What Is Ecommerce Marketing?
Ecommerce marketing is the act of increasing brand awareness to drive sales of products or services offered by a business that operates online, also known as an ecommerce business. There are several channels through which ecommerce marketing can operate, including email, SEO, social media, apps, and more.
So, you’ve finally taken the leap and started an ecommerce business—congratulations! While simply starting a business is a huge accomplishment, your work isn’t done yet. No matter how great your products or services are, your business can only be successful if people know it exists. That’s where ecommerce marketing comes in.
What is ecommerce marketing? The ultimate goal of ecommerce marketing is increasing your brand awareness to better help you sell your products or services online. For many, this means using an ecommerce platform to create a website and using email, social media, and search engine marketing and advertising to attract shoppers. However, successful ecommerce marketing involves more than these baseline tactics. In fact, in 2020, it requires a completely different mindset.
In this complete guide to ecommerce marketing, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully market your ecommerce business. But before we get into specific ecommerce marketing strategies, tactics, and tools, let’s first discuss how today’s shoppers engage with brands and discover products.
Ecommerce Marketing: A Multichannel Effort
The rise of online seller marketplaces, social commerce, and mobile app shopping has driven the ecommerce landscape into a multichannel model. Simply put, ecommerce businesses are no longer dependent on attracting buyers to a single sales channel—like a website—to sell products online. Sellers can now reach audiences in many places and, more importantly, focus efforts on those that their target buyers frequent.
In fact, sellers who rely solely on their ecommerce website are quickly losing ground to competitors who implement a multichannel ecommerce marketing approach. To succeed in ecommerce in 2020 and beyond, you really should adopt a multichannel approach that meets your customers on their preferred playing fields.
Understanding how various platforms and ecommerce marketing methods connect you to potential buyers is your starting point. To illustrate, we’ve broken these channels into two concepts: pull marketing and push marketing.
Ecommerce Marketing: Pull Marketing
Pull marketing brings customers to you to discover products and make the sale. In the brick-and-mortar world, pull marketing attracts shoppers into a physical store to browse products and make a purchase. Likewise in ecommerce, pull marketing brings buyers to a website or landing page to view products and make a purchase.
Pull marketing generally incorporates:
- Your ecommerce website and/or optimized landing pages
- Search engine optimized (SEO) website content for organic results
- Search engine advertising, like Google Adwords
- Pay-per-view display ads, like banner ads on related websites
- Social media posts with links to website pages and products
- Email marketing with links to website pages and products
- Print collateral like package inserts and mailers
- Radio, YouTube, and television advertising
A major benefit of pull marketing is it brings customers to your website or store where they can experience—and hopefully remember—your unique branding. This isn’t the case when a customer buys a product you sell through a marketplace like Amazon.
Another benefit of pull marketing is that any data collected, like customer email addresses and search history, is yours to use for future ecommerce marketing. In contrast, if you sell an item via Amazon, all of that valuable data belongs to Amazon.
A drawback of pull marketing is that it usually requires more customer interaction to complete the sale. There’s a higher likelihood of drop-off when customers must click to a website, then through a few more pages, to make a purchase.
Another drawback is brand recognition and trust. If a potential buyer isn’t familiar with your brand, they’re less likely to make a purchase on your website than a recognized name, like Amazon.
Ecommerce Marketing: Push Marketing
Push marketing places your products in front of the huge audience already using various channels like Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, and Google. In some cases, the sale is even completed within that channel, not on your own website—unlike pull marketing, where customers are brought to your online property.
Some push marketing sales channels and tactics include:
- Online seller marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart.com, NewEgg, and eBay
- Social media sites, like Facebook Shop and shoppable Instagram posts
- Email marketing with buy buttons and integrated or popup checkout
- Shopping search results, like Google Shopping and Bing Shopping
- Customized branded mobile apps
- SMS text and Facebook Messenger commerce
- Retargeting and remarketing
- Pop-up shops and kiosks
The major benefit of push marketing is your ability to place products in front of the massive audiences that seller marketplaces and social sites draw. Another benefit is being able to launch and market a single item or complete product line quickly without developing and managing a website of your own.
However, massive audience reach with this ecommerce marketing channel can also be a drawback since it attracts many competitors. Rising above the crowd on various marketplace and social media platforms takes work. It can also be costly since marketplace channels charge rather hefty seller fees and gaining traction on social channels usually requires paid ads.
