How ecommerce startups can use digital marketing to stand out in the crowded online marketplace

Updated: January 17, 2021 4:36 PM

As the digital medium allows for very precise targeting, companies could create rich customer personas of their ideal customer

Implementing the right SEO strategies is one of the keys to the success of any modern businessImplementing the right SEO strategies is one of the keys to the success of any modern business

By Kunal Shah

There has never been a better time for ecommerce. Given the pandemic induced global slowdown, ecommerce has offered a lifeline for both businesses and consumers across the world to continue some semblance of a normal life during the toughest lockdowns. The fear of the virus got even the most conservative shoppers and those from tier 2 and 3 markets to seek out their needs online. And even as life is trudging back to normalcy and we all come to terms with the new way of life, the ecommerce boom does not show any signs of slowing down. There has been a measurable shift in consumer behavior, with many new first time online shoppers. If reports are to be believed, the ecommerce industry is registering higher gross merchandising values (GMVs) as compared to pre-Covid levels, and this is definitely good news for all businesses operating in this space.

However, all isn’t as rosy as it looks. While the potential of growth is immense, so are the challenges. As if innovating during the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the task of staying visible, relevant and enticing for the discerning online shopper is a tall order as well. There are multiple companies offering the same products and services online, not to forget about the ecommerce behemoths like Amazon and Flipkart.

How then, can a fledgling ecommerce startup compete and stand out in the crowded online marketplace?

Digital Marketing offers some good answers.

As a bootstrapped startup with limited resources, you need to look for marketing your company in a way that gets you maximum reach and returns.

It is an undisputed fact that digital marketing is not only the most affordable mass medium, but it is also the one with the widest precise reach. It continues to be the best way to reach out to your most relevant target audiences, and gives you the best ROI from among almost all other marketing options available today. But digital marketing is much more than just building an online store and promoting the products through paid digital channels. And this is why it is important to have a well thought-through digital strategy before you start off, and evolve it over time based on the results it gives you.

Here are some ways you can get started:

Know your market

As basic as this might sound, this is an essential first step for any business. You need to know much more about the digital playfield you want to be a part of. It is a good idea to spend some time in primary and secondary research to understand category trends and consumer behavior in your domain. This will reward you with some useful insights, and ideas that could help you refine your product or service offering, based on need gaps, if any.

Know your competition

Being an ecommerce player makes it easy to find your competition, as you would know exactly where to find them – online. You could go through search engine results pages, and also research on social media to look for your competitors and what they are doing. You could filter and narrow down to those businesses that are in a similar niche as you or target the same customers as you wish to, and learn from their online presence. This would give you a strong grounding about what is working or not working, and would serve as a wonderful starting point for you to plan your strategy.

Know your audience

The traditional customer segmentation based on age, gender and location is just a first step. As the digital medium allows for very precise targeting, you could create rich customer personas of your ideal customer, so that you know exactly who you will be talking to. This would not only include the demographic details listed above, but also specifics like interests, mobile usage patterns, income levels, online browsing behaviour, social media platforms that are popular with them, other brands that they might like, the apps that they would likely be using or anything else which can help you understand them better. Doing this will help you not only create marketing content that will resonate with them, but can also help you evaluate what tactics and online mediums might work better with this group.

Have an SEO strategy

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a wonderful online investment to help you stay in the race from a long term point of view, and help your business be found by the right people. Implementing the right SEO strategies is one of the keys to the success of any modern business. If this isn’t done, then it would be difficult for your prospective target customers to even know about the existence of your business! However, SEO efforts can take time to start showing results, and this is why you should get started on this as soon as possible. The best time to start off would be while you are building your website, but in case that was missed, you could do it once it is complete as well.

One thing that you might want to take care is to create optimized landing pages for each of your product listings and search queries, which include the right keywords, good quality image and video content, and a strong call to action.

Content Marketing

In today’s times when there isn’t much product or service differentiation, content is one of the ways you can differentiate your brand. Marketing is no more about the products you sell, but the stories you tell, as Seth Godin had famously said. So invest in content that not only engages and entertains; but can also connect with and offer value to your audience, and get you more leads. Moreover, well planned and regularly updated content will ensure that your brand is always top of mind. You could explore blogs, videos, podcasts, newsletters and more, in keeping with your target audience’s consumption preferences. Content Marketing could be looked at as a good way to build an engaged online audience.

Get Social

Having an effective social media presence is a wonderful way to create online buzz, without always needing to invest too much. Creating share-worthy content gives rise to engaging conversations that helps your brand get seen and spoken about. Most social media platforms also offer some rich user insights, allowing you to get a peek into the users’ minds so that you can design your campaigns accordingly. You could also explore the multiple types of paid promotion options on social media to reach out and engage with an even wider base. This also offers an opportunity to interact with and address your audience queries and concerns. Be careful to steer clear of any behavior that might portray you in bad light, or that could stir up an avoidable controversy.

While building a social community can also take some time, getting social media influencers to talk about your brand online is an effective way to gain quick visibility and credibility.

Identify success benchmarks

Any digital strategy is only good if it helps move the brand in the desired direction. And this could only be ascertained if you set the right benchmarks to measure your progress and success. This can include website visitors, search engine rankings, time spent on specific pages, increase in engagement, leads and conversion rates, follower growth and the like. Of course, one would need to be realistic while setting these benchmarks, and it should be understood that digital growth and success can sometimes take time.

These are just some basics that will help to provide a solid foundation for your digital marketing efforts, and I can guarantee that if done correctly, your ecommerce startup will only stand to gain. Like I said earlier, there has never been a better time for ecommerce across the world, and all that it requires is to play the field smartly.

The author is director, Rank My Business

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