4 Timeless Lessons You Can Learn from Big Brands

As we heard from the speakers at IRCE, the most successful brands have a couple things in common. Here are four lessons we can take from their playbook that will keep your SMB growing.

Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to attend the Internet Retailers Conference and Expo. Amazing professionals from all over the industry shared their insights on everything from knowing your audience, to what are the hottest color trends for 2014. And now we'd like to share them with you.

Here are the top four lessons we learned from IRCE, as well as some examples of how to put them into practice:


1. How your site looks is important

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth the reminder. Josh Levine, Founder, Chief Experience Officer at Alexander Interactive said it best: “Design is always having an effect on your customers – whether you are in control of it or not.”

That is, even if you're not actively making design choices, your site is visually conveying something to your customers. By taking control of your site design, you can leverage the power of design to influence how your customers feel, think and act.

Levine shared with us his eight principles of design. While all eight are important, here are four of our favorites:


1. Typography: The fonts that you choose to use in your design will convey the tone and personality of your company to your customers.

Anthropologie has learned this lesson well, and uses a mixture of serifs, san-serifs and hand-drawn fonts to create a bohemian, eclectic vibe. The overall effect gives them the well-traveled, unique look their brand personality is known for.



2. Color: By harnessing the power of color, you can set the right mood for you site and direct your customers' attention to certain aspects of your layout.

J. Crew does a great job on this front, using black and white as their main color scheme to create a timeless, classic feel that matches the style of their clothing. The only other color they use is the orange, which highlights a special sale they’re running.



3. Consistency: By creating a consistency of design throughout your site, you're establishing familiarity and reinforcing your brand to your customers.

Gilt reinforces their brand by using their signature color palette, the same fonts and plenty of whitespace to call attention to their products.

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4. Imagery: Great product photography not only helps your customer imagine what the product is like and how it will fit into their life, but tells your company's story and humanizes your store's shopping experience.

Nixon does a great job of using product photography on their homepage. They use it to showcase how fun their brand personality is. Combined with their expert use of color and texture, their site is perfect for drawing the customer in.



2. Create content for people

Now more than ever, search engines are looking at how valuable your content is and whether visitors are actually using it. According to Larry Becker this means that “less SEO success is based solely on a bunch of stuff on your site. More SEO success is based on how people engage with real content on your site.”

Take your product descriptions, for example. Do they embrace the personality of your company and create a useful resource to your customers?

Women’s clothing site, ModCloth embraces their mod retro style in all of their product descriptions. Each one paints a picture for the customer, offers styling advice and gives them the information they need to make their purchase.



3. Get social

Consider how people share content across the internet. There's Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, just to name a few. So just because you shared a promotion on Facebook doesn’t mean it won’t end up on Twitter and Pinterest. Take advantage of where your users are sharing by creating content that is easily shared from one network to another.

If you look at a post from the Stitch Fix blog, you'll see a combination of written content and imagery. They’ve prepared their blog images to be self-contained. You have the detailed information written out in the post and the main points overlaid on the image. That way, when a visitor pins this image to their “My Style” Pinterest board, they don’t lose the main content of the post.



Likewise, Urban Outfitters keeps an Instagram feed on their homepage where photos tagged with their hashtag, #UOnYou, appear. Their audience loves it, and it reinforces the relationship between UO and their customers.



4. Always be improving

Your store’s site design is not like a Ron Popeil rotisserie, you cannot simply “Set it and forget it!” In fact, nothing loses a customers’ interest quicker than out-of-date content and a difficult to use site. So be aware of your customers shopping patterns, create fresh content and make updates as tastes change or holidays arrive.

For example, in preparation for Valentine's Day, Nicole Miller put together a video of their namesake, Nicole Miller, giving dating advice. This timely video gave their customers fun, relevant information and built trust between the company and the customer.



In a similar way, when Jack Threads decided to update their mobile site, they thought of their customers and opted to make simple updates first instead of launching a full redesign. The first change they made was to change the background from black to white, and as a result, their mobile conversions increased. By making incremental changes, they were able to see what their customers responded to and liked the most.



From web design to SEO, there are many ways you can keep your site up-to-date and relevant to your customers. The key is to find what works best for your company and the customers you're serving. Just remember: Listen to your customers, and know that there's always room for improvement.


Happy selling!
-Jamie Aucoin, Volusion