Having the right ecommerce marketing strategy for your business is absolutely critical to achieving what you want for your ecommerce business.
Whilst the market is certainly buoyant, success is by no means guaranteed, and you can end up throwing a lot of money down the drain on half-baked marketing campaigns.
I’ve been working within the D2C ecommerce industry for around 13 years. Within that time I’ve worked for businesses that go for mass reach at a low price point right through to more refined luxury brands.
Here I’ll share with you the fundamentals for building a strong ecommerce marketing strategy that will help you achieve your short and long-term business goals.
What is an ecommerce marketing strategy?
In its most simplistic form, an ecommerce marketing strategy is setting one or more targets or goals and then researching and planning the tools, tactics, and channels you’ll use to meet them.
A great marketing strategy is a framework. It’s the skeleton of your ecommerce marketing operations, allowing for other elements to be added or removed as needed.
We all know that, due to the pace of innovations and changing customer behaviors, it doesn’t pay to be too static or rigid with our approach when it comes to anything digital.
A top-level ecommerce marketing strategy will require many sub-strategies delivering on the micro or macro elements that form part of the required target.
For example, specific tactics may be required to deliver on your aims within certain territories, or for a certain category of product, dependent on elements such as competitor marketing activity or market share.
How to start developing an ecommerce marketing strategy
There are a few key factors I advise you bear in mind when developing your own ecommerce marketing strategy centered on your online store. These factors are especially pertinent when assigning budgets and looking at what you want to achieve from your ecommerce website in the short, medium, and long term.
My first, and most important, piece of advice is to never lose sight of the full customer conversion journey. What I mean by this is not getting drawn into the trap of chasing ROI, conversions, or new customer acquisition metrics from every marketing channel or tool.
Brand awareness also plays a vital role in business and brand growth. Unfortunately, however, these types of ‘awareness’ campaigns aren’t always easily measurable in terms of a direct ROI.
Due to the last click attribution model that most ad campaign platforms utilize, we quickly forget that the original curiosity or intent to purchase may have been created way before the actual click on the ad, or other marketing asset, which drove your sale.
So, in short, if you only chase sales, you won’t get the same longer-term success from tactics that build interest, aspiration, and affinity towards your brand from potential customer audiences, alongside the typically more targeted sales generation campaigns.
My second piece of advice is to try and visualize your conversion funnel. This is so all of your team can quickly and easily understand the desired outcome from using a particular marketing channel or tactic.
Even a photo of a whiteboard following a strategy brainstorming can be a powerful anchor or grounding point when thinking about why you’re actioning certain things when executing on your strategy.
Often, you will be using the same marketing platforms for different campaign goals at both upper (awareness/discovery focused), and lower (conversion/sales-focused) points of your marketing funnel.
Lastly, in line with the above, use a common naming structure for the different types of campaign you choose to run. This will make your life as the owner or lead on the strategy a whole lot easier when discussing them with internal teams or external partners.
So, with those points in mind, now we’ll take a look at the various channels, tactics, and strategies that are commonly utilized within a modern ecommerce marketing and advertising strategy.
9 proven ecommerce marketing strategies, channels and tactics
Social media marketing
As a singular term social media marketing is very broad. There are many different social media channels that can be utilized within an ecommerce marketing strategy.
In 2022, it still seems as though Facebook and Instagram are still the most used within US and EU territories. But, of course, there are other channels that can also deliver strong results.
A lot depends on the target audience demographic and the product offered. The creative assets being used within a campaign make a huge difference too.
For example, I’ve seen some eye-catching case studies around TikTok driving success for fashion and lifestyle brands.
Homeware brands and retailers have built strong customer awareness and loyal customers by using Pinterest and making sure strong, creative imagery is uploaded for other Pinterest users to pin and share.
However, while organic posting is effective for smaller ad-hoc pieces of brand play-based or engagement-focused content. In reality, though, to be able to get your products in front of as many prospective customers as possible—who wouldn’t typically see your organic posts— a paid advertising strategy is required.
