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February 2, 2021

The 9 Myths of Branding

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eBrandcast / The 9 Myths of Branding

In the first ever episode, I explore the single best way to accelerate your eCommerce business: branding. Unfortunately, branding is an underused strategy in eCommerce because it’s misunderstood. Too often, entrepreneurs see branding as outdated and irrelevant in comparison to micro-targeting and digital advertising tools. But how can you effectively target qualified leads if you don’t know who they are? How can you create compelling content that actually sells, if you don’t know how to craft a unique perspective to guide what you publish? Branding isn’t an expensive logo or marketing campaign. It’s a holistic strategy that guides everything you do, and gives you a shortcut to the optimal decisions for your business. And because the foundation of never changes, it’s also the best way to stabilize your business against the constant shifts and trend cycles of eCommerce.
Because most eCommerce entrepreneurs don’t truly understand what branding is or what it offers your business. It means you’re inadvertently sabotaging yourself, and blunting your growth. It’s also exactly why we’re devoting our first-ever episode to helping you get out of your own way by clearing up the most prevalent myths about branding in the eCommerce world.

You'll Learn

Who I am, and why I’m starting this podcast

Why branding matters more than ever… even for eCommerce stores

The critical difference between branding and advertising

Why having an awesome product isn’t enough

Why you likely don’t have a brand… even if you think you do

And why these myths are sabotaging your success


Full Podcast Transcript

Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.

Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.

