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What Brands Need to Distinguish Themselves
What Brands Need to Distinguish Themselves cover image

What Brands Need to Distinguish Themselves

Bemeir is an NYC-based web development agency specializing in digital ecommerce, UI/UX design, Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, and more. As a company with a wide range of expertise, Bemeir’s mission is to help DTC brands grow and seize opportunities they might not otherwise see, as well as align their goals with other businesses to create mutually beneficial relationships.

I recently sat down with Maier Bianchi, Founder of Bemeir, to discuss why businesses need core values to drive their decisions, how brands can make positive impacts, and the most essential branding elements DTC merchants need to stand out.

What inspired you to launch an ecommerce agency, and how has your vision for your company changed since you began?

I launched Bemeir back in 2014 because I wanted to help people. I particularly enjoyed building websites, specifically in ecommerce, thanks to the possibilities it affords.

Our team initially focused on Magento under a different brand but decided to think more globally and changed our name to Bemeir. It’s a play on my name, Maier, and means to be “one who enlightens,” representing empowering merchants and offering a trusted set of hands for clients when making decisions.

We want merchants to be successful and help tie the threads between ecosystems. Countless common threads weave between ecommerce businesses, so playing to their similarities and differences is at the core of what we do. We leverage our clients’ strengths and apply past lessons through new, individualized lenses.

It’s essential for brands to come to an expert like you because you have a great deal of knowledge to help them avoid mistakes newcomers often make.

So, many agencies specialize in one platform, but Bemeir works with Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, and WordPress, and others. How does each platform influence the strategies you’re able to devise for your clients?

The differences between these platforms allow us to find the best solution for our clients’ sizes and business types. The first thing we do is understand what their goals are and template them into the proper infrastructure. As you said, it’s better to have good advice and plan ahead of time than make a costly mistake and backtrack.

For example, Magento is an on-prem and open-source solution, allowing for a high level of customization and functionality. It’s powerful and tailored toward brands that need flexibility or specific integrations. With that, however, comes the responsibility of maintenance and patching security.

We also favor SaaS platforms like Shopify and BigCommere because we approach them with the mindset that brands can grow faster on them, especially if they’re new to ecommerce and want to avoid investing in infrastructure. Instead, they have room to focus on improving their marketing and brand models. We see these solutions as vehicles to distill much of the noise or slowness of maintaining your own platform because merchants often don’t understand or appreciate those costs, which bottlenecks the growth process.

When it comes to headless sites — which are becoming increasingly prevalent, so it’s fortunate we’ve been on the cutting edge of headless infrastructure and middleware for years now — we see it’s useful for brands that want to curate a certain kind of experience and are willing to invest in maintaining it. It’s fun but is best reserved for specific use cases. We don’t advise most brands to go headless because it’s complicated and requires a commitment to a particular path.

As for WordPress, it’s a flexible tool for corporate websites and small businesses growing their online presences because it allows brands a high degree of control at low cost. It’s not as robust as other ecommerce platforms, though, but we support it to serve that market subset. It’s better for building a business website than a sales channel.

I also want to mention that we generally don’t support WooCommerce. It’s limiting and isn’t intended to be a fully-fledged platform. We encourage ecommerce startups to avoid WooCommerce because they’ll inevitably hit a wall or encounter complexities they haven't prepared for. They’re better off with a SaaS.

One of Bemeir’s core values is helping businesses impact their local communities positively. How do you help brands be mindful of their communities?

Though ecommerce businesses are digital in nature, they often have regional demographics or provide jobs where their factories, warehouses, and offices are based. There are many ways brands can contribute to their local communities economically. Generally, small business owners like that are from those communities and are already part of the social fabric. We like to call attention to this fact and help brands understand there are more ways to make a difference than they realize.

Bemeir was NYC-focused when I first started it, but now we uphold a global ideology to elevate ecommerce businesses in their own backyards. We aim to help brands transform. Our mindset is, if your local business is reachable to the elderly or anyone who can’t leave their homes, you’ll connect better with your community.

Many small ecommerce business owners also lack information. They pour all of their hard-earned money into a platform because someone told them, “You should be on Magento 2,” but they don’t have the experience to navigate it. Our job is to guide those smaller merchants. We’re actually developing a product called Ecommerce Hotline, which will be a way for us to connect with small business owners and help them capitalize on their expertise. From a local standpoint, these merchants include people who sell as a side-gig but want to get better at ecommerce.

