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E128: Monica Sharma-Patnekar

Why Customer Connection And Brand Building Is Essential To Growing Your eCommerce Business

monica guest on eCom@one ecommerce podcast

Podcast Overview

Do you know anything about your customers? You know their gender and their size? Ouch, is that all? You need to find out their psychology. The why behind their shopping habits. 

Did you know that 74% of companies across the globe send out emails and other forms of customer connections on a weekly basis. Yet, a small percentage of businesses use the power of segmentation and storytelling to build that long standing relationship. 

Customer connection and building your brand is key to retaining customers. In this episode, Monica constructs the perfect action plan to get this all in line to skyrocket growth in your company. 

eCom@One Presents:

Monica Sharma-Patnekar

Monica Sharma- Patnekar is a Brand and Strategist Consultant at Business with Monica. She has worked in the eCommerce industry for over 17 years, helping and consulting anything from lean startups to major companies to boost growth and retention. 

In this episode, Monica shares her expert opinion on topics such as customer connection, personalised packaging,  building a brand through emotional marketing and how you can truly retain customers. 

Tune into this episode to master your customer connection and conquer the brand empire through Monica’s top tips and sneaky tricks. Oh and find out what you could be doing wrong that is fatal to your brand.

Topics Covered:

1:25 – How Monica got into the eCommerce world

3:50 – What emotional marketing is

6:10 – Why knowing your customers is so important 

12:15 – How to truly convert your customers

19:01 – Advice for ambitious Marketing Directors

23:20 – Things that can kill your brand

27:57 – How important building a brand will be over the next few years

29:35 – Book recommendation 

The 4 Types of Questions to Ask Your Customer Download

Richard:
Hi, and welcome to another episode of eComOne. Today's guest, Monica Sharma-Patnekar, Fractional CMO, brand and growth strategist at businesswithmonica.com. How you doing, Monica?

Monica:
I'm well. Thank you for having me.

Richard:
No problem at all. Looking forward to this one. I think it'll be great to kick off and if you tell our listeners how you got into the world of e-commerce.

Monica:
Oh, that's like a journey over 17 years. So, I'm going to try and keep it short, but I mean, I've studied business management, majored in marketing, went into the corporate world across brand management, global marketing, and strategy consulting. So, done it all, but worked a lot with product-based businesses. Even there, fast moving consumer goods, fragrances, beverages but after I quit the corporate world, I started my own online store for a little while. It was actually like this old teenage dream that I wanted to chase. I didn't realize quickly that it was an old dream I was chasing, and my passion is really, really building brands and helping others do that. And that's when I decided to combine all my experiences and helping product-based e-com businesses really building strong brands and long-term sustainable businesses.

Richard:
Oh, brilliant. So, you're coming from sort of both sides really. You've worked with big brands. You've seen a lot of things and a lot of things come and go, I guess, in terms of marketing and the different strategies that come along around acquisition and retention. But I think something we're obviously going to be focusing on is very much around brand. And I think that's something that quite often gets missed.

Everyone's so obsessed, aren't they, with acquisition and spending more to get that ROAS. But they seem to, there just seems to be very little talk and very little investment in the actual brand side of things. That's what you help brands with then, specifically?

Monica:
Oh, absolutely, yes. And it's all the new terms, trends, performance marketing, and things like that. Everybody's obsessed with that, but I think we forget that there's some foundational pieces that no matter how much the market changes, technology changes. Some things definitely don't change, and building your brand is one of them.

Richard:
I think that's an interesting, before we came on camera, we were talking about... I just mentioned about my two children and my son's about to go off to university and do business and marketing degree, I think. He's not signed off yet completely, but when you look at the curriculum of what they teach at university, brand is still in there from what I've seen. I obviously don't know specifics, but I think that's great. That's something that's been in there for many, many years, even when I was at university. Obviously, things have changed a lot over the years that's for sure, but I think I am... So, you talk about emotional marketing, what do you mean by that, and what should our customers take from that?

Monica:
Well, what I mean is that you're fostering a really deep connection with your audience and with your customers. And I think one is, I would love saying is you're not always solving a problem, you're fulfilling a desire 'cause your problems are not always the technological solution to things. There's something deeper, it's not a need or a want. It's like a core desire that you have, and you sell so much more than a product. People buy because of how they feel.

