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Online Sales and the Importance of Branding Your Business From Day 1

One lesson is that the founder of the brand -- unless we're talking Steve Jobs -- shouldn't become the face of the business.
Image credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images
Founder of FE International

It's no secret that business online is skyrocketing. This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday pulled in a combined $11.6 billion dollars in online sales; that was up about 16.5 percent from last year. So, it's safe to say that when the dust settles, many online business owners and entrepreneurs will have reason to celebrate: Clearly, this year's rise in Black Friday online sales represented a shift in consumer preference for the online options available.

Related: The 4 Most Lethal Branding Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

With so much money on the table, it’s no wonder that competition for consumers’ eyeballs, and wallets, is stronger than ever. The question for prospective online entrepreneurs then becomes: How do I differentiate my business to take my piece of the pie?

Certainly, the barriers entrepreneurs face to entry into the lucrative markets are low, but the challenge they do face is how to set themselves apart from others in their category. After all, a sizable market is no use to any business that can't gain the attention of, and ultimately convert, potential customers.  

It's no longer enough to build a killer product or site: You need to be able to effectively market your brand if you're hoping to grow. So, with all that money going to online sales, how can you ensure that your own small business or startup will thrive? How do you distinguish your product from the 1.3 million other stores here just in North America alone?

There is no simple answer. But there is an effective one: branding. And that doesn't mean just slapping the logo you bought from Fiverr on your business card and landing page and leaving it at that. Instead, you have to invest time and capital into building an identity that resonates with your audience. Reason: Your brand may end up being one of your business’ most valuable assets.

Looking for role models as your proceed in this effort? Here’s a look at two highly successful brands, how they got where they are today and what you can learn from them.


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years, if I say “Swoosh,” odds are you’ll think Nike. Of the three major sneaker companies, Nike is far and away the market leader. In 2016, the company's revenue was $19.87 billion -- 60 percent higher than Adidas's’ and Puma’s, combined.

Nike spends an undisclosed fortune on research and development and would likely argue that it’s quality that makes its brand number one. But is Nike’s product really 60 percent better than those of Adidas and Puma, combined? Or does its dominance have more to do with branding and marketing?

Here are three brand-building takeaways from Nike:

Related: The Secret Ingredients to a Successful Branding Strategy

Dollar Shave Club

Did you do a double-take at the suggestion that you not become the face of your business? Undoubtedly, you thought of many examples where the founder is closely identified with the brand: Steve Jobs with Apple, Elon Musk with Tesla and Richard Branson with Virgin.

One founder who hasn’t quite reached that rarefied level (yet) is Michael Dubin, CEO of men’s grooming business Dollar Shave Club (DSC). A true entrepreneur, Dubin tried and failed to launch several businesses before hitting a home run with DSC. His success should be an inspiration and example to nascent entrepreneurs everywhere.

Dubin launched DSC in 2011 with virtually zero capital and a dream. His first focus wasn’t learning everything there is to know about razors. He didn’t do extensive market research or impanel focus groups to validate his concept. He paid no heed to the naysayers.

Knowing that the story behind the brand was even more important than the product, Dubin spent virtually all of his startup capital on one thing: branding. The promotional  video he created to launch DSC has now racked up more than 25 million views on YouTube. Five years later, he sold DSC to Unilever for $1 billion, having built up to that point by employing the following:

The message here? Launching a new online venture is exciting. It’s easy to get wrapped up in concept and functionality and forget to tell your "story" to your target audience. Remember, you don’t need to have a huge marketing budget at first. Play to your strengths and utilize the tools and channels available to you.

Related: How Dollar Shave Club's Founder Built a $1 Billion Company That Changed the Industry

Learn from the examples above and you’ll be off to a good start.