What is a Brand?

We moved into our new studio a couple years back and installed a gorgeous La Marzocco GS3 espresso machine. It is difficult to overstate how thrilled we were to offer our clients beautiful coffee when they would visit our studio. From that point on, whenever I booked a meeting, I’d say something like: “Don’t worry about bringing coffee. We’ve got you covered.”

Inevitably, though, clients would walk through the door with a to-go cup in hand. What. the. heck. was. going. on?

Finally, I cracked. “Why did you bring coffee?” I finally asked someone.

“I know you said you have coffee,” they said, “but the coffee shop next door sells Stumptown and I love Stumptown Coffee!”

Product – Meaning = Commodity

You see, our clients would rather pay for a coffee they love than take their chances with something that they may not care for, even if it is free.



Ice cream.

Without meaning, these are mere commodities with little or no differentiation between products. At best, customers are going to choose the least expensive option. More likely, thought, they’re going to skip the commodity and find a brand they love.

Product + Meaning = Brand

Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant (10 of 10)

A commodity becomes a brand when it establishes an emotional connection with a consumer. I’m not talking about a logo here. Your brand is everything your customers think of when they hear your brand name, everything they believe they know about you. Your brand is about perception and personality.

We often see brands understanding the power of voice in their identity, physical experience, and brand material. However, they will then slap a logo on a generic Shopify or Squarespace template and call it good.  There is a better way.

Brand Voice on Websites

Your online presence either builds your brand loyalty or demotes you to being perceived as a commodity.  We often build online shops in WooCommerce. One of the biggest wins with WooCommerce is how you can control the entire experience, from the initial hello to transactional emails and receipts. Each and every one of these touchpoint is a critical opportunity for infusing a brand voice.

Below are four tips for infusing your WooCommerce website with your authentic brand voice utilizing recent Needmore projects as examples.

1. Brand Assets


When we started working with Four Barrel, their website was subdued. Their cafe, on the other hand, was brimming with illustrations, energy, and a fiercely independent vibe. To bring this personality to the web, we first took stock of what sort of material they were already producing. Turns out, Four Barrel has a rad illustrator, witty copywriter, and photography-obsessed co-owner churning out material.


Our job was to then create a website that could easily house these assets that customers were seeing on a regular basis and know as the Four Barrel brand.


Take note of your physical space as well!  For example, Four Barrel not only has a coffee counter where you can quickly get your coffee, but also has a slow bar where you can have a long chat with your barista about your personal taste. Now, if we were copying most coffee shops out there, we would have categorized their shop by region. Instead, we took a cue from the slow bar and made it easy for customers to shop by flavor.

The result? When they were noted as one of the 21 best coffee roasters in the country, theirs was the only website noted.

some of the Bay Area’s best coffees…Bonus points for a unique online shop organized around specific flavor notes rather than country, helping drinkers dial in something that fits their personal taste…

Take-away: Your website doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, it most certainly should not. Make use of the assets you are already creating.

2. Power of WordPress


Supercrown Coffee Roasters is a seasonally sourced coffee subscription club by Gorilla Coffee founder Darleen Scherer. Each coffee comes with a vibrant coffee card with coffee details on the back. Darleen then journals a Roast Report about each coffee rich with details such as farm, region, cupping notes, and awards. We created a playful card sorter that links to the roast reports, mirroring the experience of sorting through the coffee cards that come with the subscription.


WooCommerce is unique in terms of online shops in that it is so well integrated with one of the most powerful and popular CMS’s in the world. We were able to mirror Supercrown’s offline experience by harnessing the power of WordPress.

Takeaway: Leverage the power of the web and your content management system in unique ways that serve you. 

3. Language

I recently received an email that a payment was in progress. I had no idea what that meant and the money didn’t end up in my account for another 10 days. In that week and a half, I was completely clueless.

How transparent is your purchasing path? Chances are you don’t use the same words to talk about the order process that your shopping cart does. Will your customer know what a processing order is? Or, what does it mean that an order is completed? Instead, perhaps your customers book lots through you. Maybe orders are then shipped to them or on the way.

With WooCommerce, it is simple to update order statuses so that the language you use every day with your customers begins to show up on receipts and emails.


It is incredibly easy to update a previously confusing order status name


WooCommerce recent order page with a custom status

Most store owners update product prices and descriptions and stop there. Look a bit further and you’ll see that there are places throughout your website where you can update title, instructions, descriptions, and the like.


Once you start updating language in this way, you’ll see opportunities everywhere. Maybe it is the newsletter sign-up confirmation. Or, you’ll personalize a contact form thank you note. Little by little, these small language updates tell your customers that you are thinking about the details of interaction rather than simply tossing up a website.

Takeaway: Just as you wouldn’t use stock packaging or logo, don’t be satisfied with default language throughout your site. Instead, find ways to use your own voice throughout so that using your site feels like interacting with your unique brand.

4. Trust thy Gut


We recently worked with master roaster Andrew Barnett to create a website for Linea Caffe. We were big fans of Andrew’s for years before working with him and wanted to show Andrew what we could do for him. As the project got started, pitched all sorts of remarkable, state-of-the art subscription page layouts.

Know what? Andrew wasn’t impressed. Bottom line: The designs were good, but they just didn’t feel like him. You see, Andrew isn’t just one of coffee’s nicest fellas, he’s also one the of most humble individuals I know. What truly represents him is a simple, modern site with a clear shop page.

Linea Shop Website

As designers, we had an inclination to create a wow page that was more about our abilities than Andrew’s coffee. Andrew reminded us that people trust him and his coffee. That’s the wow. Everything else is just noise.

As time goes by, your competitors and friends will put up new websites and it is natural to want your site to have everything theirs does. Or, a designer might show you something that just doesn’t feel right. It is imperative that you ask yourself: is this a true representation of my brand? Does this match what I want my customers to think of when they think of my brand?

Takeaway:  At the end of the day, YOU know what makes your brand personality unique. If something shiny and new comes out or if a designer shows you something that doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Brand Matters


These examples are all about coffee, an intriguing and growing industry. (Right now, over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day. In fact, coffee exporting alone is a $20 billion dollar industry second only to crude oil.) There’s big money here and great opportunity to create long-lasting relationships with customers. The lessons are universal, though.

Finally, do remember: people don’t have relationships with products. They are loyal to brands. And, your website can be an authentic brand ambassador.

This post is based on a talk I gave at WooConf this year in Austin, Texas on the Austin City Limits stage. Yes, THAT stage!

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