"Jane was such a pleasure to work with in building my brand strategy and Shopify site! She really took the time to get to know me, my business, and intentions beyond surface level. Through a combination of workshopping, sessions and homework, Jane took all my ideas and narrowed them down into a cohesive and focused message."
- Brittany, owner of Holyome Design Co.
A high-level overview of problems identified and solutions we crafted.
Brittany is a graphic designer from Niagara, Ontario, home of Niagara Falls. Brittany loves to draw fun and vibrant illustrations and has been designing greeting cards for her family and friends as a hobby. Her co-worker loved her designs and suggested that she start selling them online. As 2020 hit, the company she worked at closed. With extra time on her hands, she took up her co-worker’s suggestion and she set up her shop Holyome Design Co. on Etsy selling greeting cards, stickers, and art prints.
Brittany has been thinking about setting up a Shopify site and reached out to me for guidance. She had for two goals for her Shopify site:
Over the course of working with Brittany, we discovered two additional challenge areas she wasn’t aware of:
A behind-the-scenes look at how we work and all the insights we uncovered while working with the client. The process listed below is only a small glimpse into the insights we've discovered.
The first question I help my clients consider is: “who is your ideal customer”? This is an extremely complex question to answer. You’d be surprised to hear how many entrepreneurs struggle to articulate who their customers are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of because it’s a daunting problem to tackle. We need to put in the effort to understand customers because without them, there is no business.
When I asked Brittany who her customers were, here was her response:
“This is currently my biggest struggle — I’ve determined the below but I’m not sure that this is specific enough?
My primary customer is someone aged 25–45 who enjoys celebrating life’s milestones and values connection, thoughtfulness and encouraging/supporting those around them. They’re shoppers who are drawn to modern, colourful, and aesthetically pleasing stationery/paper goods. And finally they care about the environment and purchasing sustainable goods.”
Brittany listed demographic and psychographic traits. Here's a summary:
Her list is still very vague. To help us narrow down her ideal customer, we explored various customer segments who might have these traits:
We eventually narrowed down her ideal customer as small business owners from Niagara. I thought this was the most promising segment for her to target because of where she was from. Niagara is a tourist-based economy, and it is powered by small businesses in the area. Instead of trying to target a wide market, I encouraged her to target a smaller, but more promising market. This new customer segment is a lot easier to work with that her initial idea of who her customers were. A good test is how easy would it be for me to find a community of her customers. I would have a much easier time finding a community of small business owners from Niagara, than say “someone aged 25–45 who enjoys celebrating life’s milestones”.
As I worked with Brittany, I could sense she was uncomfortable with the idea of narrowing down.
“I do feel excited about this new direction, but I think this is just more of a mindset thing where it’s a hurdle I need to get over. I’m worrying that if I do go in this direction, I might be missing out on other things.”
The fear of narrowing down is common and expected. It’s scary because we fear that we are missing out on other opportunities. Which is true. By picking one area to focus on, we have to by default ignore other areas. But the reality is that when we chase two rabbits, we catch neither. So, when you are a young business starting out, focus on one area, and do it well. You can always expand on that idea into different areas later.
Customers are constantly bombarded by ads that compete for their attention on what they should buy. It’s a saturated world in the eyes of the customer. So, if they have all this choice, why would they buy from you?
A good place to start is to look at data. I asked Brittany to talk to some of her past customers and gather some information on who they are and why they purchased from her. Talking directly to customers instead of sending out surveys is a great way to get data with a lot of depth. She reached out to two customers on Instagram.
Here are the top insights we learned from her two customers:
In addition to Brittany’s findings, I analyzed 15 recent Etsy reviews to learn what customers said about her brand.
At a high-level, the data explains why customers shop at Etsy, but not why they shopped from Brittany specifically. Aspects such as customer experience and shopping local all apply to shopping at local small businesses. The questions is: how is she different from similar sellers? I gave Brittany homework to analyze her competitors. Here’s one of the competitors we looked at:
So, what makes Brittany different from Emily? The most obvious is design style. They both have a distinctive style and cater to different types of customers. Another differentiation is location. Brittany has better access to her local region than Emily, and by default can deliver faster and at lower rates. Both design and location are aspects out of one's control. What you can control is how you communicate your value offer, which is also known as a value proposition. This is where we go beyond the product and look at what the ultimate goal of the purchase is. Emily's value proposition is creating playful moments. What about Brittany?
When I asked Brittany what she thought her value proposition was, this was her response:
Offering a variety of stationery items that are not only high quality but eco-friendly as well. All greeting cards are made with 100% post consumer waste & packaging is compostable/recyclable to help offset any negative environmental aspects of sending and receiving handwritten cards. I also offer customized greeting cards & design, making sure that the customer is getting a product that’s perfect for them.
