ECommerce is always developing, and trends are always changing. Modern customers with money, especially Millennials living in bigger cities, are looking for more than “just” products. People want products that encompass experiences. They want products that reflect values, whether it’s protecting the environment or feminism. They want something that can be ‘grammed. This doesn’t mean you need to change your whole business strategy — you just need to consider the way you brand yourself. Let’s see what that looks like in practice.
Let others do the talking
The notion of paying for advertising and talking at your target audience is very outdated. At this point, authenticity means stepping back and letting the product itself generate the hype. Here are three ways to do that.
Festivals, events, and sports teams
When it comes to sponsorships, almost no one does it better than Red Bull. It’s curated music festivals and added its name to over a dozen different sports teams and competitions. The name of the game with branding is to make your name recognizable to as many people in your target demographic as possible. There’s a reason that an energy drink company has put its name on festivals attended by hipsters, on racing and soccer teams watched by Millennials, and sponsored extreme sports such as cliff diving and snowboarding. This has successfully created a brand story that associates the endless cool factor of athletes or musicians doing mind-blowing things with Red Bull.
If you don’t have the budget of Red Bull, or simply prefer a more targeted approach, you don’t have to sponsor a music festival to make a splash with your audience. What’s important is that you reach out to networks of people that your customers trust, because studies have shown that customers trust recommendations from family and friends— and influencers are simply an extension of that close network. Podcasts have made it extraordinarily easy to namedrop your product in front of potential customers.
Audible is one of the largest audiobook websites in the world, and part of its business model is to sponsor a massive list of podcasts. While podcasts like No Sleep aren’t the same as audiobooks, they both share the same medium, so it isn’t a stretch to think that people who spend an hour on their daily commute listening to a podcast might be interested in using their time to listen to an audiobook.
If you don’t have the budget to pay cash to influencers, nothing is stopping you from sending them your product for free as a press package, no strings attached. All you have to do is hope and pray that it gets in front of their audience (with a positive endorsement, fingers crossed).
The benefit of each one of these strategies is the same: You’re getting your product in front of more people, and they’re watching your product in action. Being able to demonstrate how your product can be used and getting potential customers inspired and excited about it is the endgame.
The best kind of marketing is being able to rely on word of mouth. When your customers refer you to their friends or share your product on their personal social media accounts, you literally don’t have to lift a finger. All you need to do is create a hashtag and retweet or share your favorite shots to your company’s social media page. Numerous brands, such as Tayroc and Black Diamond, have turned their Instagram channels into hashtag factories, with remarkable success, connecting their products with the unique looks and lifestyles of countless influencers.
It goes beyond simply racking up Instagram tags, though. For example, Inkbox incentivizes customers to share their favorite tattoos (the company makes high-quality temporary tattoos) by giving away free kits and other goodies.
Update your outreach
There’s nothing wrong with conventional methods of outreach, such as email newsletters, social media posts, or blog updates. However, your brand can benefit from staying on trend in how you drum up hype and get people interested in your product.
Make video a priority
Videos seem to be the wave of the future for communicating with viewers. If you’ve taken a scroll through Facebook in the last year, you’ve probably noticed the dramatic shift from text and images to videos that are short, engaging, and usually captioned. Instagram also encourages videos, and having them captioned within the video gains the attention of scrollers who have their audio turned off. Then there’s YouTube, the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Dollar Shave Club is well-known for knocking this out of the park, from its very first silly, off-kilter brand video from six years ago to the one it just released in July. Each of the videos communicates its brand messaging: No matter who you are, you can join the club of people who don’t want to pay through-the-roof prices for razors. A value such as “representation” isn’t an experience, but it does trigger similar emotional responses. The fact that its latest video includes men and women of multiple shapes, sizes, ages, and gender expressions is a deliberate choice meant to appeal to its target psychographic.
Leverage your content to match the platform that is most popular among your users. Whichever platform you use, make demonstrating the experience of your product and brand the main focus.
