How to Create an E-commerce Marketing Plan for 2018

As we begin the New Year, the digital marketing landscape continues to evolve with a constant stream of new ideas and technologies. Yet, when developing your marketing plan for 2018, it’s best to go back to basics. You need to focus on your customers, product, and what works for your business.

Simply having the newest technology is no good if you’re not using it properly. And you would be foolish to write off some of the old “tried and tested” methods of digital marketing.

A winning marketing plan is one that is ambitious but achievable and measurable. With the global e-commerce market expected to increase by 21% in 2018, there is a huge opportunity to grow your business.

Global E commerce Sales 2016 2021 01

(Source: Statista.com)

1. Define Your Resources

Before you get into the detail of your marketing plan, the very first step is to determine the resources you have. This includes your budget, team, and tools.

  • Budget: All budgets, large or small have a limit. Ensure you set up an overall marketing budget at an early stage. This will guide you towards a realistic plan.
  • Team: If you are a marketing team of one, then is doesn’t matter how talented you are, there’s only so much you can do. Prioritize tasks and set up the plan to reflect the size and skills of your team. Ensure you make the most of their time.
  • Tools: There is a plethora of tools available to help with your marketing strategy. GrooveJar and MageMail are two such tools that can help boost your revenue.

Once you have worked out each of those components, you will have a complete picture of your available resources. It’s important to be brutally honest at this stage, otherwise you may find yourself overreaching.

2. Set Your Goals

Any plan needs to have one or more objectives. Looking at the resources you have and the performance of your business, you need to set ambitious yet realistic goals.

This could include:

  • Entering a new market
  • Growing your market share
  • Launch a new product
  • Improve your social media profile

The overall goal of any business is to increase their revenue and profits. So you need to pick the marketing objectives that can help you work towards that ultimate goal.

For example, if your business wanted to increase revenue by 50% in 2018, then you would set marketing objectives accordingly:

  • Improve customer retention by 25%
  • Increase market share by 15%
  • Grow email list by 10%

Note that I’m grossly oversimplifying the math. Each objective’s percentage gain does not necessarily correlate to a percentage gain in revenue. However, the basic idea is to use attainable goals in marketing to drive additional revenue to your company. You need to do the research and ensure the numbers are realistic and match the overall goal. Figures will vary from business to business.

By now, you should have a clear set of goals for your 2018 e-commerce marketing plan.

3. Identify Your Target Audience

For any marketing plan to work, you need to understand your customers. This will be the bedrock on how you will target them and communicate your message. This article from Entrepreneur gives a fascinating insight into the different demographics of the United States. It reveals some surprising statistics, including that the over-50 age group buy 25% of toys sold in America.

Even if you feel you know your customers, it’s always worth undertaking research to build and flesh out ‘buyer personas.’

Hubspot uses a good definition:

“Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas) are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.

Buyer personas are useful because they can be used to tailor your marketing strategy to specific groups of customers.

Personas help us all  in marketing, sales, product, and services internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans. Having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.”

How to Build Buyer Personas

The number one way of building buyer personas is to ask your existing customers. After all, they are easily accessible, familiar with your brand, and will have already used your products. Take the opportunity to gather as much data as possible through primary and secondary research. (Primary research methods can include surveys, interviews, and observation.)

The questions you ask need to be relevant to your business and its products. Here are the areas you should cover:

Who are they?

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Profession
  • Location
  • Family status
  • Income level
  • Leisure time activities
  • Education level
  • Home ownership

What do they buy?

  • What products they buy (If any)
  • How often
  • How do they use your products

Feedback

  • Ratings
  • Referrals
  • Brand loyalty

As you can see, in building a buyer persona the focus is on the customer. You want to be able to find out as much information as possible about their interests, lifestyles, and income. This will help customize your marketing strategy to specific groups of people.

Once again, Hubspot has some great tools and templates you can use to gather the information you need.

4. Competitor Analysis

Researching your competitors, particularly those who are at the level you’re targeting, is an excellent way to find out what it takes. Successful businesses tend to be successful for a reason. They are getting a lot right.

After you have identified your competitors, take the time to look into the different aspects of their businesses. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is their objective?
  • What are their marketing strategies? Identify strengths and weaknesses in these areas:
    • Social media
    • Email marketing
    • Website
    • Advertising (Online and traditional)
    • Content marketing
    • Press coverage
    • Online communities and forums
  • What resources do they have? What is the structure of their marketing team?

As you can see, it’s a comprehensive list, and there’s no real substitute to doing this research yourself. However, it’s worth investing the time to do this properly since it will deepen your understanding of the market and provide you with fresh ideas.

5. Strategy

Now you have laid the groundwork for a marketing plan, it’s time to look at the strategy. The key to the success of your plan is to focus on the methods that work for your e-commerce business. Resist the temptation to try and use all the tools available.

Look at your team and the resources you already have.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The number one factor that drives SEO is content. That includes your product titles, keywords, and any written copy on your site. With a whopping 87% of organic search clicks going to the first five links, SEO should be a central part to your marketing plan.

If you are using the Magento e-commerce platform, we recently published the ultimate guide on Magento SEO Best Practices.

