Beat the competition in 2018: how to brand your Shopify store

It’s a common oversight for Shopify store owners: branding.

But how to brand a Shopify store?

Most online store-owners do not realize that Shopify store brand-building is very similar to traditional brand-building. This is because no matter what context in which you launch a brand, the principles of branding seamlessly apply.

Doesn’t matter if you are drop-shipping from AliExpress or you carry your own inventory. It also doesn’t matter which online store platform you’re using (Shopify, BigCommerce, Woo Commerce, etc.) there is one rock-bed, non-negotiable truth you need to know:

Brands are not optional—especially for your online store.

But why?

Because many Shopify consultants and gurus are warning that 2018 is going to bring a flood of new online stores because the store platforms are getting so easy to use.

You think it is competitive now? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. You’re about to experience even more intense competition towards the end of 2017 and into 2018. With no end in sight.

That’s right. 2018 will bring ever-increasing competition in e-commerce for Shopify store-owners.

So what do I do?

These gurus recommend that store owners build strong online store brands in order to overcome the flood of competition in the months and years to come.

So you may be asking, “OK, I get it. So how do I brand my Shopify store?”

Or you might be asking, “How do I brand my BigCommerce Store?”

Or my Woo Commerce store?

Well, it’s not easy, but certainly doable if you’re willing to spend a little time.

Start by checking out my quick three-step Shopify Branding jump-start below. It’ll help you get a feel for where you need to start learning and to start moving forward.

And the steps below apply to any online store platform.

Onward and upward, friends!


First, every online entrepreneur must understand the context in which they work by understanding three basic areas of business:

• Your Company – Know yourself well. This includes things like your brand solution, your brand values, and your brand personality, which all help to build a brand that will carefully target, and attract, customers and sales.

• Your Competition – You need to know who is doing the same or similar things. Knowing how the competition succeeds (or fails) helps you know how to be different in a good way.

• Your Optimal Target Customer – Know your optimal customer well. If you don’t understand your optimal customer, and what their burning problem is, you’ve already lost the game.

Once you gather this information, use it to focus your company like a laser-beam on…The Money Zone.


Check out the colors. The green Money Zone is where you should focus your company activities. The Money Zone avoids the red area where your competition is strong, and focuses on your strengths and brand benefits that are different in a good way.

How to brand your Shopify store

WARNING: Venturing into the the yellow and red zones could prove fatal. Be careful!

But once you know exactly where to focus, it’s time to step up and make a commitment to the folks out there who are searching for your solution… your brand promise.


All great brands make bold promises about solving the target market’s burning problem. A brand promise makes it crystal clear why they should care about you and your store. Most importantly, a brand promise builds trust and separates you from the crowd.

But do you know what your brand promise is?

You should—or you’ll get caught up in the fallacy that all you need is fancy marketing and social media that (unless you are crystal clear about how you solve the problem of your target customer) waters down your brand, and creates a lack of clarity and focus that sends people to your competition…

CAUTION: It’s the age of stressful information overload. Cognitive chaos. If you stress your customers out with masses of random information, they will bail. They need to be convinced that you can solve their problems in refreshing, convenient ways when they buy products in your store.

And the brand promise is the first step toward winning them over.

So what should I do?

Start by asking three key questions:

  1. About what product or service are we absolutely 100% confident that we can deliver customer happiness 100% of the time?
  2. How do we make the customer feel when they get our products and use them?
  3. How is our store different from the competition?

As you are thinking and brainstorming, the first rule of creating a brand promise is: never, ever make a promise you cannot keep.

The goal is always to under-promise and over-deliver.

Noone Cares About Your Brand

Tired or stressed businessman sitting in front of computer in office

You’re scared to even think about it.

But you’ve known it for a long time: few people care about your small business.

It’s called IRRELEVANCE. And it’s deadly.

But the antidote is (obviously) BRAND RELEVANCE.

Can we talk?

Brand Relevance happens when your company creates a rational solution to a customer problem that is communicated in such a way that it creates an emotional connection that excites them to find out more, and buy your product or service.

Ultimately, people do not give you money because you are cool or likable. They give you money when you have convinced them, in an emotional way, that you can solve their problem. They have decided that you can do something for them. They are willing to even give you their hard-earned cash.