Brittany highlighted eco-friendly as part of her value offering. But, if we look at the data from our customer research, none of her customers highlighted eco-friendly as a reason for their purchase. In fact, if we think about customers who are eco-conscious, they wouldn’t buy greeting cards in the first place as they tend to consume less than an average person. So, we need to re-examine the value Brittany provides to her customers. (As a side note, being eco-friendly can be a strong value proposition depending on the industry, such as cosmetics and apparel).
To help Brittany develop her value proposition, we built a Customer Profile (which is part of the Value Proposition Canvas by Strategyzer). It helps us get into the customer’s shoes and understand their motivations for buying. The Customer Profile has three areas.
To start, I asked Brittany what motivates a customer to purchase her greeting cards? I keep asking her "why" a couple of times to get her to think deeper until we get to somewhere interesting.
Why do customers purchase your greeting cards? Because they want to share sentiment in a tangible way. Why is this important? They want to show they acknowledge others and show they care. Why is that important? Because they want to build relationships in a meaningful way. A-ha!
This is an interesting insight. Customers buy cards not because it’s just a card they can gift, but because it’s a way to build meaningful relationships. Beyond selling a product, Brittany’s products offer a way to help people build meaningful relationships. And just like that, we formulated Brittany’s value proposition.
So why should customers buy from Brittany’s shop? Because she can help small business owners build meaningful relationships. She can build on this idea in many innovative ways. What if she could build products that helped business owners form deeper client relationships? How about products for team development? Maybe an activity bundle with some prompt cards that fostered a positive work culture? The sky is the limit.
A brand is an identity, it should be consistent over time. Brands communicate messages to teach customers how to perceive the brand. Brittany didn’t have a very clear idea of her brand’s mission and vision. A clear brand helps steer the business and determines how a brand behaves. At the foundation of all brands are values. Values determine the purpose, which determines mission, which then creates the vision.
Before I worked with Brittany, I asked her to write out her vision, mission, purpose, and values. Below, we’ll look at how we transformed each of these. When I first met Brittany, I noticed how calm and soft-spoken she was. Looking at the values she wrote, I helped her distil it into two core values: caring for people and for the environment.
The purpose statement she wrote was focused on bettering the world with thoughtful stationery. It had elements of the new core values we developed, but it didn’t reflect the new value proposition of helping her customers build meaningful relationships. The new purpose reflects this better.
The mission statement lays out the “how” and is concrete in the steps to carry out a brand’s purpose. In the final mission statement, we agreed to exclude sustainability. I had several conversations with Brittany on this, I didn’t think it made sense for her to put her sustainability efforts as the protagonist in her brand, especially in her product category. Her Etsy store focuses on eco-friendly as her main offering, which I think isn’t why customers buy from her in the first place. To her customers, eco-friendly is a nice-to-have, not a deal breaker. Because her competitors could easily provide products that are also eco-friendly. In fact, the trend of being sustainable is becoming so normalized that it’s expected. I prefer A&W over McDonald’s because A&W has better burgers and their all-natural in-house root beer. A&W’s efforts in Canada to use packaging that’s compostable reinforces my love for them. However, once McDonald’s offers compostable packaging, I will still buy from A&W because they differentiate with higher quality food.
Finally, the vision expresses the future Brittany’s products could create. It encapsulates her values, purpose, and mission in a concise way.
We now have the heart of Brittany’s brand. What do we do with it? It becomes an important tool to help us create messages for her brand. Together, we created three key messages:
These key messages would help us shape her Shopify website.
With the brand strategy in place, it was time to build her independent shop, her new home. We start by creating customer personas. Here is one of the three that we created based on real customers.
The Shopify site was built with Jennifer in mind. We reinforced that Brittany is a small business throughout the entire site and made it very clear that she is local.
The site is filled with details about products and the brand that answer questions Jennifer might have.
We helped Brittany put together all the copywriting so it was consistent with her brand heart, even newsletter signup copy reflects the brand.
A challenge I had building Brittany’s new online store is that her current product range does not specifically cater to small businesses. The compromise is to create focus on a generic message that ties to the brand, but still create space that targets small business owners.
In addition, I advised Brittany to write a blog post that helps her products create meaningful relationships.
Overall, I was very happy with the end result of Brittany's new Shopify store. When I asked her what she found most valuable about working with me, she cited how I tapped into thoughts she had and made sense of it:
You were able to take what was in my brain and mold it into something that was good and made sense.
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