“The New American Dream is a version of the entrepreneurial journey that is unlike anything that has ever existed before,” writes CEO Bedros Keuilian in Entrepreneur. “The barrier to entry to becoming an entrepreneur is literally the lowest it’s ever been right now.” This is an incredible time to start and grow an e-commerce business.
Unlike decades past, when companies required massive funding, ad budgets, and connections with major broadcast networks and magazines to spread the word about its products, the technology era has made this process more democratic and accessible than ever before. Now, with the help of free social media platforms, low-cost websites, and DIY shopping software tools, an e-commerce venture can come to life over a weekend. As more American dreamers become drawn to the idea of location independence, flexible hours, and a better quality of life that the entrepreneurial journey can sometimes afford, the market is flooded with new companies. However, although cost-to-launch is low, the cost to maintain and grow a business is on the rise once again.
New channels for Marketing are ever-expanding, and advertising costs are increasing five times faster than inflation rates due to the influx of demand for these services. These realities add up to a different, but still highly competitive marketplace. Compounding the financial challenges is the haunting statistic that most business professionals are keenly aware of—80% of small businesses fail. We can anticipate that this percentage will rise as the quantity of businesses increases, and the experience and strategy necessary to begin one decrease. So, the primary challenge to e-commerce businesses in the modern era is not figuring out how to get started, but how to survive and thrive.
How can you cut through the noise and outperform rivals? How can you make every dollar work efficiently and effectively for your company? Here are a few answers that will help to guide your marketing strategies and increase the value of your investments.
Understand and Connect with Your Audience
One of the best ways to make your investment count is to understand your audience. Who are you creating products for? What are the values and attributes that draw them in? Where do they like to shop and share ideas?
Remember that it’s essential to talk to your audience at every stage of the Sales funnel and help guide them toward purchase. By strategizing for each step of the customer journey and focusing your message on their needs and interests, you will avoid wasting money on shot-in-the-dark generic campaigns. The better you understand your audience, the easier it will be to concentrate efforts on ads, channels, and offerings that will excite them, boost average order values, and encourage the most conversions.
To build long-term relationships, happy customers, and a strong referral network, it’s critical to not only talk to your audience but connect with them. Building brand loyalty, a community, and a sense of belonging is essential to creating a company that consumers can’t get enough of. If you can achieve that type of loyalty, your business will be able to compete and sustain its growth, even as the market becomes more saturated.
Unify and Personalize the Customer Experience
As consumers get accustomed to having more choices and convenience, their expectations continue to rise. Companies like Amazon have set new standards for rapid shipping speeds. AI-powered search engines deliver personalized results with precision-accuracy that makes anything less an annoyance to the average shopper. Meanwhile, a one-second lag in website loading speed will multiply bounce rates.
While companies may not be able to compete with giants like Amazon on convenience and speed, there is one crucial ingredient of sustained success that presents a significant opportunity – customer experience. The ability to enhance consumers’ personal experiences and develop relationships that feel authentic and build loyalty, is one of the great strengths of smaller businesses. So, leverage it!
Use the power of social media to connect with and learn from your audience, build a community, and bond over shared values. Put a real face on your brand, team members, designers, partners, and anyone that customers interact with to distinguish your company from the mega-corps that don’t and can’t value them as much. The better you can tap into your audience and understand their desires and personalities, the easier it will be to position your products to appeal to them.
Spend time thinking through what your ideal shopper’s experience should be — before, during, and after purchase. Then, create that journey for your audience across all Marketing channels (see next step). By unifying your brand’s strategy across channels, you’ll create a seamless experience for consumers that will help to convert them by being everywhere they are in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and meaningful.
Adopt an Omnichannel Approach
With more shopping options than ever before, consumers can engage with brands anywhere and everywhere that is convenient for them. Many people begin browsing on one device and complete purchases on another—presenting a cross-device, cross-channel Marketing opportunity to connect with shoppers everywhere they spend time. “Customers today don’t see businesses as online and offline as they used to, they expect brands to be on all channels and available when they are ready to buy. Businesses need to establish the role e-commerce plays in the journey and identify how tech solves the problem so they can create a multi-dimensional experience,” says Nima Yassini, CEO at New Republique.
Omnichannel is especially crucial for brands targeting millennials, for whom e-commerce is their primary interaction with companies. A survey conducted by CouponFollow found that millennials (consumers ages 22 to 37) make 60% of their purchases online. This same survey also found that 64% of these millennials made 50% or more of their online purchases from Amazon.com. Those shoppers cited the availability of online reviews and pricing as the key reasons why Amazon earns their dollars.