This episode is our very first!
So I’d like to take some time to introduce myself and give you a sense of why I’m starting this podcast.
Then we’ll dive into the 9 biggest myths about branding I see circulating in eCommerce.
But let’s get introduced:
Like I said, I’m Neil Verma, I have been working in eCommerce for [7] years now, but I started my career in the corporate world.
After receiving an Ivy League MBA, I spent the next decade working for some of the largest Canadian brands.
I enjoyed the work but it became repetitive and boring for me, and honestly I was over the world of inter-office politics.
I have always had an entrepreneurial streak in me, so I decided to resign and made the leap to eCommerce.
After managing $100 million brands, you might think the transition was smooth.
It wasn’t.
My first 2 eCommerce stores failed within 6 months.
But this is where this podcast comes in.
I learned firsthand after jumping into eCommerce that branding is criminally underused and underappreciated.
I fell into this trap myself, and it’s why my first ventures fell apart.
eCommerce tools are incredibly powerful, and there was a time that just being ahead of the curve with being online and taking advantage of social network targeting was enough to bring in profits.
It’s not enough anymore.
After my 2 failed stores, I decided to reset.
I remembered that consumer psychology hadn’t changed, even though we were now buying online.
But I didn’t take anything for granted, and spent a whole year doing close case-studies of the top 200 eCommerce brands.
I methodically compared their trajectories with everything I had been taught about branding throughout my career and education.
I figured out what branding rules still applied, which ones needed to be adapted for eCommerce, and which ones had been made irrelevant all together.
I distilled these insights in a clear, 7-step process which I called the 7C’s.
Using this process, I built my next eCommerce brand, which I was able to eventually sell for 7-figures.
Excited about my success, I started consulting with other struggling brands, and my eCommerce branding method worked… every time.
So the “why” behind this podcast is very much the same “why” behind the wider business, eBrandBuilders.
To spread the word of my own hard-fought learning, and to help eCommerce entrepreneurs actually achieve the results they deserve from the hard-work they invest.
Instead of micro-managing metrics and pushing for each and every sale, branding gives you a strategy.
One that frees you from working in your business, so you can work on your business.
Why start a podcast, specifically?
Well it offers the advantage of being episodic.
It won’t be a breaking news bulletin to tell you that business is complex.
You know better than anyone that there are a lot of moving parts, and a seemingly unending list of details that need your attention.
So, getting everything that needs to work, to work together, is a huge challenge.
Of course, at eBB, we advocate that the best possible foundation for this kind of internal alignment is branding.
And we have plenty of amazing resources that detail the whole of our 7C method, including a free book, Checkout, and for a deeper dive, a 7-week coaching program, eBrandcubator.
But even in these resources, it’s not possible to cover everything.
Especially because eCommerce is constantly evolving.
Just look at the unprecedented changes the COVID pandemic has brought on.
Something that wasn’t on our radar just a few short months ago.
And it is having a profound impact on eCommerce as we speak.
The good news is that our 7C method covers all the aspects of eCommerce and business that are unchanging.
But that still leaves a lot unexplored.
So the episodic nature of a podcast allows us to take a deeper dive into some of the finer details, changing tactics, or otherwise tangential topics that don’t make sense to cover in our flagship approach.
It also means we can cover emerging trends and issues, and how they’ll impact you in real time, something that would get outdated too quickly for a course or published book.
Not that there’s a shortage of eCommerce resources out there, but none of them are giving advice with the context of branding.
Hopefully, we can fill in that gap, and not only offer deep dives into various tactics and help you keep up with the never-ending changes in eCommerce, but also integrate all of it into your brand, so you’re never overwhelmed.
That said, while I really believe if listening to the podcast is all you do, you’ll still get a lot out of it.
But, as I hope you’ll appreciate as we go along, you will get the most out of these episodes if you do take the time to learn about and go through the eCommerce branding process.
Don’t forget, the book is free, and it covers the foundation of everything we advise.
You don’t need this background to get something out of this, only if you want to get the most out of it.
But with that out of the way, I want to kick off this first episode by clearing up 9 of the most prevalent myths I continually encounter when I interact with eCommerce entrepreneurs.
What if a few misconceptions are all that’s in the way of unlocking your growth?
So welcome once again, I hope this will be a rewarding journey for all of us.
Let’s get started.
Myth #1 is that branding and advertising are the same thing.
I want to start with this one, because it’s a fundamental mistake that creates a domino effect, which stalls your progress.
Obviously, branding and advertising are closely related, so it’s not uncommon to talk about them interchangeably, but they are, in reality, separate and distinct processes.
The purpose of advertising is to sell a product or service, it’s a specific pitch to consumers.
Branding, on the other hand, seeks to build a long-term relationship with customers.
It shapes both the visual and emotional associations consumers have with your company, and helps customers understand what to expect when they choose your brand.