As the guide sets out, the first important step is to carry out an SEO audit. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses on your site. The audit should be split into four parts:

  1. Technical Analysis: This looks at things like accessibility, your sitemap, and whether your site has any error pages, for example.
  2. On-Site Analysis: After resolving the technical issues, it’s time to look at the creative aspect. This will involve content, keywords, and the structure of individual pages.
  3. Off-Site Analysis: Essentially, this measures the popularity of your site. It measures how much traffic you are getting, how many backlinks you have, and where the traffic is coming from. The overall picture will give you an idea of the authority of your site.
  4. Competitive Analysis and Keyword Research: Learning from your competitors is one of the best ways to get ahead. Mixing this up with keyword research is a winning combination.

Once you have completed the audit, you will have a much clearer picture of what you need to do for SEO. Simply filling your posts with keywords does not work, and it hasn’t for many years. The bottom line is to focus on creating high-quality, relevant content.

Keyword research is an important element to a successful SEO strategy. You need to find terms that are competitive and attainable for your business. Pick one too popular and you will get crowded out by more established and bigger rivals. Yet at the same time, you want to find one that people are actually searching for.

SEO is not an overnight fix. As with the marketing plan in general, solid results can take time to bear fruit. Any attempt to “play the system” risks a penalty from Google, which will put you back to square one. And probably no route back.

To get a full picture of SEO and how it works, particularly on the Magento platform, refer to the ultimate guide.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

This can be useful if you are a new e-commerce store looking to promote your business on Google. The very nature of SEO means it can take time to naturally rank on search engines, so PPC is a quick way to appear on the first page.

There are two things you need to remember here:

  • This is not the same as a search result: When you pay to appear on Google, your listing will be different from an organic search result. The image below shows the sponsored listing:

PPC Example

(Author’s screenshot)

  • They will not help with SEO: PPC adverts do not have any direct impact on SEO. Just because you spent money with Google, it doesn’t mean they will bump you up the rankings. However, it will give you a prominent position within search results and drive extra traffic to your site.

The other great appeal of PPC is that you can easily monitor the results and track the click-throughs. You can also set the campaign to your budget, so you will not overspend. Starting from just a few cents per click, PPC can be an extremely cost-efficient and quick way to get among the top search results.

Use Google Adwords or Microsoft Bing Ads to get your PPC campaigns off the ground.

Content Marketing

In the long term, the best way to rank on search engines is to consistently create high-quality, relevant content. This covers all aspects of your website, from the product titles and descriptions to your blog.

If you do not have a blog, you need one.

Having a fresh, well-maintained blog filled with knowledgeable and useful posts will make you stand out from your competitors. Google’s algorithms are getting increasingly smart at finding high-quality content.

Backlinko word count graph

(Source: Backlinko.com)

The graph from Backlinko shows the average content length of a top ten Google ranking was 1,890 words in 2016. This demonstrates long-form content works.

There is also very strong evidence people actually want to read authoritative and informative posts. A study by OkDork and Buzzsumo found that long-form content get the most shares on social media:

OkDork Content length and social shares

(Source: Okdork.com)

The key is not to focus on frequency, as it was in the past, but instead on creating unique, informative content. You should use the prior research on your customers and monitor feedback to find out what they want to read. Ensure the blog comments are enabled so you can engage with the readers and listen to their feedback.

It’s not only great for your reputation but also allows you to make improvements to your products or services.

Email Marketing

This is a classic “tried and tested” marketing strategy, and one of the most effective. Email generates a return on investment (ROI) of $44 for every $1 spent, higher than any other form of digital marketing.

In 2018, email marketing will continue to evolve and merge with artificial intelligence (AI). AI is already having an impact, helping marketers optimize subject lines, copy, and testing.

As the data we collect becomes ever more detailed and accurate, email marketing will play a central role in your e-commerce marketing strategy. It’s the ultimate way to directly communicate with your customers. The key is to have a fresh list of engaged subscribers.

You need to segment emails so they are tailored to the interests of the recipients, which is where buyer personas come in.

If you’re still not convinced, a survey suggests 80% of US retail professionals say email marketing is the number one digital channel for customer acquisition and retention.

There is no doubt about it.

Email marketing is here to stay.

Social Media

It’s easy to get carried away and aim to be on every social media platform out there. The trick is to manage your resources and use the ones that reach out to your target audience. Having said that, there’s no underestimating the power of social media.

There are 2.46 billion people on social media worldwide, a figure that is expected to grow by another 500 million by 2020. This figure neatly sums up the huge marketing potential.

In terms of e-commerce, social media has become a customer service tool for the leading brands. Having a strong and responsive presence does pay off. A survey shows 71% of customers who had a positive service experience via social media would likely recommend that company.

With 92% of customers now reading product reviews online, it pays to monitor social media for feedback. This means stepping outside your own channels and engaging with the wider market.

You should use social media management tools like Hootsuite to help organize posts and engagement with your followers.

Conclusion

The key to a successful e-commerce marketing plan is to get a complete understanding of your market. Learn about your existing and potential customers. Find out what your competitors are doing to get ahead. Discover what keywords will get your ranking on search engines.

The bottom line is to carry out the research at the beginning. And do it well.

The answers will reveal themselves. It will show you where to find your customers and what strategies are working for your rivals.

The next step is to tailor your strategies accordingly and match the scope to the resources you have. It’s far better to do a few things well, than many things badly. This can apply to blog posts, email campaigns, and social media.

Focus on creating posts that provide useful, engaging, and relevant content to your readers.

Focus on delivering targeted email campaigns that have high open and click-through rates.

Focus on the social media channels your customers use.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the information and data you will have collected during the course of your research. Define your budget, set your goals, and work out who your target audiences are.

That is the foundation of a successful e-commerce marketing plan for 2018 and beyond.

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