E-commerce giants like Amazon continue to draw in smaller companies that partner with them to tackle difficult challenges like distribution and take advantage of the enormous audience that the company offers. After all, 44% of all product searches begin on Amazon, and the mega-company owns nearly half of all online retail sales. However, as business owners develop their companies, they realize that giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google do not behave as partners should.
Though they have become necessary players in the e-commerce game, these behemoths do not have the entrepreneur’s best interests in mind. Instead, their aim is self-motivated—they want to own your customers—adding to the list of reasons why it’s critical to take a multi-faceted approach to business growth and find the right blend of opportunities to suit your company and customers.
One secret to thriving off-Amazon is to deliver a complete customer experience aimed at building loyalty, trust, and community, as discussed in the previous step. And one terrific method of accomplishing that is through social media (see below).
Take Social Media to the Next Level
Tailor the Content to the Platform
Competitive social media strategy has moved beyond multiple posts each day, analyzing optimal posting times, and responding to comments. It’s essential to routinely re-evaluate your plan, stay up-to-date on the latest features, and understand how consumers enjoy interacting with the platforms. Each platform has a specific audience that is looking for different types of content and engagement. Make sure that you post the right content to each platform and do not merely duplicate content between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social apps.
Remember that not every social platform will be right for your brand, so choose the ones that are most applicable and invest in them. While others might not be relevant, Instagram is officially a necessity for nearly any e-commerce business. It is now the leading platform that brings in the most substantial profit for brands. 80% of Instagram users follow at least one company, and over 200 million users visit at least one business profile daily.
Instagram is constantly evolving, and so is the way in which consumers use it. Be sure to keep abreast of the latest best practices to take full advantage of this platform’s benefits. While the demands of social media can feel overwhelming at times, there are many apps and tools available to help manage the chaos. One must-have is post scheduling software that can help to alleviate the stress of the daily IG grind.
Marketers can use these tools to plan content over weeks or even months in advance, complete with a visual preview that helps to ensure the profile aesthetic is cohesive and engaging. The best social media-focused software companies will also share insights into new changes to the platforms and updated tips for success.
The company, Later, for example, does an excellent job keeping subscribers updated about new IG features and tips on how to maximize their value through their blog. Some features getting a lot of attention this year include IG stories and the addition of stickers, polls, and Q&A. E-commerce companies are using these tools to encourage engagement and even make decisions about product offerings by directly asking their followers what they are most interested in.
Examples may include polls about product-related features like colorways, styles, collaborations, and pricing. Companies may also take the opportunity to learn how their audiences prefer to engage with the brand and what type of content they want to see (e.g., photos, IGTV, or IG stories). Modern e-commerce companies should take advantage of this opportunity to conduct (free!) direct consumer research by simply asking followers for feedback.
Encourage User-Generated Content
Developing unique content for each social media site can be incredibly time-consuming. One terrific solution is to encourage user-generated content (UGC). Create a custom hashtag that fans can use to share their favorite products and spread their love for your brand. Remind your customers to share their photos and videos on social media in your interactions with them through email, on note cards with their purchase, and on social media itself.
UGC accomplishes multiple goals at once — strengthening relationships with your consumers, providing low-cost and low-effort content, and delivering the social proof that consumers look for before purchase. Customers view UGC as an unbiased and unsolicited outside information source. They see people like them who found your product worthy of sharing, which results in boosting your brand authenticity and credibility.
One successful example of using UGC comes from the brand Aerie. The company set up the #AerieReal hashtag to create a campaign focused on body positivity that simultaneously spread awareness of its pledge to refrain from retouching photos of models in bathing suits. Real customers were encouraged to share unretouched photos of themselves in Aerie bathing suits and post it with the #AerieReal hashtag. Customers were featured on the company’s Instagram profile and IG stories, and Aerie donated $1 for every post to the National Eating Disorders Association. Not only was this a terrific customer engagement campaign that provided social proof, but it also reinforced the brand’s shared values with its audience and strengthened its online community by rallying behind an important cause.
Embrace Video and Go Live
90% of online shoppers say that product videos help them make purchasing decisions, and 37% of viewers watch entire online videos. By using the enhanced video capabilities on platforms like Instagram, you can boost your audience engagement and provide the exact type of content that audiences require to convert.
But don’t settle for the same old video stories that have been around for years. Take the opportunity to go live with your audience, providing a more genuine interaction with your consumers. When posting pre-recorded videos, make your video more engaging by using features like stickers to design your post and entertain your audience.