So, if you can tap into those things and consistently bring that out in your messaging across all touchpoints, that's where you start fostering that deep connection with your customer. And that's for me what is emotional marketing.

Richard:
That connection, yeah, but I think... That sounds great, doesn't it? That sounds great, but I think the brands that are sitting here listening. So, what exactly can we do? So, we want to foster that deep, deep relationship, but in the day-to-day of our businesses, what sort of things can they be doing to do that?

Monica:
Oh, there's so much. But for me, one of the most foundational pieces and most overlooked is really knowing your customer. And I see that a lot of people constantly think they know them. No matter how big you've become, but they don't really always know who their customer is, why they're really buying, and what's really driving them across different steps of the customer journey. So, it really, really starts with that.

And then, in your marketing, once you develop that brand is consistently bringing that out across all touchpoints, different steps in the journey, and shifting that focus from pure of that, like we said in the beginning, acquisition to also retention, marketing. What do you really do once you've got your customer in or is it like, "No, next"?

Richard:
Yeah. I think that's probably a good point to labor on. So, I think it's fair to say that a lot of brands, they assume a lot about their customer. All our customers, they're male and they live here and they do this and they're this and this, but hang on a minute, that's not the reality in most cases. So, in terms of finding that information and layering in even a system or a framework in your business as a listener to this episode, what are some steps and some things that they should be looking at?

Monica:
Yeah. So, first I want to emphasize real over ideal, 'cause ideal, even in the dictionary means something from your imagination and most people start with that. That's start drawing out a customer profile based on what they're thinking, what their team is thinking versus who is the one who's really clicking on your buy button and the ones that are coming back. And the framework I use, well, first and foremost, nothing beats old, traditional customer research. I love calling it meaningful customer conversations. Yes, you've got surveys and you've got great tools, you've got your data, but that doesn't show you the motivations behind it.

So, really get your customers on to phone, a video call, or a focus group, speak to them one-on-one. And I love using the four D framework that I've created, which is desires over demographics, really getting to know your customers in different steps. So, yes, you want to know the first D, which is demographics, it gives you some of the basic information about them and great for targeting and other things.

But then move into desires. Who are they? What's going on in their life? What's really making them happy? What are their current struggles? What's stopping them from having more of those kind of moments? Then we get into do what are they really doing within your category? How are they behaving? Where are they finding your products or competitors? Triggers and barriers along the journey, what's stopping them from buying? What are the ones who are buying? What's really getting them to come back to you? And delight, what really makes them happy?

When they do receive your products, when they're shopping, having that whole shopping experience with you, or what are they saying about you or the competitors? And one question I always use across everything though is also every step of those, how do they feel? We often don't ask that, but it's such a powerful question as well.

Richard:
So, just having those conversations, isn't it? I think, like you say, so many brands and stores... Actually, you guys listening right now, you are so damn obsessed with that next order, that next order, that next order by just picking a phone or, obviously, there's different ways to do it, whether that's with tech, whether that's with an old school phone sort of thing. It's a process. It's something we've done in our business and for many, many years. We speak to our customers on a six-month cycle, we're trying and pretty much nearly every customer, not quite. That's not quite possible, but obviously, as an agency. We obviously don't have hundreds of thousands of customers like an e-com store would.

So, it's a slightly different challenge maybe for an e-com store, but ultimately there's still a volume of people that are buying certain things. And the information, we had a meeting probably two weeks ago from that meeting. We discussed some of the data from six months ago. Some of the changes we then put into our business from that feedback that then we had one particular customer that wasn't very happy, and we were like, "What? This is unbelievable." But yeah, not ideal, so it's like, "What did we do?" We did everything we could to turn that customer into an absolute raven fan of ours. And we did and, ultimately, the reason that really the customer wasn't very happy is ultimately, that's a bit of an extreme really, but it was because he had only been at that company for a month, and he didn't really understand what our remit was. So, he thought we were doing X, Y, Z for that company, but actually we weren't.

Now, if we carried on with that relationship in that certain frame, he'd have thought, "Well, they're not doing this, they're not doing that." Well, hang on. We're not actually engaged to do those things. So, it's just a simple thing that for our business, if we've got somebody new coming in at our client's end, we also almost need to start again, run through the history of the project, what we're here to do. And that feedback then has led on ultimately, commercially that client has doubled these fees with us.

