3 Tools to Help You Build a Strong Website and Brand

July 7, 2020 4 min read This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe » Emily L’Ami launched her brand’s website the old-fashioned way: She paid an agency $10,000 to make it. But the result was underwhelming —­ and that was a problem. Her company, a therapeutic-­perfume startup called Bodha, was taking…


4 min read

This story appears in the
July 2020

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Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

1593108190 TP LOQ BODHA 01 - 3 Tools to Help You Build a Strong Website and BrandEmily L’Ami launched her brand’s website the old-fashioned way: She paid an agency $10,000 to make it. But the result was underwhelming —­ and that was a problem. Her company, a therapeutic-­perfume startup called Bodha, was taking off. She needed an upgrade.

So even though she’s not technically inclined, L’Ami tried to build a site herself using Squarespace. “I gave myself two days,” she says. “I decided, I’m going to stick with it and figure it out.” The result: Bodha.com is a stunner — original photos, integrations with social media, contact forms, and the all-important shopping cart. Now it draws about 12,000 page views per month and is a significant driver of sales to her business.

Success stories like these are now common for website builders like Squarespace, Wix, and GoDaddy. Years ago, they all offered basic services — designing a simple site, registering a domain, and so on. But they’ve since evolved into comprehensive business tools, featuring things like a full-featured shopping portal, SEO assistance, a CRM, live-chat functionality, and much more. Starting this year, they’ll even help businesses do marketing and promotions.

Related: 3 Branding Tips to Bring Your Startup’s Story to Life

Scott Frankum, a web design expert, says it’s now possible for any entrepreneur to build complex sites using modern builders. Wix’s new product, called Editor X, even supports font scaling, grid layouts, a full improved blog platform with SEO, and advanced responsive design (which automatically adjusts to screen size, user behavior, and operating system).

“Sites used to be flat brochures,” he says. “Now they can handle business processes, provide help desk support, and link to customer relationship management data.” Another example: With GoDaddy’s product Websites + Marketing, a wizard lets you optimize and insert search terms on your home page for better Google results, and you can enable site-wide Google ads

With Squarespace, you can run email campaigns, and web visitors can sign up for events. A brand-new feature shows your Instagram page on your website — which L’Ami loves.

What’s next for modern website builders? Natasa Djukanovic, the CMO of top-level domain company Domain.Me, says the builders will likely adopt emerging trends. This might include skeuomorphism (mimicking real-world objects) and neomorphism (dark and light shadows). Content marketing — ­­a way to draw in new visitors — will evolve using long-tail keywords for niche markets. She does offer a warning, though. “It’s important to follow trends that feel right for your brand rather than just implement trends for the sake of popularity,” she advises.

Related: 5 Proven Ways to Keep Visitors on Your Website

Frankum says website builders will add more features for business process automation — like what to do if a visitor needs sales or support help but doesn’t want to talk to anyone. They may offer mobile text marketing over Bluetooth, and much more. But for L’Ami, her next move might feel straight out of the year 2000: She’s thinking of adding a CRM. No problem — these services have that, too.

Test Me: We built a site on each platform. Here’s how it went.

1593107831 ent20 julyaug website squarespace - 3 Tools to Help You Build a Strong Website and Brand

SQUARESPACE

Price: $18 a month for business plan

Best feature: Integrating Instagram content onto your actual site

Our review: Design templates are better than average. Our test site has a spacious, friendly look with plenty of white space.

1593107849 ent20 julyaug website godaddy - 3 Tools to Help You Build a Strong Website and Brand

GoDaddy

Websites + Marketing

Price: Starts at $10 a month

Best feature: Inserting SEO terms on your home page and in blog posts

Our review/ The tools are all intuitive and powerful. One ding: You can’t assign blog posts to a specific author.

1593107864 ent20 julyaug website wix - 3 Tools to Help You Build a Strong Website and Brand

Wix Editor X

Price: TBD 

Best feature: Responsive design improves the site on any screen

Our review: The interface is easy and well-designed, but some of the advanced features for responsive design might require some training.

