13 Branding Lessons From 4 E-Commerce Giants
Simply showing up online with an e-commerce website isn’t enough to guarantee success.
E-commerce giants Apple, eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy seem to have cracked the code. Together, they generated total revenues of over $275 billion in 2018. They're successful businesses and successful brands. (You may notice some big-name companies missing from my list. I recently wrote about 19 branding lessons from five top retailers, including Amazon.com and Walmart.)
The most successful e-commerce businesses know that their brand identity and brand is everything. I’ve studied what these four e-commerce brands are doing right and cultivated a list of 13 actionable branding lessons that can help your business.
eBay: Evolve to Stay Relevant
In today’s fast-paced digital world, technologies and trends often become obsolete before we’ve even had a chance to understand them. Online businesses that stand the test of time are relatively rare. This makes eBay a bit of an e-commerce unicorn.
When eBay was founded, it was one of the first businesses to take advantage of one of the internet’s greatest strengths: connecting people with similar interests across vast distances. The e-commerce auction platform allowed people with niche interests to find other people with the same interests — and buy their stuff.
No longer just an auction site, eBay introduced the “Buy it Now” option in 2000. And as the years passed, sellers started opening eBay shops that were truly dedicated to e-commerce instead of simply unloading a few unwanted items.
Today, eBay is taking steps to elevate its overall user experience. The company has introduced guaranteed shipping times, personalized homepages, price match guarantees, instant selling, and a line of shipping supplies for sellers. By evolving to provide a more competitive user experience, eBay’s brand has managed to stay relevant and thrive.
What You Can Do:
- Collect feedback from your customers and prospects to learn what elements of your brand are misaligned or lacking. Prioritize improving these elements as your business grows.
- Keep an eye on your competition. Are they offering a bigger, better or different experience than you? Step up your game to remain relevant. Don’t be afraid to take your own unique direction.
- Develop a brand that allows you to evolve. Company names like “Just Tables” or “Headphone Hut” will limit your ability to evolve and grow as new opportunities arise. For more on this, read Why and How to Rename Your Business.
Craigslist: If it’s Not Broke, Don’t Fix it
As impressive as eBay’s longevity has proven to be, Craigslist’s epic success is even more remarkable.
The most striking aspect of the Craigslist brand? The online classified site’s interface has remained mostly unchanged since it debuted in 1995. No one could call Craigslist a beautifully designed website — even in 1995. However, it's functional and user friendly.
The Craigslist brand is defined by simplicity and a user-friendly interface. This isn't an accident. As Craigslist founder Craig Newmark explains:
The design of Craigslist originated in my observation that people want something that's functional, effective, simple and fast. That design philosophy has been maintained throughout.
And so, Craigslist continues to thrive — in defiance of the common wisdom that sleek design is best.
What You Can Do:
- Stick to your brand identity. Consistency gives your audience time to get to know and like your business. As we strongly advised in our comprehensive guide on how to start a business, be sure your brand identity is consistent everywhere you show it visually, including your website and in your marketing materials.
- Identify the elements of your brand that resonate most positively with your audience. Those are the elements to hold onto as your brand evolves.
- Work to create a strong brand identity when you start your business, and strive to constantly improve it. When you develop your brand identity, be sure you get a custom logo for your business and not a template-based logo or generic design. You don’t want your brand to look like thousands of other unappealing businesses.
Etsy: Human Connection Has Value
Consumers know of Etsy as a marketplace for hand-crafted goods. Etsy's products are sought after because they’re made with a human touch in the midst of an impersonal, machine-dominated society.
Product uniqueness alone can’t account for Etsy’s appeal, however. It’s the story behind the product — the human connection to the product that makes each hand-made item sold on Etsy truly special.
What You Can Do:
- Remember that business is meant to serve people, not the other way around. Let that govern your business practices. For more on this, read 16 Crucial Website Design Factors That Help Your Small Business Increase Customers and Profits.
- Encourage human connection via customer support. Phone calls and live chat will create stronger bonds than email.
- Share the stories behind your services or products. Show how they were shaped by humans.
Apple: Embrace Your Tribe
People who use Apple products tend to be incredibly devoted. When new Apple products debut, they garner huge amounts of speculation and press (and YouTube explodes with new unboxing videos). But what drives this rabid devotion?
Apple creates great products to be sure, however, the brand has also successfully established itself as a status symbol. The Apple logo doesn’t only indicate that you use a particular product, it also communicates that you’re a member of the Apple community.
As Shaun Morgan, a branding writer at Bynder, points out:
The air of premium exclusivity that Apple employs when promoting new product releases, and the meticulous attention to the aesthetics of its products, has enabled the brand to be associated with luxury in the eyes of its followers. And that's what many of its consumers are paying a premium for: a symbol of status that's driven by emotion, not practicality.
Creating a loyal tribe of customers means tapping into their hearts, not just their wallets.
What You Can Do:
- Appeal to your audience’s emotions to help your brand resonate.
- Take a genuine, unique and authentic stance that will attract your best audience.
- Remain true to your vision and brand-defining characteristics to avoid alienating loyal customers.
- Reward customers for their loyalty with high-quality products, service, and support that reinforces your brand vision.
If you follow in the footsteps of these e-commerce success stories, you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction.
Katie Lundin is a marketing and branding specialist at Crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services.
Related story: Branding Lessons to Learn From Today's Top Retailers
Katie Lundin is a Marketing and Branding Specialist at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. She helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design, and naming, and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring's award-winning small business blog.