Prior to the start of 2020, e-commerce was already expected to be a multi-billion dollar, worldwide industry. The number of e-commerce storefronts were growing, and many shoppers were comfortable with online shopping.
Then 2020 happened. Even those consumers who had resisted online shopping in the past embraced it as they ordered everything from groceries to furniture to luxury items during lockdowns and extend time periods at home. In fact, more than 52% of U.S. consumers actively avoided going to stores in February of 2020, before the lockdowns had even begun.
As things return to normal, e-commerce remains on the rise. In Q1 of 2021, e-commerce sales in the U.S. were the highest they have ever been, with more than $200 million in sales during just the first 3 months of the year. With the looming challenges of the Delta variant, online retailers are likely to see another banner year.
If you have an online business or are thinking about starting one, this is great news in the face of adversity. But it doesn’t mean that consumers will just show up at your virtual doorstep. With millions of other online stores available, you need to attract consumers to your e-commerce shop.
That’s where e-commerce marketing comes in.
But, what is e-commerce marketing? Why is it important? And how do you take advantage of it to bring in shoppers and, more importantly, revenue?
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What is E-commerce Marketing?
E-commerce marketing is what you do to make shoppers aware of your online business and what you have to offer. Advertising for your online store rolls up under marketing.
By and large, e-commerce marketing and advertising leverage the various strategies, tactics, and channels of digital marketing. While there is some opportunity for offline, or more traditional marketing, the affinity between digital marketing and e-commerce is high.
While you’ll likely use a lot of digital marketing when getting the word out about your online storefront, you probably won’t want to dive into every digital strategy – at least not right away. You may even find that some online marketing channels aren’t effective for you. So, while there is a relationship between e-commerce and digital marketing, it’s not one-to-one. Whatever marketing strategies you decide to use should be for the purpose of promoting your e-commerce business to the right consumers.
The Importance of E-commerce Marketing
The need for e-commerce marketing surprises no one. How will customers find you – and spend money with you – if they don’t know about you?
It’s good to remember why e-commerce marketing is important, though. It will act as a guiding star as you build out your marketing plans and strategies.
This is the easiest to understand and most straightforward reason for e-commerce marketing. Even for a traditional brick-and-mortar store, awareness marketing is how you get people to notice you, get them in the door, and get them interested in what you’re offering.
Expand Your Reach
Even if you have a loyal customer base, getting in front of more customers means more possibilities for sales. E-commerce marketing makes it possible to reach more people, even those outside of your usual customer profile, who might have an interest in your products.
Done well, many digital marketing initiatives have a positive, even staggering ROI. For instance, the experts at Constant Contact estimate that the ROI for email marketing is $42 for every dollar spent. Not every channel will offer that kind of return, but with return rates like that, it’s hard to say no.
Opportunities to Build Loyalty
Not every digital marketing strategy has the kind of directly measurable return that email marketing does. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth exploring. For instance, things like blogs and videos, as well as social media marketing, can promote customer loyalty – something that’s hard to come by when you can find a new vendor with a simple Google search.
Bring Existing Customers Back for More
E-commerce marketing isn’t just about bringing in new customers, it’s also about reminding your existing customers that you have more to offer them. Small businesses have reported that 50% of their revenue comes from repeat customers and that those customers spend 67% more than new customers.
Phases of E-Commerce Marketing
It’s possible to go out and just start marketing your online business. You could write a blog post, or throw money at some keywords, or even set up a Twitter account. But the odds of being successful that way are about as good as winning the lottery.
Many people think of marketing as a creative endeavor when, in fact, it’s more science than art. It requires understanding your audience and your store’s appeal, planning how you’ll capitalize on that, creating campaigns and assets, and then – and possibly most importantly – measuring and adjusting your plans to keep what works and lose what doesn’t.
This leads to a series of phases you should go through to define your marketing.
It can be easy to dismiss the discovery phase but don’t be tempted to do so. Discovery can be one of the most important parts of preparing to market your online store, and you’ll likely want to revisit elements of this phase repeatedly.
In the discovery phase, you’ll take time defining what your store is, what it does, and who it serves. This might seem obvious, but taking the time to think about these elements and write them down has innumerable benefits.
Start with documenting what your store is about. What kinds of products do you sell? Why should someone come to your store instead of another online store? What makes you different and unique?
Next, you’ll define who your customers are. Who do your products appeal to? Who are you hoping will come to your store? Who will be your fans, and who will simply be customers? In marketing, we call this defining a persona or an avatar, and it ensures that the marketing you do speaks to what your customers want to hear and are interested in.
With these two pieces of information, you can start to define what you want your marketing to say about your business. How will you talk about your store and your products? What will be important benefits that your audience will want to hear about? How will you get across your uniqueness?
Lastly, the discovery phase should include an inventory of any marketing assets you already have. Have a Facebook page? Write it down. Started a blog? Document it. Doing search engine marketing? Note that, as well.
You’ve now created a solid foundation that your marketing can start from. Everything you end up producing – from a social media post to a product description – will be able to use this information to be more effective and keep your messaging and your brand consistent. Consistency breeds trust – and trust breeds sales.