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Building Brands In The Middle Of The Sales Funnel

Effective content moves mid-funnel metrics. Unless you work at a breakthrough company, your brand health metrics look very similar to the vast majority of other brands. You have strong aided awareness and strong conversion rates, but your mid-funnel metrics are weak. Those are the metrics that show how well people understand what makes your brand…

Building Brands In The Middle Of The Sales Funnel - Building Brands In The Middle Of The Sales Funnel

Effective content moves mid-funnel metrics. Unless you work at a breakthrough company, your brand health metrics look very similar to the vast majority of other brands. You have strong aided awareness and strong conversion rates, but your mid-funnel metrics are weak.

Those are the metrics that show how well people understand what makes your brand different and better than the competition. Almost every brand today has a mid-funnel problem. This is the inevitable result when brands don’t use a differentiated strategy.

Since the advent of digital, the business world has thought that the sales funnel had exploded. Consultants have created sales funnels that look like Seussian sousaphones and charged ludicrous prices to untangle them. But the sales funnel has not fundamentally changed in shape. The funnel is still broad at the top, with a bunch of people who are aware of a brand. It then tapers into perceptions of the brand, and finally narrows with those who convert and purchase.

Now think for a moment about what makes a brand great to you, personally. It’s not about the overwhelming awareness at the top of the funnel (think Walmart) and it’s not about the amazing coupons and discounts at the bottom of the funnel (think Walmart again). It’s the perceptions of the brand that sit at the middle of the funnel. Most people only have a handful of brands that they are loyal enough to evangelize for (now you can stop thinking about Walmart). Those brands empower you in some way, even if it is as simple as how Amazon empowers us to make a more educated and convenient purchase.

Digital is the mid-funnel playground. It’s where all of the fun and exciting marketing is taking place. It’s about creating experiences that help the audience understand what the brand truly stands for and how it can impact their lives. A strong experience produces change. It makes someone think and behave differently.

Activations like Patagonia’s content, North Face’s events, Rapha’s retail experiences, USAA’s customer service — are all ideas that play in the midfunnel playground.

Successful mid-funnel experiences deliver benefits without implicit returns. There’s very little commerce built into them. In fact, when brands add a “buy now!” button, they reek of selfishness and insincerity. It renders the content ineffective. Great experiences are about teaching the audience something, connecting with them emotionally and getting them to perform better.

While most brands are still stuck in the awareness-building mindset or the conversion-only attitude, those that adopt this expansive approach succeed at differentiation. Yet, the benefits are not limited only to building brand perceptions. Empowering experiences help the entire sales funnel. They create brand evangelists who build awareness at the top of the funnel more effectively than paid media and reduce reliance on promotions at the bottom of the sales funnel.

Old-school, commercial-style branded content that solely seeks to entertain is risky, expensive and rarely sustainable. It’s virtually impossible to compete against raunchy, yet viral content. No matter how well you do, you’ll never win on a day when some violent and tasteless video steals the show. Brands can’t win in this arena. But they can win by creating content that has true meaning. Content that enriches, informs and creates a deeper connection than simple entertainment. Digital is the mid-funnel playground. Go play in it.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeff Rosenblum and Jordan Berg, excerpted from their book Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption, published by powerHouse Books

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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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Ecommerce: 4 Actionable Ways to Build a Brand

If you don’t build your brand, you won’t survive. Image credit: PeopleImages | Getty Images November 8, 2019 6 min read Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. In ecommerce, your brand is your lifeblood. The reputation you have, the experiences you create, the ways you differentiate — everything rolls up to brand.Can you…

If you don’t build your brand, you won’t survive.

20191106210809 GettyImages 1062476498 - Ecommerce: 4 Actionable Ways to Build a Brand

Image credit:

PeopleImages | Getty Images


6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In ecommerce, your brand is your lifeblood. The reputation you have, the experiences you create, the ways you differentiate — everything rolls up to brand.

Can you technically sell products online without an established brand? Sure, maybe for a short period of time. But can you build and grow a sustainable, profitable ecommerce business without one? Good luck. Can you compete with other companies that market and sell the same products in the same category to the same group of people? Doubtful. Can you create something memorable that keeps people talking and coming back for more? No way. 

Related: Marketing Yourself Starts With Building a Brand

Without an established brand in place, you won’t survive. To make it, you need to create and manage something unique that customers can experience and interact with. You need something that influencers can get behind. You need something that people can brag to their friends about. You need to build a brand.