The beauty of many paid social media campaigns is their ability to offer either detailed targeting to a defined target audience or—as is becoming more common—a widely defined audience. In the latter case, AI and machine learning platforms drive adverts to potential customers based on their behavior both on and off a particular social platform.
As the adoption of paid marketing within social media is breaking records every year, campaign creative is something that should never be overlooked. You need your campaigns to stop a prospective customer dead in their tracks whilst scrolling. You won’t be able to do that with bland or easily forgotten content.
Also, understanding your target audience is key. More and more social media networks are gaining popularity and some regions of the world (especially APAC), have their own specific channels seeing success.
Facebook launched in 2004, so is now 18 years old (feel old much?), and some see it as a platform used more by 30-somethings and upwards. By this logic, Facebook Ads and campaigns might not deliver on what you want if you are aiming at 20-year-olds who may engage better with Instagram or TikTok.
Understanding the demographic data of each platform really pays off. Also not being afraid to experiment with them all is key. That’s why brands such as JP Morgan are playing around in the Metaverse already.
In summary, social media marketing is a great tactic and can be a lot of fun too. The ability to use these social channels for both awareness, conversion, and retargeting campaigns means that you can build your own macro sales funnel for each platform.
However, social media advertising has its pitfalls. Making sure you understand what you want to achieve and can expect from various types of campaign and budget in advance is critical to your success.
Those thinking that a few lonely ‘Facebook Ad’ campaigns, with minimal thought or budget behind them, will drive the KPIs you need will be very disappointed in results.
There is no cookie-cutter process that will work for all businesses, regardless of what any agency partner may try to suggest based on their previous experiences. Experimentation and testing ad formats, creative, channels, and different networks is critical.
Related read: How To Utilize Social Media For Your Ecommerce Business: An Easy Guide
Pay per click or PPC can put the fear of death into those who haven’t yet made use of this tactic within their digital marketing strategies.
The way it works is by your business being charged every time a user clicks on the campaign items being promoted. This cost can sway heavily between industries and products being promoted. Some of the most expensive clicks are generated within the insurance industries, but typically retail is far cheaper. The cost can be very low if you are operating within a fairly small market or niche.
In reality, there are lots of controls that ensure your spend is never more than you wish it to be. Bidding on the cost of a click is typically driven by the amount of others advertising the same products or keywords at any time. So the more competing for the click, the more expensive they become.
The forerunners in PPC are considered to be Google Ads and Google Shopping Ads. Bing and other search engines and websites also offer PPC-based campaigns.
PPC can be used in a variety of ways from banner displays, video content on YouTube, or search-based advertising. Search-based campaigns will display your advert when the target keywords are used by the user searching within a search engine.
Specific shopping campaigns are where your product catalog supplies the keyword information to denote what search terms on Google will display your shopping ad. The strength of your product titles, imagery, descriptions, and, more often than not, selling price will denote the success and volume of clicks to your website.
In closing, PPC can be used for both awareness and conversion. Experimentation and finding what works is best for your business as your strategy matures and becomes defined over time.
PPC / Google Shopping is a great (I would say almost essential) strategic marketing tactic for a brand-new ecommerce website looking to gain market share in a competitive vertical.
PPC campaigns can help position your site in front of relevant customers from day one whilst you work on organic SEO campaign efforts that will require a number of months to be coordinated, researched and tested before they really deliver on any serious volumes of traffic.
Related read: An expert’s guide to ecommerce PPC management
Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO for ecommerce, or search engine optimization, is really something that should be carried out by all. SEO typically has no cost bar the investment of time and effort.
The typical challenge with ecommerce SEO is that the word count of a product or category page is often much lower than that of a brochureware or purely content-based website.
Nevertheless, identifying keywords that have a high volume of searches on search engines and describe your product or service, should be incorporated into every product or piece of content you publish. Ideally, these processes need to be considered part of the best practices employed by your team when publishing any products or content.
Commonly, I would suggest an early days SEO campaign for a new website needs to consider 3 main factors:
1. Understanding core ranking signals
Do you understand some of Google’s key/core ranking signals which you can affect via on-page content changes?
