's something larger going on: climate change and the movement to address it. Your role in this global story is to meet people's basic needs at a significantly lower cost to the environment. Your brand creates better harmony between humans and the earth, and people who care about the planet will want to help your cause.
In this example, your story represents and exemplifies your brand's values. Positioning your brand as an environmental activist, or as a lover and defender of nature, will help you connect with your target audience. This powerful brand image comes from digging into the story, bringing to light what it really is.
L.L. Bean is a good real-life example of this. It started with a man designing his own pair of boots to make it easier and more enjoyable to walk around outside. But the larger story is about humanity's love of nature. Through this narrative lens, you can easily recognize L.L. Bean's brand. This is no coincidence.
Of course, your history might not be as deep as L.L. Bean's, but it's still meaningful. Take some time to find the best way to communicate your story, and it will clarify and reinforce your brand in the eyes of your customers.
Investigate influencer marketing
When it comes to ecommerce branding, customer trust is heavily influenced by the testimonials and referrals your business receives. Influencer marketing is one of the most effective ways to impact trust. This strategy involves hiring niche influencers (that is, social media users with thousands of followers in your industry) to spread the word about your brand.
Success with this marketing strategy relies on how targeted your influencers are. It's a good idea to start small and reach out to influencers who have small audiences of less than 10,000—such influencers cost less and have a highly targeted audience.
Measure the impact of such a campaign and use the lessons to deploy larger campaigns. While partnering with large influencers outright might seem like a good idea to scale fast, these influencers appeal to multiple demographics and are thus not as targeted. The conversion rate from such campaigns tends to be lower.
The reason influencer marketing works is that prospective buyers tend to associate the credibility of the influencer with the brand they endorse. This makes it a much quicker way to establish a brand presence than growing your followers organically.
Pay attention to content authority
A typical customer goes through several stages of research before they land in your store for a purchase. Your store could miss on some real branding opportunities by not investing in content that the prospective buyer uses for research.
So, why is this important? First, it helps establish your brand as an authority in the industry. Customers trust authority sites which they return to for future product research. A comprehensive directory of articles could potentially make your website their "go-to" source.
It also provides your brand the opportunity to shape readers' opinions and nudge them towards products in your store. Additionally, a comprehensive content directory helps your business rank better in Google searches, which reinforces your brand authority.
One of the best ways to do this is called the pair-up strategy. Essentially, marketers are advised to create a comprehensive content page that's mapped to each of their product pages. Prospective buyers land on this central page during their research phase and are nudged toward the product pages through the content.
Building a brand for your e-commerce business is an investment, but it's one with dividends. By enforcing brand guidelines, finding your competitive advantage, and influencing buyers with great content, you'll lower customer acquisition costs and develop an impressive reputation for your brand in the process.