Monica:
I've seen some of the problems that customers' fees are so solvable, if you just speak to them and some of them, they just become raving fans because they go like, "You actually cared to speak with me. You really cared to ask me my opinion." And you'll also see, again, for anyone who needs convincing, if you look back at the pandemic, recessions, the companies that really knew their customers and stayed in touch with them are the ones that come out the strongest.

Richard:
Totally. So, it stands you in such good stead that long term. So, obviously, speaking to your customers is absolutely. Don't be afraid to pick up the flipping phone and I think is a big one there, but what are some of the other sort of things that you think e-commerce stores are doing wrong that aren't helping them build those relationships that they need to be focused on?

Monica:
So, once you know your customers, it's also about building that strong brand. But what we need to do is start showing value to your customers in different ways. And I think we focus on value in terms of this is my product and we talk about benefits. People say, "Okay, this is what my product does." So, it's what we call more functional benefits but what we forget is, again, what I said in the beginning about the feelings and emotions, but how does the product really make your customer feel, and how does it really transform their life and therefore what kind of bigger impact does it have?

So, if you can show that multiple value in different ways to them on this whole ladder, that's when you build more loyal customers combined with what makes you different. And then, like I said, back into your communication, into the messaging, the copy, the content you put out, these are just really standard. They can easily translate to different content pillars and bring that back into all the messaging you also do once you bring on a customer, you'll understand what they're really looking for and you can continue that communication with them.

Richard:
Yeah, no I love it. I love it. It's quite a simple really, isn't it?

Monica:
It is.

Richard:
It is. It's usually the good stuff to be honest. It's going back to some traditional things I think, but... So, okay, we're making these phone calls, we're listening to our customers and obviously the idea is that they become raving fans, that's a good sign of a very successful business. But what would you say, we want to turn more customers into raving fans. If you were to pick maybe a couple of very specific things that are going to mean that rather than just having a customer buying the odd thing here and there. They're literally raving fans, "Oh God, this firm this and this firm that." They're really like advocates. They're almost like working for you as ravin fans. What would be a couple of things specifically?

Monica:
Well, I would bring you down to your customer service. Absolutely. I can't emphasize that enough, and if you have that really strong brand, like what I talked about and that value. If everyone in your team really understands that, then it will translate in really fantastic customer service. But making sure that people's questions are answered and there's somebody they can reach out to no matter how you choose that way is whether it's a phone or it's a chat, but people can actually reach out to someone to speak to. I think sometimes we forget that there's a real human that's buying from you and they just want connection, and they want clarity. People can deal with issues, they can deal with problems as long as you're able to communicate clearly with them about it and how you wish to solve it. So, really good customer service.

I think it's also, I really love things like the packaging. I think it's so underestimated, how you can continue your brand story and the value you offer or add that personal note or show them what else you have in that. It's so crucial and one packaging expert I spoke to once and she voices this so beautifully, your packaging is a one-on-one conversation with your customer because that's the time they'll literally open your package and there's nothing else going on and they're going to have to open it.

And then, also, once they've bought your product, having messaging and content that shows them how to use your product continuously. What's the best way to use it, what's the best way to take care of it, or what else it can do for them. Maybe things they haven't considered. I think these are three things that are some often overlooked that can really continue the relationship 'cause often you buy things you never hear from anyone again, or you just get the normal promotional emails, Black Friday. Every email pretty much look the same to me in my inbox. There's nothing differentiating and use stories, use a lot of stories to reach out to your customer.

Richard:
So true, isn't it? The amount of emails obviously that were flying around Black Friday a couple of weeks ago and like, "Come on guys, come on. You can't just copy-paste in any meetings, it's just unbelievable. But I think packaging is a great one to focus on. I think what an opportunity. You've gone to the site, ideally, you've had now a good experience on the site. It's arrived when you expect it to arrive, so that's great. And then, there's that moment when the doorbell goes or the parcels waiting for you when you come home or whatever it may be and then, "Right, I'm going to open it."

