by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

11 ways to build your online brand

Jul 26, 2016
E-commerce Software Internet

Branding, marketing and small business experts share their tips on how to turn your startup into a recognizable brand.

ecommerce thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock

One of the most difficult aspects of starting a business is getting people to know who you are. You may have a great product or a great service, but people want to know who you are as a company – what your brand is – before they buy from you.

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So how can new ecommerce and multichannel businesses create a strong brand presence online, and off? Here are 11 tips.

1. Research your brand/company name – and register it. “Invest [time and energy] in naming your brand,” says Mihaela Lica Butler, founder, Pamil Visions, a travel and hospitality PR firm. “There are so many instances of unfortunate naming that may result in failure, despite [the company] having great products or services. (Urinal Tea comes to mind.)”

So when you get down to a short list of possible brand names, go online and see if there are other companies with those names, or similar names, and if the name you have chosen is considered offensive or would provoke a giggle in another language.

Then “make sure your mark [name, logo] is available for use and registration,” says Kathleen Lynch, an intellectual property attorney. (You can do this by going to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).) “Too many times I see people coming to me after they have spent a lot of time and money on a brand only to find out after they begin using it that someone else has prior rights.”

Once you’ve checked that it’s okay to use the name you’ve picked, “register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” she advises.

2. Make sure your domain name is the same or similar to your brand/company name.“When creating a brand from scratch, the first thing you should consider is finding a domain,” says Ella Cullen, marketing manager, IconPeak, which specializes in targeted mobile ads. “Brainstorm name ideas (aim for some relation to the benefits of your product/service) and use GoDaddy [or] to ensure that the .com version is available. Otherwise consider an .io domain, which is popular amongst startups.” Or go with .net or .org, if you are a nonprofit.

3. Create a great logo. “Your logo is the most important component of building your brand,” says Craig Bloem, founder, “It will be the face of your business and the foundation for all branding efforts. It should go on all your marketing materials – business cards, signs, shopping bags, boxes, pens, email and social media.”

So be sure to “create a logo and brand aesthetic that conveys your values, [and which] will [work] well on the brand’s website and also as avatars [on] social media [networks], such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook,” says Pamela Webber, CMO, 99designs.

4. Make sure your web or ecommerce site is attractive and easy to navigate. Even if your web or ecommerce site is just a few pages, make sure it is easy for visitors to read, navigate and make purchases.

[ Related: 13 Simple Tips for Improving Your Web Design; 8 tips for hiring a Web designer for your business ]

5. Be consistent in your messaging, regardless of the channel. “You want to have a visually identifiable logo and clear message across all of your platforms,” says Katie Hornor, CEO, Como Blog. “Regardless of whether someone sees you in a print ad, online or on social media, they should be able to immediately know it is you and what your message is.”

Similarly, “your website, Facebook, Twitter, business cards, advertising, etc., should all have the same name the same way [if at all possible],” says Cheryl Rios Poldrugach, a marketing and PR specialist. For example, if your Twitter handle is @BrandBig, use @BrandBig on Instagram, not @theBrandBigTX, she says. Consistency is crucial as it helps customers readily identify who you are.

6. Establish yourself as an expert online. “Share your knowledge,” says Derrick Lawless, marketing director, D. Lawless Hardware. “If you want to become a trusted brand when no one knows who you are, then you need to contribute to your community without trying to sell. No one trusts someone selling something right off the start. Your reputation will be built over time by really contributing in your niche [or industry].”

“Turn the CEO/founder [or another member of your team] into a thought leader,” says Jeremy Almond, CEO, PayStand, a B2B payments platform. “Have them post regularly on Twitter, share on LinkedIn… and guest post on blogs. I talk about payments everywhere, I can’t help it. I love it.” Just remember to “focus on being helpful [and] sharing knowledge.”

And “provide content that relates to your audience,” says Dan Kogan, founder & CEO, 1Digital Agency. “Use the 70:20:10 rule: 70 percent of content should be adding value and brand building, 20 percent sharing others’ posts and ideas and 10 percent promoting yourself or your business.”

If you give good advice, as opposed to trying to sell people something, people will listen to you and you will build credibility for your brand.

7. Blog. “Blogging is a great way to build your brand,” says Rasheen Carbin, cofounder & CMO, nspHire, a job search app. “It allows you to demonstrate your expertise while completely controlling the message.” And your blog posts can lead to more traffic on your website.

8. Use social media. Set up company pages on the social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram – that your target audience is most likely to visit, and include a link to your website on each page. Then assign someone, who can respond quickly (and appropriately) to any questions, to monitor your social media accounts.

One way to get your brand noticed on Twitter and Instagram is to “create a fun, memorable and unique hashtag for your brand,” says K.B. Lee, founder & CEO, Ever Bamboo, the maker of bamboo-based deodorizers. Just “make sure you are the only [company] using the hashtag. For us, it’s #RethinkTheStink.”

9. Include/Publish reviews on your website. “Having numerous published reviews helps establish credibility and directly helps sales and marketing efforts,” says Mikhail Ledvich, head of Marketing, Shippo. “They can be promoted on social media, quoted in your collateral and help you stand out from other vendors as a customer-focused brand that delivers on your promises.”

[ Related: 5 ways ecommerce businesses can improve customer service ]

10. Subscribe to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and/or ProfNet. HARO and ProfNet connect journalists and bloggers with sources. Both are a great, inexpensive (or free) way for startups to connect with reporters and get publicity.

11. Actively promote your brand offline. “Join professional groups and boards, go to events, donate your time to charities, give presentations and guest lectures,” says Shaun Walker, cofounder & creative director, HEROfarm, a marketing and public relations firm. “The more you put your business out there and are seen, the more name recognition you earn on your way to becoming a household name and gaining that incredibly important third-party validation. Even if a potential client or customer has never met you, you have the backing of trusted sources that confirm your credibility.”

“Add your logo to [promotional items] and hand them out as gifts,” says Bloem. Everyone loves getting a gift. Also be sure to put your logo on uniforms, if your company has them, or on polo shirts staff members can wear. It will increase your brand’s visibility.