How & Why You Need To Build a Brand For Website Value

A question which I hear quite often from potential buyers during website acquisition negotiations is “What exactly am I buying?

This is actually a sensible question for a buyer to be asking, if they are jumping into the world of buying an online business. After all, think about it: there are no physical fixtures, buildings or products. The only tangible items are some lines of programming code and maybe a smattering of inventory. Apart from that, everything is virtual and therefore hard to visualize. So it would be tough for some people to hand over a large amount of money for something they do not fully grasp.

But there is something significant which makes an online business valuable, and that is goodwill. What exactly do we mean by that? Investopedia defines goodwill as :

“the value of a company’s brand name, solid customer base, good customer relations, good employee relations, and any patents or proprietary technology”

Definition of GoodwillThe leading element in this definition is the value of the brand.

How Building a Brand Relates To Buying & Selling Websites

In our Ultimate Guide to Website Value, we identified four key drivers of a website’s value – risk, growth, transferability, and verifiability. Developing a brand adds significant value by reducing risk and reducing transferability. As far as risk goes, a website that develops a true brand and reputation is less likely to suffer from competitive pressure. Brands sell consumers on the experience, on their reputation, and on other factors not directly related to price.

Transferability is important too. A few years ago I wrote an article about how difficult it is to sell a blog. The problem, as I identified in that article, is that most blogs are too closely associated with the blog writer or owner of the blog. As such, blog owners should work to develop a brand – not just their own name. That way, when it comes time to sell, they can easily extricate themselves from the business without causing any negative effects.

How to Build a Brand: Our Interview with Twirly Girl

Despite the fantastic benefits of building a brand, most entrepreneurs limit their brand building to building a great reputation, thinking that’s all it takes to succeed. This is usually based on providing great customer service, following up on promises (as in not breaking them), and offering high quality products or services. Offer all that and you are halfway home. But brand building is so much more than that, and entrepreneurs should take the time to learn and develop some of these ideas.

I turned to Andrew Youderain of eCommerceFuel to see if he had a recommendation for an ecommerce business that really knew how to build a brand. The first person he thought of was Michael Jamin from TwirlyGirl. Michael was kind enough to answer some of my questions on how he built a true brand around TwirlyGirl.

Why is branding such an important issue for entrepreneurs to consider, especially those who are considering selling their business?

Proper branding has always been important in business.  Customers need to get a consistent message about what they can expect when they purchase from you.  Without creating a brand, your product is nothing more than a commodity, which means you have very little control over pricing.  Pork bellies, corn, wheat are all commodities, and their prices are determined by the marketplace.  With branding, however, companies are able to exert much more control over pricing.  For example, Pfizer is able to sell Advil at a premium over generic brands…. even though the active ingredient ibuprofen is the same in both.  Why?  Because branding has convinced customers that Advil is superior.

A brand gives your business it’s own personality outside of its owner. Potential acquirers should love a business with a strong brand because it ensures that the business isn’t just about the owner.

Twirly Girl Branding Image

Your business, TwirlyGirl, sells dresses for girls. How have you been able to build a business that is distinguished from competition through building the brand?

When we beganTwirlyGirl back in 2007, we started with a product: a super-colorful and comfy twirly dress for girls. Girls loved these dresses because they reflected the way they felt on the inside:  bold, creative, and  unique. But until we started focusing on our brand, and created a context for them to be seen and understood by our customers, we were just selling dresses… not TwirlyGirl  dresses.

TwirlyGirl is about creativity and empowerment.  It’s for girls who want to stand out, not fit in.  If our website looked like every other children’s brand, then our messaging wouldn’t be consistent with what we’re selling.  So when we built our site, we decided that it needed to be creative and bold too. We wanted our site to be just as magical and fun as our clothing.  It had to be a wonderland.  If Alice fell back down the hole, she’d shop at TwirlyGirl.

How have you used your website copy to build your brand?

Description of a product on Twirly Girl Website showing the flair of additional branding

We replaced all of our boring and straightforward copy with unique stories and poems that described the backstory of our dresses.  They were written in the style of great children’s authors:  Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl.  Soon, customers were telling us how much they enjoyed our stories.  Many checked out other products just to read more descriptions!  This was great for sales, but also SEO as shoppers started spending more time on our site.  So in this instance, our branding wasn’t just appreciated by our customers, it was also appreciated by Google.  Examples of these descriptions can be found in all of our product pages in the lavender box below the fold.