These are vast to list and, in reality, nobody knows all of them or quite how they weigh in terms of ranking position (which is by design at Google even within their own internal teams).
The most common best practices, however, are:
- Ensuring you use sitewide HTTPS
- Optimizing your pages to not only load quickly across all device types but also load elegantly so that content isn’t ‘janky’ and jumping around as elements of the page are loading (see useful guide here on Cumulative Layout Shift)
- Ensuring sure you don’t have too many redirects in place or code that blocks pages from being rendered to website crawlers trying to index the HTML of your pages.
2. Technical SEO
Is your site technically positioned to rank well organically in search engine results pages (SERPs)?
Some of these I covered in the previous point. Nevertheless, defining what you want to achieve from your organic SEO campaigns with your tech team can pay dividends in the longer term.
Developers need to always be aware of how their work can impact SEO. It’s far easier to have this in place from day one, rather than having to keep going back over your content and having to constantly raise change requests for improvements.
Technical SEO for ecommerce can have a direct cost from development resources, either internally or via a 3rd party. However, the resulting changes that you make to please search engines will also benefit your site users by providing a better experience whilst browsing your site.
Areas to focus on are site security, site loading speed, and accessibility improvements.
3. Off-page tactics
Lastly, do you have an understanding of off-page tactics you can be working on, for example link building from other authoritative websites? Not all SEO is about the content on the pages of your site. Search engines are looking to present content to their users that is the most relevant and building backlinks will improve your domain authority and help you get ranked in SERPs.
Related read: a beginner's guide to ecommerce SEO
CRM & Data-Driven campaigns
Many businesses often use their customer database or CRM to capture data on and gain insights to eCommerce customers and their purchases.
What is often overlooked here, however, is that these customers are already aware of the brand and products on offer and have been convinced to trust in your offering and commit to spending their hard-earned money.
So why can’t they do that again?
Ensuring that you stay in touch with, and incentivize, past customers, increases customer lifetime value metrics and fosters a healthy and growing audience of loyal customers.
This tactic, in turn, can also increase ROI and keep your brand or product front of mind when the desire or need to make a future purchase arises. It’s generally far more economical compared to tactics focused on new customer acquisition.
There are a wealth of macro marketing strategies that can be empowered by CRM/customer data, and not all are within the digital space. Especially if you operate physical retail stores alongside your eCommerce website.
Content marketing is the process of producing strong pieces of content that are of interest to existing and potential customers. Normally these take the long format of text and imagery on a given subject referred to as ‘evergreen’ or ‘cornerstone’ content.
Such posts are written to be highly optimized for SEO, for example using specific keywords and tagging imagery correctly. These pieces of content typically talk around a topic that can be considered timeless, aim to provide genuinely useful information, and kept fresh over time.
Content marketing is a very effective eCommerce marketing strategy as typically there aren’t a lot of options for adding wordy text and lots of imagery within the customer purchasing flow of an eCommerce website.
Other types of content can be hosted on or linked to from similar types of content pages. For example, a podcast or embedded video for customers to engage with and discover information about your subject matter, product or brand stories, and ethics.
With most eCommerce websites optimized for mobile (remember our SEO best practices), the content and design are tailored around getting relevant product information in front of the customer as quickly as possible.
Therefore, an eCommerce brand’s content marketing efforts are typically found on the blog/news pages. Some even post newsletter-type content to support email marketing campaigns but also to allow for longer-form content to be published.
These tactics can be particularly useful for brands selling direct to customer (D2C). Being a brand vs a retailer can often mean there is a story and reason behind the products or ethos of the brand. Telling your brand story well can also be great for organic SEO positioning.
Once you do start to rank organically for your own content, there is a circular process that begins to come into play of ‘publishing to own’.
In short, this means you come to be seen as a market leader or authoritative voice in your chosen subject matter by search engines. This will position your content well and, in turn, will hopefully drive the same sentiment with end users by giving them the trust and confidence in your brand.
It’s important to remember my aforementioned point with any content-based strategy. You have to make sure the content is optimized on the correct keywords and is semantically written to please search engine crawlers.