Another downside of many push channels is your lack of branding and control. You’re reaching shoppers via a platform that you don’t own. So, you lose opportunities to share your brand via website imagery, video, and informational posts.
Plus, marketplaces and social platforms can change the rules at any time. Seller fees can suddenly increase and affect your bottom line. Search results and social post visibility can also change on a whim.
Multichannel Ecommerce Marketing: Combining the Best of Both Worlds
Most successful ecommerce marketers combine modern push and traditional pull marketing tactics into a “sell-everywhere” multichannel ecommerce marketing plan. The goal is to maximize the brand-building benefits of websites and email while taking advantage of the massive audience draw of seller marketplaces and social media platforms.
The biggest challenge that ecommerce marketers face is knowing which channels drive the most sales, and what tactics and tools to use to reach potential buyers. Next, we’ll explore how to put these elements into a workable ecommerce marketing plan.
Multichannel Ecommerce Marketing Strategies, Tactics, and Tools
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to ecommerce marketing. The combination of channels and messages that work for one type of seller will be the wrong mix for another. For example, a hearing aid seller targeting the senior crowd uses very different channels than an athleisure clothing line launching a maternity collection. That said, the strategy, tools, and tactics behind each might be surprisingly similar.
Successful ecommerce marketers generally focus efforts on a core set of channels and constantly analyze data to fine-tune their approach. That doesn’t mean they don’t try new tools, platforms, and messages. They do—in fact, they must in this ever-changing ecommerce environment.
But the smart marketer starts with a manageable strategy that includes tools they understand, tactics that they can implement and measure, and messages designed to resonate with their target audience.
Ecommerce Marketing Strategy: Set Your Blueprint
The word “strategy” means many things to many people; but here, it defines your overall plan of attack in the world of ecommerce marketing. Multichannel marketing is a strategy in and of itself. Likewise, single-channel marketing is a strategy—albeit, a poor one by most standards in today’s environment.
In this sense, running Facebook ads to promote your website is not a strategy. It’s a tool and tactic, but not an overall strategy. Get it?
So, for the strategy portion of your ecommerce marketing decision-making, consider the 50,000-foot view of your business. You can quickly identify your strategy by answering these three questions:
- Do you plan to reach buyers via multiple channels and online outlets to shorten the purchase process as much as possible? Then you’re using a multichannel ecommerce marketing strategy.
- Do you plan to focus on a single sales channel—like Amazon or your own website? Then you have a single-channel ecommerce marketing strategy.
- Do you plan to launch on a single channel, but test and grow to multiple outlets? Then you’re building toward a multichannel ecommerce marketing strategy.
Your strategy affects many downline decisions, like your ecommerce platform, how to accept payments and, in some cases, the products you sell. For example, if you plan to sell only on Amazon, you’ll want to research Amazon’s top sellers and trending products in depth. But you won’t have to worry about payment processing since Amazon handles that for you.
However, multichannel sellers need a platform and payment solution that supports website, email, and social commerce payment processing, plus seamless connectivity to various seller marketplaces. Top ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify are some of the easiest options for small businesses pursuing this strategy.
A few small business ecommerce platforms let you build your own website and easily manage products across various seller marketplaces and social channels. Image credit: BigCommerce.
Ecommerce Marketing Tactics: Define an Action Plan
Tactics are how you put your ecommerce marketing strategy into action. A single-channel strategy will have a few marketing tactics, while a multichannel strategy will have many tactics. In this step, you can start building a list of sales tactics to guide your action plan.
We’ll use our hearing aid vs. athleisure maternity line to illustrate how tactics can vary based on your marketing model and target audience.
Tactics for a Single-Channel Seller of Hearing Aids
Based on existing business needs and customer research, this established local shop wants to expand sales online using a single sales channel ecommerce marketing strategy. Tactics to implement might include:
- Online sales using an ecommerce website
- Marketing content related to hearing aids and senior living topics
- Online ordering with an in-store pickup option
- Email marketing to existing and new customer lists
- Printed materials for direct mail and shipment insert coupons
This is a good example of tactics that support traditional ecommerce pull marketing. Tactics center on bringing customers to a website or physical store to complete purchases. This is a useful strategy to reach the 65+ audience that’s used to more personal service and not as active on social media and other online sales channels.