Now, at that moment, there's a couple of options, isn't there? You can have a skanky box to where the product's just been shoved in there and it's like, "Oh, okay, that's a bit of a flat thing." Or for the sake of literally a few pence, probably, a few cents. You've got an experience that as you open that box, it's potentially personalized and it's actually mentioning you, your name. Welcome to the bloody blah club on the brand and we see this is your first order. If you didn't know and there's a little... You can open it up and then there's a little letter to you or a little card with a little personalized message with a little something for next purchase, "Join our VIP loyalty program," or "You've already auto enrolled in our loyalty program, you already have a hundred points. Did you know that with 200 points, you can do X, Y, Z?"

Monica:
Yeah. And that packaging is that moment when people are so excited often to receive their products, especially, when it's not one of those need products. It's more that's something that you truly wanted. I just bought some luxury skincare products that I've wanted for a while. I finally got my husband to gift it to me. I got the package. I was so excited to open it up and it was so luxuriously packed, it was beautiful. But I still felt they could have gone that extra step. There was nothing telling me more about their brand again, about what else they have or some kind of message to me.

I just felt that there was this one missed opportunity they had over there, although it was packed absolutely beautiful. It was like I truly received a gift when I was unpackaging it. So, they did some things right, but I think they had a huge opportunity to go there, one extra step to really bring me in.

Richard:
And I think that it is actually quite simple to do. There's a company called Penny Black in the UK that we've had on the podcast about five, six weeks ago and that's exactly what they do. That's their business. They work with brands to personalize that point and you can tie in the messaging in those deliveries depending on if it's a first or second or the third or obviously that and what they've bought, the value, et cetera. Are they VIP? Are they about to become VIP, loyalty, this, that, and the other? You tie that into all what you call your Klaviyo flows, for example. Actually, in a flowing Klaviyo, that's tied in with the messaging and the packaging. If you hear that for the first time, you're like, "Oh, God, that sounds so complicated," but isn't that complicated because these firms do it for you.

In reality, we talk a lot about Klaviyo on the podcast and packaging is a newer one, that personalized side but for me, lockdown. What we are? Two and a half years ago, we all got sent home or whatever and my obsession for coffee took over as I think it did for half the planet and subscription based coffee companies-

Monica:
Products.

Richard:
They literally every other week, or every week, really, I'm getting a different coffee delivered here, there and everywhere. But the packaging and the messaging has had a massive impact on me staying with those brands two and a half years later. I'm still getting deliverers two and a half years later and yeah, it's good coffee. Firstly, the product is great, there's the packaging. It's unbelievable. It's personalized.

Monica:
It's the experience that it gives you, and I think we need to remember is just think about when you walk into a retail store that you love and where people are helping you. What are the key conversations you're having, and how can you translate that to the online experience?

Richard:
Yeah, no, brilliant. So, we're sold, we are sold, and I think our listeners are maybe sold, but if you're listening, it's maybe a marketing manager. You've now got to go to your boss and say, "Guys, we need to invest in this stuff. We got to focus on the brand." And, obviously, with the brand it's around that customer service, it's listening. What would you say to those guys that are about to go to their boss and say, "Right. We now need to spend another X." Or "We need to start here and aim to go on this journey." What would your advice to them that trying to convince their boss to invest?

Monica:
So, first of all, I think there's so much over here I can say. So, first of all, understanding that our brand is not just the design. I think that's a big misconception. Brand is going to be the feeling that people get at every single touchpoint that they interact with you. So, that understanding needs to translate to your boss. It's not like, "Okay, we'll just hire a design agency and work on that." Even for performance marketers, if you look what they do, they will always say you need to understand your customer, you need to understand the messaging. You give them a different steps at the journey, which all comes back to your brand again. So, understanding that and understanding that there's...

People often think there's no ROI out of a brand and I think that's wrong because when you build a strong brand, it should be able to help you acquire customers at a lower cost and keep them with you for a longer time. But you need to get away from the thinking of, "I'm going to do this and see an ROI in the next 10 to 30 days." It's long-term thinking, long-term sustainable and profitable businesses. And what you can also see is there's just so much research brands that build... Strong brands, know their customers come out stronger from recessions. You will see that the top hundred brands outperform on S&P 500 anytime. You will also see to get the brand. There's a lot of discussion on attribution on Facebook ads and Google, and a lot of brands have decreased ad spends. The bigger ones with strong brand awareness and loyalty and haven't seen any significant decrease in sales.

