6. How to Build Your Ecommerce Brand
Now that your ecommerce store is up and humming along, it’s no time to sit back and hope the money comes flowing in.
You know that. Our readers know that. So we commonly get this kind of question: “I’ve launched. I’ve made some sales. But how can I build my ecommerce brand?”
Every ecommerce store should be on social media in some form. But you can’t always be on, or focus on, every platform. That’s OK. The trick is to devote time to the platforms that can best build your brand.
We recommend pouring most of your energy into Instagram. It’s ideal for building an ecommerce brand, because it draws high engagement and allows you to really showcase compelling visuals of your product.
Every ecommerce store will have its own approach to Instagram. What works for one store could flop for another, so it’s key that you put thought into what kind of content you’ll post to the site.
Picking What to Post
These three basic tips will take you a long way:
- Brainstorm what your target audience might want to see
Everything you do for your ecommerce business should excite your customers (and potential customers), so ask yourself what type of content they’d be happiest to see when scrolling through their feeds. Better yet, find people (in real life and/or online) who are actually in your target audience and ask them what stuff they would like to see.
- Check out your competitors
Study the Instagram profiles of businesses serving the same niche. Whether they’re direct competitors or people selling something else your target audience wants, this will give you an idea of what content performs best.
- Pivot over time
Don’t just put an Instagram strategy on autopilot. You should constantly look at which posts work and which post don’t. Adjust accordingly.
Short bits of text—jokes, memes, or inspiring quotes—can draw high engagement. Frank Body, an ecommerce store specializing in coffee scrub skincare, posts tons of photos of models and customers using their product. But they’ll also post quotes and other images related to their brand. This post below is so simple, yet it garnered thousands more likes than their typical posts with photos of their product.
Fresh Heritage sells beard grooming products. The brand posts photos of their products, images of results from their products, motivational quotes, and more. Other times, as here, they ask a question to spur audience engagement.
Whatever kinds of content you post, here’s one helpful hack: Aim to get a reaction out of people. This doesn’t mean provoking your followers or courting controversy. What it does mean is that you should try to post content that will bring out emotion.
Work with Influencers
Influencers are people with substantial social media followings in your industry or space. They have influence over an audience, and if they recommend or endorse your product, it can really drive sales. Your goal should be to strike deals with influencers so that they promote your product on their social media. Their endorsement can be powerful advertising for your store.
Not all influencers are dogs, although we’re totally here for it. Canine presence aside, this is a fairly typical influencer post: photo of the product, fun description, tagging the company that’s advertising, and a discount code for interested buyers.
To tap into this power, though, you first need to identify influencers. Some things to consider:
- Research to find people who have a strong social media following among your target audience. One good way to do this is to look at competing brands, check out what kinds of hashtags they use, and see what accounts are performing well in those hashtags.
- Note that influencers don’t necessarily need huge audiences. An engaged audience is what’s most important, so look not just at follower counts but also at the number of likes and comments an average post receives. Often a smaller following that is more relevant and devoted is far more useful than a really big following.
- Micro-influencers have somewhere between 1,000 to 100,000 followers, but what they lack in follower count they make up in the potential for high engagement.
Influencer marketing works because it incorporates an ad for your product into an everyday post, like this one from blogger Shalice Noel. People see the post first and then ask, “How can I get that?”
For an in-depth look at how to effectively identify influencers, use paid shoutouts, and more, check out our deep dive guide into Instagram marketing.
How to Contact Influencers
Reaching out to influencers will be most effective if you can get noticed before you need something from them. Try interacting with influencers in your niche by liking their posts and commenting thoughtfully. The more you can do to develop a relationship with influencers, the better.
Once you’re ready to do some influencer marketing, you should reach out to them via DM or email to ask whether they’d consider promoting your product. Generally, you’ll approach them with one of two types of proposals:
- Product for post
Under this approach, you offer to give them free product in return for a social media post about said product. This can work with influencers who have smaller audiences.
- Payment for post
This is the more common path for larger influencers, and it’s a straightforward marketing deal. You work out a payment with the influencer so that in return for money from you, they post about your product and direct people to your website. Payment for post is the norm with bigger influencers. And if the post you’re asking of them includes a direct link to a sales page, payment for post is all but required.
As you talk terms with the influencer or their representative, you should consider what you want the agreement to look like. Here are some things to think about:
- How long after publishing the promoted post will they agree to wait before posting on social media again? It should usually be at least an hour.
- How long must the influencer leave the post up before deleting it? Generally speaking, three months is a good minimum. But, this will vary. Many times, this will not be discussed at all. The conversations typically involve where they post, whether in Instagram stories or their feed, or both.
- Are you making sure to require that they tag your store’s social media account? This is a no brainer.
