What is Ecommerce Product Branding and Customization?


We’ve talked at length about how mass production works for most ecommerce products, but one of the most important aspects of running an ecommerce store is branding. Most ecommerce stores won’t really deal with the nitty gritty of product development or factory management until they’re well-established and have found generic products that resonate with a core group of customers. 

However, ecommerce stores should be thinking about branding as soon as they begin to think about selling at all, but thinking about “branding” is far more complex than most beginner stores realize. We’ve commonly seen clients that are thinking about the wrong parts of branding too soon, jumping the gun with brand customizations, or just missing the mark with branding entirely. 

product branding and customization strategy

We have deep, meaningful experience helping clients through the branding process. EcommOps knows how to help businesses solidify their brand voice through simple or complex changes, and we’ve been instrumental in helping businesses have incredible scaling success through just a few changes to their fulfillment strategy. 

In this article, we’re going to talk about what it means for businesses to think about branding for real, what you should consider before you start getting into actual customizations, and practical advice for how to effectively cement your brand with approachable product customizations. 

How to Seriously Think About Real Product Branding

While most businesses have an answer to what their “brand” is, we have noticed that ecommerce businesses often think about branding in an incomplete way. It’s not just your logo, domain name, or even slick packaging, it’s how your company and values are perceived by others. More simply, your brand is a culmination of everything your business does

A good way to start thinking about your brand seriously is to apply the concept of the golden circle, popularized by Simon Sineky, to developing an ecommerce brand. In the golden circle, there are three circles: why, how, and what:

  • Why: The innermost circle is why, or why does your brand deserve to exist? What does your brand do, and what values does it stand for?
  • How: Once the why is defined, you move on to the larger circle of how, or how do you plan to achieve your stated values? This will define how your business operates. 
  • What: Finally, once you establish why your brand exists and how your brand operates, then you can define the what, or what your customer experiences, including what you specifically sell. 
simon sineky golden circle branding

The why should always come first, and the how and the what should naturally flow from the why. With ecommerce brands, it’s common to start with the what and then work backwards to the how and the why, which can cause problems with communicating your brand values in a perceivable, authentic way. 

There’s a lot that goes into thinking about branding in a serious way. The CEO of EcommOps, Dayu Yang, goes far more in-depth about what it means to establish a serious brand in a related video.  

What You Should Do Before Product Customizations

Product branding and customizations often go hand-in-hand, but you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money on either one at the beginning. There’s a few things you need to get in place before you invest a lot of resources into customizations of your product, packaging, and other customer facing assets: 

Truly Validate your Product

Public validation for product types

You need to have a product that is truly validated as a winner before you commit to investing in branding and customizations. It needs to already be selling with great long-term potential (typically scaled up to 6-7 figures), or else you could end up wasting money on a product that won’t take off. Scaling a product before you make a brand investment helps you see:

  • If your marketing will work
  • What your market values
  • What you may want to improve on your product (if moving towards product customizations)

Making customizations for customization sake is a huge mistake, so you should truly validate your product before moving forward. 

There Are Always Exceptions to Product Customization Plans

While validating your product is important, there are exceptions to this rule. You may want to invest in branding and customization early if you are extremely confident about your customers’ needs and values, and how product customizations can be tailored to precisely tackle those needs. 

For example, maybe you’ve scaled a very similar product before and you have a thorough understanding of your target market. Maybe you’ve done considerable upfront consumer research (which is itself time consuming and expensive), and you have the information you need to appropriately tailor your product. 

Our CEO, Dayu Yang, has developed a product without validating it beforehand, but the development process was extremely thorough (and the device itself received a lot of marketing and attention before it fully launched). We’ve fleshed out the product development process in the linked blog article.

Take Time to Understand Your Target Customer Base

Target audience

After you’ve validated a product, you need to take time to understand your target customer base. Discover what their values are and why they want to purchase your product. Understanding their values and motivations helps you to define and refine your brand messaging, including your logo, ad language, and how you want to design your packaging. 

This is where you will really dig into customer feedback about your product, too. Specifically, you want to focus on what customers don’t like about your product. You do not want to alter or change something that customers aren’t complaining about (why fix something that isn’t broken?) Instead, focus on the specific problems that your customers want to see in an ideal product.

There’s a lot of ways you can collect feedback from customers, including:

  • Social media feedback
  • Reviews on specific storefronts (like Amazon)
  • Email requests for reviews
  • Calling them for feedback

You need as much feedback as possible if you’re serious about building your brand. That’s the only way you can know if you are meeting specific market needs. 