So, these are things you can use to help prove why you need to work on it. At the same time, put things in place to do measure it because there you will see an ROI, just be aware that it's going to be over a longer term. It's not an instant thing. Plus, really important, a brand really, really helps foster employee satisfaction. If you have a strong brand, everybody knows what you are working towards the clarity. It gives people the confidence and conviction. There's a belief in it as well, which is super strong, it's intangible, but everybody will be saying the same things, portraying the same things. And when you're working for something meaningful, people are more satisfied as well. So, that's also really important aspect.

Richard:
Wow. That's a lot of stuff there, Monica. That's great. I would say pause, rewind, and have a re-listen to the last one minute there. I think right at the beginning, obviously, it's not just design, but design is important, isn't it? I think it is. That's another one that we're going through a semi rebrand, we're referring to it as for our main agency, which is eComOne. That was four years in and as a marketing agency, we are spending tens of thousands on that, whereas some firms are, "Oh God, that's ridiculous." Spending that amount of money on design, but I see it as, it's a big anchor, but it's not obviously everything. It's how we do everything. There's the way I see it as you, I think, it's how we do every touchpoint and how we do everything. How we do things when nobody's watching. How we react to things and how we do everything within the business. We had a big internal meeting yesterday literally about this, about different client touchpoints and it's so important. It's not just your logo with asset element.

Monica:
Filament.

Richard:
Yeah, that's it.

Monica:
The messaging, copy, content design are how you translate the brand. So, it's not that it's not important. We first should do the foundational work and then you choose to translate it through all these different channels and beans.

Richard:
Yeah, okay. That's brilliant. There's so much stuff there. So, what advice would you give to our audience that wants to improve their brand then? I think we've touched on quite a lot there, but if we can-

Monica:
Yeah. I keep going back to one foundational piece. Know your customer, speak to your customer. Don't start improving your brand without really doing that piece of work. Really get to know your customers and who they are versus trying to make this up from your imagination. Start from there, then honestly you can't go wrong.

Richard:
Yeah, yeah. No, that's great. Loud and clear. So, what are some of the biggest mistakes you think can kill a brand? You talked there about the S&P 500 and, obviously, that's something I'm quite familiar with on a personal level and you think about the big brands that are in that, the biggest brands. All the brands that everyone listening would know of the Facebooks, the Googles, et cetera, and how, obviously, such a big thing around brand and it's literally brand is everything, but, of course, when you get it wrong and you do things wrong, then it can be a major downfall and a major issue on your share pricing in the S&P 500 sort of thing, which you see, don't you, in when maybe a CEO might do something completely inappropriate, for example. And then, the next thing you know there's a billion pound being wiped off a share value because, I guess, that confidence in that brand has taken a hit in maybe short-term, but what's some of the biggest mistakes in terms of maybe e-com store specifically?

Monica:
Yeah. So, I think one is the biggest mistakes I've seen anyone make is from the ones who don't start with knowing their customer, so that's definitely. I think we touched that a lot, but that's just a reminder and then not being consistent with it. Once you've got your brand, but maybe you still choose not to translate it consistently across the different touchpoints. So, we talked about your messagings or something, your design gives a different experience. That doesn't foster trust, doesn't foster a connection.

It's also in the content that you put out fostering that strong community aspect with your clients and with your customers. And honestly, I think for the bigger businesses we're talking to here, it's also not translating that internally to your employees because if they're speaking different things about you or not performing in the same way towards your customers and what your customers are experiencing, then again, that doesn't foster trust and a brand is all about building trust. So, it's really going to come down to knowing your customer and really being consistent in everything you do.

Richard:
I guess you've got to ask yourselves, listeners, how much time are you spending training your staff and educating them in the brand side of things when a situation may occur, how do we as a company respond? How do we want to be represent the brand? And if Jim's doing it one way and Brian's doing it other way, it's like, "Hang on a minute. We should be obsessing over that customer service level." And that's just making it a core thing that runs through the veins of the people and hiring and firing literally on that passion. That's the way I see it as the thing-

Monica:
It's a big part of the work I do when I work with the larger companies is not just creating the brand. You have to train everybody in it so that they understand it. Not just understand it but live it.