- What other post elements are you agreeing on beforehand? Should they, for example, agree to use specific hashtags in their promoted post?
- What kind of content can you expect? We recommend allowing the influencer a lot of leeway in the image. After all, followers love the account’s content and you don’t want your brand to interfere with it.
You can try your hand at all of this, because it’s ultimately just about building relationships and contacting people with good offers. For help with the process, look into influencer marketing platforms like Hey.
Here are some other influencer marketing guides to help you as well:
Market with Content
In the long haul, you’ll see big returns from something that’s deceptively simple to create: online content.
On the web, attention is a hot commodity: Aside from the occasional up-until-3-am-reading-random-Wikipedia-pages binge, people aren’t giving it out for free. If you want their attention, you need to give them something in return. Content, even something as basic as a blog post, can do this—hence the term “content marketing.”
What kind of content can work? Here are some ideas:
- Blog posts
- Quick downloads such as checklists, templates, and “cheat sheets”
Creating content is a great way to build trust with an audience. If you provide content that’s relevant, useful, and even entertaining—whatever that means for your specific target audience—they’ll start to see you as an industry authority. This builds trust. And the more a consumer trusts you, the more apt they will be to purchase your products.
And if people share your content, boom: They’ve exposed your brand to a new potential customer.
Offering free content is also beneficial because you can use it to build your email list. For example, you might offer a free ebook in exchange for a signup to your email list.
The key to great content is to go back to the idea that attention is a hot commodity: If you want to make the trade for people’s time, you can’t be cheap. Offer something that’s unique. Offer something that really helps solve a deep problem. Offer something that’s amazing.
Here’s some helpful resources on content marketing:
Contact the Press
Social media and blogging aren’t the whole game. Traditional media outlets still have a lot of pull, and can lend powerful credibility to your company.
Sometimes people think they need a publicist in order to get coverage in traditional media. Luckily, that’s not true. The trick is to contact magazines and websites that are relevant to your product or store. A good media strategy is a broad media strategy. Think about different kinds of outlets, including magazines, newspapers, news sites, blogs, podcasts, TV shows, and radio shows.
One warning: Be careful to pitch content creators and media outlets that actually cover your niche. Some journalists, for example, get dozens of press releases every day that have nothing to do with what they cover.
Also keep in mind that the fact that your business or product merely exists is almost never enough for a press outlet to write an article (unless it’s extremely unique, or you’re doing extremely well in your market). That’s basically just asking a site to run an ad for you. Your pitch needs to offer something newsworthy, a good story or a larger trend, or some kind of data or knowledge you’ve come across in doing business that readers would find interesting.
Looking at coverage of your competitors is one easy way to find outlets that might cover your ecommerce product. Whether it’s a direct competitor or just someone in a similar space to your store, conduct web searches to identify where they’ve landed stories. Those outlets might be interested in covering your stuff, too, if you can make a compelling pitch for why your product matters to their readers now.
Getting coverage in outlets your competitors haven’t touched yet is also valuable. If you haven’t launched yet, try to find media outlets reporting on your niche that feature pre-launch items. Some pre-launch stores, for example, might be a good fit for TechCrunch.
You can also find coverage of competitors written by freelancers. Freelance writers pitch and pen stories for a variety of publications, and they’re always on the lookout for new story ideas. Find a story by a freelance writer about one of your competitors, then pitch that writer instead of the outlet they wrote for. If they think your product might make a good story, they’ll pick an outlet to pitch: It could be the same outlet, but it might be entirely different.
Here are some steps to take:
- Start with a brain dump. Think of every medium, from magazine to podcasts to blogs, and brainstorm a list of every publication/outlet within that medium that you know of that might cover something like your store.
- Google each of your competitors, the other businesses in your space. Identify the outlets where they got media coverage, and add those outlets to your list.
- Repeat the above step, but cast a broader net: Instead of just searching for info on your competitors, brainstorm a list of 5-10 businesses that, although you don’t compete directly with them, are in a similar niche. If you’re selling kids’ toys, for example, search for media coverage on companies that sell kids’ books, parenting tools, and the like.
- Look at every news story (or magazine article or podcast, etc.) that you found in steps two and three. Google the name of the author of each story and identify which ones are freelance writers. Find contact information for those freelancers (generally available on their website, which you can find by searching for their name) and write it down.
Once you’ve assembled a list of outlets and writers you might want to contact, the next step is to narrow your list down. For every publication on your list, find the names of their writers on their website and conduct a few searches on them. Identify one writer from each publication who covers things most relevant to your business. For every freelance writer on your list, double-check to make sure that they do indeed cover topics in your niche, including businesses.
After you’ve got a narrowed list, it’s time to make a press kit. Basically, this is a compilation of all the core info someone would need to write a solid article on your product. A press kit makes it as easy as possible for writers to craft a piece about you, which ups your chance of landing coverage. Your press kit should include:
- A brief biography of your business that centers on your business’s unique value proposition.
