We all know that brands are essential in creating recognition and personal connections with customers. Online, they are even more important. With the speed of online shopping – decisions of where to shop and what to buy are made much faster than in brick-and-mortar stores. For Internet consumers, branding equals trust. No one wants to shop on an unknown store, submit credit card payment and hope that his or her merchandise arrives.However, businesses that don’t have the cash flow to build brand recognition with brand management and advertising can still compete. The opportunity to differentiate lies in Internet marketing and sales tools. Here are a few guidelines in helping develop a successful shopping experience from decision to purchase.A good image doesn’t always equate to good service. Some retailers provide excellent service but don’t communicate it in their image, and vice-versa. Branding is often misaligned with sales and operations. A small update to the company’s online image, brand, or information design can communicate a luxurious, simple or fun shopping experience. Your brand sells the experience of doing business with you before someone does (just as a menu sells the food before someone orders it), so communicate clearly.Show some trust toward the customer and the customer will trust you. Online, trust-building methods such as offering free samples, free consultations and assessments, helpful product reviews, and professional advice without pushing sales show honesty and trust in the customer’s preferences. Amazon.com revolutionized online shopping by offering a public rating system for the products they sell, allowing anyone to post a review, whether positive or negative, as a way to help customers with their purchasing decisions.Be alert and ready to help. You can show outstanding salesmanship online by offering multiple ways for a customer to contact you – e-mail, e-mail form and phone number. An extra bonus to your customers would be to add a live chat service to your Web site. Live chat allows customers browsing on your Web site to get questions answered immediately without the hassle of sending emails or inconvenience of calling. Live chat providers such as LivePerson (www.liveperson.com) and SightMax (www.sightmax.com) provide software sales support solutions.Make it easy for the customer. Someone who showed interest once might still be a potential buyer in the future. Handing over a business card leaves all the work up to the customer to keep in contact! Be proactive by asking, “Would you mind if I added you to our mailing list?” On your Web site, ask in pop-in windows or offer freebies online in exchange for e-mail addresses to build up your database. Permission e-mail marketing is a great way to follow up with your potential customers and keep your name in front of them. This is better than general advertising because you are speaking to a captivated audience – your subscribers are already interested in you!Simplify and show some personality. Design your Web site to be user-friendly by making information effortless to find and writing it in a way that’s easy to understand. A bit of humour and warmth will always differentiate you from the others, especially the big corporate brands. Add charm from the verbiage of your Web site to the language of your sales team and it’ll make a difference. You’ll seem friendly, sincere and human among the millions of complicated, faceless Web sites.