How to Market a Product: A Practical Guide for Online Stores
So, you’ve got your online store setup and your product is great. But how do you actually market your product? No matter how great your products might be, unfortunately, they won’t sell themselves!
Too many entrepreneurs set up shop, thinking that the hard part is finding (or creating) great products and setting up an e-commerce shop. But did you ever stop to think just how many websites are out there competing for your prospects’ attention and purchases? Some studies show that there are 12-24 million e-commerce stores online! Even more interesting is that only a small proportion of these (650,000) manage to earn revenues of more than $1000 per annum! An even smaller segment of these would succeed in earning what we might consider as a reasonable income.This tells us that the vast majority of online stores fail. And most often, it’s due to a lack of customers, which of course is due to a lack of marketing. The founders never stopped to consider exactly how to market a product. Don’t let that happen to you!Setting up your store and getting all the back-end processes in place is really only the beginning. Now it’s time to start thinking about how to market a product and get it out into the world.In this article, you will learn;
- The 2 fundamentals to have in place before you start marketing
- The 6 key marketing strategies for e-commerce sites and why each of these are important (and you’ll feel motivated to actually make them happen!)
- Practical tips and examples for exactly how to get started implementing each of these marketing strategies
Get the fundamentals in place before marketing your product
Before diving into the marketing, it worthwhile making sure your house is in order so that those marketing efforts are not wasted. There are two areas where e-commerce stores typically fail...
Professional online store
Yes, you’ve got your online store up and running, but how well does it stack up from a potential customers’ perspective? Your website and online store is the home of your business and often it’s the only thing that customers know about your business. It’s important that your website projects the right image for your brand, and presents your business in the best light possible.Ask yourself;
- Are your photographs in a consistent format? Do they look professional?
- Are your product descriptions clear and in without errors? Do they speak the language of your target market?
- Is your navigation logical? Have you grouped your products into meaningful categories?
- Is your brand imagery and messaging on point? Does your header and especially your home page convey something aspirational that will entice your target market to continue to explore your site?
- Is your transaction process seamless? Have you tried going through it to check how your customers would experience it?
Remember, selling online is about building trust. Anything that looks unprofessional or not-quite-right will start alarm bells ringing in your prospect’s mind and will often deter them from doing business with you.
Top-notch customer service
When browsers are on your site, chances are they’ll have a few questions or doubts about ordering. How easy do you make it for them to get those queries answered? You might think all the information is right there on your site, but as consumers, we have all become very lazy. If something is not immediately obvious to us, we don’t spend much time hunting for answers. Instead, most people click away and you lose a customer.So again, ask yourself;
- Do you have online chat set up and working properly?
- Have you got customer service agents online to cover the times when your customers are shopping? (Is everyone remembering to log in?)
- Are you responding to contact-us or ticket requests within a reasonable timeframe? (< 12 hours)
- Do you have obvious and helpful FAQs (eg about shipping, returns, warranties) on your site?
If customers can’t get answers quickly, they’ll soon click away.
The 6 Core Marketing Strategies for Online Stores
Ok, so now that we’re sure the fundamentals are in place, let’s get into the strategies that will tell you how to market a product.
1) Social media
One great way to get people to know about your store is through social media. There are thousands of words written elsewhere about how to optimise your presence on various platforms, but the core idea is to get in front of people, create buzz, and build an audience.Choose one or two social media platforms to focus on - based on which ones that you think your target market would use most often. Set up accounts in each social media platform for your business and ensure they’re well branded. Then, seed this by asking your friends to start liking and sharing your content. Let your existing customers know about your social media accounts too. When you email them order confirmations or other messages, include some text to encourage them to engage with you on social media. Create an incentive for them to do so (e.g. maybe certain offers are only promoted through these channels).Then, start posting good content to these platforms regularly. The recommended frequency varies by platform, but usually it’s more than you’d think! (For most platforms, once a day is a good start.) Yes, this means you need to have a lot of content ready to post! But it doesn’t have to be too hard. Create a social media plan so that you have themes that you repeat each week. For instance;
- Product promotions
- Showing a product in action
- Feedback from a customer
- Asking a question (related to your target market)
- Getting to know you - the people behind the business
Prepare your content ahead of time in batches - it’s much faster to do this way. If you like you can also use a scheduling tool to post this out (but this does tend to result in lower visibility of your post).Another great tactic is to ask your customers to post pictures of their purchases onto your pages. This gets you exposure to their social networks.Aim to spend around 30 minutes on social media each day to consistently build a following. It’s often slow to get traction in the beginning, but the investment is worthwhile.
2) Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Whatever product you sell, you need people to be able to find it when they search online. And unfortunately, this is not as easy as you might think!Search engine optimisation depends on many different factors including; the way your website is set up, the content on your site, and importantly, the number and quality of other sites that link to yours.
This is a whole field of specialisation in itself and at some point you might want to consider getting some expert advice to improve your SEO. However, there are some things you can do now that will help get you started and build a foundation for SEO.
- Do some keyword research and find out exactly which terms and phrases people are searching for when looking for products like yours. You can use the free Google Keyword Planner, or there are many other specialised tools available (most will require a subscription though)
- Once you have discovered the primary keywords that people search for, you should then aim to include them into your website content. Ideally, you will assign one keyword or phrase to each page. The idea is to get that page ranking for that particular search term.
- Try to include that phrase in headings, your meta-description, and even your image names. Never do anything that appears to be unnatural though.
