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Nik Sharma's Guide to Brand Growth: The TRACE Framework

In this expert guide Nik Sharma, the Founder and CEO of Sharma Brands, shares his insights on brand-led growth through the lens of the TRACE framework -- and relays his predictions for the future of eCommerce.

Nik Sharma
CEO of Sharma Brands, @SharmaBrands

In this story

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“Previously, advertising was pretty easy. You could almost just say “Hey, we’re X, we do Y”, and you’d get sales right away. Today, you have to be smarter with the content you put out, the way you approach advertising, and the way that you approach customers.”

Nik Sharma's Guide to Brand Growth: The TRACE Framework

This opening quote from  Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands sums up concisely what many DTC operators have come to know. Competition in eCommerce has increased exponentially over recent years, and as a result, costs have risen while each incremental sale is harder and harder fought. In today's world, success in the space requires far more than a nicely designed website and some half-decent ad copy; it requires knowing what levers to pull and when to pull them – in every area of your online presence.

To dive deeper into what successful brand operators should keep their minds on, the Nostra team sat down with brand-led growth expert Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. After working for years in ad tech, Nik started his DTC career at Hint as their Head of DTC in 2018, growing the team from 1 to 16 and ad spend from zero to over one million dollars a month. At Sharma Brands, Nik and his team have "productized" all the work Nik did at Hint, driving brand-led online growth for companies "that are, or are about to be, category leaders" like BrightlandJolie, and Feastables.

With nearly a decade of experience, Nik brings a fresh perspective to brand-focused marketing, consistently challenging norms and devising effective strategies that yield the desired results.

In this expert guide, we will unpack Nik's expertise on brand-driven growth and take a tour of the "TRACE framework" he and his team use to identify areas of improvement. We'll also share his POV on how CRO implementations differ between larger and smaller brands, as well as his outlook on the trends that will define coming years in eCommerce.

Let's dive in. 

Audience

In the TRACE framework, 'A' is for audience—the people your brand wishes to reach. When thinking about your audience, Nik recommends asking the following questions: 

  • Who are you targeting (think of the persona(s))
  • Why are you targeting them?
  • How do you position your brand for them (vs. competitors or alternatives)?

Knowing your audience's mindset – the things that make them tick, click, and buy – is fundamental to almost every element of your business.

For Nik's team, customer feedback is the go-to resource for gaining a solidified perspective of a brand's true audience. Product reviews post-purchase and pre-purchase questions posed on social media are invaluable in understanding buyer personas:

  • What part of the product did they love? 
  • → the value proposition that resonates most with them
  • What questions did they ask without buying the product?
  • → what are the factors that influence them most

Creative

After your brand solidifies its audience, it's time to consider your creative. At this point, you know who your customers are and what resonates with them, so the question now is how you can craft a compelling story through visuals and the written word to inextricably link what they want and what you're selling.

The narrative you spin should highlight the value your brand brings to the table, emphasizing specific value propositions of your product(s) to specific buyer persona(s).

This last point brings up an interesting point of balance that Nik harps on.

On one hand, when it comes to online advertising, specificity can be key. In all likelihood, your brand has multiple value propositions or selling points, which matter to varying degrees from person to person. One person might buy shampoo primarily because they want to smell good, while another may buy the same product to eliminate that "greasy feeling" when their hair goes unwashed.

For this reason, aligning particular creatives to particular audiences is important and achievable through digital marketing. A great way to promote this alignment is through the use of landing pages, giving a specific person exactly the creative that hooked them in your ad once they're on your site.

On the other hand, Nik points out that great branding is often painfully simple, conveying the big idea of the product/company rather than specific details.

The happy medium, then, is to lead with simplicity and back it up with more information, giving each segment of your audience just what they need when they need it.

As Nik stated, you show them the light at the end of the tunnel and then all the tracks that lead to it. 

Experience 

The audience is defined, the narrative is clear, and strategies are in place, but can the experience deliver? Nik and his team consistently assess a brand's site experience to ensure alignment with the target audience and complementarity with the initial creative that captured consumers' interest.

In Nik's words, "whenever you want something done, you have to make it their idea. If you make [the shopping experience] very convenient for them, they're more enticed to [buy]."

To ensure a seamless site experience, Nik encourages brands to consider site speed from the outset.

"I spend a few hours each week watching user session recordings. If the page takes more than a second to load, people leave almost instantly."

What does Nik recommend for site speed? Nostra, of course ;)

Nostra, distinguished by its rapid implementation, cost-effectiveness, and impact on conversions, offers a streamlined solution without the need for costly, ongoing enhancements. In an ever more competitive market, our solution is a no-brainer for brands that want to optimize their site experience.

Reporting

Reporting in the TRACE framework involves keeping a constant eye on your progress. This is achieved by tracking what's working for your brand and what's not, empowering you to make effective decisions.

When possible, accurate reporting should be in place to measure the efficacy of almost every lever you pull. Start with a clear hypothesis of what result you hope to gain from a certain change in ad copy/images/site experience, etc., and make sure you can measure the difference that the 'improvement' has made. If it's negative, go back to where you were. 

Technology

In navigating the TRACE framework, Nik and his team use a myriad of tools to help them accomplish their goals. While you should remain vigilant of the number of subscriptions/apps/etc, your brand makes use of, the proper tech stack can save years in man-hours and help you navigate many traditional challenges of running a D2C brand. 

Here are three tools Nik's team uses across multiple brands.


1.) Motion for design initiatives

Creating alluring creatives will always be a bit of a "guess and check," but bringing reporting to bare allows teams to make more informed decisions – as always. This is why Nik utilizes Motion to gauge the efficacy of his creatives and uncover what works best.


2.) Peel Insights for segmentation + reporting

With his emphasis on actively segmenting audiences, Nik values Peel Insights for Shopify-focused brands who want to understand their customer cohorts and behaviors better.


3.) Nostra for site speed

As mentioned in the experience section, Nik and the Sharma Brands team have implemented Nostra's speed solution on several client sites to improve user experience, bounce, and conversion rates.

Looking to the Future

In his work, Nik often notices a common mistake among brands—falling behind on the latest trends and technologies. Though predicting the future of eCommerce has its challenges, we asked Nik for his expert insights on what he foresees to come.

Nik anticipates three trends that will shape the future of eCommerce:

  • Changes in Privacy Concerns: As the internet continues to evolve, so does user privacy. Nik foresees a continued tightening of the reins on user privacy in the US (spurred by new regulations already seen in the EU), which could complicate advertising to segmented audiences and, more broadly, impact business strategies.
  • The Value of First-Party Data: Conversely to the point above, First-Party Data is rising, and Nik anticipates a similar upward trend for Zero-Party Data. A larger amount of quality consumer data allows for improved decision-making and reduced advertising spend, but often at the cost of consumer privacy.
  • Brand Marketing Will Make a Comeback: Overlooked in recent years in favor of performance marketing, Nik states that brand marketing is reclaiming its previous importance, partially due to the regulatory environment explained above. Rock solid creative branding that enamors consumers will once again take center stage in the coming years.

To help your brand stand out in the eCommerce sphere, consider working with Nostra to elevate your site's traffic, conversion rate, and revenue. 

Don't hesitate! Book a free demo today. 

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