Taking your foundation, you can begin to create a plan that will describe the shape your marketing will take.
First up is defining what channels and tactics you plan to start with. These may not be the ones that you stick with, or they may be ones you find to be highly effective and expand over time. The key is to not bite off more than you can chew. Each strategy requires dedicated effort to perform well, not to mention time commitment and a budget.
Doing it all isn’t feasible or even advisable. Pick the strategy that you think you can nail, and that will speak to your customer personas or avatars, and start there. Later, we’ll discuss each of the potential strategies that you can explore.
That will logically lead to examining what you’ll need to execute that strategy.
Planning to optimize your site’s keywords? You’ll need to do keyword research and have a writer or the time to re-write product descriptions for those keywords.
Want to dive in on content marketing? You’ll want to understand what kinds of content work best for your audience, and even where to post those assets.
How about email marketing? What will you share? How will you share it? Who will layout the emails, test them, and create content for them?
Regardless of the path you choose to take, you’ll need to answer these or similar questions as you plan your e-commerce marketing.
Some strategies will require you to do research before you can dive into execution – SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) being excellent examples. The planning phase is the time to take the first swipe at that research.
As we mentioned before, marketing is more science than art. Part of that is because of the importance of measurement and analysis of the marketing that you do. During the planning phase, you’ll want to spend time defining and baselining the metrics that you’ll use later to understand the success of your efforts and to help drive decisions about what comes next.
E-commerce marketing comes with a whole host of possible metrics to use. Below are just a few to get you started:
- Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): What did you spend on advertising, and what was your revenue?
- Average Order Value (AOV): How much was the average order amount?
- Customer retention: What number of shoppers are returning customers?
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): How much does it cost to acquire new customers (this is important especially when you start to look at how much it costs to re-engage existing customers)
- Shopping cart abandonment: How often do shoppers put items in their cart and then leave the site without making a purchase?
- Email marketing metrics: What is your email open rate? What’s the click-thru rate? How many subscribers do you have, and how many people unsubscribe?
- Conversion rate: How many customers convert?
Once you understand these numbers, you’ll also want to set some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) around them so that you can see how you’re performing against your goals.
Now is also a good time to define how frequently you’ll look at the data, what you’ll use to analyze it, and how it will impact your plans going forward.
The execution phase is frequently the phase that those just starting out start with. It can be the most straightforward of the phases but should be driven by the strategy and planning you’ve put in place.
Execution without planning is like throwing spaghetti at the wall. Those who avoid the first two phases do so most often because they believe that they are saving time and money. In reality, starting with execution can be far riskier and more expensive, since it’s more likely that you’ll head down blind paths and try out strategies that miss the target.
Execution is where you do the activities that you’ve planned for. Editing your site for keywords, adding in a blog, creating videos of products or promotional videos on YouTube, posting on social media, all of these things are the execution of the well-laid plans you’ve made.
You may have brought in experts to help you with the previous phases – execution is another area where you might enlist outside help. For example, if you’ve decided to add a blog, it can be tough to both run a business and consistently create high-quality content on a regular basis. Working with an agency or a freelancer can help keep the content flowing without overwhelming you.
The refinement phase is where all of that hard work planning and measuring comes together. This is the point where you’ll look at the strategies, channels, and individual tactics and see how they performed.
For instance, if you’re paying for ads on Facebook, what is your ROAS overall? And what is it for individual products? What’s your ad click-thru rate? Looking at the data will tell you if the particular channel is a productive investment, or if it’s only productive for certain audiences or products. From there, you can begin to make adjustments to your plans to increase the effectiveness of your efforts.
Now is also the time to review if you’re ready to add new strategies or a new campaign. What is the effort you’re putting into existing activities, and are they giving you the return you need? Is it time to drop one, or simply add more? Do you have the bandwidth and budget to do that? All of these are questions that your data can help answer. Then, you can start back at the planning phase, making adjustments as needed to your marketing strategy.
The Types of E-commerce Marketing
It’s strange to think that – while not unimportant – the specific channels and tactics that you use to promote your e-commerce business are the last thing to consider when setting up your marketing. It’s where many people start!
That being said, you’ll need to understand the various types of digital marketing so that you can choose the best strategies to align with your goals, audience, and messaging.
We focus this list on digital marketing because that is the best place to invest in for an online storefront. That being said, traditional, offline marketing can be effective for online stores, but it should be carefully considered. It’s easy for a customer to go from an online ad to an online store. Offline to online is a bigger jump, both cognitively and logistically.
Types of Digital Marketing for E-commerce Businesses
Search Engine Optimization – or SEO – is the process of identifying the words and phrases that your customers use to find products and services like yours and then using those words within your content and product descriptions to help your standing in search results.
SEO has become about much more than just sprinkling the right terms throughout your pages. Google’s algorithms for search optimization take a lot of things into account when it displays search results, including keyword usage, relevancy, freshness of the page, and site authority ratings.
While it’s good to start with a solid set of keywords, be prepared to spend significant time optimizing your content or be willing to bring in an expert that can pinpoint what will be the most effective tactics for you to use.