What are some of the most significant branding mistakes you see DTC businesses making, and how do you help them course-correct?

One of the most common mistakes we see brands make is over-investing in paid media straight away instead of building organic affinity with key opinion leaders, influencers, and community members. They’re leaving a lot on the table regarding what they can do with old-fashioned outreach. I believe it’s an underdeveloped area because it’s challenging and requires more thought beyond hiring a marketing agency that says, “We’ll make you money, sign here.”

Brands need to spend time building connections instead of focusing on short-term gains. Doing the latter can hurt in the long run because they spent so much effort raising their MRR and trying to grow their brands without thinking about who their audiences are. Rather than worrying about which technology features they should use, it’s better to ask themselves, “How am I being perceived?” That’s how you distinguish yourself from your competitors.

I agree, especially because we’re seeing the cost per conversion rising on social media these days. It’s getting harder to justify that spend if you aren’t distinct from your competitors.

On that note, what would you say are the branding elements that merchants need the most to distinguish themselves in their respective verticals?

I think brand voice is essential. It’s clear, concise language that governs how you talk about your brand and the specific words you put on your website. We can all think of brands we perceive as cooler than others, right? It’s important to consider how you’re creating affinity through language and imagery and what you represent to people. Away is an excellent example of a DTC brand that knows what it’s doing; it put the extra effort into crafting a brand voice that stands out to its customers and brings success even though it’s selling in a crowded sector.

Brands can also use technology to create engagement points, like quizzes and shoppable lookbooks, to make their products shine. Something to keep in mind is information and education: users may feel gratitude toward a brand that gives them knowledge in exchange for their attention on their products. Consumers appreciate learning how to solve a problem, which goes a long way, especially for businesses that sell everyday household items.

Friendly customer service and support are imperative, too. Every interaction with customers is a chance to win their hearts and minds. We all love when a customer service representative makes our day by helping us solve a problem because it creates a positive memory only possible through personal engagement.

Lastly, reputation management is essential. You need to have social proof, so a solution like Okendo is necessary for collecting testimonials and UGC. Not enough brands remember that right out of the gate. I always advise clients that they’re going to wake up two years from now and wish they’d been sending review requests the entire time. Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Similarly, it’s essential to make sure positive comments flow in because something negative may happen — even something small — and you want to have the right conversation happening around your brand to protect your reputation.

As an agency that has worked with countless clients, what are some significant examples of things DTC brands have in common that they don’t often realize?

Many of them have similar policies, such as for returns and shipping. They follow identical advertising strategies and Shopify growth playbooks down to page design, apps, and tools. Several share customer demographics and market segments even if they’re not competitors. To flip this question, you can stand out if you differentiate your customer service and shipping policies. That’s how brands in ecommerce’s early days did it — two-day shipping, free returns, and so on. Too many merchants chase the same paradigms that don’t work from a profit model, but there are other ways to offer good service and be fair to your customers in a way that makes sense for your business.

I also don’t think brands cross-share data often enough. You know how there are tools like Crossbeam in the partner industry and ways for technology companies to share data? In my opinion, it’s a missed opportunity for DTC brands. Say you’re selling a product, and another non-competing brand offers a cross-sellable product. Why not tap into each other’s audiences safely and ethically? Brands should team up more often as long as they don’t violate privacy laws.

That’s a good point; companies with different products but similar audiences don’t collaborate very often, do they?

Moving on, something Bemeir helps its clients do is develop core values. Every merchant lays out a business plan, but not all identify what guides their brands. How often do you encounter clients that don’t have core values or a mission statement? How do you help them determine what those values should be?

We encounter this problem fairly often. Usually, a business owner will have started their brand for a reason, so we advise them to lean into it. Customers might find their story admirable or relatable. Integrating their origin story into their core values demonstrates that their purpose for being in business comes from a deeper place.

We also advise merchants to highlight their strengths and determine what they’re unwilling to compromise on. Ultimately, your core values should color every facet of how you run your business, so it’s critical to stick to them — but that’s also why it’s challenging to set them. You have to be uncompromising in an unknown situation. Even my own company sometimes struggles to see problems through the lens of our core values. We have a general ideology and mission statement, but we have to ask ourselves if we’re being true to it at every layer of problem-solving and decision-making.

Merchants should reflect on how they envision their brands and what they do for people. Those answers can turn into their core values. What do you think?

