It seems like every day, a new e-commerce store (or 20) pops up online, creating even more competition for existing stores. But despite the ever-increasing number of competitors, the fact that e-commerce retail sales are supposed to hit $414 million by 2018 should tell you that there’s plenty of market share to divide.
Still, the overwhelming challenge for e-commerce business owners is marketing their products. Search engine optimization is getting cutthroat, and buying pay-per-click ads can break even the biggest budget. Entrepreneurs are all about bootstrapping and DIY, so I wanted to know what marketing ideas were out there that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
I asked 10 e-commerce entrepreneurs what unique ideas they had to market their businesses inexpensively, and got some pretty great strategies that you can use, too.
Sam Williamson of FishTankBank found it challenging to build an audience on social media without investing in an advertising campaign. Rather than spending the company’s money, he and his team decided to create interesting ‘viral’ content and share it on the social bookmarking site Reddit.
Most of the members of our team were familiar with Reddit before we started, and we all had a rough idea of the type of content that was usually successful on the site. We decided to focus on the ‘TIL’ subreddit (/r/todayilearned), which celebrates strange and interesting facts. By producing regular posts featuring facts about fish, we didn’t just manage to drive thousands of visitors to our site, we also managed to build our email list considerably.
An example of Williamson’s success: after posting one article on keeping fish tanks, the article received 170 upvotes and more than 1,000 page visits.
Reddit may or may not be a good fit for your business, but there are other social bookmarking sites where you can share your blog content, such as Stumbleupon and BizSugar.
Don’t give visitors to your site more credit than they deserve. They need you to tell them exactly what you want them to do. That’s where a good call to action comes in handy: with a well-written one, e-commerce conversion can increase 22% on a quarterly basis!
Zondra Wilson, owner of Blu Skin Care, tested out this strategy to great success. She used call-to-action buttons to guide visitors to buy.
I made sure the buttons were big and colorful because this draws the eye and it triggers the consumer to tap on [them].
She also tested out a Mother’s Day sale with a banner (including that call to action) at the top of her site. By putting the date the sale ended on the banner, she created a sense of urgency that made people frantic to take advantage of the deals.
Take a look at your website. Do you tell people what to do? Guide them to signing up for emails or making a purchase? If not, test out a call to action, then measure results in a few weeks.
People love getting gifts, don’t they? Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal (considered the Uber of lawn care), struggled to find a way to get customers to tell others how great the lawn mowing services were. He knew that people weren’t inclined to discuss the subject over coffee with a neighbor.
Then the idea hit him:
We already knew whether or not [our customers] had pets, so why not use that information to get them talking about us? After buying $100 worth of dog bones and catnip, we started sending these out to our customers, thanking them for their business and giving them our Yelp link, of course. After a few trips to the post office, we saw the emails and Yelp reviews skyrocket. People were thanking us for going the extra mile and saying how they can’t wait to tell their friends about our service. Mission accomplished! And they will never think about lawn care service again without thinking of us first.
This is a fantastic example of how powerful word of mouth marketing can come with minimal cost.
Connecting with your audience on social media isn’t always as easy as you’d hope. People are bombarded with messages from brands on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so you’ve got to do something to make them really want to follow you and share your content.
Oleg Korneitchouk, Director of Marketing for SmartSites, says giving a coupon to customers who share the brand’s social media content has worked for his clients.
This makes the customer happy by providing them with a discount and grows your brand through [your] social network (which will likely contain other prospects). This is a win-win scenario that can snowball with the right message.
After implementing a social coupon on Facebook for one of his clients, an online coin seller, the brand saw a significant increase in visits to the brand’s site (from Facebook), and transactions using the social coupon also grew.
…we were receiving 50-100 visits from social per day (increase from 10-20) and saw an increase in overall transactions (and people using the generated coupon). People who collected coins tended to have friends who did the same and it turned out to be a very effective campaign!
What’s your brand’s story? How do you enhance the lives of your customers? Sometimes that emotional connection can help you attract more customers, the way it did for ScanMyPhotos.com.
Mitch Goldstone, President & CEO of the photo scanning company, says having a team of professional copywriters interview customers to share their emotional experiences in digitizing their families’ decades-old photos has proven to be a highly effective marketing strategy.