So, branding is all about defining and occupying a specific position in the minds of consumers.
For example, Harrys is well-known shaving company.
But their branding positions them as a simpler choice in the razor industry which had been taken over by increasingly complex, and unnecessary, product innovation.
Not to mention expensive celebrity endorsements that made drug-store razors a costly necessity.
harrys offers a better, cheaper alternative, with a subscription model that doesn’t require you to remember when you need to refill.
While simplicity is a point made in their advertising, it’s also the heart of their branding, and the core benefit of choosing Harrys over competitors.
Advertising is used to promote the specific features of a specific product, so each individual campaign can vary considerably.
But branding is the larger, more consistent association customers make with the company itself.
It evolves over time, but unlike ad campaigns, it rarely undergoes radical change.
Now, this may sound a bit like a distinction without a difference, because branding should always have a powerful presence in any ad campaign.
But unlike marketing, branding isn’t a pure sales mechanism, especially when we’re talking about modern eCommerce brands.
Today, the most accurate way to think of a brand is as a community of consumers who bond over common interests and values.
A community is possible when brand extends beyond products, and expresses larger values.
Harrys isn’t just selling razors, although in terms of the product there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering about what they offer.
They’re selling simplicity, transparent pricing, and more honest products that aren’t laden down with extra features that don’t actually provide any real benefit.
They’re selling a more informed, savvy version of consumerism.
And that attracts anyone disillusioned with the razor industry’s excessive liberties.
This is another way of saying they are creating demand.
Consumers weren’t specifically asking for a simpler razor, but the second it was offered, they realized it was what they needed.
Another way to think about this is to realize that branding no longer just applies to consumer products, companies, and services.
People are now brands.
What else is all that curation on social media profiles for?
Cities are brands.
Think about it: each city sells a specific lifestyle, and a community of like-minded people who share interests and beliefs.
Branding is all about shaping and expressing these values and shared beliefs.
That’s the core purpose of branding, which isn’t the same as selling a product.
Products can, and should, be extensions of your brand values, but advertising’s job is just to sell.
Branding creates the community, and context, which make your products relevant to, and wanted by, the customer.
Myth #2 is that having a great product is enough.
Well, it’s a start.
It may even be a very good start, but it’s not enough.
Of course, when a customer buys a product they’re looking for a solution.
So they expect the product to fulfil its base, functional requirements.
But if that was all that mattered, if a bag is just a bag, for example, there’d be no room in the market for the hundreds, probably thousands, of backpack and luggage companies.
Because when you get down to it, they’re all selling what’s functionally the same product, only with what amounts to cosmetic differences.
Even if you do have the highest caliber, most effective product in your category, there will always be competitive alternatives that do well.
Even if the product they offer is obviously of inferior quality.
This is because consumers are not just buying a product.
Every product needs to be able to answer this question: “So what?”
And if your answer is just a list of product features, consumer eyes are going to glaze over pretty quickly.
This isn’t to say that functional benefits aren’t important, your product does need to do what you say it can do.
And absolutely, if you have a feature or an innovation that distinguishes you in your category, that can be a powerful selling point.
But customers buy based on how they feel about your brand and product, which isn’t a product feature at all.
A list of product features might appeal to the logical, rational side of our brains, which does play a role in purchase decisions, but if you’re not evoking a customer’s emotions, you’ll leave a lot of sales on the table.
By engaging customer emotions, you give them a more compelling reason to buy from you than a few pros and cons.
Consider Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear brand, who are well known for their brand purpose to “do no harm” to the environment.
They see their business practices as an opportunity to tackle the climate crisis.
They make great products, but consumers become loyal customers because they believe in the mission.
Recently, the company shifted to only using organic cotton.
They explained that regular cotton is grown with synthetic fertilizer, soil additives, defoliants, and a host of other chemicals that harm the environment.
It meant the cost of their products increased, but because Patagonia explained they made the decision in order to stay true to their brand values, customer’s weren’t only willing to pay more, their sales increased.
In this case, customers weren’t buying a “better” product in terms of quality, they were buying into the commitment to protect the environment.
And having this kind of emotional buy-in is what creates loyalty.
It helps you build a base of reliable income, and attracts new, like-minded customers.
Being able to answer the “so what?” of your products is an easily overlooked element of branding, because there’s so much confusion about what branding is.
Which brings us to myth 3.
Myth #3 is “I have a logo and a well-designed website, my branding work is done.”
