Four years ago, I quit my day job in sales and started focusing on my Amazon business full-time.
I’d never done anything entrepreneurial in my life! I had limited funds in my bank account. I was leaving behind a well-paying job. In summary, it was risky. My business had to succeed or I was going to be in serious trouble.
Flash forward to today and I’m happy to say that the risk paid off.
I now run a profitable Amazon business that releases a new product every month, and have — which is more relevant to the subject matter of this series — a customer base of 50,000. (Plus, I share what I know as a member of the Jungle Scout team.)
Of course, there were a few bumps along the way. But those bumps were a part of my unique Amazon-selling journey, teaching me a lot about how to build a strong e-commerce brand.
Introducing: How to Build an E-Commerce Brand (a Series)
Over the next five weeks, I’ll share with you the tips, tricks, strategies, and tactics I used to get where I am so you, too, can have an awesome, profitable e-commerce brand that you care about.
What this series will cover
No matter where you are on your entrepreneurial journey — whether you are just starting to do the research, you already have a product or two on Amazon, or you have a big following that you’re looking to monetize — this five-part series will offer actionable steps to help you get where you need to go.
Here’s how we’ll break it down:
Week 1: Identify Your Brand
This first blog post will go into detail on what a brand actually is, how a brand makes your business unique and appealing to consumers, and how to define your own brand. Plus, it will help you decide the brand-building method that best suits your time, available capital, and education.
Week 2: Find Your Audience
Week 2 covers one of my favorite aspects of launching an e-commerce brand: audience-building. An audience may be a combination of fans, customers, and those who are aware of or following your brand. Audience-building focuses heavily on building a message around your brand, then sharing that message through social media, blog posts, emails, and other channels. I’ll review tactics you can use to identify, create, and boost your audience, and show you a few cool methods you can use to determine the size of your potential following.
Week 3: Develop Your Product
In week 3 we’ll cover product development as it pertains to your brand and brand messaging. I’ll go into detail on everything involved in that process, including how to run a competitive sales analysis using Amazon data. Then, I’ll teach you how to find suppliers for your actual products. I’ll also cover some of the techniques major brands use to test the waters (so to speak) with their own products, so you can ensure that you product doesn’t fail at launch.
Week 4: Monetize Your Brand
Week 4 examines the process of monetizing your brand beyond creating and selling products on your chosen platform. Our focus on monetization will explore creating various sales channels for your brand and how to deliver the products you sell, while still keeping your brand messaging focused and consistent.
Week 5: Take the Next Steps
Finally, Week 5 covers the expansion of your brand beyond the first steps. We’ll also look at other important brand-building factors such as networking, raising capital, incorporating ads, building new content and sales channels, and hiring help — all to help build on the brand you’ve created!
Part One: Identify Your Brand
Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, you will need to identify exactly what your brand is and what your position is within your brand.
This is my brand story:
While I’ve sold products online for years, they lacked proper branding. I chose the products because they were easy to source and had good sales metrics. And sure, at first they performed well. But in time, my sales numbers started to diminish.
Eventually, strong competition — those who had a clear brand message — knocked me out.
So I didn’t truly start identifying and developing my brand until 2017. I wanted to create a brand that I was passionate about — something I could continue to create content and products for that matched my ideals. Following my passion, I decided that I wanted to sell products related to the tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons.
Once I identified my brand, I focused on creating content and products that revolved around that.
What is a brand?
Does Nike just sell shoes? Is Disney only about movies? Did Apple stop at cell phones?
Certainly, these things are the primary sources of each respective company’s income; but Nike, Disney, and Apple are more than just companies that sell products. They’re brands.
And a brand is more than just a company that sells products or has a catchy slogan.
A brand is a memorable experience that starts the moment a customer becomes aware of your business, to the point of purchase, and beyond. It’s often the reason a consumer purchases one product over another.
Consider Nike. Since its inception in the 1960s, Nike has cultivated a specific brand image: the shoe (or other active gear) that helps athletes excel. From their name (which comes from the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike), to their slogans (“Just Do It”), to even the design of their logo, they stay focused on that image.