Don’t Make Product Customizations Without Justification 

Product customizations take time and money, so don’t make them without solid reasons to do so. Ideally, you’re only investing in major customizations if:

  • They are obvious improvements (based on customer feedback) that would help your product stand out from generic versions. 
  • Competing products have poor perceived value because of their packaging (for example, generic, very cheap boxes or obvious Chinese branding).

A good rule of thumb to follow is if you can’t confidently raise your perceived value (and therefore your price), then really take time to consider if the customization is worth the effort. 

Simple Changes Don’t Necessarily Make a Bad Product Good

There are a lot of simple customizations or branding options that might be so inexpensive that it’s worth doing them regardless of how much of an impact they make, but it’s easy to overestimate their value. Doing something as simple as putting your logo on something won’t change much if your product is mediocre or bad. 

Simple changes shouldn’t be ignored, but you should still make any customization with purpose and part of a plan, regardless of whether it’s a major change or a simple branding choice. 

Plastic raw material for product creation

Product Customizations Can Be a Sizeable Investment, So Plan Accordingly

Since customizations can be sizable investments, you need to have a firm foundation for the production and delivery of your product. This includes:

Remember, a lot of customizations will incur some kind of increased cost, higher MOQs, and longer lead times. You need to communicate these changes with any supply chain partners (like your 3PL) so all parties can be on-board for shifting dynamics. 

A Practical Guide to Product Branding and Customization

Once you start to think about branding in a real way, and you’ve set the foundation needed before you begin serious branding and customizations, it’s time to start looking at how you implement changes in a practical way. We have a few tips on practical steps you can take, as well as some examples of what simple, effective changes can look like:

Think About Customizations in a Holistic Way

Your goal isn’t to just think about “brand,” but rather how to improve the overall product experience. Yes, you want to think about basic branding items like a logo and general graphic design, but you also need to think about product quality, package quality, how you communicate information to customers (like user manuals), and more. 

Branding and customization

Custom branding (like putting your logo on your product or making unique packaging) will only go so far if your underlying product is still essentially the same as the competition. 

Customization Do’s and Don’ts

Any product customization you make should be based on real customer feedback, which will help guide you towards making changes that are cost-effective. Even expensive changes are worth it if it means fixing a product problem that makes customers happier with your product and justifies you selling the product for a higher price. 

When you’re in a place to really think about what kinds of product changes you want to make, remember:

  • Don’t change everything at once: Make incremental changes, which will help you avoid needless expense, and it will make it clear what product changes are or are not working. 
  • Don’t make every improvement perfect: It may be too costly or time consuming to make an improvement “perfect.” You will often have to settle for “good enough,” but even imperfect improvements are a move in the right direction.
  • Don’t order huge quantities before testing improvements: It’s a huge mistake to order a high volume of new product that hasn’t been tested. If there are quality problems with the customizations, the changes prove unpopular, or the changes just don’t work, then you’re stuck with inventory you can’t move. 

Instead, you should do the following when approaching customizations:

  • Choose what to improve based on customer feedback: This is the best way to prioritize changes, and these changes have the highest chance of making a big impact on sales. 
  • Work with your factories and/or 3PLs to find a reasonable option: You may not be able to make a perfect improvement, but your factories and 3PL can help you find a customization that addresses customer issues while still being financially feasible. 
  • Test smaller batches before placing large orders: Make small batches of your improved product and make sure that the change has resolved the issue. You’ll also examine these small batches for quality issues, since a change in manufacturing could potentially open the door to a new defect you aren’t aware of. 

In short, you should strive to give customers what they actually want while making sure to keep your production costs in check. When EcommOps consults with clients about product customizations, we follow an iterative approach like the one below:

Examples of custom branding:

Examples of Custom Branding

EcommOps helps clients with custom branding all the time (it’s one of our specialties). Take at some of the common ways we help our clients make simple changes for great branding impacts:

Our Practical Guide to Product Branding and Customization: Case Studies

EcommOps provides this practical guide to product branding and customization because we know that it works. We’ve implemented it multiple times to resounding success, and we’re going to talk about one of those successes below. 

Dayu also talks about this particular case study in more detail on his Youtube channel talking about product branding

Where Our Client Was Before EcommOps

Before this client approached us, they had experienced some success with this specific product. It was an electronic product targeted to women, with their selling details looking like this:

  • Selling Price: 29.99
  • COGS to the US: 13.99
  • Average sales: $1,000
  • Defect rate: 8%
  • Margins: 10%

EcommOps noticed two immediate problems for this information alone. For the kind of product they were selling, the price was pretty high, and his defect rate was extremely high. With that in mind, we dug into their product and branding. 