- Links to your website and all social media accounts.
- Images that media outlets are authorized to use. People in media always need pictures to accompany articles, so make this easy for them by providing photo options right out of the gate.
If you want some more information on landing press coverage, read our step-by-step guide to landing press coverage without a publicist.
Kickstarter is the poster child for crowdfunding. It used to be that if you wanted capital for your company, you had to raise money from a handful of wealthy, hoity-toity investors. With crowdfunding, a bunch of ordinary people all pitch in small amounts.
The idea is that you set a funding goal and offer rewards to people who invest. Unlike platforms such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing funding model. If you reach your goal, you get the money. If you don’t, investors get their cash back.
Crowdfunding isn’t just a good way to get investment. It’s also a really powerful way to build awareness and market your product. Besides helping get initial attention to your product, platforms like Kickstarter also help validate your idea. If people are willing to invest, you may have a good thing going.
Even here at Foundr, we branched out into physical products with a Kickstarter campaign for a killer coffee table book.
Not every product is suited for Kickstarter, and not every store should put the time and effort into a Kickstarter campaign. Foundr, for instance, didn’t launch with crowdfunding. But several years into the business, we did run a highly successful Kickstarter for our first physical product, a coffee table book about entrepreneurship.
No matter what other strategies you use, collect emails from the start. Always be thinking about how to use incentives like special offers, discounts, and unique content to encourage email signups.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s almost impossible for an internet-based company to thrive without a good email list. A strong email list is the bedrock for strong email campaigns, a mainstay of successful internet marketing. It seems like no matter how much the web changes, email is still king or queen.
Why? People still use it—as different social media platforms rise and fall, email remains untethered to any specific platform, and it remains in use for business and personal needs.
It can generate hefty returns, too. According to Adobe, every dollar spent on email marketing can bring in a return on investment as high as $40.
Another perk of email is that it lets you have a different kind of conversation with potential customers. People signed up to your email list form up a dedicated audience that gets your brand more than the average social media follower.
For an ecommerce store, a classic yet effective kind of email you can send is the deals roundup. This email, which is particularly appropriate if you have lots of products in your store, entails sending subscribers a set of deals or discounts on items in your store.
Brandless, an ecommerce grocery store, sends deal roundups based on a specific theme, like this email focusing on spices.
You can also send emails that highlight new arrivals. By announcing new products in your store, you appeal to people’s need to get in on the latest thing:
Sephora sent this email with the subject line, “It’s that time again… new arrivals are here!” It gives subscribers a neat deal in the form of trial-size product, then runs through a host of new products that have just arrived in their store. The urge this strategy tries to tap into is probably best summed up with the email’s copy itself: “New. Need. Now.”
You also might consider sending out a discount offer. People love to get their hands on good deals, perhaps even more than they love to have the newest stuff.
Here’s an example: Vionic, a shoe brand, sent an email about its Memorial Day sale. Discounts varied depending on which product customers purchased, but the email led with the maximum haul of up to 30% to get people in the virtual door:
The main takeaway is that you should always work to offer value to subscribers. They’ve given you their email, so make sure they get something in return. A sneak peak at the latest arrivals or a good discount on items in your store are good ways to do that.
Some action items for email marketing:
- Respect their inbox
For many of us, a clean inbox is as rare as a four—no, make it five or six—leaf clover. Adding to that problem by filling people’s inboxes with junk is a surefire way to build resentment. Sure, “don’t spam” is pretty obvious advice. But it goes deeper. Make sure that every email you send provides value to your target audience.
- Address people by name
This is pretty standard these days, and is easy to automate in all major email marketing software.
- Use friendly language
Don’t be stale and impersonal. Have fun.
- Experiment with segmentation
The best email marketing services let you send certain emails only to particular segments of your audience. Think about how to use this strategically. For more info, check out our blog post filled with details on exactly how to do this type of personalized email marketing.
- Try out automation
Email automation is every ecommerce entrepreneur’s best friend, because it saves you time while helping you target emails to subscribers on a more personal level. With automation, you set up commands directing your email marketing platform to mail certain subscribers based on actions they take, all without you ever having to lift a finger. For example, if a visitor to your website adds something to their cart but doesn’t finalize the purchase, your platform can automatically follow up with a cart abandonment email. Other automatic emails could include a welcome emails, re-engagement emails, and the day-to-day transactional emails (like order and shipping confirmations) that you’re sending anyway. For details on how to use email automation to maximize profits, check out this blog post. We also chat a bit more about this in Chapter 7 of this guide.
MailChimp is one of the most popular services around. It’s a great service to start off with, because it’s free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. But other services exist too: