Do you own an online store and are looking for ways to reach customers? One major challenge among solopreneurs is that they lack the budget and reach that big brands possess, which help them market better.
Consider marketing as more of an art than a science. Many people (particularly those without requisite marketing experience) tend to overrate hard-wired strategies at the expense of creativity and innovation. These two qualities are important as a solopreneur who wants to get ahead of competitors. Fortunately, there are examples from big brands and the efforts of their founders at the early stages that pushed them forward.
This article highlights creative examples of marketing strategies from e-commerce brands and explains how you can apply four underlying principles to propel your business to success:
- Don't underestimate the power of word of mouth
- Leverage the influence of others
- Connect to your audience through content marketing
- Win back prospects with retargeting ads
Don't underestimate the power of word of mouth
Nike sold its first 50,000 pairs of shoes via word of mouth only. Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, would chat with coaches, runners and fans to market his shoes. Then he hired a salesperson who took the job further. Jeff Johnson sought to establish a relationship with his prospects. He created a database of handwritten index cards containing important details about his customers. He used this to keep in touch with them, go the extra mile and ultimately turn the customers into fans.
There was no e-commerce marketing in 1965, but elements of Nike's strategy still hold true today. Make your customer experience so memorable that they can't help but talk about it in their circles. In other words, give them a reason to talk about your business. Johnson did it by paying attention to the concerns of each customer and exceeding their expectations. You have the advantage of social media, which makes sharing easy. Gain the trust of your customers and then encourage them to share promotional images of your brand online.
For word-of-mouth marketing, I find Jonah Berger's book, Contagious, instructive. He highlights six principles that drive the popularity of any viral product.
Social currency: People share things that make them look good. Structure your strategy so that your customers gain a better social outlook by associating themselves with your brand. Do this by doing something extraordinary (remarkability), leveraging game mechanics (a reward system, for instance) and making people feel like insiders (using scarcity and exclusivity).
Triggers: Find ways to get customers to not stop thinking and talking about your product/brand. Trigger people to think about your product/brand by associating it with memorable stimuli (e.g., Red Bull and extreme sports).
Emotion: Strive to evoke strong feelings (awe, excitement, amusement, anger, etc.) in people that make them act. Low-arousal emotions (contentment and sadness) have the opposite effect.
Public: Make your product/brand identity as noticeable as possible. Take a cue from the logos of Apple, Nike, Mcdonald's, etc. Also, have customers showcase behavioral residues (e.g., "I voted" stickers) to promote your product/brand.
Practical value: People like helping (or believing they are helping) others. Position useful information about the value of your product and its practical applicability in a way that makes it stand out.
Stories: Human beings think in narratives. Embed your products, brand and ideas into stories to make them easily recallable.
Leverage the influence of others
Influencer marketing is basically word-of-mouth marketing at scale. An endorsement or a simple product mention from an influencer can drive sales to immense proportions. It is one of the secrets behind the success of Anastasia Soares, who, with her daughter, owns and runs the Anastasia Beverly Hills brand, one of most followed beauty accounts on Instagram.
Anastasia relies on gifting products to micro (under 100,000 followers) and midtier (100,000 to 500,000 followers) influencers weeks before the product's official launch. In exchange, the influencers post reviews of the products, increasing the awareness of the brand.
As a solopreneur, this is one of the cheapest ways you can generate buzz for your brand. Connect with influencers in your niche, and induce them to talk about your product. How powerful are social media influencers? Eighty percent of marketers find influencer marketing effective, while 89% claim that the ROI from influencer marketing is at least comparable to that of other marketing channels.
When creating an influencer marketing strategy for your brand, do the following:
Establish what your KPI will be beforehand. Determine the metrics by which you will measure the success of your campaign. Follower counts? Reach? Website traffic? The click-through rate? Impressions? Engagements (likes, comments, retweets, shares, hashtags, etc.)? As an e-commerce brand, your ultimate KPI must be sales.
Find influencers that are relevant to your brand. The most powerful influencers for your brand aren't necessarily the ones with the most followers. As a beauty brand, Anastasia's factors for finding influencers were based on the quality of photos used in the influencer's posts and their makeup artistry.
Successful influencer marketing relies on authenticity. The best marketing campaigns are organic. Besides, it is pointless to have someone endorse a brand they don't believe in. A key lesson from Anastasia's story is that the influencers contacted were not given a template; they were simply requested to post an honest review of the products. Influencers know their audiences best, and you need to let them present in their authentic style.
Leverage the right tools to boost your campaign's strategy. Here are some tools that can help you with your campaigns, whether that's finding the right influencers for your target audience or planning your budget. Upfluence helps you find influencers; Heepsy helps you analyze the influencer audience; Influence.co is a community for influencers and clients; Mailshake allows you to automate outreaches and follow-ups; Influencer Fee can help you plan your budget.
Connect to your audience with content marketing.
One of the fastest ways to build your authority in your niche is through content marketing. By establishing your brand as a trustworthy source of useful information, you can easily forge a community of loyal customers.
Content marketing in e-commerce is different from other industries. Here, your sole purpose is conversions: turning prospects into customers. You can't achieve this by simply publishing a 500-word blog post about why customers would love to use your product. That defeats the purpose of content marketing, which is to show that you are not just about selling your products, you want to improve your customers' lives. Learn from Planterina.
Planterina sells plants. When they started, cofounder Amanda Switzer established a YouTube channel, not just to advertise their plants, but to teach people about plants. The first video on Planterina's YouTube channel was published two years ago and was titled "Houseplant tour. Come explore my favorite indoor plants!" It was not titled "Houseplant sale. Come buy our plants!" Now, after over 180 videos, the YouTube channel garners over 110,000 views every day.
Your content must be valuable and engaging to your audience. Research your audience, and create content that addresses their needs, solves their problems and mirrors their experiences. Create stuff that people want to consume, and do this with creativity. Don't limit your strategy to blogging: Use photos, create graphics designs, post videos, launch a newsletter, etc. Do whatever makes your audience tick.
Also, don't take too seriously the idea of "content marketing campaigns." Unlike influencer marketing and PPC ads, content marketing is not a one-time strategy. It is a marathon, not a sprint. So, while you may have specific time-bound campaigns (perhaps to drive excitement about an upcoming or a newly released product), content marketing itself should never stop.
Win back prospects with retargeting ads.
In March 2020, 88.05% of online shopping orders were not converted into a purchase. And this is despite the fact that global online shopping conversion rates have been improving over the past few years. There are several reasons a person may abandon their shopping cart midway, but it is your responsibility to win them back.
Retargeting is delivering ads to people who have interacted with your brand in the past, maybe by visiting your website/store or social media page. It is not only useful for reminding people of incomplete orders. You can also use retargeting to inform customers of available discounts and other store offers, introduce new products, promote products related to the users' interests or upsell. Marketing aims to put your product/brand at the top of your prospect's or customer's mind. But sometimes the mind forgets. Retargeting is, in a way, redemption.
Google Ads (which calls it remarketing) and Facebook Pixel (or Facebook SDK if retargeting based on app activity) are two platforms with large networks for retargeting advertising. You can also integrate Google ads with an email marketing service, such as Mailchimp. Chris Daley, founder of 1250ships.com used this strategy to remind customers of new releases and bestsellers, and in the process earned a colossal 3,879% ROI in the first three months. Daley recommends focusing more on the images, since they draw people more than the copy.
To set up a remarketing campaign on Google Ads, do the following:
Select a campaign type between display network and search network.
Use the Audience Manager feature to select your target audience list for the campaign by adding them to your selected ad groups.
Choose a targeting setting for the audiences in the ad groups selected and add audiences to finish setup.
For retargeting on Facebook, take the following steps:
Connect Facebook Pixel with your website. This puts the pixel code on your website. You must be able to update your website code before you begin.
Create a catalog or use an existing data feed from an integrated app (say Shopify).
Create your dynamic ad, and set your audience to people who have interacted with your products on and off Facebook.
Choose a retargeting option (upselling, cross-selling, cart abandonment, viewed products, or a custom combination).
Finish the setup by entering the number of days for the activity. For example, people who added a product to their cart in the last 30 days.
Last, you want to make sure you are doing retargeting right, lest you upset customers or prospects. When retargeting, you have to segment your audience demographics and behaviors properly to ensure that your message is relevant to the target. And, very importantly, know when to let go. No matter how much you try, you would not convert 100% of your prospects anyway.
The e-commerce industry is coldly competitive. As a solopreneur, you must double down on your marketing efforts. Many e-commerce store owners are lax with marketing because they don't have enough resources to match their competitors. I would encourage you to start where you are and with what you have. Be creative. But more importantly, be willing to learn from your past experiences to find what does not work and what does.