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Branded commerce: the logical next step

Kristin Cronin
Kristin Cronin
Head of Marketing US
7 min read
1 April 2021

If you’re a brand that sells online and can’t get across who you are and what you stand for, you’re nothing but a shopping basket. If you do the opposite and just tell (yourself) how wonderful you are, you’re a hot air balloon. But when you let those two extremes come together, you’re practicing branded commerce. For (fashion) brands that deal directly with their customers, it is ideal to let their brand and commerce go hand in hand. That is more difficult when you sell different brands; then you have the additional question of what you’re doing about e-commerce in order to be a differentiator yourself. Are you focusing fully on service? Do you give the best advice? Do you offer the most exclusive items? Do you carry the biggest portfolio or do you have the fastest delivery?

Up until now we’ve been living in two separate worlds: that of the CMS and that of e-commerce platforms. This separation is not only found in technology, but also in the organisation of personnel. There’s the marketing and communication department on the one hand and the IT and e-commerce departments on the other. The first is, of course, marketing oriented, the second focuses on technology. That separation between the departments existed before – even before the digital age – and technology has followed this dichotomy. From then on the separation grew and it became increasingly complicated for both parties to understand each other.

Brand preference

I recently spoke with a large travel organisation that is constantly working on the optimisation of their website and the booking flow. During that process they discovered: less is more. So no pictures and as few reviews as possible. But the problem with applying that learning is that all travel sites, including their competitors, end up looking the same, all working in the same way and offering the same kind of trips. What defines you then as a travel organisation? Why would someone choose you over another? Of course you can be aware of all the things you do well, but the average customer goes through a funnel, books a vacation and then forgets who you are. You somehow have to ensure that people want to come back to you. Customers should have a brand preference. But how do you create that?

Guarantee to the front door

An example of a chaotic, brand unfriendly site is the bouwmarktshop. Yet I’ve developed a brand preference for them by pure coincidence. Their expertise, fast customer service and logistics are absolutely excellent. It nevertheless takes more effort than necessary to recommend them or revisit the site and that has to do with the miserable experience that the site offers me.

All (fashion) brands face the same problem: they sell stuff, but the brand doesn’t come across. You’re welcomed on a homepage, the portal to a beautiful brand, decorated with stunning animations and convincing calls-to-action. On a typical page there is often a button saying WEBSHOP. Clicking it brings you to a grid with nothing but products. All the emotion of the homepage is gone. You sit in a dry tundra of filters and categories, hanging under a search bar. We see this ‘solution’ in many of the cases. The challenge in branded commerce is to make those two worlds one. To have the WEBSHOP and ABOUT US buttons disappear and have the website be an integrated world in which inspiration and conversion go hand in hand.

About you

A first sign of branded commerce on a large scale is the fashion store About You, daughter of the German Otto, the second largest webshop in Germany. Looking with a critical eye you can see that this is not the ultimate example of branded commerce yet, but when I log in via Facebook ‘About You’ changes to ‘About Max’. The shop takes my preferences into account. There is a battalion of influencers on the site who wear the clothing and tell stories about it. You can click ‘shop-the-look’ and are guided through relevant products. They have linked the hard side of commerce to a story that doesn’t stop when you click a button.


One of the forerunners of branded commerce is NET-A-PORTER, a mash-up of stories, editorials and shop-the-looks, with designers and influencers who set the tone for new outfits. The brand sets and follows trends in the high segment. The site has been working in the same way for a while now and you can be sure they’re working on a next iteration. As a trendsetter they clearly understand where branded commerce has potential.

Branded commerce as the solution

Branded commerce is combining brand value / identity with pure commerce. There are two solution directions:

The hard solution requires a turnaround in technology, a better integration of current e-commerce and CMS systems, or starting over. It sounds nice, bringing these worlds together. And it is, but it’s also costly, because the big platforms on which all these webshops run are either a CMS or an e-commerce platform. There are CMS’s that offer e-commerce modules – and vice versa – but they both have some work to do. We’ll soon see that the CMS of Salesforce will have a better integration with Commerce Cloud and other suppliers will have the same outlook. So start the conversation today with your team, agency and supplier(s) of your platform and put it at the top of your development roadmap.

The soft solution is about your differentiators. An important result of your brand differentiator is brand preference; you want to have people talking about your brand, otherwise you’ll lose attention and need to constantly generate it. That is so expensive that at a certain point you’ll no longer make a margin. So you have to nestle your brand in people’s consciousness. A catchy slogan or amusing virals aren’t enough. As soon as a customer enters the platform where you want to convert as a brand, that feeling must continue. You can immediately start with a personal campaign, offer better service and good conditions. Think of influencers, socials or re-targeting. Make your service smarter, see it as a priority to respond quickly and ensure all product information is up-to-date and complete. Make it possible, for example, to easily return items and make every moment of contact a valuable one. And look for these solutions in the things that make your brand stand out.

In other words: work together

This all takes time, a lot of time. For every big A-brand bringing together these two worlds is at the top of their agenda. It’s their spearhead to unite e-commerce with brand. It’s a requirement, not because companies or agencies want it so badly, but because the customer asks for it. If companies want to accelerate, they have to transform. Separated departments must work together.  And don’t forget to connect your agencies and suppliers in the process.

If there is an important takeaway from branded commerce, it’s this: no longer have separate meetings about brand, marketing, technology, data, customer contacts, conversion, logistics and your various suppliers / agencies. Combine all these elements in a branded commerce team, with regular integral meetups. This costs nothing, delivers immediate, positive results and you can start today.

For the sake of completeness: the examples mentioned in this blog are not relations.

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Head of Marketing US

Kristin Cronin