Your brand dictates how you present your business to the world, and when we talk about online retail, we really mean “the world”. Online, you have the potential to reach anyone with an internet connection.

If you create a brand that is memorable and identifiable and with strong positive associations, you can extend your reputation and reach even in the face of competition from major ecommerce corporations. Here’s some key steps you can take to formulate an effective brand strategy.

1. Research Your Target Market

Even if you already have a successful high-street brand, the customers who visit your bricks-and-mortar store may have very different needs and expectations to those who shop online.

Research their browsing and buying habits, preferred payment methods and purchasing devices as well as the online promotions or services that appeal to them. Find out which competitor brands they currently use, and why.

By taking the time to really understand the things that matter to your online customers, you can build your brand around their expectations and create an online presence that satisfies their needs.

Remember that online purchasing habits and preferences can vary widely between markets. For example, according to a survey conducted by PWC, 81% of consumers in the UK shop online at least once a month. In France, this drops to 59%. In Germany, 41% like getting offers via mobile phone. In Italy, this is 61%.

The research process should be ongoing. Take care to regularly review market and consumer trends so that you can identify new ways to engage your online audience and grow your brand.

2. Establish and Communicate Your Brand Strategy

Once you’ve researched your online customers, you can use your findings to develop strong branding guidelines that appeal to them.

Your brand guidelines should carve out a commercial, online identity for your business that differentiates it from the competition. It may include guidelines on the style and use of corporate colours, logos, images and typefaces.

Download a free brand guideline template from The Logo Smith to get you started.

3. Apply Your Branding Consistently

Successful global brands like McDonalds, Nike and L’Oreal apply branding consistently in their digital and high-street stores and across social media channels and news outlets. This helps to make their products and services memorable, credible and popular.

For the consumer, consistent branding is reassuring. In time, it will make your products and services recognisable and respected, and as your brand grows, it can have an increasingly positive effect on the number of casual browsers who convert into buyers.

Just like the major brands, your brand guidelines should be applied by everyone in your organisation. Also, any external agencies that you employ should carry this through to other aspects of your business, such as the build of your website and the development and execution of your digital marketing strategy.

4. Keep it Fresh

To become an established and respected brand, you need to constantly demonstrate that you know your industry. This means keeping your content up to date, as well as your products and services.

Mix your media and include imaging, videos, infographics and written content. Regularly update blogs and promotional offers and make it easy for your customers to share your web pages and products across their own social media channels.

One of the many useful plugins available for WordPress is the Editorial Calendar plugin. This is a calendar tool that you can use to develop a content roadmap for your website and blog when planning for the coming weeks and months.

5. Interact

You can also use social media to proactively engage with your customers and build brand awareness. Research conducted by Market Probe International and Twitter found that 72% of SME Twitter followers are likely to purchase from a business after becoming a follower. Some brands have enjoyed an explosion of free advertising thanks to some imaginative interaction that went viral on social media.

Social media should be used carefully though. While the informal nature of Twitter and Facebook is great for putting a human face on your brand, some businesses have paid the price for thoughtless social media posts or poorly managed customer service issues that have been played out on Twitter and Facebook.

Access to your company’s social media should be restricted and guidelines should be in place for those who do have access. Continually monitor your online reputation and take steps to enhance it with excellent customer service at every opportunity. Take care to respond to enquiries, comments or complaints about your brand wherever they appear online.

Always remember that branding is about positive association and is likely to fail if it’s not backed by quality. This includes the online user experience. Through its hosted solutions, Realex Payments helps merchants to provide an excellent payment experience and to maintain their branding across the entire checkout process.

For more information, contact the online payment specialists at Realex Payments.