Richard:
Yeah. So, maybe could a KPI then listeners be, how many hours a month are you training your staff around brand and loving the brand, are we spending as a company? Is everyone's spending an hour, a month understanding and just really, really, really, really deep representing and then rewarding those team members on them showing up for the brand. "All right. We're going to reward. Maybe have a brand advocate of the month award rather than an employee award. Obviously, a lot of firms do employee awards that employer of the month is, but brand, you've demonstrated our brand values and demonstrated them here because this customer had a slight issue with the order and you drove the package to his house, so maybe that's a bit extreme and that customer has now... What we didn't know, he had a community of a hundred thousand people on Facebook and has been talking about the brand and now we've had an order from a corporate for half million pounds or whatever, which can happen. I mean, it's really exciting, so...

Monica:
Yeah. And there was this is a product I bought here once as a gift for my husband, and it was just in front of Valentine's Day, but somehow the sizing got all mixed up and I needed another one. But it was just not enough time, but they literally send an employee to my house and got it exchanged on the spot. They brought the other size and then just exchanged it. I became a fan. I bought that product for other people in my family since. It's just small things like that when you really love it, that just really makes somebody a loyal customer and not just buying something online.

Richard:
Yeah, good, old-fashioned service, isn't it? It's just they are-

Monica:
Yeah.

Richard:
It totally is, totally is, totally is brilliant. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure. Monica, last couple of questions. So, crystal ball time. We're sat here in a year, 18 months, how important is brand in a year, two years' time? What would you say to those that are maybe a little bit on the fence about investing in it, but, ultimately, we've got to think about the future of our business. How important is brand in the future?

Monica:
It is so important and I'm so happy to finally see the conversations in the whole e-commerce community and experts, who before didn't talk about it are all talking... Whether you're a CRO agency or Facebook ads expert, everybody's starting to talk about this, which I've been talking about for years. But I'm so happy to see that happen because things are changing again. We're now going from having gone to everything, being in person retail, we went all online, easy to set up stores, build that big businesses with performance marketing, but now you have privacy, you can't talk, you can't measure everything. There's discussions about even if it ever was measurable, there is rising acquisition costs.

The only thing which you can do is really create that trust with your customer and make sure that you are top of mind when they think of a product like yours. In that category, if they want to buy something that you are top of mind and that's all brand. So, it is the most crucial element going forward I think and no matter what kind of performance marketing, email marketing, whatever you do, you need to know your customer, you need to know the messages you're putting out there, which all comes down to brand. So, anyone who thought it's wasn't needed, it's required in every step of the journey.

Richard:
Absolutely agree. 100%. Well, thank you for coming on the show. I like to finish every episode with a book recommendation, Monica. Do you have a book that you recommend to our listeners?

Monica:
So, I recommend this What Great Storytellers Know by Bernadette Jiwa. I'm a big fan of storytelling. I'm a big fan, also, I use the technique of asking your customers for stories in the interviews. And her book is really teaching how to find stories in the ordinary day life and therefore use that in your marketing and there's a beautiful quote. I'll just share that, "The goal isn't just to deliver the information, it's to capture the imagination. We don't have to be smart enough to manipulate people. We have to be sincere enough to move them."

Richard:
Love it. That is-

Monica:
From her book.

Richard:
That's beautiful. That's it.

Monica:
And that's what a brand does. And she helps you how to find stories in the everyday and gives you those skills, and it's really helped me in my marketing where I use stories as well and I recommend this to all my clients after they finish working with me to reap this as well.

Richard:
Yeah, brilliant. Well, thank you. That's a brilliant book about the sound of it. I will be getting that on order in about 30 seconds time and for those that want to find out more about you, Monica, and what you do, what's the best place to do that?

Monica:
Well, I'm active on Instagram and LinkedIn. Instagram business with Monica and on LinkedIn under my full name Monica Sharma-Patnekar. You can find me on my website businesswithmonica.com. And I've given a handy download for people on the four D's that we talked about. So, there's no reason you can get started speaking to your customers today. You can find the four D's and download it and start taking action on that.

Richard:
That's what it's about, isn't it? Action, yeah. Brilliant. Well, thanks Monica. Thanks for coming on the show and I'll see you again soon.

Monica:
Thank you for having me on.

Richard:
Thank you. Bye-Bye.

Monica:
Bye.

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