The Power of a Brand (What I Learned While Shopping for a Coat!)

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RI’ve had the same coat for more than 10 years and it’s falling apart.  I tend to hold on to, and wear down my possessions until there is nothing left- whether it be my car, my clothes, my furniture, or in this case… my coat!  The reason is a combination of laziness and a drive to get my money’s worth- something that was instilled in me from an early age!  2 weeks ago I came to terms with the fact that my coat was absolutely falling apart and was not going to last through the Winter.  I decided to go shopping!  What I found was remarkable!

THE SEARCH

Now, I must be honest and say that I’m quite out of touch with fashion.  I always have been.  I really don’t like shopping.  I will always take a good deal over a “good image” and I will take comfort over “cultural status”.  With that said, I do like certain styles better than others.

My search started on Amazon.com (of course!) but after spending over an hour looking for a coat in the style I would want that would actually fit (I’m 6 foot 6 inches tall!) I finally gave up and drove to the mall!

THE EXPERIENCE

The mall is a fascinating place.  It is one I don’t care for on a personal level, but from a marketing level, a lot can be learned!  I walked into my first store.  I was not greeted when I entered and the woman behind the desk was talking with her boyfriend on the phone.  I found the coat in the style I wanted pretty quickly and was thrilled to see that it was discounted from $79.99 to $59.99!  Woohoo!  I was curious, however, if I could find a better coat or a better deal elsewhere.  I was in the mall after all!  Why not take a look around?

The next store I went to immediately seemed slightly more “upscale”.  The staff member at the front was attentive and greeted me when I arrived.  Furthermore, everyone who worked there was dressed very well.  I found the type of coat I was looking for.  In this case it was $99.00.  Strange… $20 more than the regular price and $40 more than the sale price at the other store!  This got my curiosity going, so I ventured into one more store!

The third store I walked into had a completely different feel than these other two stores.  Immediately when I walked in, I smelled scents- not too strong, and quite pleasant.  Right at the front of the store was (what I assume was) very high end clothing, perfumes and accessories.  Pictures of well dressed beautiful people were hung throughout the store!  I was greeted by not one, but several well-dressed highly professional people all asking if they could be of any assistance.  I politely told them that I was “just looking” and proceeded to the coat section.  I quickly found the coat I was looking for on a rack that said “$100.00 off!”  Wow!  I thought- I’m in for a great deal!.  Then I looked at the price tag… and almost passed out!  The tag read “Regularly $350, now only $250!” I couldn’t believe it!  This coat was more than 4 times the price of the original coat I looked at!

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT THE POWER OF A BRAND

Now, I know you’re wondering (or if you’ve read the blog long enough, you’re probably not) so I will tell you the end of the story- I bought the cheap coat!  Here’s the thing that gets me though- I think I’m in the minority!  I’m not going to say that the majority of people in western society will buy the coat that costs 4 times the price, but I will say that the majority of them want to!  Why is this?  This all got me thinking and researching.  My assumption was the more expensive coat must last more than 4 times as long, or perhaps the quality of material keeps one warmer.  I started researching.

It turns out that the coat I bought and the coat that costs 4 times as much are both made overseas… in the same factory!  One could argue that one brand goes through more rigorous quality checks or uses high quality material.  This may or may not be true (I didn’t research that far), but the fact is, consumers will pay more (a lot more) for the name printed on the coat!

CREATING THE “PREMIUM BRAND”

My sales have been down this month and it’s been discouraging.  I’ve spend a lot of time reflecting on the type of business I want to have in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years etc.  When I’m honest with myself and think about branding, I realize that differentiating myself as a “premium brand” is difficult on Amazon and eBay alone.  Amazon and Ebay are excellent platforms to get instant traffic to your products and sell them!  They can be used to make a lot of money!  These platforms can even act as a great launching pad for your brand- a way to get your product into the hands of a lot of customers very very fast. Once that customer gets the product, however, is where the brand building really starts!  You have a few moments in most cases to get that customer to remember your product, store name or brand!  This will be a big part of my focus throughout this year!