There’s no doubt that these visual elements of your brand are important, and they play a critical role in helping consumers recognize your brand.
But it’s not the whole picture.
When it’s done well, brand is the all-encompassing structure and strategy at the heart of your business.
Your creative assets are the visual cues customers interact with, but they’ll only be noticed and remembered if they’re also meaningful.
A logo for its own sake, a design that doesn’t have a deeper purpose shaping it, will be invisible.
Brand touches every aspect of your business.
From these creative elements, to the products you offer and their packaging.
The “voice” or communication style used by your company in messaging.
Who you are and who you’re not.
The internal company culture and the company’s general personality.
The customer experience.
Your positioning relative to competitors.
The promise you make to customers.
As well as the stories and themes which tie it all together.
Brand work is organizing and growing your company in such a way that all of these elements are aligned around a core brand purpose or mission.
Like Patagonia’s commitment to protecting the environment, though this purpose doesn’t have to be an activist position.
What predicts whether or not a customer will make a repeat purchase, is how they feel about your company after they’re interacted with you.
And that feeling doesn’t have to be negative to lose customers.
Confusion is a common reason you rarely see the same customer twice.
And if your company is not organized around the structure and consistency of a brand – in other words, if your company doesn’t have a clear identity – that’s enough to cause customers to feel unsure about your business and never return.
If the only brand work you do is a nice logo and a good-looking website, chances are the elements of your business aren’t fully aligned and customers are getting confused.
And without this internal logic to everything you do and say, you’re not going to be able to give customers a good answer to the “so what?” question.
Having the clarity of an identity and purpose allows you to craft rituals into the customer experience, and infuse your creative assets with meaning.
Your logo won’t just be another logo, it will be a symbol of a meaningful experience, the promise of a desired emotional journey.
Myth #4 is that a strong, or well-known brand can hide, or protect, a bad or unethical company.
All of us are bombarded with advertising and branded messages all day every day.
Far more than the average person has ever been exposed to in history.
Because of this, the average person is not only desperately tired of advertising, they’re also highly sophisticated critics of marketing tactics.
Consumers today have heard every trick in the book, and are cynical when it comes to companies asking for their money.
They assume brands are only out for profits, so they’ve become experts at identifying disingenuous companies.
The proliferation of smart phones and social media has added to this too, because now any misstep or unethical decision can be documented in real time, and broadcast to a global audience in seconds.
Think about how quickly United Airlines suffered after viral footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from a plane circulated the web within minutes of the incident.
And yes, there will likely always be unethical companies out there willing to cut corners, and whose values are for sale.
But in today’s digital world, it’s increasingly difficult to fool consumers.
The crux of this myth is the belief that branding is all about image.
But true branding isn’t just a cosmetic solution.
True branding is an inside-out process that keep everything in your business in sync.
And the best modern brands are founded on a larger vision and respect for their respective communities.
They also commit to a set of values that guide and inform their decision-making and day-to-day business practices.
A true brand gives you the tools to stay on track, and veering off into unethical or toxic practices wouldn’t be tolerated.
This isn’t to say you’d never have an unhappy customer or make a mistake, but you’d know immediately how to course correct and make amends if needed.
It’s not that branding can hide a bad business, a powerful brand can’t hide, because any one aspect of the business reflects the whole.
The saying “how you do one thing, is how you do everything” comes to mind.
Myth #5, which I hear a lot from eCommerce entrepreneurs, is that technology is making branding irrelevant.
When you look at the mass changes that the digital revolution has wrecked on traditional retailers, it’s hard not to jump to the conclusion, that the traditional practice of branding has failed.
In addition, customers now have the ability to do their own product research easily.
It no longer takes several phone calls or trips in-store to compare items, but only a few clicks.
So the guiding hand of branding may feel less important.
There’s no denying that the rules of retail and branding have been transformed by technology, but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant.
The core revolution technology has brought to retail has been focused on the traditional business model.
Customers want more convenience.
They want to shop in-store and online (sometimes at the same time), be able to buy their favorite product through any channel, and get a more personalized experience.
If you’re listening to this podcast and you own an eCommerce business, you’re already on the crest of this wave, but it’s important to realize that what we’re talking about here is largely sales channels and experience, not a company’s identity.
Legacy companies like Sears and Toys R Us didn’t fail because they had bad or outdated brands, they failed because they didn’t recognize the changes they needed to make to their core business model.