Their advertising is filled with successful athletes sweating and winning, and they sponsor major professional athletes and teams. Therefore, when we think of Nike, we typically associate it and their products with athleticism, effort, and excellence.
How to Identify Your Brand: The Three Elements of Brand-Building
Before we dig deeply into the hows of building a brand, it’s important to understand the three arms of e-commerce that work together to create a brand. No one element is greater than the other. For that reason, to build a formidable and memorable brand, you will need to focus equally on all three elements.
Your audience is more than just the people who buy things from you. They are your fans, influencers, supporters, and ultimately, a source of revenue. You need an audience — even if it’s borrowed — to market and sell your products to.
Whether it’s physical, digital, or even a slice of your time, your product is the good or service that you offer your audience and other buyers. You need a product to create revenue streams for your brand.
Sales channels can be e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Ebay, or Shopify, or they can be subscription-based services like Patreon. If you monetize your blog, it, too, is a sales channel. Even the telephone can be a sales channel if you do outbound sales calls. You need sales channels as a way to get your products in front of your audience.
Brand-Building: Passion vs. Profitability vs. Platform
Using the three elements I described above, there are three methods you can use to identify your brand. Each method involves starts with one of the aforementioned elements and works it way towards the other two.
The Passion Method: Audience > Product > Sales Channel
The first method I want to describe is the same one I used to start my current brand: DMDave.
I started with the audience I wanted to build — in this case, fans of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition — and used this group of people to help me decide what my brand’s product should be. From there, I figured out which sales channels I wanted to work with.
In my opinion, this is probably one of the most difficult ways to start a brand. But, it does come with certain advantages.
First, when you focus primarily on building an audience over profitability, you establish trust. Many major e-commerce platforms started this way, including Amazon. It established itself as the world’s largest bookstore with unbeatable prices. And PayPal? It started its brand by offering $5 to every person who signed up.
Second, as you get to know your audience, you get to know exactly what they like. You understand their pain points and where they feel are holes in the marketplace. Armed with this information, you can develop products based on that research.
Third, those who focus on building their audience before they create products and sales channels have less to worry about. From products that fail at launch to poor reviews on sales channels and other hangups, the passion method helps you avoid these types of issues.
The biggest drawback of the passion method is that it requires a lot of education and knowledge in e-commerce and marketing. It also takes a lot of time and patience to get started. Many try to build audiences online, but only a few succeed.
Week 2 of this series will go into more detail on my recommended audience-building strategies.
The Profitability Method: Product > Audience > Sales Channel
The second method is starting with a product first, then building your audience and/or sales channel after that.
This could also be called “The Kickstarter Method” since crowdfunded products often start this way. Like the passion method, this profitability model comes with a number of advantages.
First, the profitability method focuses primarily on product and market research, as well as product development. Many of the tools Jungle Scout provides help brand-builders conduct this research as it uses Amazon product data to perform competitive analysis on similar products.
Second, though the profitability model may not come with its own audience, it can predict the pain points, wants, and needs of its ideal market. When the profitability method is successful, it quickly finds its audience.
Third, using product-focused crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo helps those who incorporate the profitability model test their product and raise much-needed capital to launch their brand.
The profitability method is a good middle-ground between the passion and platform methods as it has an equal balance of time, money, and resources that you will need to invest into your e-commerce business.
Week 3 of this series will go into more detail on my recommended product-research strategies.
The Platform Method: Sales Channel > Product > Audience
The third method is based on choosing the sales channel that you wish to build your brand upon and mastering that sales channel.
Thanks to the exponential growth of e-commerce platforms such as Ebay, Amazon, and Alibaba, sales-channel-focused strategies make e-commerce brand-building easier than ever. Like the others, there are a few advantages to using the sales channel method.
First, sales channels that subsist on third-party sellers such as Amazon and Ebay offer many tools and services to help entrepreneurs expand the reach of their products and services without having to become experts in e-commerce.
For example, Amazon’s Fulfilled-by-Amazon program (FBA) fulfills products for its sellers and handles all of their customer service issues. This allows sellers to focus on their products and brand instead of the sales channel.
