Common Branding Mistakes E-commerce Businesses Should Avoid

23 June 2020 • 7 min read

Your brand is the core of how customers interact with your business. This includes everything from your visuals to your tone of voice. Branding also includes your company’s values. In fact, the content people discover online about you — for better or worse — defines your company and impacts sales.

Unfortunately, it can be tricky for e-commerce companies to develop a holistic brand identity because customers can’t interact in person.

For both new and established e-commerce stores, the lack of direct interaction makes building a brand relationship with your customers difficult. In turn, this hurts your chances of finding new customers or getting repeat business out of your old ones.

Luckily, you can boost the effectiveness of your e-commerce brand by avoiding a few simple mistakes. Today, we’ll look at some of the most common branding mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Inconsistent Brand Identity

As we’ve said already, effective branding helps you build relationships with your audience. This is impossible if your branding isn’t consistent. After all, how can you build a relationship with someone if you don’t know who they are?

Consistent branding helps to build trust and loyalty.

At one level, this means having a consistent brand identity across all of your channels. For instance, sometimes you’ll have a channel which you don’t update very often. Forgetting to include this in a brand refresh is an oversight you don’t want to make.

Luckily, fixing this is pretty straight forward. That is, it’s easy to put a rebrand checklist in place to avoid forgetting about a channel in the first place.

What’s trickier is avoiding inconsistent branding over time. Part of the goal of building a brand is to stick in people’s minds. A sudden change in direction is guaranteed to disrupt customer perception of your business.

The most successful brands have high levels of consistency over time. Look at Coke:

Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to rebrand. The key is doing this without undermining your customer relationships. This is all about continuity. 

Lack of Strong Brand Visuals

Standing out is one of the biggest challenges for e-commerce businesses. This is especially true when everyone you meet is starting a new drop shipping company. Your brand visuals can play a significant part in the success of your company.

Up to 90% of first impressions about your brand are based on the color alone

The colors you choose play a huge role in forming impressions. For example, a certain color palette can communicate an awful lot about your company and its values.

Individual colors can even evoke emotional reactions.

On top of this, you need to understand the relationships between different colors. One way to create strong brand visuals that grab attention is to use contrasting colors. That is, those colors which are at opposite ends of the color wheel:

It’s possible to figure out the basics of using compelling colors to make strong brand visuals. More often, though, your best bet is to seek out a professional designer, either in-house or freelance.

Edgy Brand Voice

Many e-commerce marketers take the need to stand out in the entirely wrong direction. They think using an edgy brand voice will be a good way to go viral and gain new customers. In theory, this is possible. For example, Wendy’s Twitter account is infamous for its sassiness.

But, 99 times out of 100, this backfires.

The trouble is, social media doesn’t reward subtlety or differences of opinion. If you try and use an edgy brand voice, you’ll likely get a lot of online criticism. You might even end up with negative news articles in the mainstream media.

It’s best not to risk this, as you don’t even need to be that edgy to create problems for yourself, as Jimmy John’s found out with this Facebook post:

This might seem pretty harmless, but they hadn’t considered that their audience is made up of social media users who like eating out. In other words, some of their audience would inevitably feel attacked by this.

None of this means you can’t use humor. Rather, if you want to make your brand stand out in this way, the key is to use relatable humor, rather than simply attacking potential customers. 

Often the only time ‘edge’ really works when you playfully take aim at your competitors:

Untrained Employees

Of course, publicity comes in many shapes and sizes — good and bad. Your employees have always been important brand representatives. In the online era, their role is turbocharged. Anything they do, at work, or in private can come back to bite your business.

This is especially true when it comes to sensitive issues. Sometimes brand guidelines and customer policies can ignite a crisis.

For instance, in 2018, the police were called to a Starbucks in Philadelphia, and two African-American men were arrested after trying to use the bathroom. This led to public outcry. Starbucks was forced to spend as much as $30 million on additional staff training. It’s unclear how much they lost in reduced sales after months of negative news coverage following the incident.

Unfortunately, negative press is hard to remove from the internet, which means it can have a long-term impact on your brand sentiment and sales. In the worst cases, it can completely destroy your business. Of course, that’s without even mentioning the damage that incidents like this can cause to the people involved.

Starbucks could have avoided all of this if they had taken a more proactive approach and ensured that its staff was properly trained from the outset. Instead, they needed a wake-up call to do this.

For e-commerce brands, there are plenty of other risks that can be overcome with proper training. You should create clear standard operating procedures for your company. This can cover every element of how staff engages with customers. For example, you might want to create specific email templates for handling customer complaints to keep employees on message. This same policy of implementing standard operating procedures can even include how you converse on the phone with customers. What words or phrases are on-brand, off-brand, and off limits.

Creating these types of procedures can help reduce the risk of negative stories arising in the press.

Out of Date Marketing Materials

This is probably the most common branding mistake around. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to fix. Really, it comes in two flavors:

  1. Failing to keep your marketing materials up to date,
  2. Failing to distribute your new marketing materials.

On the first point, this can include anything from not including an important major sale in your brag book to small details like giving out pens with your old phone number on them. In either case, the problem is essentially laziness and poor attention to detail.

The second is a little bit more difficult. It’s also frustrating to spend time and money on new marketing materials, and then to find that your employees aren’t using them. Really, what this comes down to is communication.

Your staff is busy. They’re unlikely to give much thought to what phone number is on the pen they’re using. It’s your job to explain to them the importance of using the most up to date marketing materials.

A simple way to do this is to hold an ‘amnesty’ for older materials. Anytime you get an updated version of something, a member of your team can go around the office trading new for old. This takes old marketing materials out of circulation, but it’s also a good way to make the issue stick in your employees’ heads.