Nowadays anyone who wants to build an e-commerce website can do it, even without programming or design skills, by using a platform that is especially created for easily setting up and customizing the online shop.
The challenge is not to create the online store, but to turn it into a profitable e-commerce business, and this requires more than choosing a profitable niche or building a database of products. To really make your online store run smoothly and generate profits in the long run, you need an online marketing plan that is adapted to your niche and takes into consideration the needs, problems and expectations of your ideal customers.
The marketing plan is what takes you from hopes and ideas to strategies and concrete action steps, then to sales and measurable profits. Without this in place, you can guess and assume, or hope that you will drive traffic to your online store, generate leads and convert them to customers, but if results don’t come as soon as expected, you may get discouraged and lose motivation to make your online business work.
But what should your e-commerce online marketing plan include? Let’s see which are the main pillars of a well-done marketing strategy, and how you can implement them in your online business.
The basics of an online marketing plan for e-commerce
If you’re not completely new to marketing, you’ve probably heard about the “marketing mix” or the “4 P’s of marketing” before: Price, Product, Promotion and Place. Online marketing is still marketing, so these pillars will or should be found in your online e-commerce strategy as well. However, they’re not the starting point when creating your plan.
1. Write down what makes your business unique
The first thing to consider when drafting your online marketing strategy is your element of differentiation, or what makes your business unique and different from competitors. What are you offering customers that competition doesn’t? Perhaps you have free shipping always, or discounts for loyal members, or a variety of assortments that is unique on the market.
Then, take the time to think of a couple of other advantages and benefits for the clients, and write those down as well. Having all these clearly written will help you focus and will sketch your business mission in the long run.
2. Decide what your business and marketing goals are
In any business plan you need goals and this applies to marketing plans as well, so the second step in creating your strategy is to put those goals on paper and attach deadlines to them. Do you want to make your first 100 sales within 3 months? That’s a goal, and as long as you keep it realistic and measurable, and very specific, it’s a good (“Smart”) goal.
Detail the steps needed for achieving that goal. 100 sales in 3 months means roughly 30 sales/month, or 1 sale per day. But the first two-four weeks may be more difficult, until people start to know about your store, so you may need to adjust your goal and say that you’ll make just 10 sales in the first month, then 45 sales per month 2 and 3.
That’s still doable: it means 1-2 sales per day. Now, attach a timeline to your goals, and put each of these objectives in the corresponding week. Leave enough room for the action steps: you will need to find means for making this happen, so the third step will be to look closer at the needed actions, then at your resource.
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3. Define the channels you want to use, and the specific action steps
Break down the goals in smaller, achievable ones for each channel that you plan to use. Your e-commerce online marketing plan should consider all aspects of online marketing, from on-site content and organic traffic to paid campaigns and social media, so start with everything that needs to be done on your website and see if you have the people and money to implement those steps.
Let’s use the previous example to make this easier to understand: your first goal is to sell 100 products in 3 months but it’s too vague. Choose a category of products, and see if you can attach this goal to an upcoming event: the goal could become to sell 100 Christmas-themed kitchen sets within 3 months for example.
Now, how can you increase the chances to achieve this goal? Create a campaign, put a banner on the home page, optimize the category page for kitchen sets and each product page, then create social media banners and ads, use PPC ads as well for a variety of relevant keywords, and maybe run a giveaway or a blogger outreach campaign as well.
You can choose as many steps as you want if you have the budget and human resources. Just make sure to be consistent and very specific with your goals, and avoid using too many channels at once if your resources are limited. For beginners in e-commerce, it often works to do just the on-site optimization, changes in banners and social media graphs and texts, and run only PPC ads for example to increase brand awareness and paid traffic at the same time.
[Image source: cpamediagroup.com]
4. Make sure your sales funnel is logical, functional and meets the user expectations
Yes, this also has to be put in your online marketing plan, because a lot of people neglect building a sales funnel and then realize they don’t have any strategy for generating leads and then persuading them to buy. The sales funnel is the center of your marketing plan if you want to sell, and it goes from visitors – virtually anyone who enters your online store can become a client – to customers and brand advocates.
How can you connect the sales funnel with the chosen promotion strategies and channels? Maybe you can start a PPC campaign to drive traffic to the category page, or run a giveaway to direct people to a specific product page that has higher margins.
You should also add up-sales and cross-sales, optimize the payment page, and make sure you test every step of the funnel on different browsers and devices. Once you’re done with the funnel’s structure, think of the first step: the client acquisition. What is your strategy for this?
To drive traffic and generate clients you need to know exactly where those people could come from. Google, social media, forums, blogs, paid advertising? Or maybe product reviews websites, magazines, a pre-launch list of potential customers you’ve built at a trade show?
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5. Analyze and measure everything, then adjust the action plan accordingly
The success of your e-commerce marketing plan depends on how well you measure and interpret results, and this means you need to set up your analytics account and be ready to look at data and interpret it, then adjust the campaigns and action steps as needed.
You may need some additional tools here, such as a remarketing tool to retarget those visitors who leave your online store without buying anything, or an e-mail marketing tool for persuading those visitors who gave you their e-mail address while in the sales funnel.
Additional things to consider when writing your online marketing strategy
Your plan is now almost ready, but before starting to implement it, you still need to know some aspects, and these include: your ideal client profile (“buyer persona”), an overview of 3-5 competitors and their online marketing strategy, a list of problems that your products solve, some arguments to always have on hand for clients who refuse to buy or abandon their carts, and a budget for needed tools like exit intent pop-ups, surveys, newsletters and so on.
Now you can start writing the plan: mission statement, value propositions, goals, ideal customers profiles (age, gender, demographics, income, reasons for buying, hobbies, lifestyle habits), problems and needs your products solve.
What benefits do you offer to your clients, who uses your products and how, and how do they decide to buy? Perhaps they compare more offers first, so you may also need to invest in a price comparison tool? Perhaps they check review, so you may need to run some blogger campaigns to build trust and raise awareness?
Now look at your products: how do you ship them? Does this involve extra costs for buyers? How do you promote them, online and offline? How do you set the prices and margins? What other services do you offer? What is your distribution network? What’s the size of the market, how much can you expect to sell, realistically? Is there already a need for your products, or do you need to create one?
Who are your competitors? What makes them good? What external factors could influence your success? How can you use those social, cultural, economic, technological or political factors to sell more? What other promotion means can you explore? Perhaps an affiliate program, or a referral program, a partnership, or maybe direct media and physical retail?
What is your strategy for collecting reviews and testimonials? How do you plan to use social proof for generating more traffic and sales? What are some good events to be present at? Do you have a subscription plan? If yes, how does it work, is it advantageous for customers? How about influencers – anyone you could involve in a promotion campaign for your new line of products?
The more of these aspects you have clear before starting to promote your online store, the better the chances for success, so put them all on paper and take these steps one by one. Unless your products are completely new and unique on the market, and everybody wants to buy them just because they’re amazing, the success of your e-commerce website depends on how well you plan everything. So good luck and let us know if you need help by commenting below!