That’s Brand Relevance.

You can be sure of one thing: no one cares about your company if they do not know how it solves their problem.

But have no fear!

We’re going to start working on that right now by going through a 5-minute exercise that will help you begin to think about relevance, and why it’s so damn important.


Your potential customers will always ask this question: does your brand promise MATCH my problem?

If your promise does not clearly match their specific problem, or if your marketing materials are not articulating well how your promise matches their problem, then they will move on to your competition.

Your target customer is living a cluttered, complicated, and intense daily life. Part of breaking through to their heart and mind, developing a bond, is to be powerfully clear about why you are relevant to them very quickly, in a manner that is memorable, magical, and logical.


Once you’ve clearly and quickly communicated that your solution matches their problem, you must also communicate exactly how you will solve their problem.

The best brand promises communicate powerful solutions.

For example, the tagline for Causenta Wellness (note: a tagline is simply a short version of the brand promise) is “You: Thriving.” There is no mistaking the problem that the brand solves. When you are sick, or not living in optimal health, they will help you thrive. It’s what makes them relevant.


Once you’ve clearly and quickly communicated that your solution matches their problem, and how you will solve it, your promise must also resonate emotionally. Emotional connections, as every great brand knows, are just as important as logical facts.

When your target customer experiences a strong and lasting emotional attachment to your brand, similar to an emotional connection to a family member or a good friend, you develop a bond that today’s most successful companies, like Apple and McDonalds, are well aware of.

But how do we do this?

You do this by telling your brand story alongside the rational and logical facts about how you solve the problem. None of your customers live in an emotional vacuum. Give them the emotional connection to your brand that they want.

In the end, there is no need to be afraid that you are irrelevant if you can answer yes to the above three questions. The questions above will help you gauge your relevance, and you can be sure that people will notice you if you answer yes to all three.

And if you cannot answer yes to all three, then guess what? We’ve all been there!

And this is an amazing opportunity to be honest and turn things around!

So go for it. Get to the hard work of being powerfully relevant.

And don’t stop until people not only care about your company… don’t stop until people are knocking on your door all the time.

3 Ways to Develop Deep, Emotional Connections With Your Target Market


From “Mattress buyers are paying mostly for bad TV commercials, retail markups, sales commissions, and wholesaler’s profits.”

I had just bought a mattress a couple months ago, and the frustration was still fresh: how could these mattresses be worth thousands of dollars?

That’s when I saw it on my way to meet friends. It was a small billboard with a simple, blunt, curt message: “Mattress stores are greedy.”

It instantly resonated with me. This company that I had never heard of, Tuft & Needle—a startup that produces high-quality, less expensive mattresses—had just instantly built a deep, emotional connection with me.

The experience prompted me to think once again about a critical marketing question: how can any brand large or small develop deep, instant, emotional connections with their target market?

There are many ways to do this, but let’s look at three ways, using Tuft & Needle as our case study:

1. Touch on a common ethical/moral objection
The reason that I took time to pull over to the side of the road that afternoon was not a Tuft & Needle rational benefit communicated on the billboard. It was purely for emotional reasons.

I was drawn to Tuft & Needle simply because they were touching on my recent frustration with mattress prices. They understood my frustration. They “got” me.

I was fascinated with how powerful the resonance was.

It was as if Tuft & Needle were sitting next to me, listening to my complaint, and sharing in my ethical objection to high mattress prices, which seemed like price-gouging.

스크린샷 2016-01-02 오전 12.48.08

2. Be sensitive to aesthetic style
The second thing that drew me to the Tuft & Needle billboard was the aesthetics. Aesthetics and design trigger the emotional centers of the brain.

As a marketer myself, I’m very sensitive to design quality and style. The Tuft & Needle billboard was minimal and easy to read. But it also reflected recent trends in design that resonate with their target market.

Never underestimate the power of good design, and how it impacts the bottom line.