- Consider also creating additional pages for the search terms you want to rank for. For example, you might decide to create a page that compares a competitor‘s product to your product if you discover that competitor product name has a lot of search volume. (You don’t need to link from your site to a page like this, so people browsing your website would never find it.) Or, you might want to create a page that targets the
- category of products that you provide. Here you could discuss how to choose your product, the benefits of your product, etc.
- Also, consider starting a blog. This can be time-consuming but if you can create new content on a regular basis, it will definitely help with your SEO outcomes. Plus, it gives you content to post in your social media accounts.
- Develop a link building strategy. This is a bit more tricky and labour intensive. If you happen to have friends that run some high-profile sites, great! Ask them to link to your site. But if like most of us, you don’t have these connections, you need to start from scratch. The two best ways to do this are through guest posting and responding to journalist requests for sources.
- Pitch guest posts on relevant websites. Find websites in your niche with a blog and ask if you can write an article for them. You’ll need to send a compelling pitch, think of an appropriate article to write, and then write a high-quality article that meets their editorial standards.
- Subscribe to Sourcebottle and HARO to be sent queries from journalists looking to cite experts or people with experience in different areas. If they publish something from you, usually they will include a link to your website.
- There are also other ways to get links but it’s easy to end up in areas of questionable integrity and your site could end up getting penalised. For these reasons, it’s best to stick with the two methods above.
By being clever about the content on your site, and doing some work to build links, you can start getting found for the phrases that relate to your product.
3) Social proof
Did you realise that anything your customers say about your business carries a lot more weight than anything you might say about it yourself? That’s why social proof like customer reviews, customer testimonials, customer case studies, customer logos (for B2B products), and social media endorsements are so important. This stems from our herd mentality which says we have been hard-wired to go along with the pack. If one market-stall has a huge long line, we’re likely to think they have something we want and join the line as well! People like to buy from businesses that other people clearly endorse.
Think about how you can incorporate social proof into your online store. Could you;
- Include customer testimonials on your home page
- Use a widget to show when new purchases are being made
- Display customer reviews for each product
- Write blog posts that tell the stories of every-day customers
- Show average customer reviews of your own site (there are widgets that can do this)
- Highlight positive customer comments and share them as social media posts
- Include customer testimonials in promotional emails
It’s not that hard to start collecting positive feedback and the more leverage you can get from it, the better!
You’ve probably heard that word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing? It’s true. And no, unfortunately, you can’t control word-of-mouth directly, but you can do a lot to influence it.
The first thing is obviously to make sure each of your customers has a fantastic experience with your business (see earlier section about delivering top-notch customer service). If your customer isn’t happy, go out of your way to make them happy - even if that means refunding them or sending a new product. This can seem like a big expense, but remember you’re building customer good-will - and that is extremely valuable.Next, you want to encourage your customers to talk about your business. You can either try to be or do something truly unique that makes them want to talk about you, or you can take a more direct approach and ask customers to talk about your business. For instance, could you;
- Include something unique with each order that would come as a surprise
- Be ultra personable in your communications, with some quirky copywriting
- Include a gift card or discount coupon card with each order for the customer to give to their friends
- Send a second item with the intention that the customer will give one to a friend
- Run specific campaigns where you ask customers to share a link and reward them when their friends join
- Ask customers to review you on sites that aggregate reviews
- Give a surprise gift to customers when you find out they have referred your business to someone else
Focusing on word-of-mouth is a great strategy to implement as it forces you to focus in on customer satisfaction - which is ultimately linked to long-term success.
5) Paid advertising
Much as you might wish that organic types of marketing could be enough, there are very few successful online businesses that have done it without at least some paid advertising. When thinking about how to market a product, it’s vital that advertising is part of your marketing mix.You might want to consider;
- Google Adwords - pay to appear at the top of search results for certain keywords, or on other sites that display those keywords
- Facebook Ads - promote your best posts to a highly targeted audience to grow your community or drive sales directly
- Retargeting - although a little more complicated, this is a highly effective form of advertising. Here, you show ads to people that have already visited your site but not yet purchased. Maybe they got distracted or couldn’t make up their minds. But if your ads appear in front of them (in Facebook, on other sites showing display ads), they’re much more likely to reconsider and come back to your site to purchase
- Advertising in niche journals or websites related to your industry
- Advertising in newsletters or emails of the influencers in your industry (or you could arrange an affiliate deal with them)
Advertising spending can easily get out of hand if not kept in check. With all types of advertising, the important thing is to try it on a small scale, then keep running different versions and try to outperform your previous results (A/B testing). Keep experimenting until your cost of acquisition is low enough that you can leave it on auto-pilot for a while.
Even with all of these marketing strategies in place, the web is a big, fragmented place. Because of this, it pays to go where your customers are already shopping. Whether you like this or not, an online store on its own is usually not enough.Depending on your product and market, you might also want to consider selling on other marketplaces such as;
- Any other online platforms specific to your niche
Each of these have their own nuances and ranking algorithms, so it pays to learn as much as you can so that your products will get maximum exposure.
When thinking of how to market a product, it’s easy to downplay this part of running your business and assume that it will happen by default. However, without proper investment into each of social media, SEO, social proof, word-of-mouth, paid advertising, and other platforms, it’s much less likely that your online store will succeed.Spend some time learning about each of these areas and you’ll soon find none of them are too complicated. It’s all part of running an online store!
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