Second, e-commerce brands that lean on large sales channels get to piggy-back off the trust built by those platforms. This could lead to higher conversion rates and increased sales volumes for many brands.
Third, strong sales channels are easier to automate once a brand establishes itself on a platform. This frees up the e-commerce brand to focus on audience-building and developing new products.
The major drawback of the platform method is that it requires a bit more starting capital than the other two methods, as you will need inventory. For business models like the ones Ebay sellers and arbitrage sellers use, that startup cost may only be a few hundred dollars. But for business models such as Amazon FBA, you may find yourself spending upwards of a few thousand dollars to get up and running.
Week 4 of this series will go into more detail on my recommended sales channel strategies.
4 Ways You Can Start Building Your Brand Right Now
Ready to get started? Then read through the following steps and answer the questions below.
1. Identify The Method That Works for You
Okay, now that you what each method entails, it’s time to start thinking about which of these methods work best for you. I recommend looking at the resources you already have available to you, then review the questions below:
How much time do you have to spend on your e-commerce brand each week?
If you have a lot of extra time, then the passion method may be the best option for you. But if you’re looking for something you can start as a hobby, and that won’t require as much effort, you should probably choose the platform method. Since platforms do so much of the work for you — handling customer service, fulfilling products, driving traffic to the site — you don’t need to put in nearly as many hours to get it to work.
How much starting capital can you put into your e-commerce brand?
Some platform models require thousands of dollars to get started. Even if you’re using the product-forward profitability method, you may need to spend money on advertisements to attract buyers to your crowdfunding campaigns. On the other hand, the passion method can be executed with no cash at all.
How much are you willing to learn before you get started?
All three methods require a fair amount of education. You should know about marketing, e-commerce, and economics to some degree before you begin with the passion or product methods. And while there is plenty to learn using the sales platform method, there are numerous online courses, strategies, tactics, and hacks that are easily accessible (and, often, free), making that method the easiest of the three to learn.
2. Define: What Interests You?
Other questions you should consider: What hobbies, markets, and other brands are you passionate about? Do you love to cook and spend all your time in the kitchen? Are you an expert at yoga and fitness? Are card and board games the things you spend the majority of your past time thinking about?
These questions can help you understand which topics you’re both passionate and knowledgeable about. After all, it’s easier to get into a market you’re already familiar with than one you know nothing about.
But even if you choose something you are passionate about, we recommend gaining a little knowledge about how big the market is. The easiest way to do this is by identifying the biggest competitors in your field.
While I’ll go into more details in Week 2’s article, you can get started now by doing a Google search related to the market you’re passionate about. For example, if you’re a yogi and you type in “yoga” in Google, what are the first five websites that appear? These sources might pose brand or product competition for you.
3. Define: What’s a Product You’d Like to Create?
Next, think about a product you would enjoy creating. This doesn’t mean it has to be created by hand. Nor does it mean it has to be a physical product. You could create a digital book, a service, or even a series of blog articles.
The product can be a variation of something that already exists, or it could be something completely new. Maybe it’s something you always wish you had.
Once you have an idea of the type of product you want to create, try to get a feel for existing products similar to your own. This time, however, use a site like Amazon to do your research.
Like Google, Amazon is a search engine. The main difference between the two is that Google is primarily informational whereas Amazon is for shopping.
For example, if you want to sell your own line of yoga mats, type “yoga mats” into Amazon and see what products come up. Who are the brands creating those products? What types of reviews do those products have? What are people saying — good or bad — about those items?
4. Define: What’s a Sales Channel You Want to Use?
Finally, start thinking about the sales channels you can use; there are thousands to choose from. This series will go into detail on how to sell products on Amazon, but you may want to consider selling on major sales channels like Patreon, Ebay, and Shopify as well.
So do a little research on your own using the different sales channels. And if you’re interested in learning more about Amazon, you can reference our article How to Sell on Amazon for Beginners, which goes more in depth on selling on Amazon.
See You Next Week!
Hopefully you’re as excited as I am to start this series. Next week, we’ll discuss actual audience-building strategies. Let us know down in the comments how you are doing with starting your brand or join our Facebook Group, Amazon Competitive Edge.
Good luck and see you next time.