WHAT HAS WORKED AND WHAT HASN’T

I’d like to finish this post by talking about 3 elements that have worked for me to build a “premium brand” as well as what hasn’t.  I currently have 2 private label brands on Amazon.  Both do fairly well, but one has a loyal “off-Amazon audience” while I struggle to build an audience for the second brand.  Below are the elements I’ve observed that have contributed to this:

1. Start with a great product

If you get this wrong, you’ll get nowhere.  Ideally you want a product that is not only high quality, but also low cost, high profit, high demand and low competition.  Getting all of these elements to fall into place perfectly is ideal, but not always realistic.  It is possible, however, to find high quality products that fit most of these criteria.  In the case of my brand with a loyal audience, I was among the first to introduce this product to the marketplace!  This was an ideal situation since it made the product virtually competition-free for a long time!  I took a different approach with my next brand in that I introduced a product similar to  other products that numerous others were already selling. This definitely comes with less risk (since you know it will sell) but the tradeoff is it’s harder to build your own following.  If you can follow the trends and get on the cutting edge- introducing a product before anyone else, you’ll be well on your way to differentiating yourself as a premium brand!

2. Keep in contact with your customers on a personal level!

The fact is, when someone buys a product off Ebay or Amazon, in most cases, they don’t care about your business, who you are, what else you’re selling, what makes your store brand or product brand unique etc.  They buy because they want a product- and right now they are loyal to Ebay or Amazon.  Your job is to show your customers that you care about them- in ways that Amazon and Ebay never can!  Sure Amazon’s customer service is great from a standpoint of fast shipping, free returns and 24 hour staff, but what if you have a problem with a product, but you don’t want to send it back.  Will they offer support for that?  Let’s take it a step further.  Does Amazon’s overseas support staff member know what your interests are, your hopes and dreams, or the names of your kids?  Does he/she care?  Of course not!  Probably the most successful thing I’ve done is building relationships!  I know numerous customers by name!  I know the things they are interested in, what they like to do in their free time- several of them have sent me pictures of their homes, their vacations, and even their friends and family!  Customers who feel that you actually care about them will be customers for life!

So how do you get in touch with the customer in the first place?  Create a compelling reason for the customer to contact you (remember on Amazon, you cannot contact the customer to talk about anything other than the specific Amazon transaction.)  This can be a discount on their next purchase, a digital product or reward, a forum, an instruction video or any number of things!  Get creative and get to know your customers!

3.  Get people talking about your brand.

Honestly, I (mostly) dislike social media.  As an introvert, it’s very difficult and overwhelming for me to meaningfully engage in it.  I’ve found, however, that people talking about my brand is the next best thing to actually participating in the discussions (which I do recommend if you’re into that kind of thing!)  So much of my business has come from referrals from others who have had an amazing experience!  To get people talking about you, start by creating a great customer experience!  To get them “in the door” offer something (like a coupon- see above) or reach out to people who already have an audience- Youtube channel owners, blog owners, Facebook fan Page owners etc.  Look for contacts within your niche to spread the word- and offer them something to make it worth their while- a free product, a contest where you give their audience free products, a shout out to your own list about their blog, channel, fan page etc… use your imagination!

What are you doing to differentiate yourself from the competition?  How would you like to be the one charging 4 times the amount for your “premium product” or charging more just because someone came to your “premium store” rather than the countless other stores that sell the same thing? What’s working for you and what’s not?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

If you’re just starting out, I’ve got a great free resource to get you started!  Download it free below!

As always, thanks for your interest and support!

13 thoughts on “The Power of a Brand (What I Learned While Shopping for a Coat!)

  1. Hi Daniel,

    Great topic! Branding certainly does sell and is more than just a logo. I wanted to share this book I found called “1 Day Brand”. It’s a great read on how to get into the minds of your customer base to come up with your branding message. You can also use the process for your existing brands to see how well aligned you are with your customer base and you can adjust as needed. I highly recommend. It’s a pretty short read as well. You can find it at 1daybrand dot com.

    Brent

  2. Hi Daniel,
    I absolutely love your posts and blog and follow you quite closely. First of all I had difficulty downloading your ebook when you launched as it was asking me to download with a kindle which I have but for some reason would not work.
    Of interest to me is, I noticed when you first listed your products on amazon.ca the sales were pretty slow. Then when you posted your December sales report, I noticed that you have generated quite a jump in sales. I know we have discussed this in the past in terms of marketing or promotion techniques where you start with a low price then increase the price gradually as the product gains traction and ranking.
    Is there a step by step you can give to me on how to do this?
    Thanks Daniel.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for writing! For the book, it seems like something went wrong with Amazon’s processing. Since I’m new to how all of that works, try contacting Amazon and let me know if they can get it to you.

