Ecommerce, already one of the fastest growing global industries, is projected to have grown 8-12% in 2017 and to continue on an upward trend for the foreseeable future. That means in addition to the growth of giants like Amazon and Alibaba, new brands are popping up every day joining niche industries and turning them into crowded perfectly competitive markets. By the minute it becomes more and more difficult for brands to differentiate themselves based on their products alone.
One consumer major trend however, gives businesses a path to establish their identity and earn customer loyalty. That trend is a change in the process by which modern consumers prefer to do business to.
Today, sales and shopping are about building trust and establishing an image. More than ever, consumers are purchasing products that are sold well above production costs because they have bought into the brand that sells them and its “brand image".
A strong brand image in ecommerce gives a business many crucial benefits that allow it to develop foundations for long term growth. The most important of these benefits is building brand permanence. With so much competition in retail industries, getting noticed is hard enough, but being remembered is even harder. This is where brand permanence is crucial. By establishing something unique or memorable about your brand, shoppers browsing your website leave with something tangible and powerful they can remember the next time they shop online.
Image via Quay Australia
As you would expect, brand images vary drastically from business to business. Some stores create them through careful messaging. Using language both familiar and favorable to your target audience creates a positive association that stores can capitalize on. Consumers today are constantly being advertised to, and the language used by huge corporations has become white noise to many of them. Brands that speak their language stand out and inherently become much more personable. People want to buy from people, and speaking the same language facilitates that process.
Other stores rally themselves and shoppers behind a charitable cause. For example, The Elephant Pants donates 10 percent of its profits to nature conservation and saving elephants. This is a memorable quirk, but more importantly, establishes a mission that consumers will remember and associate with the brand. Now instead of being the brand that sells cool pants, they are the people that care about an exploited species and are doing something to make a change in the world. Sure, everyone loves cool pants, but shoppers today are much more likely to buy the cool pants from someone that cares.
Image via The Elephant Pants
A catch-all, complementary technique that works for all retailers to both establish and enhance their brand image is setting up a rewards program.
Rewards programs are one of the primary ways customers interact with a brand and can be used to convey both the legitimacy of your brand and what matters to you. The programs that are most successful in helping to establishing a memorable brand image focus on two major principles: humanization and consistency.
In the remainder of this post, we'll explain what those principles mean in this context, and how you can apply them to your business to shore up your brand image.
Humanizing Your Business
One of the reasons the correlation between deep customer loyalty and a well-developed brand image is so strong is the fact that both are reliant on humanization.
Economics 101 teaches us that in a vacuum, a business charging an economically efficient price doesn’t stand to benefit from discounting strategies. But the real world does not operate in a vacuum. Loyalty programs take us out of vacuums and place merchants and shoppers together in a conversation.
The rise of social media has cultivated an atmosphere where brands and shoppers enjoy a personal and communication-centric relationship. Today’s consumers are respond more positively than ever to humanization. This means establishing your business as a group of relatable people with defined personality traits and beliefs develops trust in your brand, which engenders loyalty.
Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, put it best when he wrote: “Price is important, but many shoppers aren’t supersensitive to small differences, particularly once they have established a relationship with a merchant. Sometimes price is less important than design and passion.”
Here’s how you can humanize your brand image via your loyalty program:
1. Run Brand-Specific Short Term Promotions
Running short term promotions is not only a great way to reactivate people who shop infrequently, but is also a great way to promote things that are important to your brand. For example, a store that sells recyclable, anti-deforestation products might want to run an Arbor Day promotion, or a store that regularly donates to veteran-related charities may want to run a Veterans Day promotion to let customers know that Veterans Day is important to their business.
2. Offer New Products as Incentives
Offering new products can help further the concept of having a conversation with your customers. Many shoppers expect a long term relationship with a business to be based on collaboration and communication. By letting customers know they are getting access to new products your business is trying out, you are letting them know you value them and their feedback.
Image via Kopari
3. Grant Access to Events Through a Tiered Program
Tiered programs create a sense of exclusivity about your store, but they can also foster a sense of community. Once customers have earned enough points, give them access to attend a special dinner or product testing at your office. Get to know your best customers and let them get to know you. This will strengthen your relationship with your best customers even further and motivate other customers to reach your highest tiers.
4. Reward Points to Customers who Viewed Targeted Content
Knowledge is power. Encourage your customers to read a blog post or watch a video that helps them get to know your brand better. This could be anything from an explanation of your store’s mission, to the thought process behind a new line of products. The goal is to show your customers a new and unique side of your company that puts a face, thoughts, and opinions behind the your website. Most people in ecommerce know how difficult it can be to promote content so offer your customers some points for their efforts!
“Customer experience” gets thrown around a lot as a buzzword these days, but what does a great “experience” really mean? Successful brands pay careful attention to every potential way shoppers interact with their business. A great experience means every interaction with a brand is consistently optimal. It means that from the moment shoppers arrive on your website, every touch point must be carefully refined and on-message. That shoppers on mobile, desktop, or tablet have a problem-free experience and are being sold equally on your brand.
One of the most common ways a great experience is interrupted is by inconsistencies. In ecommerce, an industry where shoppers often make judgements over a very short period of time, the last thing you want a shopper to do is hesitate and think, “that’s not what I was expecting”. When shoppers have these moments, it reduces their trust in your brand.
Your rewards program should be consistent with your brand so as to not detract from the image you’ve worked so hard to build. How can you make that happen?
1. A page, hosted on your website.
Image via Borghese
Build your program how your customers expect it to work. When you promote your rewards program, customers expect it to look and feel like the rest of your website. Deviations from that can cause “that’s not what I was expecting” moments.
Your online store is structured as a series of pages that are accessible from your navigation bar so why should your rewards program be any different? Keep things consistent by building and utilizing a page on your website that is dedicated to the program. When you design the page itself, the most important question to ask yourself is, “how do my customers expect this to work”. Keep things simple from the moment they complete a campaign to earn points to the time they redeem their points for rewards. The more additional steps they have to complete and popups they have to trigger and navigate, the further they are from that optimal, on-brand, experience.
2. Put Effort Into Your Program
A lazily executed rewards program gives off the impression of a lazy business that cuts corners. Again, the key is to avoid misconceptions about your brand and the dreaded “that’s not what I was expecting moments” at all costs. If images or designs relating to your rewards program are outdated or overtly templated, this can be a major turnoff for shoppers.
You’ve spent countless hours refining your storefront to attract and retain customers. Your rewards program should get the same attention. By keeping your promotions updated and your program design on brand, you convey to your customers that you are fully invested in your rewards program and that your brand really cares about giving back to them and earning their long-term loyalty.
Brand image has become more important than ever in ecommerce. When properly executed, rewards programs are a powerful tool to augment your image, differentiate your business, and increase overall customer loyalty. Invest sufficient time and resources to make sure yours contributes positively to your all-important brand image.