Can you give an example of a way you re-enforce your branding that others might be able to use?

Whenever a customer interacts with our products on our website, we see it as an opportunity to further cement our branding.  This includes our order confirmation page.  At first, it was plain and serious.  But after our update, it became imaginative and whimsical.

Dear Favorite Customer in the Whole World,

Congratulations on your new TwirlyGirl purchase!  Before we ship, we need to give your garment a proper farewell.  It’s so hard to say goodbye to a loved one.

After the tears dry, we’ll tell your garment about her destination.  A huge smile will come to her face, as she envisions being worn by a special girl in the exotic town you call home.  We’ll bundle her up in our unique wrapping and escort her to our secret mail courier.  They are so covert, we can only call them by their initials:  USPS and UPS.  They will move heaven and earth to make sure she’s delivered to you within the expected time frame.  You will be sent tracking information, in case you want to plan a surprise party for her arrival.

Please be advised:  When you unwrap your TwirlyGirl package, you’ll likely hear a very shrill, high-pitched noise.  This will be coming from the recipient as she screams with delight.  We recommend wearing noise dampening earmuffs.

One final word:  Although your TwirlyGirl clothing looks special, she’s designed to be worn every day, and is not afraid of being thrown in the washing machine.  (We taught her to swim at an early age.)   

When you first meet, your instinct will be to give her a giant hug.  Go with it.  You’ll be very happy together.

And by all means, take a picture.  Post it on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/twirlygirlshop or share it on Instagram @twirlygirl.  Happy Twirling!

What is one trick an entrepreneur can start thinking more in terms of ‘brand development’ rather than direct sales?

Developing a brand marketing strategy requires that you have a different mindset from the more traditional direct marketing approach. You need to think about experiences more than features. 

The place where branding is most important is in our advertising.  Currently, our platform of choice is Facebook.  If we were to sell TwirlyGirl like a commodity, we might show a photo with a tagline like, “World’s Best Twirly Dresses.”  The problem with this tagline is that it says we’re nothing more than dresses.  Yes, they may be the best in the world (although that’s a highly subjective statement), but at the end of the day, that’s all it is.

Based on the reviews and fan mail we’ve received, customers see TwirlyGirl as much more than just a dress.  Their children insist on wearing our dresses all the time.  And when they finally outgrow them, they’re sad.  Many of them keep them in their memory boxes… that’s how important TwirlyGirl is to them.  To these customers, TwirlyGirl is not just a piece of clothing, it’s a happy childhood memory.  So yes, we could create an ad that listed all the features of our clothes  (super-soft fabrics, highest quality stitching, Made in the USA, etc) but this only gives the customer a literal impression of what they’re buying.  It doesn’t sell them on the bigger picture:

Years later, their child will look back and say, “Remember my TwirlyGirl dresses?  I used to wear them everywhere!”

Childhood is a moment in life that’s all too short.  When an adult gives a child a cherished memory… that’s greatest gift of all!  So that’s how we position ourselves.

Twirling Girl

Can a Brand ‘Vision’ be created by an entrepreneur, or is there a process to developing a brand vision?

The TwirlyGirl vision statement is “We create that special dress every girl remembers forever.”  It’s important to note that this vision statement came to us organically and authentically.  In other words, we didn’t start with our vision statement and build our brand around it.  It was based on our customer feedback.  Rather than crafting a vague slogan that speaks to everyone, we learned what TwirlyGirl meant to our core customer base, then crafted a vision statement that speaks to that niche.  We then produced a video that lives on our site that speaks directly to that vision statement.

In the end, authenticity is the key to creating a brand that truly resonates.  There’s no need to lie, exaggerate claims, or copy ideas from competitors.  Doing so will only ring untrue.  A good starting point is to choose a brand that you like and do some research on them.  Go to a retail store and check out their packaging.  Visit their website and take note of their messaging.  Then subscribe to their email list.  Is their branding consistent across all channels?  Does it resonate with you?  Are they selling something more than just their products?  Apply these concepts to your own brand, and you’ll be well on your way.

Michael Jamin works at TwirlyGirl, where he is Director of Granting Wishes.

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