The Step by Step Guide to Building an E-Commerce Marketing Strategy

No two e-commerce brands are the same, and this is by necessity. Two otherwise identical brands will ultimately end up competing on price alone, with one of the two ultimately going extinct, or at least losing the vast majority of the market share.

Sharing specific tactics and strategies can be incredibly useful in this industry, but today we’re choosing to take a step back and encourage you to develop a strategy that is built for your business alone.

Here are 10 steps to walk through as you develop your strategy. This is by no means comprehensive, but it can serve as a starting checklist to help you identify a gap in the market and how to fill it.

1. Unique Selling Proposition

If you’re already in the process of building an e-commerce business, you have probably already given your unique selling proposition a lot of thought. Even so, when you migrate from identifying what makes your product or marketplace unique to how to market it, you will need to hone this even further.

Looking at the three biggest e-commerce sites today, all of them got their start with a clearly defined USP. It’s easy to forget that Amazon started out as an online place to buy books, but this was the differentiating factor that gave them a foot in the door to start.

eBay made waves by defining itself as a place to auction goods and buy unique items. Etsy made a name for itself by requiring sellers to limit themselves to hand-crafted items.

Your USP is central to your marketing strategy. You need to find the most concise and impactful way to convey what makes your brand different. The message should be simple and memorable enough that you can slip it into any messaging you manage to get your hands on, and open enough to act as the seed for your marketing strategy.

2. Mission Statement

Your mission statement, while related to your USP, serves a different purpose. It should act as a guiding principle behind your brand, the values that you want people to associate with your company.

When people think of your brand, what values do you want them to associate with it. What is your goal as a company, aside from the obvious need to make revenue and turn a profit?

Where your USP acts as the driving force behind getting your audience to convert to customers, your mission statement acts as the driving force responsible for your thought leadership strategy. Where the USP has more to do with getting the sale today, the mission statement is about building loyalty and continuing to get sales in the future.

3. Key Performance Indicators

Once you’ve decided on a USP and mission statement to act as the foundation for your marketing strategy, it’s time to start thinking about what numbers you want to focus on measuring the most. No business can optimize for every KPI without facing trade-offs. Amazon, for example, focused almost entirely on growing revenue and far less on profits.

Revenue and profit are obvious KPIs to watch, but the ultimate goal of your KPIs should be to measure how well you are living up to your USP and mission statement.

Some metrics you may want to consider include:

  • Net Promoter Score: Commonly referred to as the NPS, this measures how willing your customers would be to recommend your business to others on a scale from -100 to 100. It is calculated by subtracting the percentage of your customers who would give you a 9 or 10 on recommending your product, minus the percentage of your customers who would give you a six or lower.
  • Customer Lifetime Value: Rather than measuring how much money you are currently making; this is a measure of how much your average customer will ultimately end up spending on your business. Optimizing for customer lifetime value means that you are investing in business longevity.
  • Brand Impressions: How many people are being exposed to your brand, and how often are those individuals receiving those impressions? This includes brand impressions on platforms you own and platforms you don’t.
  • Web Traffic: How many visitors are coming to your site, and from what channels?
  • Time to Purchase: How long is it taking for leads to go from their first impression to their first purchase? The goal isn’t necessarily to minimize this, but understanding it can dramatically impact how you approach your marketing strategy.

4. Target Audience

Who is going to use your site or buy your products? What is unique about this audience, and where would you find them? What makes them a good fit for your USP and mission statement, and do you have multiple audiences?

What do members of your audience have in common? Does it have more to do with a shared problem they need solved or a shared culture or set of values that you would appeal to?

Other than the specifics of your business and what it does, what else would members of your target audience be interested in? What cultures, problems, and fields of interest are tangential to those directly related to your brand?

Identifying exactly who your target audience is crucial in order to determine how you want to approach your messaging, through what mediums, and on what channels, platforms, and locations.

5. Paid Marketing Channels

Will you invest in paid marketing channels at all, or will you focus entirely on “organic” marketing channels?

Which paid channels would be most likely to expose you to your target audience? Will they be on Facebook or Instagram? Will they be searching for a highly specific term in the search engines that you can target with AdSense? Will you be using inbound marketing tactics to get them to visit your site, then use remarketing ads to pull them back?

How will you measure the success of your paid marketing channels? Will you focus on brand impressions, on conversion rates, on revenue, or ROI?

What portion of your efforts will be invested on the bottom of the funnel, where quick sales are likely? How much will you focus on the top of the funnel, spreading awareness and beginning the customer journey? Will you be directing audiences to sales pages or to lead generation forms?

How integrated do you want your paid and inbound marketing channels to be? While a cohesive message is obvious, the decision of whether to use paid marketing to amplify your inbound efforts or to approach as a more siloed strategy is one that will be different for every business.

6. Inbound Marketing Channels

What will your inbound marketing strategy look like? Do you want a large but relatively unfocused audience or a small and highly focused audience? Will you reach people by entertaining them, by helping them solve problems, or by spreading your brand values?

Is your target audience going to be most interested in content that offers a deep dive, or will they be more interested in high impact visuals or pithy messaging?

To what extent do you want to build your brand by building bridges with influencers and joining existing communities, and to what extent would it better serve you to be the industry “rebel” that ruffles feathers and cultivates controversy?

Will you build your brand on expertise and thought leadership, or is your goal to make your target audience the star?

Since these are free channels, what is going to motivate people to promote your brand? Why will it be in their best interests? Will you invest more in earning the attention of big influencers and publications, or in building buzz and encouraging word of mouth with micro-influencers and everyday customers?

7. Industry Platforms

Where do businesses in your industry tend to pick up the most exposure, and which of these are the best fit for your target audience? Are they more likely to earn exposure in the news, or do they tend to get discussed more in places like YouTube and Twitter?

What is your target audience doing? Are they reading blogs, browsing forums, watching videos, using apps, or on social media?

Look at your competitors and what platforms they are using to reach their audience, as well as which platforms seem to be mentioning them organically. Identify which of these platforms are a place you will find your target audience, and how you can leverage these platforms to differentiate yourself from your competitors in a way that your target audience would find favorable.

8. Inter-Industry Platforms

Arguably the most neglected way to reach your audience, inter-industry platforms are places that don’t generally speak to or about your industry, but that is still a good fit for your brand and your target audience.

For example, if you are an e-commerce site that focuses on selling home improvement products to single mothers, it’s in your best interest not just to focus on platforms in the home improvement industry, but to branch out and take advantage of parenting sites, DIY sites, Pinterest, and mommy vloggers. This approach leverages your USP and allows you to reach your audience in places where your competitors can’t or won’t.

9. Lead Generation Strategy

Depending on what you are selling, there are several different ways you might want to generate and cultivate leads:

  • Using coupons and discounts to incentivize leads to sign up for emails or text messages offering special deals
  • Using lead magnets like eBooks, original research, or lifestyle guides to encourage your audience to sign up for an email drip
  • Using free trials and onboarding to encourage visitors to become members of a service with a monthly fee

10. E-Commerce SEO

To maximize lifetime customer value, loyalty, and repeat sales, you will need to determine how you plan to keep your audience from going elsewhere. For example:

  • Offering exclusive products that can’t be found elsewhere
  • Using personalized emails targeting their preferences to offer products they would be interested in
  • Providing an endless “onboarding” process that continues to offer new ways to take advantage of your marketplace
  • Using brand messaging that promotes brand values and enhances loyalty
  • Using content marketing that helps your audience solve problems, leading to continues reciprocation

Conclusion

No successful marketing strategy is a carbon copy. Use the steps above to develop an e-commerce marketing strategy tailor-made for your business.