Hold free events, classes, podcasts, and webinars
If you have a brick-and-mortar location, there is no better way to get additional value out of it than reaching out to your local customer base and offering them free events and classes. Take Schoolhouse, for example. It’s one of those brands that have successfully blurred the line between selling physical products such as lightbulb fixtures and kitchen chairs with a lifestyle aesthetic. Part of it is in its mockups and design, but it’s also because of the experiences it offers to supplement this brand. It hosts classes on decorating, book launches, macramé, and cocktail hours, just to name a few — each one directly linked to a product offering.
The interaction you can get with customers by offering them access to events like this can go a long way towards cultivating a fruitful acquisition and engagement experience.
If you don’t have a physical location, consider offering webinars, live streaming, podcasts, or virtual classes to connect with your readers. Numerous influencers have taken to the airwaves and released their own podcasts as free content to supplement their products, such as entrepreneurial guru Ryan Robinson’s Side Hustle Project.
Or you can take a leaf out of the book of the video gaming industry, alongside which has bloomed a cottage industry of streaming sites, most notably Twitch, to connect gamers to each other or to fans and groupies. The industry has built an entire social network just for its niche, and that’s an incredibly powerful way to add value to an existing product. It could be that your little corner of the eCommerce world is just waiting for a social network dedicated to what you’re selling — say, beer enthusiasts or trading card geeks.
Invest in your community
A successful experience you can craft to accompany your product should feel like you’re building a home or community for like-minded people who all happen to have at least one thing in common: They really like your product and enjoy using it and sharing it with others.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but there’s one basic experience every eCommerce company should give its customers: interaction. Make customers feel heard by responding to their comments and liking or sharing what they have to say. Once you nail that basic tenet of business down, consider the following:
Hashtags still have a place
What once looked like a fad appears to be here to stay. That being said, there seems to be a trend toward using fewer hashtags than before. Five to 10per post is the recommended maximum, but at least anecdotally, there might be a bit of hashtag fatigue, even in communities that use them all the time. There’s no doubt that you should continue using hashtags though, because they make it easier for your community to find your brand, as well as like-minded users.
Create apps or games that complement your product
Think of the GoPro app that serves as a remote control for your GoPro or lets you post directly onto social media, or Nike+, which helps runners track a variety of workout-related metrics, share motivational playlists, and boost each other up on social media.
These apps aren’t the product itself, but they supplement and improve the experience that users have, and in the end become integral to that experience. Adding a complementary downloadable app or game to the product builds in a layer of need that doesn’t exist in the product itself. If you create and fulfill your customer’s needs, you stand a great chance of winning repeat business from them, because your experience goes beyond the product in a way your competition doesn’t.
Create a loyalty program
A good rewards or customer loyalty setup doesn’t have to be experiential in the literal sense of the word. What it should do is create buy-in, excitement, and repeat conversions over time. So what does that look like in eCommerce?
Godiva has crafted its rewards program around its indulgent products. Members are entitled to one free chocolate per month at any retail location (yum!) and early access to exclusive sales. When you throw in the word “exclusive,” you transform what could be an otherwise ordinary event into something that’s VIP level. Godiva probably does give members first dibs on some of its new product rollouts, but it’s that clever wording that really seals the deal.
Here’s a blueprint for developing a loyalty program that keeps customers hooked.
Make your product worth experiencing
The experiences that you create to give your product that extra je ne sais quoi of appeal to your demographic are certainly important. They can make a decent product a #1 Amazon bestseller, or propel your product ahead of the competition.
But a word of caution: The saying “don’t miss the forest for the trees” certainly applies here. As important as it is to create a branded experience around your products, don’t lose sight of the fact that your product has to stand on its own. Otherwise, none of the fancy promotions you do, the content you create, the influencers you sponsor, or the clever hashtags you come up with will mean anything.
About the author
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others on RSF ecommerce blog.