Each of the people profiled organically share their stories; they’re excited to see their profile in “print,” and widely share on most social media platforms. [There’s] no better testimonial than when a friend shares a raving experience.
Consider whether emotional appeal would make for a compelling story to potential customers.
So many marketing strategies are “been there, done that,” so Marcus Miller, who runs a digital marketing company in the UK called Bowler Hat, says you’ve got to use Guerrilla tactics to get people’s attention and engage them.
Inspired by the book Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, Miller tries to find innovative ways to capture people’s attention. One example? Promoting the Movember men’s charity, which encourages men to grow a moustache in the month of November to raise money.
Men’s charities don’t always get the support that the big name charities can muster so anything that can raise awareness and without a huge marketing spend is perfect. For Movember a local company called Graffiti for Hire painted a character on a 30 foot tower at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. Both the charity and Graffiti for Hire benefit from some amazing exposure and free press on the back of a good cause. This is perfect guerrilla marketing — in your face, low cost, maximum exposure.
He says the installation took six days and over 100 cans of spray paint and generated exposure, hundreds of press mentions, and plenty of money for an important cause.
Journalists are out there, looking for sources for their articles. You’re an expert in what you do, and likely there’s someone who needs a quote from an industry expert just like you. That’s how Maureen Pollack, CEO and inventor of the WaterSlyde, has gotten attention for her brand.
Our best and most economical way of marketing has been through free PR. We have a fun story and when people hear it we see a spike in our web views, which translates to more sales.
One example of press that has shone the spotlight on her business is an article published on Kveller, a Jewish parenting website. This article created a boost in traffic to WaterSlyde’s website of 2,000-5,000 visitors a day for 2 weeks, as well as an increase of 500 units sold.
Pollack uses the website Help a Reporter to scan journalist queries and respond to those (like mine for this article) that she’s a good fit for.
Finding influencers who have clout with your audience is always a good idea, and YouTube can be a wonderful channel to not only connect with them but also get them to sell your products.
Tanner Rankin, Founder and CEO of Source Approach, says that engaging with influencers who are open to becoming affiliates is a great way to reach a wider audience with your products.
We find YouTubers with strong audiences of our target customers, then offer them free product and a coupon code for their audience. Coupled with an effective landing page, this is hard to beat!
He says that if you’re actively consuming content in your niche, you can likely identify several well-known YouTubers who might be a good fit. If not, services like Tomoson and Famebit can help you find YouTube influencers and sort them by audience size, demographics, etc.
Look for influencers with a large audience of your target customers, who get strong engagement on their videos (such as shares and comments). You also want influencers with a solid social media following.
There’s nothing better than getting a past customer to buy from you again and again. That’s where Fetch comes in handy. Russell Silver, Founder of the 1-tap feedback app, says not only does his tool get valuable feedback on a customer’s experience, but it also offers a special promotion that is more likely to get repeat business.
Our marketing takes place post-purchase, and it happens in two steps. First, every customer is emailed a 1-tap feedback survey. This helps market the brand by showing they care about their customers, and genuinely want feedback to learn and grow. Second, every reviewer is taken to a custom thank you page with a promotion. This helps further market the brand image (by the message being in their own voice), and boost the online sales by providing an incentive to return.
Users of Fetch have gotten up to a 30% response rate on emails, as well as a 10% boost in repeat purchase rates.
People are motivated to interact with your brand when there’s a chance to win a prize online. Jason Angelini at American Bench Craft says giving away products on social media has been successful for his brand.
The first giveaway we ran was through our own social media channels when we were just starting out. We were able to gain 50+ social media followers and website subscribers, and we had 200+ website visits on the first day of the contest.
We also ran a giveaway just last night through a much larger Instagram account. We offered the company 5 of our wallets to give away to their followers in return for their followers liking and following our page. This campaign brought us over 200 followers within the first several hours and we are still gaining followers now. We also had over 400 website visits coming directly from this campaign.
Angelini recommends the giveaway tool Gleam.io to build a custom giveaway. You can require people to visit your website, subscribe to your newsletter, or follow you on social media in order to enter the contest.
These are just 10 low-cost ideas to market your e-commerce brand. There are countless others, and not all of them follow the “marketing rule book.” Find ways to creatively connect with your customer base online, and you’ll see an uptick in traffic and sales. What low-cost strategies have you used to market your business?