      With Amazon.ca, the cool thing is, it took almost no marketing or promoting efforts because the site is so wide open. I was “ranking” for my keyword (on page 1!) within a couple of days without doing anything! Since then I’ve requested reviews each week (I actually outsource this) and I log in about once every 7-12 days to monitor my inventory, but it’s literally 99% passive. Because of this, I’m planning on expanding and putting more products on Amazon.ca as well as Amazon.co.uk and the other marketplaces this year.

      To answer your question though, the complete marketing promotion strategy is in the book (let me know if you continue to have trouble getting it), but you can start with THIS post. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you Daniel, as always you’re a star!. I will try and get the new book on kindle and in the mean time I’ll try the promotion technique in your post. By the way, you would need a size able amount of inventory maybe 500 units to be able to offer the product at cost price. Correct me if I’m wrong.

        1. Hi Mark,
          It depends on how much money you’re willing to lose :)
          There are a number of ways to go about it, but the idea is to put an offer in front of people that incentivizes them to buy! This can be an artificially low price (at or below cost) or it can be free items (I like to exchange these for reviews). When I sell at or below cost, I only do this long enough to get the traction going, then I slowly raise my price every day until I get it where I want it.

          I’m working with a friend right now who just started a private label product and purchased 200 as his initial quantity. He gave away 30 units in exchange for a review and he’s on the front page for his target keyword. Now he is able to sell the remainder at his target price and recoup his loss. I would never recommend selling your complete inventory at or below cost. It’s just to get things started. Hope that makes more sense

  3. Hi Daniel,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and your insights have really helped my wife and I on our path into working for ourselves. We are getting deeply into market arbitrage and are ready to take the next step but we have hit a wall.
    I see posts like this one here and many other places talking about finding a profitable product to wholesale or get private labeled but something still confuses me.
    When sourcing a new product (lets say for wholesale) is the preferred method to find a winner on Amazon first, then try to get ahold of the manufacturer, or do you browse manufacturers first and then check to see what their goods are going for on Amazon? Does the order of events significantly change when going from wholesale to private label?
    Thanks for any reply. I have spent too long digging through blogs with no clear answer. Even knowing their IS NO clear answer would be something!

    1. Hi Logan,
      So glad to hear you and your wife have been making retail arbitrage work and that you’re expanding. That’s terrific!

      To answer your question, it can be done either way, but here is what I prefer to do:

      1. Look for products with “opportunity” on Amazon first. These are products with good sales ranks, a low number of sellers (and if there is no FBA offer, this is IDEAL if you’re selling through FBA) selling at a decent price point ($20.00 minimum for wholesale). Do a bit of detective work to find the supplier and request a catalog. Don’t bother researching the product more until you know:
      a. If the supplier will work with an online business like yourself
      b. If the wholesale cost justifies pursuing the opportunity

      Go through the process above for as many products as you possibly can. Once you do, you’ll have a nice stack of catalogs in front of you. This will generate a LOT of ideas for you. If everything checks out on your initial product you were researching (criteria above) then pull the trigger! If not, look at the OTHER items the supplier offers in their catalog and start researching those on Amazon. If you’re comfortable with a little risk, look for items not yet offered on Amazon.com. Do some off-Amazon research (Ebay completed listings are great for this as well as Google trends, Google keyword planner etc, browsing forums where people are talking about the item etc). If it seems to be an item that has some demand, you can be the FIRST to introduce it to Amazon. I’ve made some of my best money and most consistent sales that way (you’ll likely be the only seller of the product for a while which is a great position to be in)

      I use a similar strategy for private labeling. The only difference is, I want to consider ALL the listings (every brand) as my “competition”. I will analyze high and low price, number of listings (rather than sellers on each listing) and average sales rank. For private labeling, keyword competition comes into play as well (how many competing listings show up when I type in my target keyword(s)).

      Others have different strategies, but this is what has worked for me. Let me know if you have further questions. Hope it helps!

  4. Please how do you deal/prevent other sellers from listing your private label products for sale? This happens often especially when they notice you promote your products via Amazon sponsored ads.

    1. Hi Andy,
      Thanks for the question. If you have a unique logo on your product, and you are offering unique packaging, then you technically “own” that version of the product. Other sellers should not list under your item. This does happen from time to time. When it does, I simply write the sellers and explain that I am the “exclusive distributor” for “XYZ brand” (your brand name) and kindly ask them to remove their listing. Most times the listings are created in error and this is all it takes. Occasionally a seller will make things difficult. If you have a trademark on your brand (which I recommend when it starts gaining traction) then you have a legal avenue to pursue. No seller wants this. If you simply mention the word “trademark” most sellers will run away pretty quickly.