3. Understand the relationship between rational solutions and emotional solutions
To successfully create strong emotional connections with your target market is critical. But it is critical to remember that when people think about buying your product or service, they always make an emotional decision first (for example, I made a decision to learn more about Tuft & Needle because of the emotional impact), and a rational decision second (when I began to do research on the concrete rational benefits of Tuft & Needle, such a sleep quality and price).

when people think about buying your product or service, they always make an emotional decision first, and a rational decision second.

This phenomenon that people make an emotional decision about a brand first has been shown to be true in multiple studies.

What this means in practical terms is that, yes, you must impact people emotionally. But you must follow that emotional impact with a strong rational justification. It is dangerous to deliver emotional impact that is not backed up later with strong rational justification.

So how do we start the process of building a brand that has emotional impact?

First, you must clearly define your target market personas. Do your homework. Do the research. What kind of emotional impact should you deliver?

To know, you must put yourself in their shoes, understand their needs, wants, and desires, and also be absolutely sure you are solving a real problem for them.

Then you’ll be on your way to impacting people like me like the Tuft & Needle billboard when I stopped to think more about their message.


Three Ways for Brands to get it REALLY RIGHT after you get it REALLY WRONG

The power of making good on a bad brand experience is PROFOUND.

We know this from recent research, which shows that people respond with tremendous good will when a brand gets it REALLY WRONG, and then turns around and gets it REALLY RIGHT.


I recently decided to try something new, and bought a pint of Arctic Zero “Cookie Dough Chip” (which I had never tried before). Unfortunately, for a premium-priced ice cream pint, it was really bad. Almost no cookie dough. And tasteless.

Not a good experience to have when you try a new brand.

I though they might want to know, and I messaged them on their Facebook company page about this experience. Soon thereafter, a representative got right back to me, apologized, and explained that the batch from which I had purchased my pint had problems that could be traced back to a factory mistake.

Facebook - Arctic Zero

OK. Fair enough, I thought. She then asked for my address so that they could make it right with a coupon.

This week I received a hand-written apology along with a coupon for a free pint (see main image).

Everyone knows this to be true: when you make an honest mistake, you should apologize quickly and make it right. This kind of behavior builds tremendous trust and goodwill with family, friends, and neighbors. Interestingly, however, it is no different for a brand — whether consumer or service-oriented.

Arctic Zero impressed me with their integrity, their willingness to completely come clean, and then make sure I had another try at their ice cream.

Let’s learn from Arctic Zero and how they handled this so well, and apply the lessons to our own brands:

THREE WAYS for Brands to get it REALLY RIGHT
after you get it REALLY WRONG



Admittedly, I was a bit frustrated when I messaged the Arctic Zero Faceboook page. But the representative who responded was perfect. She did not mirror my frustration at all. She EMPATHIZED with me, and even mentioned that she also would be unhappy if she had spent money on a pint of premium-priced ice cream that was not good.


Contrary to what I expected, Arctic Zero did not act like a huge, hermetically-sealed corporate structure at all. The representative, Michelle, was very personal and distincly un-corporate as she handled my situation, not only in her response to me on Facebook, but also in the hand-written apology and free coupon.


Arctic Zero reponded quickly to my issue. And within a week, I had a free coupon for another try. And to add to the goodwill, they have massively differentiated themselves from other companies by sending me a hand-written apology, something I have never experienced.

Apply the above three rules to your own company, life, and relationships, and you quite simply cannot go wrong.

Well done, Arctic Zero. You are now very prominently first-of-mind among ice cream companies who ACTUALLY care about your brand experience.













The 10-Minute Brand Manager

Objective: Get quick, daily focus on the core habits of top brands with this quick checklist—in under ten minutes.


“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates

It’s hard to argue with Bill Gates, and like Gates himself, successful brands focus on one thing: solving problems for optimal clients.

The 10-Minute Brand Manager is designed to help directors of marketing, entrepreneurs, and small companies daily make sure that they are focused on solving problems for their best clients and customers on a daily basis, although you can use it weekly, or even periodically.

Use The 10-Minute Brand Manager to check your focus, tweak your fundamentals, and hone in on exactly what makes your optimal clients really love you: solving their rational problems in emotionally endearing ways.

Good luck and happy managing!