Without doing this, the time spent producing content will almost certainly not produce the desired results vs competitors or those already ranking well organically within the SERPs.
Email & SMS marketing
Email & SMS campaigns have changed a lot in recent years. The rise of privacy policies (more on this below), and the advent of enhanced awareness of online privacy has made some consumers skeptical of joining mailing lists. The good ol’ days (according to some) of the batch send and blast are thankfully well behind us.
Email marketing has become more of a targeted and strategic tool. It can be used effectively to announce an event, update, or product launch, but is also just a great way to stay in touch with your audience.
Most EMS or email marketing software will offer the ability to segment your target audience in a number of ways, meaning you can ensure you send the right type of information to the right people. This could be as simple as featuring the correct currency symbol and pricing within a multi-national campaign.
Marketing email design and the creative assets used are very important to consider. Building HTML email campaigns is very different from a web page, despite them both using HTML & CSS.
There are fundamental differences between how different email applications will display your campaign. For example, Gmail won’t allow all custom fonts as they want to keep a consistency of design for the user. Outlook will render a message differently across its different versions.
Also relying solely on imagery within an email campaign is a big mistake. For example, what happens if the end-user has their email client set to not download images by default? You have just sent them a blank email with a subject line & nothing else.
Ultimately, testing before you send for any display anomalies or broken links back to your website is critical. There are some great tools out there to help you test your email across many of the most common devices and email client software applications. Investing in a subscription to one of these could really help you step up your email marketing game!
Email automation is also a very useful tactic, especially for an eCommerce marketing campaign. Being able to dynamically populate content and send messages to subscribers based on their actions, or on a CRM-type rule, can be highly effective.
You’ve probably received an abandoned cart email or two over the years. Automation can go much further than this though once you start thinking about it.
For example, you can build multi-tiered automated welcome campaigns to garner enough trust in your offering to get potential customers over the line and place their first order with you.
SMS can be used in a similar way. Although some see it as a dated method of communication, it still has huge open rates and reach. Nearly all phones alert the user to a new SMS but email can sit on a server and not even be downloaded until the user chooses to check their mail.
Giving customers choice with direct communications channels such as email marketing or SMS is ultimately the key to success. Forging the culture within your marketing team that you don’t own the customer's personal details, and they chose to give them to you, is a great place to start from.
Affiliate marketing is when you pay a commission to a 3rd party website for them generating referral traffic for you that results in sales.
The most common example of affiliate-based marketing in recent years has been the dominance of influencers. Being able to get a product featured and endorsed by an influencer to their network of followers can be a very powerful strategy for increasing reach and awareness. We’ve all heard the stories of ‘A list’ celebrities making (or breaking) a brand or product almost instantly.
But the influencer market has evolved of course, as all do. Consumers and social media platforms have pushed for wider transparency on the paid endorsements of products by social media influencers. Of course, this amplifies the messaging when a product is genuinely organically posted or featured in posts reaching huge audiences.
Influencer marketing is only one of many channels that can be monetized by affiliate processes. With the decline in printed media, many publishers are creating digital content. More and more publishers are reluctant to feature ads heavily on their websites due to trying to retain their brand integrity and credibility.
As a result, being able to work with brands and retailers to monetize any products or services, that they may have been reviewing regardless, is a great income stream on top of core revenue generation.
Other channels that can utilize affiliate campaign-type tactics are ‘CSS’ or Comparison Shopping Sites which feature a wealth of products and earn a commission on traffic driven to a website.
Other examples include loyalty programs and other affiliates who run PPC or Google Shopping type campaigns to drive traffic to a site, with them earning a commission for every conversion that they have referred to the retailer's site.
Read more about running an affiliate programme in an earlier piece I wrote here.
Providing the most relevant shopping experiences possible to your customers has long been the struggle of many eCommerce sites. There are many tools available on the market with pre-built integrations into the common ecommerce platforms on the market today.
The challenge in all of these eCommerce content personalization processes is getting it right. For example, using AI and machine learning to dynamically adapt the content of an eCommerce website, in real-time, to the user’s browsing behavior sounds amazing right?
