The writing is on the wall.
Drop shipping may not be dead, but it’s certainly not the future anymore. It’s shrinking into the rearview mirror and what’s rising up before us is a bright and beautiful horizon that offers stability, scalability and untold riches. To what horizon am I referring?
Building a brand of course.
Drop shipping stores are going to be more and more severely punished as the big traffic sources get better at measuring user experience. Expect high CPMs, unpublished pages and bad quality traffic.
Mastercard and Visa are also cracking down hard on chargebacks by forcing processors like Stripe to shut down merchant accounts without warning.
The smartest guys in the room are getting smarter and you’d best be prepared to play by their rules.
What it really comes down to is user experience. Drop shipping provides a negative user experience and Facebook, Google and the card providers are getting more and more serious about nipping this in the bud.
So how do you move forward? You start taking steps towards building a brand.
Is it easy? No.
Is it worth it? In the long term, you’re damn right it is.
Here are 5 steps that you can take towards building a real brand that is loved by Facebook, Instagram, Google, your customers and your bank account.
Step 1: Find Your Niche
If you’re running a niche store already, then you’re in a strong position. The key to building a great brand is knowing your customer and it’s a lot harder to hone in on this vital aspect when you’re running a general store that targets everyone and anyone under the sun.
Ideally, you should choose a niche that you’re either:
(a) Passionate about
(b) Know a lot about
I know bodybuilders who have succeeded in selling jewellery and fashionistas who have succeeded in selling tactical survival gear.
Passion is not everything.
What really matters is that you’re mentally and physically prepared to live and breathe this niche because that’s the only way you’re going to find out who your customer really is.
Step 2: Start Thinking Longterm
As a drop shipper, you ride the waves of winning products that rise as suddenly as they fall.
You’re focused on sales, not customers.
Sure you probably have some retargeting going on and an email flow in place but your primary goal is to scale your current winner as much as possible before it dies or gets stolen.
Brand building is a different philosophy entirely. You’re not thinking about the sale, you’re thinking about the human being and the relationship that you need to build with them.
Instead of thinking “How am I going to convert this guy as quickly as possible?”, you need to be thinking “How can I get this person to fall in love with my brand?"
When you start focusing on that question, you start to approach things differently. Not only your marketing; but your packaging, your customer support, your website, your supply chain and everything in between.
Step 3: Build Relationships
So how do you go about building these brand devotees? How do you develop the sort of customer-brand relationship that makes people queue for 17 hours to buy an iPhone?
It all comes down to messaging.
At what stage in the relationship are you and is the message you’re sending suited to that stage of the relationship?
As a drop shipper you’re the hard and heavy Tinder date who goes for the kiss within the first 15 minutes. Sure you’re gonna hit your target now and again, but you’ll likely never see that target again.
As a brand you want to be the consummate gentleman who dazzles his date every step of the way and prioritises the longterm potential of the relationship over instant gratification.
Here are some actionable steps you can take towards doing that:
Use influencer marketing to warm up your audiences for retargeting
Share content that isn’t meant to sell, but rather to engage (fun videos, polls etc.)
Write niche-related blogs on your website (these will help with SEO too)
Reward your repeat customers with hand-written notes or personalised discounts
Send out interesting niche-related emails that aren’t sales campaigns or abandoned cart reminders
Step 4: Think Influencers
The Brand Army is an influencer marketing agency and in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re on our website, so of course we’re going to touch on the subject.
Influencer marketing is the ultimate tool in a brand builder’s arsenal but it requires a truly intimate knowledge of your brand to use correctly.
Our process at The Brand Army starts with building an Ideal Customer Avatar (ICA). This ICA represents the perfect customer for the brand we’re working with.
Developing this ICA takes hours of market research and focused thought but what you come out with is a deep, powerful understanding of who your brand is for and why it’s for them.
With this ICA guiding us, we start looking for influencers.
We don’t look for huge influencers with millions of followers, but instead focus on ones with fewer followers who have yet to discover their true value.
We also don’t pay influencers. We only work with those who accept free products in exchange for their posts. Not only does this save our clients money, but it ensures that the influencers are doing it for the right reason: they actually want the product.
What it ultimately comes down to is brand affinity. You need to find the right influencers for your brand and the only way to find them is to know your customer inside out. Once you do, the right influencers will be easy to identify.
Step 5: Become A Storyteller
Every great ad tells a story. Do yours?
As a drop shipper, your ads probably look something like this:
[Generic Video Showing Off What The Product Does]
This Gadget Is Crazy!!
50% Off + Free Shipping For Today Only
This strategy of creating urgency and capitalising on the novelty of a new product has made many people lots of money, there’s not doubt about that. But has it made many enduring brands? Not likely.
You need to know your customer and understand their wants and needs. Once you own this knowledge, you own their hearts and minds. Suddenly, it becomes easy to tell them the stories that they need to hear to become your customers.
So what should your ad look like then?
Well that depends on the product and the brand, but here are some vital ingredients:
(a) It should focus on the outcome - not the function. People aren’t buying board shorts, they’re buying a dreamy life of leisure on a paradise beach.
(b) It should evoke emotion. Most drop shipping videos are soulless husks. Your brand’s creatives should conjure up feelings of yearning. The crisp winter air for a snowboarder or the excitement of feeling like a princess for a little girl trying on jewellery.
(c) It should speak to them in their own specific niche-defined language. The only way you’re going to learn this language is by knowing your customer intimately.
Building a brand is a long process that requires patience and attention to detail. The biggest challenge for drop shippers is the shift in mindset from instant exhilarating profits to slow but stable longterm growth.
Hopefully this article catalyses a shift in your mindset. You don’t have to apply everything right away to start taking meaningful steps towards building a brand.
Your future self will thank you if you do.