Facebook Usage in 2019
According to Statista, only 40% of internet users 65 and older actively use Facebook in 2019. Image credit: Statista.
Tactics for a Multichannel Seller of Maternity Athleisure Wear
Based on search engine, seller marketplace, and social media research, this maternity athleisure wear seller wants to adopt a multichannel ecommerce marketing strategy. This allows them to reach customers on the platforms they frequent, like Amazon, social media websites, email, YouTube, Facebook messenger, and mobile apps. Tactics to implement might include:
- Branded ecommerce website sales
- Amazon sales
- Social sales on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest
- Data feeds to Google Shopping and Bing Shopping
- Commerce-enabled email marketing
- Mobile app content and product marketing
- Retargeting ad campaigns and remarketing to drop-off shoppers
- Content related to maternity and new-mom fitness, fashion, and lifestyle topics
- Mommy-and-me fitness videos to feature on web content, social media, and mobile app
- Printed materials for shipment inserts and coupons
This is an extensive set of multichannel ecommerce marketing tactics, but with the right ecommerce platform, it’s surprisingly manageable.
This plan pairs a branded experience via controlled channels, like a website, email marketing, and mobile app, with broad push marketing into social commerce and seller marketplace channels. This mix places branded messages, products, and convenient purchasing across all of the places frequented by this seller’s 20- to 35-year-old female target audience.
Ecommerce Marketing Tools: Your Building Blocks
Just as your ecommerce marketing strategy drives your tactics, your tactics drive your tools. The tools are what you use to get everything done, such as ecommerce platforms, seller marketplaces, and social media accounts.
A business using single-channel marketing tactics, like our hypothetical hearing aid seller, uses a pretty slim ecommerce marketing toolkit, including:
- Solid ecommerce platform with built-in payment processing and an in-store pickup option, like BigCommerce or Shopify
- Integrated email marketing provider like ConvertKit or Constant Contact, or an ecommerce platform’s built-in solution
- Keyword research tool like SEMrush or Keywords Everywhere to do basic research for SEO website content
- A Vistaprint or Canva account to easily design and print inserts and other print materials
A multichannel powerhouse like our maternity athleisure wear seller needs an extensive toolkit to get it all done:
- Ecommerce platform with built-in multichannel connectivity to seller marketplaces, email marketing, mobile app sales, plus social selling support
- Amazon seller account
- Business accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest
- Accounts on Google Shopping and Bing Shopping
- Payment provider that supports email, social commerce, and mobile app checkouts
- Customized mobile app available for customer download
- Retargeting and remarketing tools within ecommerce platform or via add-on integrations
- Keyword research tools like SEMrush that tracks both desktop and mobile search for SEO content
- YouTube account video hosting and distribution
- Canva account to easily design and social media post graphics and print materials
Most startups tend to put their limited ad dollars toward social media advertising, like hyper-targeted Facebook ads. However, Google AdWords and Bing search engine advertising can be a useful add-on to jumpstart sales or target low-ranking but high-converting terms.
Ecommerce Marketing: The Bottom Line
The ultimate goal of ecommerce marketing is to make it easy for shoppers to purchase products whenever—and wherever—they encounter them. Whatever your chosen strategy, tactics, and tools, if you craft a plan with this in mind, you’ll be on track to meet shoppers’ expectations today—and in the years to come.
Once you understand the staying power of a broad-reach, multichannel ecommerce marketing strategy, it’s hard to think single-channel. It’s true that some businesses employ a single-channel approach successfully even today. However, most ecommerce businesses that launch on a single channel soon stretch into social commerce and online marketplaces, because that’s where the shoppers are.
Wherever you land on the ecommerce marketing strategy and tactics spectrum today, it’s a good idea to anticipate growth into more channels down the line. If you start with that thinking, you’ll choose tools that support multichannel growth from day one. Then, your expansion plans won’t be sidelined later on due to lackluster technology.
Finally, remember that your ecommerce marketing plan is always a work in progress. Marketplace, ecommerce, and social media platforms are ever-changing, as are consumer usage and shopping habits. Plus, there’s always a new technology hovering on the horizon.
Ten years ago, that cutting-edge technology was social commerce. Today it’s voice-activated commerce, deep data, and augmented reality. It’s likely that one of these will be commonplace within a year or two, adding to our ever-growing list of ways to reach and engage customers.