How to Balance Consumer Trends with Ecommerce Brand Values

How did Nike get to be a leading brand? What about Apple? Or McDonald’s? They aren’t the only companies slinging sneakers, MP3 players, or burgers on this planet—so how did they become dominating forces in their fields? Sometimes, getting ahead depends on adopting the latest consumer trends, but often, becoming a household name all boils down to branding. 

Branding is what defines a company and sets it apart from competitors. As consumer expectations continue to change with new technology and social media, a catchy name and a logo are no longer enough to sustain any business, online or brick-and-mortar. Even the most seasoned ecommerce companies are trying to figure out how to stay relevant with consumers as many of the usual gimmicks—lowest prices, free shipping, perpetual discounts—are simply table stakes today. 

An increasingly complex puzzle brands struggle to solve today is how to appeal to modern shoppers with perks beyond the status quo without abandoning their roots, mission, or values? 

One tactic that companies may deploy to wow consumers is churning out flashy gadgets and gizmos that mirror the latest trends in ecommerce. This knee-jerk process often starts out with investing heavily in research, development, and inventory with the hope of making a splash or staying competitive. However, is selling out just to keep up with the proverbial Joneses really what your conscious audience wants? 

What may be a short-term gain could result in long-term consequences. Then what? Is running an online brand just an endless parade of producing the same trendy stuff as everyone else? Or is there a way for online brands to balance consumer trends and their core values? We believe there is.

The Importance of Sticking to Brand Values in Ecommerce

Brand values are guiding principles that shape every aspect of a business. These values dictate everything in ecommerce—brand messaging, product development, advertising, etc. Having well-defined values helps to create a sense of purpose for a company that will connect with consumers beyond the surface. Common examples of brand values include things like innovation, respect, eco-consciousness, and transparency. 

Studies show that shoppers gravitate to companies that have similar values to their own. One study in 2020 found that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align to their values. Similar studies also suggest that shoppers are also becoming more politically and socially conscious and are purchasing products from businesses that share those beliefs. One trend surfacing in ecommerce right now is the purpose-driven brand. These are brands that incorporate beliefs and values into the very core of their ecommerce business.

Brands like Cotopaxi and Nomatic prioritize brand values in order to create customer connections instead of simply following the latest product fad.

The rise of the socially conscious consumer means that sticking to your values is crucial to developing long-standing relationships with consumers. At the same time, ecommerce faces a tenuous balancing act between values and caving to consumer demands. 

Many shoppers want the hottest trends in beauty, fashion, technology, and more. If you decide to pursue those cries for the latest fad and deviate away from the very heart of your brand, you will break the trust of your customers. For instance, churning out fast fashion at the cost of sustainability could sour the relationship with eco-conscious customers who chose your brand for those reasons. One such example is long-time conservation-focused brand REI releasing an ad campaign touting gas-guzzling SUVs. It’s a dissonance that ultimately harms the customer relationship.  

“When REI does a partnership like this, it reads as an endorsement for these vehicles, and it equates being out in nature with having a big muscle-car SUV that’s burning gas.”

— Jamie Henn, founder @ Fossil Free Media

Build Customer Relationships Through Brand Values and Trends

Aside from products, consumer trends can also impact a company’s strategy or tools. New buzzing trends in ecommerce include things like automation, augmented reality (think the metaverse), and influencer marketing. One use case to consider is the growing trend of grocery ecommerce. Online grocery shopping and delivery surged during the pandemic and created many first-time adopters. Businesses responded and invested heavily in this trend, especially companies with deep pockets at the ready such as Walmart and Amazon. 

However, most grocery retailers struggled to turn this trend into sustainable profit. In 2021, U.S. consumers purchased $6.8 billion worth of groceries online—a 23% decline from the same period in 2020. Despite the decreasing sales, this trend is expected to remain strong in the coming years. But for smaller stores without the right infrastructure or budget, hastily hopping on the bandwagon in 2020 could have hurt their bottom line in 2021 and impacted other parts of the business.

As tempting as it is to launch the hottest new products via the equally hottest channels on the market, any ecommerce business needs to exercise care to ensure brand values remain intact. The key is to find the right balance that appeases customers while staying true to your brand. There are a few different ways to achieve this skillful harmony:

1) Do the research—even if it feels like it’s slowing you down.
Conducting the proper—and often time-consuming—market research on new consumer trends you want to capitalize on could spare you a lot of heartache (and bankruptcy) in the end. The right research should produce the data you need to make an informed decision and develop a plan for creating longevity. Trends come and go all the time. While some trends last, others have since been forgotten. You want to make sure there is an ROI in any new ecommerce trend.

2) Stick to your target audience. 
If a product or service that is all the rage now doesn’t align with the core of your ecommerce business—your customer—then you are likely to set yourself up for failure by jumping on a trend that might alienate those who keep your lights turned on (so to say). Check in with yourself or your team, revisit the reason you started the company in the first place, and really assess the trend before taking the leap.

3) If every brand is doing it, how will you stand out?
Once every brand hops on a trend and the market is saturated with the latest products or colors or promos, then what? Adopting a trend, even early on, will eventually put your brand at parity with everyone else, thuse defeating the reason you adopted it in the first place.

One tip is to get back to your branding. Use your unique voice and tone to help your business stand out from the competition. With standout messaging, make the connection between your brand values and the choice to get trendy loud and clear. There will be a lot of noise surrounding new trends in ecommerce. Stick to the voice your customers trust when promoting whatever new product you want to launch. 

4) Set boundaries.
It’s easy to get swept away in the hype, but at some point you need to set boundaries to maintain a sense of integrity with the values of your business and brand. Whether you’re contemplating things like drone deliveries, live streaming, or a hard right turn regarding your products, remember that there’s always a new trend sweeping through ecommerce. The challenge is embracing the consumer trends that align with your brand values and purpose. Even if someone tweets at you demanding a trend that simply doesn’t fit quite right, you can always say no and count on your most loyal fans to have your back.

Follow Your Heart and Find the Balance

Some consumer trends will certainly provide golden opportunities to enhance experiences, attract new customers, or add efficiencies to your company that didn’t exist before. On the other hand, some trends could simply break the bond between your brand and your most loyal customers. 

If you empty your pockets to adopt everything early on, you’ll burn out. The key is to find a balance between staying relevant with what’s “in” while maintaining your brand’s authenticity. No matter how much a customer pesters you or how tempting a shiny new tool looks, always pump the breaks and find the balance. After assessing your core mission and genuine long-term impact, you’ll know if a trend will elevate your brand to household-name status or if it will hurt your relationships in the long run.

See how DTC brands find their balance at Route Connect 2021

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