Collaborate with Relevant Brands and Influencers
With Instagram’s accelerated growth in e-commerce, comes a wealth of Influencer Marketing opportunities. By 2020, Influencer Marketing is estimated to hit $10 billion. Content produced by influencers continues to carry significant weight with consumers—especially young consumers—with 22% of young adults aged 18 to 34 reporting that they made a large purchase after seeing their influencers endorse products.
A study by TapInfluence and Nielsen Catalina Solutions found that Influencer marketing generates 11 times more ROI than traditional Marketing methods. For every one dollar invested in Influencer Marketing, brands reportedly earned $7.65 on average.
However, selecting which influencer to work with is more critical than ever. Influencer rates continue to rise as demand for their services increases, and more influencers are becoming entrepreneurs themselves, launching their own brands and adding to the competition. Remember that it’s vital to ensure that the influencer is a good fit with your brand before investing hefty sums of cash. Some tools for finding and comparing quality influencers include BuzzStream, FollowerWonk, and PeerReach.
Once you find the right influencers to work with, get creative about how to collaborate in a way that gets real results. Now that people are familiar with sponsored posts and expect that from accounts with a large following, you will need to collaborate with influencers in unique and exciting ways to break through the noise of sponsorships. You can apply these same lessons to collaborations with other brands. Find brands that are a great fit with your audience, then launch co-branded Marketing campaigns like giveaways to increase page likes and followers.
Consider Measurement Tools to Better Understand Behavior
With the proliferation of Marketing channels, devices, and personalized content, comes a massive demand for time, money, and resources from brands. As anticipated, this places an enormous strain on Marketing teams and company budgets. Although most tools and platforms now provide an analytics view, analyzing large-scale marketing efforts in disparate reports is ineffective, misleading, and time-consuming.
Modern marketing necessitates the dispersion of effort and budgets in multiple directions. This practice makes it nearly impossible to effectively manage all marketing and advertising activities without the use of smart technology that consolidates this data into a single view. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the key technological advancements that can help to gather, track, analyze, and manage cross-channel advertising campaigns in a cost-effective manner.
The AdRoll e-commerce Marketing platform serves as an excellent example of how AI can be leveraged to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Marketing campaigns. In addition to providing analytics and management tools in a single platform, AdRoll also monitors advertising results and adjusts bids in real-time to optimize ad spend and substantially increase ROAS.
Single-source analytics tools enable today’s marketing teams to not only view performance per-channel but also across channels. Now, marketers can understand how ads perform and which channels gain better results, while the technology automatically shifts budgets to Marketing activities that produce the highest ROI.
Smarter Search Functionality
Artificial Intelligence technology is working its way into e-commerce in a wide variety of applications. Another way that AI is boosting the user experience is by creating more accurate semantic search engines. By combining AI with Natural Language Processing, brands can help shoppers find exactly what they’re searching for. This technology helps to identify typos, offer auto-correct suggestions, and even make recommendations based on the users’ online behavior. AI also provides additional search options based on the way that customers find products, like voice and image searching.
Up-Selling and Cross-Selling
By analyzing customer behaviors and anticipating their needs, AI can provide smarter and more precise recommendations to consumers, resulting in greater success when up-selling and cross-selling. This is evidenced by the implementation of AI at Amazon and Netflix. Amazon sales increased by 29%, and Netflix realized a 75% success rate with item suggestions.
The ability of AI to predict sales and consumer needs has broader applications than simply boosting sales. By analyzing purchasing patterns and consumer demand, artificial intelligence can anticipate supply requirements and help companies manage logistics more cost-effectively.
A Promising Year Ahead
The new American Dream is made possible by e-commerce, advanced technologies, and social platforms that connect consumers directly to the brands and products they love. For the modern dream to thrive, companies need to focus on customer-centric strategies and invest in key technologies that help to build smarter, faster, and with greater personalization. Quality insights into target consumers are at the heart of all Marketing strategies in the digital era. It’s this information that will help to hone Marketing practices, enhance and tailor consumer experiences, and enable companies to thrive and succeed in a saturated marketplace.
As you follow the steps in this article, pay special attention to providing a complete and enjoyable customer journey. Leverage data to accurately identify your audience, provide the content they crave, lead them to purchase, and earn their loyalty. Remember that this process is best accomplished with a multi-faceted approach to your Marketing strategy that will help you to grow sustainably and with less reliance on the industry giants that force costs upward. By following the tips above, you’ll be on your way to a profitable and successful year ahead.