I agree, deciding core values can be such a challenging endeavor. I remember establishing them at a previous company; you think you’re sure of what you want, but the stakes are high, so you question yourself. However, you also don’t want anything too outlandish. It’s important to discuss the matter with advisors and people you trust.

That’s also true; my agency also turns to trusted advisors or people who know our brand well enough to help us get back to our values.

How important are core values to the branding process, and how should merchants use them to influence product development?

To reiterate, core values are essential because they’re your brand’s guiding influence for every decision you make. It’s imperative to keep them in mind as you develop products because they drive your catalog offerings, website, customer interactions, overall business plan, etc. As long as you can relate your decisions back to your values, there’s a justification for selling the way you sell, and it helps you measure how close you are to reaching your goals. Business can be an unpredictable thing, though — you might sometimes have to compromise them, but knowing in what way and what you’re willing to do is half the battle.

What are some of the most overlooked ways merchants can use product and consumer data?

Segmentation, segmentation, segmentation. Target messages to distinct portions of your audience. Segmentation is critical because you may often overlook nuances between customer types, but grasping those nuances helps you interact with customers in a more personalized way. That’s how you understand which products are best-sellers and why. That’s how you optimize your sales forecasting and identify anomalies.

Also, remember that customer data isn’t static. Each individual has a phone number and email address. Reach out and develop relationships with them to learn more about your business, their preferences and work on customer retention. In my career experience, I once worked for a kitchen, bath, and luxury brand. Our customers were usually in the midst of a renovation or redecorating project they wanted completed as soon as possible. Their reasons for buying is data right there — not big data, but data nonetheless. Getting to know their respective projects and deadlines was invaluable.

It sounds like zero-party data is what merchants need to focus on, then.

Absolutely. I think the whole notion of zero-party data is really just rebranding a form; the idea that if you fill something out, you give us that information willingly. It’s like the Miranda rights of ecommerce: anything you say can and will be used to market to you. It’s kind of funny because I think zero-party data is just a “hot” term for something that’s always existed, but was often overlooked. We went from one end of the spectrum where you register for a website that surprises you with eighteen data points it wants you to fill out — your gender, your birthday, your likes and dislikes — to backlash against this process due to friction and time spent onboarding. Then we had the whole notion of using AI and Big Data deduce people's behavior with this information, but that’s going away after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, IOS 14, etc., Now, we’re back to “zero-party data,” which is, ultimately, just convincing people to tell you things about themselves.

That’s true; it’s definitely a rebrand of a practice that’s been around for a while.

Bemeir has also been known to help brands approach business from a charitable angle. How can brands partner with charities in a meaningful way that benefits sales but is more than a PR stunt?

If a charity benefits from something in a meaningful way, it can’t be a PR stunt. That’s revenue they wouldn’t have received before. PR stunts are hollow, but even if you help a 501(c)(3) raise money out of self-interest, that’s still doing a service for them.

There are more strategic ways to partner with nonprofits than others, though. You need to think symbiotically and determine how you’ll mutually benefit. If done correctly, you’ll elevate each party’s mindset — the charity might be inspired because they have a brand ally whose partnership makes them feel like they’re succeeding in their mission, and the brand might inspire its customers and workforce to action because it cares about the cause. I think very few charity partnerships are actually stunts; any benefit to a nonprofit is worthwhile.

It’s also important to emphasize education and awareness. Brands should continue to make donations or matching contributions when their customers do, but I see very few brands sharing digital real estate. Doing so is free, such as including a subset of educational pages on your website about causes you believe in. Making your site a vector of information drives awareness for those causes, turning you into an amplifier that’s a step above a mere donor. People might not hit a charity’s dot org, but they are landing on your dot com, so hosting relevant information is invaluable to driving content and additional donations for them.

A potential caveat to keep in mind, though, is that you might not want to infringe on your brand’s core values by overloading people with information not related to your products. Educating store visitors about a cause is important, but you need to do so in a careful way that doesn’t negatively influence your selling experience or conversion rate. Strike a balance: share information while being careful about where you put it on your site.

Lastly, engage your audience in conversation about your nonprofit partner’s mission. Let’s take a random example brand, like Fashion Nova. If they said something tomorrow about any cause, they already have millions of people and sub-influencers who can align with that mission. They have a bully pulpit to share, so getting large audiences to participate in a discussion about something good broadcasts it to the world.

Maier is contactable at Bemeir.com, LinkedIn, and @MaierB and @BemeirLLC on Twitter.

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