Online Marketplaces Pose a New Challenge to Brand Identity Kits

a rack of black clothing against a white background

The Creative Exchange | unsplash

Luxury brands used to avoid ecommerce marketplaces like the plague. Makers of $5,000 handbags didn’t want to appear in a shopping basket alongside paper towels and diapers. Marketplaces like Amazon struggled to attract high-end brands afraid of damaging their image or confusing customers.

That is changing.

As The Wall Street Journal and Vogue both recently reported, fashion companies are creating marketplaces for each other. These marketplaces are attractive both for established and emerging brands that want to grow online sales. However, marketplaces have an interest in owning the experience and customer relationships, so they limit how third-party sellers can express their brands.

Marketers accustomed to managing brand consistency on their own websites and social channels are in for a challenge. Their existing brand identity kits — which provide the digital assets and guidance to present a brand consistently — probably need to evolve for this new context.

Now is a good moment to revisit the brand identity kit and determine how it can best adapt to this new touchpoint and others. In this article, I’ll review what normally belongs in a brand identity kit, illustrate how new marketplaces challenge brand identity, and discuss ways to evolve the traditional kit in response.

The Elements of a Traditional Brand Identity Kit

Normally, brand identity kits show photographers, designers, copywriters and agency partners how to represent the brand on turf it controls. The kit tends to include six categories of information.

  1. Messaging: Information on the target market, why your brand matters to them, and how they perceive your brand. It usually includes positioning statements for different audiences, the brand promise, taglines and a value proposition.
  2. Brand attributes: Human-like traits and characteristics, often delivered with “always” and “never” statements. For example, a brand could “always” strive to be empathetic, dependable and resolute, but “never” impatient, disorderly or flippant.
  3. Logos and wordmarks: Up-to-date logos and wordmarks in high-resolution formats including TIFF, PNG, PDF and JPEG. To protect against pixelation and weird renderings, these assets usually come with instructions, standards around white space and sizing, and examples of what to do and not do.
  4. Visual attributes: Look, feel, emotion and mood you want to see in lifestyle photos, videos, graphics and stock images. “Always” and “never” statements as well as dos and don’ts usually appear here.
  5. Color profile: The primary and secondary colors that make your brand instantly recognizable using CMYK, RGB and PMS color codes. The accompanying instructions clarify when it’s appropriate to use colors, combinations and palettes.
  6. Typography: A single typeface offering brand consistency and recognizability everywhere text appears. This section designates font size, hierarchy and font-weight for product titles, blog post headlines, body copy, sales collateral and so forth.

Notice how this traditional kit assumes that users have a lot of freedom, flexibility and creative discretion. That unfortunately isn’t the case in marketplaces.

Related Article: Take Charge of Your Brand Reputation Management

Online Marketplaces: An Environment With Limits

New marketplaces from fashion brands like Express, J.Crew and Urban Outfitters try to provide a more curated selection than, say, Amazon while maintaining ownership over the brand experience. That approach naturally leads to conflict between the marketplace and its sellers as well as competitive differences between marketplaces.

In Express’s Labels We Love marketplace, third-party brands seem to have control over their storefront banner, product images and product descriptions. By comparison, in J.Crew’s Brands We Love marketplace, the aesthetic, including the product photos, is 100% J.Crew. Only the item title and description hint at the seller’s brand.

To an extent, the sellers give up opportunities to build brand equity in exchange for transactions. That can be risky. As retail consultant Steve Dennis told Vogue, “When you relax the brand experience to convert a customer, that shopper may or may not be a good fit with your brand long-term — they may be a promiscuous shopper just searching the internet and trying to find the best deal or the fastest delivery on a particular product.”

I expect marketplaces will soon compete to offer not just traffic, but opportunities to establish brand awareness and equity. Brands need to advocate for that right. Meanwhile, they should update brand identity kits to make the most of limited real estate.

Related Articles: Why Brand Awareness Matters

Evolving the Brand Identity Kit for Marketplace Mayhem

There’s a trend towards organizing brand identity kits by use case. Rather than merely provide the raw materials for constructing an experience, the kit offers more finished, modular components. The idea is that visitors to the brand identity kit have a use case in mind — maybe a sales deck, creative brief, marketing campaign or e-commerce listing — but not necessarily the time or appetite to absorb the rules and build a brand experience from scratch.

Marketplaces are a unique use case in need of these purpose-made, modular assets. As much as possible, product images, banners and even descriptions should attempt to integrate all six elements from the brand identity kit above: messaging, brand attributes, logos and wordmarks, visual attributes, color profiles, and typography. 

You can see examples in Express’s Labels We Love marketplace. There, the menswear brand State of Matter packed all six elements into one banner, shown below.

state of matter

However, in its storefront, State of Matter uses indistinct product photos that show the models neck down on greyish backgrounds without expressing any brand or visual attributes:

mens shirts

UpWest, another seller, pops by using multiple backgrounds, some with wood floors, carpeting, or a relatable home environment. Some images show the model’s face while others don’t. With its limited real estate on Express, UpWest creates more opportunities for shoppers to relate to the brand:


Related Article: Forget VoC: Where Is Your Brand’s Voice?

A New Section in the Brand Identity Kit

The task for marketers is to analyze the marketplaces where their products appear and determine how to pack more of their brand identity into that environment. Shoppers are less likely to develop an affinity for your brand if it doesn’t stand out against the uniformity of the marketplace aisles.

Just as brands learned to make the most of in-store displays at brick-and-mortar shops, they need to do the same online. A brand identity kit that focuses more on use cases — and provides ready-to-go product images, descriptions, even product specs — can help brands get to market faster, without giving up the chance to stand out and make an impression.

Jake Athey is VP of marketing and customer experience at Widen, where he helps organizations realize their maximum marketing potential by communicating the value of Digital Asset Management (DAM) as part of core brand and marketing channel strategies. An integral member of the content strategy team, he oversees and manages all of the moving parts of content strategy, brand consistency, sales and more.