Here’s how to start building one for your ecommerce business:

1. Create a brand book.

To build a strong brand for your ecommerce business, a good place to start is by creating a brand book that all employees, contractors and agencies can rely on when creating experiences for customers. 

This resource is your single source of truth. It’s a living document that everyone can reference and use when they want to understand and portray your brand voice, personality and style. 

It should include information that is core to the ongoing development and preservation of your brand, such as your brand promise, mission statement, core values, key messaging and positioning statements about your products, customer personas, visual style guide and communication guidelines for each channel and medium you use when interacting with customers. 

A brand book can be as simple as a Google document shared with all members of your team, or it could be a professionally designed and printed resource that you give to each employee or agency who works for you. What matters at the end of the day is not the look of the resource, but the value and usefulness of the content inside. 

Want to see a real example? Flip through this digital brand book from Urban Outfitters. 

2. Turn customers into micro-influencers.

There’s been a lot of talk about influencer marketing this year. In fact, it will probably go down as one of the most overused and misunderstood marketing concepts of 2019.

Is it worth all the hype (and the investment)? My take is yes, as long as you realize one simple truth: you don’t have to hire the Kim Kardashians of the world to get the kind of ROI you’re looking for. In fact, you’re probably better off avoiding big-name celebrities and well-known influencers altogether. Instead, you should be partnering with micro-influencers. 

Here’s how micro-influencers are different than influencers. An influencer is a well-known social media personality or real-world celebrity with a huge audience of followers — we’re talking in the millions. You can hire them, but campaigns are expensive, and you might not get the level of engagement you’re looking for. 

Related: Build Your Brand, Then Find Influencers to Promote It

A micro-influencer, on the other hand, is someone who is less known but still has a decent amount of followers — think more like 5,000 or 10,000 — and influence in a particular industry. 

More brands are turning to micro-influencers for two main reasons: they are less expensive and their posts tend to lead to more engagement, comparatively. In fact, Buffer found in a recent study that the less followers an influencer has, the better engagement they get. 

So where do you find these influencers? Before embarking on a quest to discover, negotiate with and hire an obscure stranger that probably knows nothing about your product, turn to your existing customers instead. The best ones are probably already talking about your products to their friends anyway. 

3. Build a brand photography library.

It’s time to say goodbye to stock photos. Your brand deserves better, your customers deserve better, and you deserve better. You work hard to build products that solve problems and create delight for your customers. The lifestyle photos you use in marketing campaigns should align with the standards you set for every other aspect of your brand — product quality, messaging, customer support, etc. 

Stock photos are convenient, but they rarely allow you to create the emotional response you need to create to convert an interested buyer into a loyal customer. 

To build a stronger, more recognizable brand for your ecommerce business, you need to spend time building a library of brand photos that help you connect with customers, showcase products and differentiate from competitors. Think of this photo library as an extension of your brand. You create standards when it comes to your logo, your fonts and the copy in your product descriptions. Your photos should also have a distinct style that customers can quickly recognize when scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. 

Need help getting started? Dig into this helpful resource on ecommerce photography from WooCommerce. 

4. Become a publisher and a storyteller.

Marketers have been saying it for years, and it still remains true today: content is king. If you want to connect with prospective customers, you have to build trust and credibility with people. The fastest way to do that is by creating content and positioning yourself as a knowledgeable thought leader in your industry or product category. 

Related: Here’s How to Build Your Brand and Tell Your Story — Without People Tuning You Out

In previous years, that meant creating a blog and sharing articles — or if you were really ahead of the times, you might have created videos. But today, winning the content game isn’t about creating a blog or writing articles — it’s about creating an entire publishing arm for your brand that allows you to create and share many different forms of content, from podcasts and interactive presentations to printed lookbooks and long-form interviews with customers. 

Want to see two great examples of ecommerce brands that operate like publishers? Take a look at what Filson and YETI have been up to lately. 

Wrapping up.

To compete in the world of ecommerce, you need to have an established brand. To win, you need one that is uniquely delightful and unforgettable in the minds of your customers. You can’t get there overnight, but you can get closer each day by becoming hyper-focused on and obsessed with how people experience your brand on social media, on your website, on Amazon, in email and in real life. And if you need a little more inspiration, read Brand Intervention: 33 Steps to Transform the Brand You Have into the Brand You Need, by David Brier. As Daymond John says, “David Brier is a branding genius.”