Balancing Brand & Optimization Efforts on your Ecommerce Site

May 15, 2024
Zoomed in cherry blossom buds over greenery

There’s a common misconception among marketers that a website cannot be both beautifully branded and highly optimized for conversions. Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Finding the right balance between brand appeal and optimization is key to sustained success in any online business. While it may be tempting to prioritize one over the other to achieve short-term goals, doing so can create significant pitfalls that undermine long-term objectives (and all your hard work).

The risks of neglecting brand or site optimization ⚠️

Neglecting optimization efforts

Let’s first discuss what we mean by site optimization. When we speak about site optimization or conversion rate optimization (CRO), we refer to the process of maximizing a brand’s potential to drive users towards a desired action—or conversion—on its website.

The actual techniques we use to optimize conversion rates cover a broad range of skills. Understanding user psychology, crafting evocative copy, optimizing email captures, using effective CTAs, maintaining a clear information hierarchy, providing easy navigation, and optimizing site speed are all useful tactics.

If brands consistently overlook optimization initiatives like these, users can end up feeling like a site—and by extension the company—is hard to understand and may not be able to serve their interests. Even worse, brands that resort to inexpensive CRO techniques like “spin the wheel” pop-ups or real-time purchase notifications that say “someone purchased this item 5 seconds ago” may diminish brand credibility, especially among discerning customers.

Neglecting brand

On the flip side, too much emphasis on brand can result in a website that favors form over function. In eCommerce, when brands deviate from conventional website layouts and structures, it can have the adverse effect of increasing the cognitive load for shoppers. Sites can become so brand-laden that they end up obscuring the fact that there's anything for sale at all! Undoubtedly, that's a confusing customer journey and is unlikely to drive many sales.

Making matters worse, it’s hard to diagnose performance issues when your site is beautifully branded but otherwise hard to understand. And when you ask customers for feedback, they’ll tell you they love the site. This is the Aesthetic-Usability Effect at work, which states that users are less likely to consciously identify usability flaws if a website is visually appealing. That doesn't mean those issues don't cause friction and lost sales though. Sites that lean too heavily into branding may obscure deeper usability issues, making it harder to identify and resolve problems later on.

Striking the right balance 🤸🏼

So, how do you find the right balance between brand and conversion optimization? We’ve identified four key strategies to help you get started:

  1. Set a clear intention
    Start by aligning your marketing team around dual objectives: to tell a compelling brand story and to convert more visitors into customers. When you reframe design discussions in this balanced light—with brand integrity and sustainable CRO valued equally—it simplifies decision-making and necessary compromises. Having two counter-balancing goals makes it easier to assess the cost-benefit of new brand or CRO initiatives. It also clearly demonstrates which opportunities you might be leaving on the table.
  2. Establish a strong foundation
    Build your website on a foundation of eCommerce best practices. Start by crafting a user journey that introduces your brand and its products, then naturally leads to conversions. Then begin layering in what’s important to you from a brand perspective. Once balance is achieved, you can begin employing advanced CRO techniques like A/B testing to refine your messaging and design.
  3. Know your brand and audience
    Every brand is unique. Some will benefit from bold visuals and innovative storytelling, while others might succeed with a more streamlined, no-frills approach. Regardless of your aesthetic preferences, investing in a seamless user experience should always be a top priority.
  4. Avoid extremes
    Extremes on either end of the spectrum can be dangerous. While over-the-top animations and tiny fonts may look impressive, they alienate users and distract from the shopping experience. Similarly, excessive CRO techniques like frequent pop-ups can quickly become chintzy. Instead, put yourself in the customer's shoes and provide a smooth journey with intuitive navigation, clear calls-to-action, and responsive designs.

Case in point: Ritual.com 💊

Ritual is a stellar example of a company that balances brand and CRO effectively. They’ve managed to cultivate a strong identity while delivering a seamless and user-friendly shopping experience. By focusing on quality content, vibrant colors, clear information hierarchy, and standard eCommerce design elements, Ritual has established itself as a trusted authority in the D2C space, and almost certainly has the conversion rates to show for it.

How Flourish Commerce Can Help 🤝

Flourish Commerce provides personalized, affordable CRO audits to simplify website optimization for eCommerce brands. When you work with Flourish, you receive a detailed report highlighting every opportunity and area for improvement on your website. Our insights draw from a vast database of thousands of eCommerce best practices, successful case studies, user research, and years of hands-on experience.

Every audit includes an Action Plan with unlimited recommendations for site improvement. All recommendations are accompanied by detailed rationale so you understand the impact of every design change. We prioritize these recommendations based on potential return on investment, helping you focus your efforts on the most impactful changes.

Our audits rigorously maintain brand integrity, ensuring companies don’t have to compromise on brand to achieve excellent conversion results.

The Evolving eCommerce Landscape ⛰️

In 2024, the eCommerce industry continues to get more competitive. Brands face immense pressure to differentiate themselves, which can lead them to over invest in brand identity or resort to superficial CRO tactics for quick wins.

It's possible to have too much of a good thing. Overemphasizing brand at the expense of usability can alienate customers, and prioritizing optimization over brand integrity can work to diminish trust and loyalty. By striking the right balance—through aligning your team around shared goals, building on a foundation of best practices, and leveraging deep customer insights—you can establish a successful strategy that resonates with your audience and drives long-term success for your business.

About the Author

Erin Gusty is the co-founder of Flourish Commerce, delivering actionable design audits to help eCommerce brands grow their business through website optimization. Erin is a seasoned operator and leader with 10+ years of startup experience across marketing, product, eCommerce, and customer experience.
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