Understanding the Basics of Marketing and Branding

Marketing Matters

Imagine, for a moment, if this post were written in Latin. You may glance at it with a hint of interest before tossing it aside into the growing mountain of materials on your desk. It’s the same action your potential buyers might take if your advertising doesn’t speak their language.

That’s where smart marketing comes in. Think about why customers choose your site. Sure, you may offer the right product at the right price, but beyond that, your customers see something at your website that they can relate to – a look, feel and a voice that resonates with them. It’s called your “brand” and it’s the first step to marketing success.

The second step is how you take that brand and apply it to your advertising elements in such a way that beckons potential customers to your business. Americans see over 1,000 marketing messages each day! Your ability to break through the clutter with meaningful presentation and a strategic plan is what great marketing is all about. This post will help you develop a presence that sparks connections with your customers and inspires them to purchase.

Understanding Brand

Your brand is comprised of a number of components that create the look and feel of your website. From an artistic standpoint, it’s your logo, color palette, photography style and other graphic elements that are used consistently throughout. On the content side, it’s your slogan, tone (formal or colloquial?) and writing style (straightforward or descriptive?).

At the conceptual level, your brand is a promise. It’s a reflection of your reputation. Your brand is honest, direct and insightful. It’s what your customers, employees, vendors, the media and all other stakeholders come to expect in dealing with your company. In essence, the “experience” you deliver is your brand.

A strong brand acts as the face of your business strategy – portraying what your company aims at doing and what it wants to be known for in the marketplace. Your brand is the overall umbrella for the company’s activities and it encapsulates your mission, values, personality, positioning and image. It’s the set of associations and perceived value that lives in the minds of your customers. A strong brand is one that is difficult to imitate.

People believe in a company that is consistent in everything it does.  This is even more important in the online realm because instilling confidence in your customers is imperative to sales conversion. Your brand helps you to:

  • Instill loyalty in your customer base
  • Enhance awareness to draw new customers
  • Increase ROI (return on investment) and ROO (return on objectives)
  • Build equity in your business
  • Serve as a strong defense against competitors

Stand Apart From Competitors

Before you begin developing your logo, slogan, and all the other elements that creates the brand, ask yourself one question:

What is my Unique Selling Point (USP)?

Your USP is the one advantage you can claim over your competitors. Maybe you offer the same high-quality products at a lower price. Or, perhaps your offerings are much more diverse than competitor sites in the same industry. If there isn’t much differential in products or price points, then maybe your USP is extraordinary customer service or better functionality on your website. It could be one, or a combination, of any of these qualities:

  • Value
  • Customer Service
  • Quality
  • Convenience
  • Exclusive offerings
  • Product range
  • Security

Now that you’ve determined where you stand, make sure your customers know why you’re different. Be consistent and promote your USP at every opportunity. This consistency adds up to a memorable experience that your customers will believe in when they’re ready to make their next purchase.

Explore the Demographics

Put in simple terms, your brand is your company’s personality. If your store were a person, who would it be? Male? Female? What would it wear? How would it speak? The best brands have a character that stands apart from the competition – one that draws their target customers like a magnet by understanding their lifestyles and priorities. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your customers.

The national language in the U.S. may be English, but the truth is that we all communicate differently based on on our age, gender, level of education, etc. For example, a woman who is 30 years old, college educated and earns $100,000 per year communicates in a vastly different way than does a 13 year old girl.

In order to effectively market to your customers, you must first understand who they are so that you can speak their language. In the world of marketing, this begins by doing some research to develop a demographic profile of your customers.  Demographics are simply characteristics by which you define your audience.  Here are a few characteristics that you may want to identify about your customers:

Primary demographics: The information you need to develop a general profile of your target customers.

  • Gender: Do your products appeal to men, women or both?
  • Age: Generally measured in ranges (18-24, 25-35, etc.) if you’re selling to adults, but knowing specific ages is more helpful when selling to kids and teens.
  • Household Income (HHI): You can make assumptions about this data based on the price point of your product.

Secondary demographics: These characteristics are helpful, but not necessary to make practical assumptions about your customers.

  • Education: High school, college, advanced degrees can tell you how to structure your language so it best appeals to education level. Generally speaking, the higher the education level, the higher the HHI.
  • Cultural Background: Not typically known unless you’re selling products specific to a one race or culture.
  • Employment Status: If they are employed, in what industry? At what level?
  • Marital status: This is a crucial piece of information if you’re selling an expensive product that may require the input of your potential buyer’s spouse.

If your website is already established, you can determine demographics by asking your customer base. Add a simple, optional survey to your checkout page and evaluate the results. If you’re just starting out, do some research on your own here:

  • The internet & the library: Newspapers, magazines and trade journals can tell you a lot about the people you serve. Read publiciations or websites that you think your audience might be reading and notice common themes about the way the content is written and presented.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau: has a comprehensive database of statistics (http://www.census.gov/) that can help you understand more about your customer base in the U.S. How many people of certain age groups exist in certain areas, etc.