They may have had websites, but they never invested the same care into the customer’s online experience they once did to the in-store experience.
In fact, because so much product research and shopping is now done online in every category, branding is more important than ever.
Having a distinct brand identity makes you easier to find online.
It also makes you easier to buy from, because brand simplifies choice, minimizing the chaos of the overwhelming amount of options consumers have on the web.
The lesson of companies like Toys R Us then, is that even a great brand can’t save an outdated business model.
But coupled with a smart multichannel strategy, a brand can powerfully attract and retain customers.
As for consumer choice and the ease of comparing products online, when it comes to smaller, routine purchases, most consumers tend to gravitate toward the familiar.
People like to buy from brands they know.
And creating this level of comfort is exactly the goal of branding.
And when it comes to bigger purchases, the trend now is for customers to binge content relating to the options in their consideration set, and they weigh the decision seriously.
Not only is having compelling content an element of a complete brand, but consumers do intently weigh the differences between brands in these cases.
Essentially, branding is a persuasive argument about why your brand is right for the customer.
Brand work ensures you’re capturing the most sales by creating the demand for those products.
And that will certainly never be irrelevant.
Myth #6 is that branding isn’t relevant in all categories.
This is an easy one: branding has two main advantages, it helps to create and sustain demand for your products, and it helps you retain customers.
There isn’t a category on earth that could survive, let alone benefit, without these ingredients, as they’re the backbone of a sustainable company.
The question isn’t whether branding can help in your category.
The question is whether you’re selling products, or building a business, because it’s only with branding that you can do the latter.
What is true is that depending on the category you’re in, some elements of branding are going to be more important than others.
For example, if you’re in the market for a supercar, brand itself will absolutely be a core reason you choose one over another.
There are serious emotional differences between buying a McLaren versus a Lamborghini that will override practicality.
In the world of fast fashion, by contrast, consumers shop somewhere like H&M or Zara because they know they can depend on trendy clothes at an affordable price.
Here, the individual clothing label is less important than the retailer.
But building a reputation, making and keeping a clear promise to consumers about the products and experience you offer, is relevant to every category whether you’re selling a $1 item or a $1,000,000 supercar.
Myth #7 is that branding is an expensive luxury only multi-million dollar corporations can afford.
This is probably one of the most insidious myths out there, particularly in the eCommerce world.
I understand where it comes from because on the one hand, when you think of branding, what comes to mind are the uber-successful brands that rake in millions every year because they’re the most familiar to us.
Red Bull.
In addition, as an eCommerce entrepreneur, you’re likely starting from the ground up.
You’re committed for the long-term, but you have limited resources and need to see results fast.
When we assume branding is a vanity project, it’s not hard to appreciate why it’s so rare online.
What I would offer you is that it isn’t a coincidence that the biggest eCommerce success stories are also the biggest, most well-known brands.
Branding and growth go hand-in-hand.
Brand isn’t something these companies wall-papered over sky-rocketing profits.
The irony is that eCommerce has abandoned branding, just as the digital revolution has levelled the playing field.
Now, any brand’s organic reach is potentially the same or even greater than any huge corporation.
And the barrier to building brand awareness used to be your ability to buy expensive print or TV ads, but these are no longer necessities.
Even the mega-expensive Super Bowl ad spots are less relevant than they were even 5 years ago.
But that’s advertising.
Remember myth #1?
The core work of branding need not cost you anything other than some time.
Brand begins with clarifying your brand’s vision, the problem your brand helps solve or put a spotlight on, and the impact your brand can create.
You’ll need to gather insights into your target customers, but this doesn’t require expensive focus-groups or market research.
There are plenty of online tools to help you survey and reach out to customers, but you can also get far with a detailed customers persona.
You don’t even need to have any current customers to get started with that.
A good grasp on your market and the competition isn’t costly either, it just requires a commitment to keeping your eyes open while researching, a learner’s attitude, and a little practical psychology.
As for the creative brand work like logo design and packaging, there are plenty of talented and affordable artists and designers you can hire through platforms like UpWork.
The truth is that almost all of the tools and expertise you need to build a compelling, powerful brand are already in your hands, but this leads us right into our next myth.
Myth #8 is that branding takes a long time.
Of course, you will need to commit to putting some time upfront in order to clarify and organize your business around a new brand strategy.
I won’t tell you that it doesn’t take much time, or even that it’s a quick process.
It is, however, certainly quicker than you might assume.
And the real question is: can you afford not to spend the time building a brand?
Long-term, you’ll end up wasting a hell of a lot more time and resources without the direction a brand gives you.