Brand Focus — Optimal Client Burning Problems

If you are not focused daily on solving the specific one or two main problems that your optimal target clients are experiencing, then you might need to re-calibrate Brand Focus.

◻︎  1. FOCUS on client burning problems today. Ask yourself, “who do we really want to work with, and what keeps them up at night?”

◻︎  2. CREATE innovative ways to solve those problems today.

◻︎  3. SOLVE those problems better than the competition today.

Brand Promise — Ponder your commitment to optimal client

Your optimal clients resonate strongly with folks who are clearly committed to helping them solve their problems—that’s your Brand Promise.

◻︎  4. REVIEW your brand promise today. How should you map your day such that it is focused primarily on solving client problems?

◻︎ 5. THINK about your brand promise today. What does it look like, in very practical ways, to keep your brand promise?

◻︎  6. KEEP the brand promise today. Once you have an idea of how to keep the promise, renew your commitment to do it.

Brand Impact — Help your organization keep the brand promise

◻︎  7. HELP colleagues focus on your brand promise today.

◻︎  8. PROMOTE strategies for monitoring how well people in your company keep the promise.

◻︎ 9. ASK your optimal clients and customers if they know your Brand Promise, and if they do, ask them if think your are keeping it.


Be sure to print this out and post it next to your desk for easy reference.

The 10 Minute Brand Audit

Objective: Run your brand through a series of quick diagnostic questions to expose brand blind spots and get more focus—in about ten minutes.


The 10-Minute Brand Audit is a powerful tool that you can use in different ways. However you use it, it helps companies of any size get a quick grip on fundamental, key principles on which successful brands relentlessly focus. You can score yourself, or not, depending on how you use it.

Here are a few suggestions for leveraging the power of the 10-Minute Brand Audit.

1. JUMPSTART A RE-BRAND. Not sure if you need to re-brand? You and the team not on the same page? Try bringing them through The 10-Minute Brand Audit. Discuss at the next meeting. How does everyone score your company? The 10-Minute Brand Audit is one way to help you find some consensus about moving forward brand-wise.

2. THINK ABOUT A NEW BRAND. Starting a company? The 10-minute Brand Audit can help you start thinking now about key fundamental areas on which strong brands are built. Note of caution: it’s dangerous to wait until later to seriously start thinking about your brand.

3. DAILY POWER FOCUS. Try The 10-Minute Brand Audit with your coffee once or twice a week. No need to score if you use it this way. It takes under ten minutes, and it will help you keep your brand focused on a daily basis. Five to ten minutes of daily brand mindfulness goes a long way.

4 PRELUDE TO AN EXTENSIVE BRAND AUDIT. The Ten-Minute Brand Audit can serve as a foundational jumping point into a comprehensive brand audit.

How do you use The 10-Minute Brand Audit?

Please leave any suggestions or ideas for leveraging The 10-Minute Brand Audit in the comments.

And of course,  if you have a question or want to talk more about your brand, go to the footer and drop us a line.

Happy Auditing!



1. PREPARE: Take out a sheet of paper and a pen.
2. ANSWER: Honestly answer the 10 questions below.
3. SCORE: Grade yourself from 1 – 5 on each question according to this breakdown:

5 = absolutely yes
4 = probably yes
3 = maybe
2 = probably no
1 = absolutely no

4. ASSESS: When you’re finished, tally up your “Brand Health Score” at the bottom.

Caution: Honesty is important. Don’t plow forward with your company before being honest about your weaknesses.


OK — let’s get started!

1. Branding 101
Our company clearly understands what a brand is, how “branding” is different from “marketing,” and what is necessary to create a great brand experience.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

2. Key Core Competencies
We know clearly where we naturally, easily, and consistently excel. We avoid products and/or services for which we do not have differentiated core expertise.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

3. Target Market & Competition
We clearly understand the “burning problem” our target market experiences every day, and we are committed to help our target market solve that problem. We understand clearly where our competition is weak (and strong) in our market space, and the opportunities and threats that this creates for us.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

4. Brand Positioning & Brand Promise
We understand the concept of brand positioning, our positioning is clearly articulated, and we actively and regularly review our positioning. Our brand promise is our “true north.” It acts as a guide light for us, and it deeply resonates with our target market. We have a system in place to monitor how well we keep that promise.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