Customer satisfaction product reviews

Product Problems

Aside from high pricing and a high defect rate, our client had multiple problems:

  • The user manual was Chinese (terrible for western markets)
  • The box was noticeably Chinese
  • Their shipping items were very slow
  • The product had a noticeably poor battery life
  • Our client had multiple problems with their product

Once we identified these specific problems, EcommOps went to work addressing each problem individually. 

User Manual and Packaging Changes to Enhance Brand

First, we took a look at potential user manual and packaging chances we could make in order to enhance the client’s brand. They weren’t 100% sure that this product could be successfully scaled, so they didn’t want to heavily invest in product customizations (a wise choice for an unproven product). 

That means they wanted the simplest, easiest, and most cost-effective solutions. The cheapest way to resolve the issue with the manual was to remove the manual entirely. Instead, our client wrote their own manual, published it on the product’s website, and emailed customers the link when they made a purchase. 

Next, we needed to address the product’s packaging. EcommOps was able to find a simple, plain box without any kind of writing on it at all. Since the boxes were a very inexpensive change, we didn’t have to charge our client for this at all

Simple changes like this aren’t always free, but generic boxes are often a very inexpensive change (think tens of cents, not dollars). 

Shipping Improvements  

Fast shipping

Next, we tackled their shipping. Our client was already working with a major platform for shipping, which claimed a 5-8 day express shipping speed, but our client just didn’t see those times. Since it took the platform so long to process orders, shipping times were more in the 7-15 day range (and often much longer). 

At first, our client was more interested in reducing costs than reducing speeds (again, they weren’t sure if this product would take off). We opted to move him to ePacket (which was working great at the time), which was a little slower than what he was using but was much cheaper. Their original shipping costs were $13.99, while they were $11.50 with ePacket.

After our client spent more time scaling the marketing of their product, they had more confidence that the customer base was there to scale, so they wanted to invest in an express shipping line. We moved him off of ePacket onto the YunExpress Express line, which offered him:

  • True 5-8 days shipping times (to almost anywhere in the world)
  • A shipping price increased to $12.99, which was more expensive than ePacket but cheaper than his original shipping solution (which was $13.99).

With an acceptable shipping solution in place, we were able to take a look at product improvements. 

Product Improvement

As our client’s orders grew, we started to take a look at customer feedback to see what improvements we should make. The overwhelming feedback from customers was that this was a fantastic product, except for the battery life. That meant we didn’t need to make foundational changes to the product. Instead, we needed to improve the battery.

Fortunately, the factory our client was using was one with which we have a long-term relationship. They helped us find a high-quality battery replacement and gave us a fair price on it, and the overall cost to implement this change was so low that we didn’t have to pass the cost along to the client

To be clear, product changes will often have some kind of increased cost (either cost to implement changes or MOQ changes). However, this was an ideal situation where a simple change and a good factory relationship made for an easy product improvement. 

Full Product Brand Customization 

Finally, after our initial simple changes to packaging, shipping improvements, and product improvements, we guided the client to a full branding customization of their product. That process included:

  • Getting the brand logo on the product
  • Creating fully customized packaging, making his product unique among generic competitors
  • The client wrote their own manual, in English, and we implemented the change to where each product would come with a printed manual inside of the box (instead of only having the manual online)
  • After we saw promise in making easy branding changes to the manual and box, after we improved shipping speed, and after we were able to make a simple product adjustment, we moved to full customization

These were significant changes, but the pricing increase was pretty modest. It resulted in a $.35 per unit increase, with a 2,000 MOQ, and a 15 day lead time. 

Good product reviews

Final Results

What were the end results of this step-by-step process? After our help, our client had the following numbers: 

  • They were able to justify a price increase to $44.99 (up $15 from the original sales price)
  • COGS to the US went down $.65 to $13.34
  • Average daily sales jumped from $1,000 to $3,200 : 3.2K (a $2,200 daily increase)
  • The defect rate dropped from 8% to 3% (a 5% overall reduction)
  • Net margins doubled from 10% to 20%

EcommOps: China Fulfillment Experts

EcommOps loves partnering with ecommerce brands to show them success they didn’t even know was possible. We leverage the power of China fulfillment to empower businesses to establish the groundwork to create incredible brands, like:

  • Helping them get better, higher-quality, branded packaging
  • Consulting on what product improvements or customizations to improve
  • Improving delivery times by finding superior fulfillment options and expediting order processing. 

If you’re ready to think seriously about branding and scaling with your product line, EcommOps would love to chat. Fill out our online form, and our team will be in touch to see how we can partner together to create a brand-growth plan that’s perfect for your business.

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