In this age of information overload, e-commerce entrepreneurs struggle to keep up with all the different ways to market their store.
They ponder whether to start advertising on Pinterest–or if they should focus on an affiliate program. They begin researching SEO agencies and then get distracted by the potential of Snapchat filters.
Do yourself a favor: simplify your e-commerce marketing strategy.
There’s a quote from the Art of War that goes like, “Amid the chaos, there is also opportunity.”
In a chaotic world where companies change marketing strategies faster than you can blink, there are many benefits to picking a few channels, staying the course, and mastering them.
If the whims of an algorithm have ever burned you, you might think that this is crazy advice. Relying on a couple of channels puts you at the mercy of the owners of those channels. (We’ve all heard the horror stories of suspended Amazon stores and Google updates that wipe out 30-40% of a website’s traffic.)
It’s why the best way to market your e-commerce site revolves around your owned channels.
Owned channels provide you with the freedom to create the experiences your customers are demanding. They include your website, email, and mobile marketing. Put another way, owned media refers to all digital marketing channels that you exercise complete control over.
If you don’t believe us, then here’s the same sentiment from none other than the CEO of Shopify. (One small gripe: he left out SMS subscriber lists.)
In this article, we’re going to investigate why owned media is more important than ever and provide ways to position these channels as the focus of your e-commerce marketing strategy.
More traditional marketers often distinguish between paid, earned, and owned media. It’s a useful way of categorizing different promotional tactics and channels.
Paid media is anything you pay for–Facebook ads, for example–while earned media is public relations and word-of-mouth marketing. Companies either pay to deliver content to an audience or try to gain coverage and exposure from reporters and influencers.
In contrast, owned media is anything under companies’ direct control such as a website, an email list, an SMS list, or a mobile app.
The graphic below does an excellent job of organizing the differences. We believe social media pages aren’t owned as brands would have control over the experience, access to their fans, and full use of the data. As we all know, the reality is quite different.
If you start an e-commerce shop today, how do you market it to grow? That’s the very question someone posed on Reddit.
Most of the answers provide some variation of the same paid media playbook.
When 14-year-olds–and their web developer dads–are starting businesses powered by Google Ads and Facebook ads, it’s no surprise that the customer acquisition costs of these channels are skyrocketing.
We’re not saying these Redditors are wrong. If you sell t-shirts, a blog post is unlikely to pay for your manufacturing costs out of the gate. The problem is that many companies never shift away from their initial over-reliance on paid marketing channels.
It’s something that Andrew Chen, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, laid out nicely:
" The key insight here is that Paid Marketing is tricky to grow, at scale, as the primary channel. It’s highly dependent on both against external forces – competition and platform – as well as the leadership team’s psychology when things get unsustainable"
He concludes that many of the biggest e-commerce business failures revolve around organizations that put all of their eggs in the paid marketing basket.
The point is that paid media is addictive because it’s a direct response way of marketing. You run ads, and you track the sales from those ads. It leads to a debilitating dependency on traffic and sales that is out of your control.
One last thing before we get into the owned marketing side of things–we’re not arguing against running ads.
A holistic approach to marketing your e-commerce store will likely involve some degree of paid media–and earned media. But this article is on the best way to promote an online store.
If you own a strong distribution channel, you can use it whenever you want to without having to rely on other channels you don’t control. Here are three steps you can take to reposition owned media as a core element of your e-commerce marketing strategy.
Where do email or SMS subscribers fall on your list of priorities? If they’re not near the top of it, then they should be.
That’s because you have complete control over your email marketing and text marketing list. They’re not at the whim to changes in terms of service or tweaks to an algorithm.
Once you build your audience, you own it, and you can reach out directly to that audience whenever you want to.
While we’ll leave email subscriber list growth to the experts at Sumo, we can speak to growing a list of SMS subscribers.
The widget makes it effortless for website visitors to text in a keyword. (A keyword is a word, phrase, or other combination of numbers and letters that allows people to subscribe to your text messages.)
When visitors click on the widget, it opens a pop-up with more information on Artist Couture’s text marketing program.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, you can run a Text-to-Join campaign to collect both emails and phone numbers. (Text-to-Join can gather other customer information such as first name, last name, zip code, or even specific product preferences.)
Your customers text in a keyword and then receive a response asking for their email. Here’s an example of how it works.
👉 Want to see how Text-to-Join in action? Grab your phone and text JOIN to 900900.
Building your email and SMS subscriber lists is the foundation of your owned media channels.
But the success of an owned media strategy hinges on the quality of your content—what you actually share with your customers through these channels.
The key to a successful content channel is that you have engaging content that is relevant and valuable and that you are using all available data to personalize the customer experience.
Email and SMS are great channels for direct selling. The number one way businesses use both channels is to offer discounts and other incentives to purchase. It won’t win any awards for novelty, but it’ll drive sales.
Your owned channels, like text messaging, can also serve as a brand marketing channel. You could use texting to answer more complicated questions that require a human response or even launch an SMS concierge service like Versed have.
By making it easier to ask questions about products, companies like Bohemian Guitars have been able to increase sales by 98%. As Shaun Lee, the co-founder of Bohemian Guitars, put it:
“As you respond to a customer on text, you’re much more informal. You instantly make a personal connection. When you make that personal connection, people are much more inclined to follow through with a purchase.”
The most significant limitation of paid and earned media is having a purely transactional relationship with your fans, followers, and customers. You need a way to turn isolated interactions into a connected experience.
Des Traynor, the co-founder of Intercom, spoke at Web Summit 2019 about how the subscription economy is taking over. In this new world, he argued that “retention is more important than conversion for all businesses.”
One of the quickest ways you can refocus your e-commerce marketing on owned media is to focus on the post-purchase experience. We’ve written before about customer onboarding best practices and using SMS for renewals.
If you’re serious about your post-purchase experience, you need to create different customer experiences. Typically what businesses do when you sign up is place you into the same onboarding flow. The problem is that different customers have different reasons for buying a product.
You can start this journey by collecting more data about your customers when they hand over their email or phone number. Here’s an example of how to do this with automated text messages:
We’re not big fans of getting to the end of an article and having someone tell us all of the advice depends on some difficult-to-define factor.
But it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge that any e-commerce marketing strategy is mostly dependent on factors ranging from the product to the customer base. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to promoting an e-commerce site.
With that said most articles that seek to answer this question focus on tweaks to paid media tactics. We wanted to show you that like all true profitable and competitive advantages, building out your owned media channels is the way to go.
It’s not something that can happen overnight, which is exactly what you want. It means a 14-year-old and their Dad can’t replicate your business strategy in a day.