There are also countless market research companies that are ready and willing to help you get to know your customers – for a fee, of course. Essentially, you pay these companies – sometimes several thousand dollars – and they’ll tell you about your core and secondary audiences.  It costs more, but remember that time is money.  A few online sites include:

Know Your Customers

Consider demographics as a brief introduction to your potential buyers. Now, dig a little deeper by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Imagine what their daily lives are like. Think about what may be important to them as they make a buying decision. Are they searching for deals? Quality? Convenience? These answers will help you position and present your product or service in a way that is meaningful to them.

Your Core Customer

Once you figure out your primary demographics, you can start to paint a picture of who your most common customer may be. Say, for instance, you’re selling designer baby clothes that cost between $25 and $50 per item. You can first assume that your core audience may be a married woman, age 25 – 35 (average childbearing age is 25.1 years according the U.S. Census Bureau).

And because your product is priced higher than average, you can assume that your buyer has some extra cash in her pocket, so her household income (HHI) may be $50,000 or more.  She is style conscious with a disposable income that allows her to spend money on a product that will likely only get a few months of use.

Your Secondary Customer

This is an area that is often overlooked by marketers because they spend most of their energy on the core audience. But unless you sell a specialty item, your product probably attracts a diverse range of people. The customers outside your core group are your peripheral, or secondary, audiences. Secondary audiences don’t share all of the characteristics of your typical customer, but may buy from you when a need arises.

Who else, aside from the mother with the disposable income, would purchase upscale baby clothes? Her friends may buy her baby shower gifts. Her parents might spend a fortune to spoil their new granchild. Lower income mothers may also be interested in purchasing the occassional outfit for special occasions, like the baby’s first picture.

While your core audience will drive most of your marketing decisions, knowing who your secondary customers are will help you capitalize on different promotional opportunities that probably haven’t occurred to your competitors.

Crunch Your Marketing Dollars

To take advantage of promotional opportunities, you must have some cash on hand. There are no hard and fast rules for how much you should spend on marketing your business, but traditional business models show advertising expenditures at around 3-5% of total sales. If you’re just getting started, you should estimate your sales based on realistic goals and spend accordingly.

Whatever you set aside for promotional purposes, it’s safe to say that your advertising budget should increase with your sales. Never stop spending! This will ensure steady, continuous growth, as long as you’re maximizing each dollar with a targeted, cost-effective marketing plan.

Develop a Marketing Plan

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your audiences and developed a suitable brand, it’s time to apply your brand to your marketing materials. Each point of contact with your customers should carry your brand to keep your company on their minds.

Your marketing plan is a strategic combination of advertising tactics that is based on where you believe your customers will be shopping. Your budget will also determine the framework of your plan. Here is an overview of potential avenues for marketing spending:

Online Advertising: This is a must, no matter what your budget may be. Choose one or two of the following tactics to start, then experiment with the effectiveness of others:

This can be a complex and potentially expensive undertaking if you don’t know what you’re doing. For more details on online advertising, read Understanding the Basics of Online Advertising to gain a firm foundation of knowledge.

Traditional Advertising: Though we are becoming a world immersed in cyberspace, people are still greatly effected by traditional forms of advertising. Most e-commerce entrepreneurs don’t advertise outside the online world. And that’s exactly why you should. Traditional advertising vehicles increase your exposure and give potential buyers something real, believable and tangible to hold onto. This aids consumer confidence. Some forms of traditional advertising include:

  • Broadcast: Radio and television
  • Print ads: Newspapers, magazines, phone books, journals
  • Outdoor: Billboards, bus/railway signage, etc.
  • Direct mail: Promotion through US mail
  • Catalogs

For more details on traditional advertising, read Understanding the Basics of Traditional Advertising to learn more about these forms of advertising.

Marketing to Current Customers: It is more expensive to acquire new customers then it is to obtain return business. That’s why marketing to your current customers is so important. You’ve earned their trust by providing great service, and they’re already familiar with your offerings, so it won’t take much convincing to get them to come back. Plus, you have a built-in target database that you can access quickly for no investment. Some ways to connect with your current customers include:

  • Email Communication
  • Newsletters
  • Word of Mouth
  • Shopping Cart Features
  • Direct Mail
  • Promotional and Sales Strategies
  • Up Selling
  • CRM Software

Understanding the Basics of Marketing to Current Customers post is a great reference guide for new ideas about how to reach out to your buyers.

In Summary

Your marketing efforts have a direct impact on how people perceive the quality and value of your offerings.  Every time your company communicates with customers, vendors and other business partners, you are employing the principals of marketing. Marketing encompasses everything from your graphics and content to your advertising plan. Remember, consistency is essential at each point of contact. Only in this way can you build a successful brand that people know and trust. With the right marketing approach, you’ll not only acquire new customers, you’ll foster a memorable presence that drives return business.

IMPress Action Checklist

  1. Find core customer demographics
  2. Determine secondary audiences
  3. Develop your company’s brand
    1. Logo
    2. Slogan
    3. Color palette
    4. Content tone
    5. Graphic style
  4. Determine your budget
  5. Develop your marketing plan
    1. Online advertising
    2. Traditional advertising
    3. Marketing to current customers
    4. Evolve your marketing plan

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.