Author: Upkar S Sharma, Founder, Crea Worldwide
Thanks to the buzz around eCommerce and investor interest in online businesses, every year a significant number of online brands are launched in the marketplace. With technology and internet as the great enablers, the barriers of starting an online brand have significantly come down and now, all it takes is guts, gumption and a laptop powered by wifi to have an online brand.
This democratisation of consumer markets has come with its own set of inherent problems, first being the glut of online brands that have surfaced in the last 3 years. There is just so much clutter that reaching out and then holding on to the attention to the ADHD’ed consumer overfed with information is now a significant challenge for any brand into online business, irrespective of its industry of operation.
Unless you are a heavily funded company and have marketing dollars to blow on brand building, you would have to focus on smarter ways of taking your brand mainstream than carpet bombing the traditional media.
I recall a talk by Mr. Mahesh Murthy where he said something to the effect of a marketer’s acumen being inversely proportional to their marketing budget. There is indeed a lot of merit in what he said and it is worth noting that all the smart marketing techniques like “content strategy”, “ viral videos” even optimal use of then cheap “Social media” have been an outcome of having limited money and larger aspirations of brand building.
I want to draw your attention to an underrated yet highly effective way of boosting your online brand with limited expenditure called ”Brand Merchandising”. It is a simple, economic yet smart way of marketing that will help boost your online brand presence.
A smartly executed merchandise plan can help you counter significant brand building challenges at a fraction of cost and provide a determinable impact as opposed to a lot of costlier ATL & BTL options.
Some of the key challenges that merchandising helps an online brand counter are:
1. Creating awareness : Drive around on any urban road in India, you will notice a biker either wearing a promotional polo or sporting a backpack with a corporate logo emblazoned. That is something you would probably never wear yourself or may even snigger at, but mind you, that piece of apparel has done its job, you can not help but notice the brand logo on it. The brand on that apparel/ bag has been etched into the top shelf in your memory without you even realising it. Those few seconds of eye contact ensures that a consumer is subliminally conveyed of a brand’s existence. To top it all, a promotional t-shirt is a living moving billboard that would catch a far more number of eyeballs on cost basis compared to a highly coveted billboard on a prime location.
2. Enabling Recall : Once a consumer is aware of your brand, the next challenge is to ensure that your brand stays in the top shelf of a consumer’s memory. Being visible on streets is not enough, it is important that a consumer keeps interacting with your brand and hence merchandise catering to a consumer’s home/ office gets you further into a consumer’s heart and mind.
Imagine an online grocery store brand giving out a “fridge magnet cum daily to do list” to a consumer. Not only is this a utility item but will ensure the person managing grocery shopping will interact with their brand while using the to do list on daily basis. what better way to ensure brand recall?
3. Lead Generation & Driving Engagement: Using high quality merchandise to gratify or tempt users into generating leads or engaging with the brands through social media or online/offline contests is another proven way merchandising helps your brand generate a buzz. In an age of content glut and consumers increasingly displaying “What is in it for me?” taking the merchandising route ensures gratification and prompts the consumers to engage with your brand and share it in their social circle. The basic instinct of “give and take”, ensures a higher conversion opposed to any other route.
4. Genuine Customer feedback : Consumer facing brands constantly need consumer feedback to determine demand trends and for their own internal SWOT analysis. Out of all marketing functions, perhaps the most difficult thing for a brand marketer is to get hold of genuine consumer feedback. Try asking a consumer to fill an online survey/ feedback form and see what is your conversion rate. Now, dangle a carrot, see what works. Handing out brand merchandise has for years proved the most effective feedback collection mechanism and helped many brands realign their product or brand strategy to keep up with the emerging trends in the market space.
5. Revenue: This isn’t a typo! For many businesses especially non product online brands like content companies, free software providers, having their own line of merchandise has created a loyal legion of fans and resulted in driving an alternate source of income. Reddit is perhaps the most famous example of the same as from the first round of funding Reddit managed to create a line of merchandise that is highly successful and coveted among its users. Any brand, can create a highly aspirational line of brand merchandise that becomes a key revenue driver instead of an expense item.
Brand merchandise when smartly planned & executed can help achieve a variety of brand objectives at a fraction of cost and in the long run help you leverage your brand strength. Always remember, every little merchandising element you make for your brand needs to be a true representative of your brand’s ethos and should help you create a brand story that sticks in the consumer’s mind.
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