Brand helps you understand precisely who your customers are, so you don’t waste time chasing consumers who’ll never be interested in your offers.
And when you know who your customers are, you’ll know where to find them online, and how to craft messaging and offers that appeal directly to them, and maybe most important of all – how to keep them coming back.
With a clear identity that separates you from your competitors, you won’t waste time chasing every current marketing or social trend.
You’ll know exactly what’s relevant to your business, and what isn’t.
Branding also gives you the context to understand why any change is or isn’t working.
This prevents you from burning time and resources hoping things will turn around, or that your customers will change their minds.
And while honing and perfecting your brand will never stop, setting the foundation for a stellar brand customers love takes a matter of weeks, not months or years.
And finally, Myth #9.
Which is that branding is boring.
A mantra in the branding world is “consistency,” and while I know this is a comforting, reassuring word for some of you, for others it’s the scariest word on the planet.
For those life-long novelty seekers, consistency too often means “the same,” which equals “boring.”
You almost certainly started an eCommerce company hoping it would give you more control over your time, a greater say in your life, and more fun in your day-to-day work.
Consistency sounds like the opposite of fun and freedom, and some people hear “consistency” and think “slavery.”
This mistake being made here is thinking that consistency means you’ve got to do the same thing every day.
But what we’re really talking about in branding, is consistency in the customer experience.
It means the quality of your products can be counted on.
The ease of purchasing from you doesn’t change.
And customers can predict how they’ll feel after they’ve interacted with you.
Of course, this does mean that there are elements of your brand work that are timeless, and as such won’t change.
But, one of the realities of eCommerce is its breakneck speed of evolution.
While the emotional core of your brand needs to stay consistent, the brand itself, your business, will only stay relevant if it stays flexible.
What does this mean?
Well, consider your brand’s story.
This is your origin story, your history.
Consumers like to know more about the companies they buy from and why they got into business in the first place – which is all related to the larger purpose your brand serves.
The specific details of this story aren’t going to change, and most brands just stick it in the ‘About’ section of their website, and forget about it.
But as you expand into new channels, or experiment with new content forms, you can always find new ways to express that story.
Like by making a YouTube video, or telling the story during an interview.
But this is true of every aspect of your business.
As eCommerce continues to evolve, you’ll constantly need to find and maybe even innovate new ways to express your brands core, so it finds its target audience.
Brand isn’t boring because eCommerce certainly isn’t.
What brand gives you is a solid foundation with which you can endlessly experiment and create.
Limitation is the mother of creativity, after all.
I’ve thrown a lot at you today.
Even if you were only holding onto 1 or 2 of these myths, challenging our assumptions is difficult and exhausting.
So as we wrap up I’ll quickly sum up for you the myths we, hopefully, “corrected:”
Branding and advertising are not the same thing.
Advertising tells people you exist; branding tells them why they should care.
Having an awesome product is a good start, but it’s not enough.
You need branding to be able to answer the critical question every customer asks: “So what?”
Why should they buy this from you?
A logo and good design isn’t a brand.
You’ll need visual assets, but they’re only branding when they mean something, when your logo is a symbol, and your design reflects a set of values.
True branding isn’t a brand-aid and won’t hide an unethical company.
When it’s done right, branding is an inside-out process that brings greater levels of transparency and authenticity to a business.
Technology isn’t making branding irrelevant.
Tech is great at capturing demand, but you’re going to need branding to continually create demand.
There’s no category or company on Earth that wouldn’t benefit from a brand, because branding helps you create and sustain demand for your products.
Branding is not a multi-million dollar process, you don’t need to spend a dollar to build a brand, it only takes time.
It also takes less time than you think.
Especially when you consider that branding properly from the start will save you time long-term as you won’t have to start over, or re-vamp your business plan every few months when your goals aren’t met.
And finally, branding may require consistency and repetition, but it’s anything but boring.
Brands need to constantly evolve in order to stay relevant, and a strong brand will keep your business nimble enough to shift with the market as it changes.
Well that warps up the 9 biggest branding myths I see circulating in the eCommerce world.
I hope that dispelling just a few of them has brought you some clarity on how essential branding is to your business’s health, as well as your peace of mind.
It is truly the difference between having a Shopify store and having a business.
Brand is meaning.
Products can be bought, but it’s the brand that people like and identify with.
It’s the difference between a transaction and a relationship, which is the difference between an impulse purchase and brand devotion.
It’s the difference between the endless hustle for conversions, and sustainable profitability and growth.
You’ve been listening to ebrandcast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom brand.
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