February 13, 2012, 11:14 AM

IRWD 2012: Branding for web success

Standing out among the crowd requires a unique image, says an IRWD speaker.

Lead Photo

To stand out in the crowded world of retail e-commerce, merchants need to develop a brand that communicates what sets them apart—and make those images consistent throughout their web pages and across any offline stores they may operate, Timothy Peterson, vice president of e-commerce at vitamin retailer NewVitality.com, told an audience of several hundred today at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference 2012 in Orlando, FL.

Online retailers “need to make an impression or your site will be just one of many sites consumers see and don’t remember,” Peterson said in a session titled, “What all e-retailers need to know about branding.” Research suggests online shoppers often visit dozens of web sites in each web session, which means retailers should ask themselves, “Would my site stand for something if it were one of 20 or 50 viewed in an evening?”

To reach that level of differentiation through a strong and engaging brand, Peterson, who is also chief marketing officer and co-founder of start-up limited-time deals site LocFree.com, offered a multi-step process:

● Define a brand. Develop a logo, a core color scheme, and create a look, mood and feeling that will appeal to the retailer’s target audience. Review what seems to work for successful retailers.

Peterson cited outdoor apparel and gear retailer L.L. Bean as an example of a merchant that has done an exceptionally good job tying its brand to the personality of its namesake founder, whose passion for the outdoor life is a core part of the brand Bean presents to consumers who share that passion. In a brief paragraph explaining its history, Peterson noted, the retailer describes its founding: “An outdoorsman first and a businessman second, L.L. Bean designed the Maine Hunting Shoe simply because he wanted a better boot. Before he knew it, L.L. had a thriving mail-order operating catering to those who shared his love of nature.”

Today, L.L. Bean, No. 21 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, continues to differentiate itself with that same theme throughout its e-commerce site, bricks-and-mortar stores and catalogs.

● Understand how branding works. It’s crucial, Peterson said, to ensure that a brand’s image is consistent throughout its web pages and, for multichannel retailers, through stores and catalogs. “Do your home page and landing pages tell your story?” he asked his audience. “People are going to be landing on pages you didn’t think about in your high-level meetings.”

Retailers should constantly ask themselves if they’re different enough from other retailers, and if there’s a market niche they’re trying to address without adequately reflecting it in their site text and visuals.

In addition to L.L. Bean, Peterson cited several retailers that excel in unifying branding across all touchpoints, including youth apparel retailer Urban Outfitters, No. 48 in the Top 500 Guide, home furnishings merchant Crate & Barrel, No. 55, and outdoor sports gear and apparel retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., No. 62.

● Who needs to get involved in branding? “Hold open meetings with leaders across the business,” Peterson said. Retailers should then zero in on a branding strategy, define goals and pick an area to test.

● How e-retailers get branding done. Without naming it, Peterson cited one retailer that spent about $250,000 on outside consultants to develop a brand strategy without first discussing internally what they wanted their approach to be. “It turned out wonderful, but a retailer should begin this internally with almost no cost,” he said. It can be far less costly to start simply, then justify further work as the process unfolds, he added.

● Determining success. It’s also crucial to conduct tests of specific branding efforts and to ask customers how they perceive a retailer’s brand, Peterson said.

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