      Also, you can legally use the “TM” symbol to notify your competition that you are claiming rights to your brand name prior to actually registering the trademark. In fact, the USTPO (United States Trademark and Patent Office) want to see that you’ve already been using the mark in commerce before they approve your registration.

      If you don’t have a legally registered trademark and all else fails, make sure your product has a prominent logo and unique packaging. Be sure this is displayed in the main image and use words in the title like “genuine” and “official”… in the meantime, work on registering your trademark (legalzoom.com is good for this)
      Hope this helps!

  5. Insightful post. I’ve been reflecting about the same things. Business is picking up, but I keep wondering: is this sustainable? What if I get suspended out of the blue? Longevity is important when building a business and building a brand is definitely the way to create a long lasting business.

    I know you don’t like to share specifics, and I don’t want you to, but is your product with an “off Amazon” customer base a generic Chinese product with your label slapped on? (I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just seems like most PL products fall into this category). That doesn’t strike me as a long, sustainable business model, but I’d love to hear your insight on it.

    I had an idea for a non-premium brand not too long ago. I’ve written several fiction novels, but could never afford to get them professionally edited (it’s expensive!). So I created a company that does affordable editing for authors who couldn’t afford it otherwise. But my wife and I had a baby 2 weeks ago, so that idea got put on the back burner for now. In your opinion, does one need to be a professional in an area to offer a service like that? Or as long as you provide value is it worth pursuing? Not sure if you have experience in the service industry, but you said you were pursuing other income streams, so I figures I’d throw that question out there.

    Don’t get discouraged over low sales! Use this chance to grow your Amazon business even further or begin to pivot in another direction. You’ve got a proven track record and you will be successful in anything you apply yourself to.

    1. Hi Aaron,
      Great question! On one hand, a “generic Chinese product with a label slapped on” can work as PART of a long term strategy (though it is not a long term strategy in and of itself). If you are finding other ways to add value and connect with customers on a personal level, I’ve found that this goes a long way! With that said, obviously if you have something unique to offer that fills a need like no other product can, this will go a long way in terms of branding. The funny thing about this is, if you look at nearly any major product that brought something completely new to the marketplace, you’ll also find “copycats” “spinoffs” and “improved versions” which are sometimes as successful or even more successful than the original! There are a lot of downsides of creating your own unique product:
      1. It is usually very expensive
      2. There are a lot more legal ramifications (not only larger liability issues, but intellectual property, patent and copyright laws to deal with)
      3. Even if you get all of the above RIGHT, it is very difficult to protect from copycats (or similar products that capitalize on your unique idea)
      4. You don’t know for sure if your idea will sell until you produce it.

      This is the reason private labeling is so popular – and not just on Amazon- it’s popular on a wide scale! Many brick and mortar stores and retail giants have their own “brands”. In most cases these are just private labeled products- the exact same products as sold in other stores, but with unique packaging.

      With all of this said, my strategy is a bit of a combination. I usually start with the generic product and slap a label on it (which lowers my risk tremendously as mentioned above). Then I get feedback from customers (the design, the color, the size, the functionality etc) then I make improvements. When you’re working directly with a factory, they will usually make any improvements for you that you want, but you’ll need to make it worth their while. They will generally require a larger minimum. If you want to sell the new version exclusively the minimum will be even higher and a contract may be required. In my opinion, this is only justified when you reach a high level of sales and income, and more importantly, brand loyalty. Simple private labeling is the best way to start in my opinion.

      As for your second question, I really can’t say. I have no expertise in this field. My gut feeling is that if you’re providing an excellent service (and “excellent” is judged by the people receiving the service) then I would imagine it would be worth pursuing.

      Finally, I really appreciate the encouragement. I always need to remind myself that it’s not like I’m in panic mode fighting for my life (or even financial well-being) it’s just a matter of continuing to grow, continuing to learn and continuing to adapt. Thanks for the reminder!

      1. Thanks for the response. You definitely give a lot of food for thought here! It’s all about managing risk and providing value. A great principle that applies to any business really. Your post and response have really helped me structure some product ideas. I’d like to transition my brands off of Amazon (while still keeping Amazon as a sales channel) to build something with more longevity. The 3 elements to branding that you listed is a truly epic resource. Thank you for that.

        Your perseverance and determination have brought you this far in your businesses and I have no doubt you’ll continue to grow, even through the rough patches. God speed!

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