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Paid digital advertising can cover everything from social media ads to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Let’s take a quick look at each of these.
SEM/PPC: Search engine marketing and pay-per-click involve placing keyword-based advertising with a search engine, like Google Ad Words. This doesn’t rank you higher in the organic search results – instead, it places your curated ad at the top of the page above the organic search content when someone looks for your keywords. As the name implies, you’ll pay for each click-thru to your website.
Banner ads: Banner ads are exactly that – banners that display on another site that advertise your site or products, like a blog or a news site.
Google Shopping: Similar to SEM and PPC, Google Shopping ads will show your items to customers searching for them on the “Shopping” tab in a Google search.
Social Media Ads: In addition to organic social media posts, paid advertising on social media channels can help bring in more customers. These ads are a good place to feature products or even highlight short videos about your products (think Instagram posts with testimonials about how great your product is or short commercial-like posts on Facebook).
Remarketing: Remarketing is a form of behavioral retargeting, getting your products or website back into the awareness of people who may have visited previously.
Organic Social Media
The flip side to paid ads on social media is organic posting. This is where you share pictures and information about your company, site, products, and even sales.
But social media posts can be much more – and have a greater impact. You can re-share posts by followers who mention your products or site, show people using the products, and generally interact with customers and potential customers.
Social media can also offer a window into your customer’s mindset. You can see what people like and dislike about your products, and even what they are saying about your competitors.
The important thing to remember with social media is to not be sales-y all of the time. Include interesting and fun posts along with promotional ones. Your social media should be a place where your followers find something that interests them, not just a place for you to broadcast your wares.
Email marketing is a chameleon. It can help you with everything from keeping customers aware of your store and products to re-engaging with a customer that left the site before making a purchase.
One of the most compelling things about email marketing is the ROI. As noted above, you can see as much as a 4200% ROI on the money spent in email marketing. If you’re looking to get started marketing your e-commerce site, email marketing will give you the biggest bang for your time and money.
So, how can you use email marketing to promote your online store?
Email list/newsletter: Collect emails (with permission) on your website and send out regular communications to your subscribers. Tell them interesting things about your products, provide articles that are relevant to your audience, or tell them about upcoming events and sales.
Post-purchase followups: After a customer purchases something, follow up with them via email. Ask for a review, check to see if they are enjoying the product, or send additional documentation or information. Not only will this promote the valuable return customer, it will also let you head off any problems with an unhappy customer by addressing their concerns right away – before they leave a negative review or social media post.
Abandoned cart reengagement: Abandoned carts can be a big problem for online retailers. Customers come in, add items, and then never complete their purchase. Worldwide, abandoned cart rates for retail in 2020 were as much as 84%. Imagine if you could recapture just a fraction of those lost sales. An email that reminds customers of the items left in their carts has as high as a 48% open rate – far exceeding the roughly 7% open rate of marketing emails.
Affiliate marketing is another avenue that you can explore. This is where you offer a “bounty” to other sites and promoters for sales made through their links.
Amazon does this with great success. Businesses, like bloggers, can sign up for an affiliate marketing account and they are given a special link to use for items on the mega-e-commerce site. When someone goes to Amazon from that link, the affiliate gets a small percentage of the sale.
Shopify estimates that the average order value for an affiliate sale is 21% higher than other channels.
Content marketing covers a lot of ground but at its core, it’s creating quality content that your customers can use and want to see that informs and attracts them to your e-commerce site and products. Content marketing overlaps with many of the other marketing strategies, giving an asset to land on with a PPC campaign, social media post, or other attraction methods.
Content marketing includes everything from infographics to ebooks to blogs to videos. Each of these elements can be a means of attracting your customers and can be fun for both you and them. While many people immediately think of blogging when someone says content marketing, there are many more creative ways to use it.
As an example, let’s look at Blendtec. The head of marketing at Blendtec was looking for new ways to promote the brand online. He happened to notice that the founder was testing the blenders by putting in items that you wouldn’t normally blend – starting with a box of matches. They began to video these experiments and post them, seeing an almost immediate bump in sales. As of March of 2021, their YouTube channel has nearly 300 million views.
You don’t need to have a stellar, viral campaign like this to get a lot out of content marketing, but even less successful efforts can be time-consuming. A content marketing partner can help you plan a content calendar and produce quality, interesting content on a regular basis to share with your audience if you don’t have the time to create it yourself.
Marketing your e-commerce business is essential for success, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Understanding your audience and your brand, planning where to invest your time and money, and then using the strategies and channels that align with your store is the high-level roadmap to effective digital marketing. Once you’ve done these steps, be sure to go back and measure and analyze your results before investing more or moving on to a new strategy.
You should also know that you don’t need to go it alone. There are marketing experts out there who can help you promote your business, whether it’s as narrow as social media strategy and execution or a full-service digital marketing partner, like Curotec. Curotec can help you at every point in your online business journey, from creating and implementing a performant online store, initial promotion, and ongoing marketing support. Contact us today to learn more about how Curotec’s services make us the perfect partner for your e-commerce business.