It can quickly go wrong though.
For example, does the customer want to see similar products in the same category, same brand, or same color? Maybe all of these options are relevant?
Personalizing content is effective when used to subtly influence purchasing journeys rather than control them. For example, on eCommerce sites that have very large SKU counts, there may be promotions or offers on certain categories and products. Knowing your user has a preference for that type of item can improve conversion on these promo campaigns considerably.
The same personalization data can also work very well in off-site follow-up campaigns via email or social media retargeting campaigns that are closely matched to the user's previous on-site behavior.
Post-purchase is an area that many eCommerce marketing strategies leave more open than they should. With so much effort and budget being placed into customer acquisition and generating new customers, what happens after they have ordered is often overlooked.
Post-purchase campaigns as a strategic eCommerce marketing tactic can take the shape of many of the items listed above. The most obvious is email or SMS-based messaging asking for customer feedback on the service or products they’ve purchased.
There needs to be some thought, however, within your eCommerce strategy on how to re-engage these customers back into your purchasing funnel. When is the right time to do so without being an annoyance or seen as spam?
There will be many ways to do this specific to your business but think along the lines of aftercare or maintenance up-sell. A service or repair after a period of time, along with more personalized messaging about products similar to those purchased by the customer, or even updates on any press features that you may have obtained featuring the product purchased by a customer.
Making your customers feel good about their purchase from you for an extended period of time post-purchase can make selling to these same customers again in the future far easier. Not only that but it can create loyal brand ambassadors prepared to recommend to others or feature your product on their own social media channels etc.
Ecommerce marketing attribution
Of course, any strategic marketing actions or experiments mentioned above need to be measured. Accurate campaign measurement is something I can’t stress enough in making sure that your reporting platforms are recording data as you require at all times.
Most of this customer behavioral data is only available once at the point of it being created. If you have a gap in your marketing data, you typically can’t backfill this and will have holes in your marketing campaign performance reporting.
Without understanding the wider cause and effect of our campaigns across different channels, we can’t understand the net effect on both our top and bottom-line figures.
This is where the term ‘marketing attribution’ is often used. Attributing success to one of your eCommerce marketing campaigns is critical in understanding what is and isn’t working.
However, with all of the marketing data available to us, it is important to bear in mind that attribution isn’t binary and there are some campaigns that can’t ever convert to a sale (take a TV ad for example).
However, these campaigns can boost awareness and create interest. Without them, the tactics used to drive conversions may not be so effective. This is where what is known as ‘last click attribution’ fails to recognize the steps taken by a prospective customer in building up to a conversion—instead attributing all success to the last marketing asset the user clicked on before converting.
Further, even the digital tactics mentioned earlier within this article that utilize clicks—PPC for example—used to be easy to measure, but it is becoming harder to accurately attribute a conversion to a piece of marketing.
For example, recent changes to privacy laws and updates within Apple’s iOS operating system allow a user to block cookies or scripts that record conversion data.
Despite all of these challenges, there are several great models for working on eCommerce marketing attribution. I’ll put a link to a great article on the topic at the end.
Experiment to find what suits your ecommerce business
Building out your own ecommerce marketing strategy is exciting once you start to piece together your marketing efforts and begin making them work towards more unified goals.
Experimentation and ensuring key measurements are in place are critical to being able to evaluate the performance of each tactic within your strategy.
Whilst there is lots written about ecommerce marketing strategies, there is no cookie-cutter or silver bullet approach that works for all businesses in all verticals.
Experimenting with different factors such as marketing channels, creative assets, budgets, and audience segmentation will quickly start to highlight some of the better-performing options for your own ecommerce business.
Best of luck and reach out in the comments with any questions. Some other articles I recommend you check out:
- Ecommerce marketing attribution
- Best influencer marketing software
- Best eCommerce email marketing software
- Marketing analytics software
- Content marketing platforms
- How to create an omnichannel marketing strategy
- How You Can Use Influencer Marketing To Boost Ecommerce Sales
- Ecommerce Software For Online Sellers
Also Worth Checking Out: Everything You Need To Know About SMS Marketing