5. Brand Personality
We understand our brand personality, brand archetype,  and story. We apply all to our branding and marketing.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

6. Core Brand Values
We understand our core brand values, and we do not waver from them. They form our DNA and our non-negotiables as a culture.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

7. Marketing Strategy
We understand how branding and marketing are symbiotic, and we have developed a marketing strategy that maximizes this symbiotic relationship.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

8. Design: Quality & Consistency
We understand the power of world-class design, and we get compliments regularly on our visual branding across all media and channels. We are committed to the key competitive advantage of design excellence. Our visual brand across all media—print, web, and mobile—all form a powerful, consistent, and coherent picture of exactly who we are, and what sets our solution apart.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

9. Social Media Branding
We understand how to leverage the power of our brand on social media, and we have a consistent brand footprint across all social media.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5

10. Brand Vision-casting
We spend enough time brainstorming, dreaming, and strategizing about what our brand can be and how it can delight people — and how we will make it happen.

Score: 1  –  2  –  3  –  4  –  5



Now that you’ve gone through the 15 questions, tally your Brand Health Score by adding up scores from all questions.

45 – 50 points  =  90 – 100%


Excellent brand health. You understand well the various building blocks of a strong brand. Rock on!

40 – 45 points  = 80 – 90%

doing good, but…

Good foundation, but there is room for improvement. Think about how to improve areas of lower-scoring questions.

35 – 40 points = 70 – 80%

time to make changes

Be careful. Take some time to look into your lower answers and brush up on branding basics.

30 – 35 points = 60 – 70%

running some red lights

Caution. Your score may indicate some serious blind spots that are causing harm. Time to get help.

Under 30 = 60% and under

huge opportunity to make some real gains

You’re to be commended on being really honest. This could mean that you’re poised to make huge gains if you will invest in some professional help with your company brand.


Congratulations on finishing The 10-Minute Brand Audit!



The 10-minute Branding Dictionary

Objective: Minimize the overwhelm and complexity of branding your business by learning key branding terms—in about ten minutes.

I felt completely overwhelmed as I sat on the floor against a bookcase in Seoul’s Kyobo Bookstore ten years ago, gazing at the mass of books on branding. I knew I needed to help my clients understand how to leverage their brands, but wow—what a challenge it was to sort it all out at the time.

Fast forward over ten years, and I have my own branding methodology that helps my clients effectively focus and reach their ideal customers and clients.

The basic terms you see below are foundational to that methodology. This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive, and entire books have been written about each term, but anyone who wants to understand branding must understand the basic terminology.

Think of this as your online small business branding dictionary. A cheat sheet. A strategic (unfair?) advantage.  Bookmark it and refer to it often. It will be updated on a regular basis.



A BRAND is the way that your ideal customer or client thinks and talks about the sum-total of their experiences with your company. It is not a concrete object, but a way of thinking and talking about you when you are not around.

Note: A brand is not a logo, a business card, an advertisement. These are marketing tools that contain the brand, and deliver the brand to the optimal client or customer.


BRANDING is the management of the delivery of your brand using key marketing tools, like your logo, business card, social media, or website.

Note: the term “branding” is also used more broadly to mean everything related to a company’s marketing and branding, but I define branding more specifically as the verb form of a brand—the action part of a small business brand.


The brand experience is a concrete event, a moment that your ideal client or customer has at one of your many touchpoints, such as a website, social media, or networking event.


The attraction that is created when your ideal customer or client is deeply convinced that you can solve their burning problem better then your competition.


How your brand is mentally perceived by your optimal client in relation to your competition.


A BRAND PROMISE is the BRAND POSITIONING in the form of a commitment. 


Marketing is the activity of managing and creating concrete vehicles that communicate your value (contained in the brand promise) to your optimal clientele. There are many different kinds of marketing tools, from social media, print media, advertising, identity, packaging, etc.


Any number of ways that clients or customers come into contact with your company and experience you as a brand. There are many kinds of touchpoints:  your website, business card, a support call, an email, the corporate identity, uniforms, interior design, color palette, etc. Touchpoints are where the “rubber hits the road.”