In 2020, U.S. retail eCommerce sales is forecasted to improve to $604 billion – an increase of $54 billion over 2019. In order to capture a share of this growing market, retailers should develop a comprehensive eCommerce marketing plan that spans across the many channels, audiences, and devices that characterize today’s consumer marketing ecosystem.
In this article, we’ve outlined some of the most fundamental components of any sound eCommerce marketing strategy. By developing an eCommerce marketing plan of your own, you’ll be better positioned to compete and grow in the new year.
Although the exact shape of your plan will depend on your industry, product category, audience, and growth ambition, most e-Commerce marketing plans share a few common components. Consider incorporating these eight sections into your eCommerce marketing plan:
- Define objectives, goals, milestones and KPIs
- Define, position, and differentiate both brand and products
- Map products and categories to target markets
- Align the promotional strategy with the customer journey
- Align the sales and marketing channels
- Optimize and personalize the user experience
- Outline distribution and fulfillment
- Measure and analyze performance
Defining Objectives, Goals & KPIs
The first – and arguably most important – step in forming your e-Commerce marketing plan is to define your goals and broadly state how they might be achieved. Keep in mind that while just about every merchant usually aims to increase sales, your goals should be practical and relevant given your situation.
For instance, if you’re a small merchant, your goals may be related to channel development, branding, or awareness; on the other end of the spectrum, larger retailers may want to increase their market share, optimize their customer acquisition cost, or streamline their distribution model. Practically speaking, it’s difficult to forecast your growth in precise relative terms (e.g., “grow revenue by 25% over last year”) without a reliable model of channel performance and conversion; instead, focus on defining reasonable goals in a broader sense.
For example, your goal statement might look like this:
- Our goal this year is to exceed our sales forecast by entering in new marketing or sales channels.
- Our goal this year is to reach 40% market share in our category by focusing on enabling our distributors.
- We aim to increase sales this year by focusing on customer loyalty and retention.
By stating your goals in this way, you’ve associated the objective with a KPI (e.g., the number of returning customer transactions) and defined a focus which will serve as a broad theme for the remainder of your plan.
Product & Brand Positioning
Your product and brand positioning strategy can impact how you develop and manufacture products, which audience(s) you target, whether and how you discount, and your relative position in the market.
Most retailers rely on branding to avoid commoditization, or a lack of differentiation by any means other than price. In order to avoid commoditizing your products, it’s important to create a value proposition that explains how your product benefits your ideal customer and why it’s a better solution than any alternatives.
A solid value proposition can also to guide your tactics as you work through your plan (e.g., product design and pricing). For example, consider the value proposition for the high-end mountain bike described below.
This value proposition contains language that is understood by the product’s intended consumer with benefits such as quick shifting and upgradability. Given the specificity and niche orientation, it stands to reason that this product is not designed to build a market; rather, the retailer probably targets a niche audience of outdoor sports enthusiasts who have pre-established expectations about cost, quality, and performance.
This section of your marketing strategy provides details about your ideal customers and will help to define your targeting criteria for digital advertising and media buys. Generally speaking, there are two approaches to targeting:
- Demographic: Uses quantifiable data such as age, income, gender, location, etc.
- Psychographic: Uses qualitative data such as interests, lifestyle, and product / brand affinity.
Most brands consider both approaches to formulate an ideal buyer persona. According to Harvard Business Review, a good buyer persona has the following characteristics:
- It specifies and calls out key motivators.
- It includes demographic information.
- It provides a statement of the persona’s key interests.
Retailers can also benefit from considering how each persona navigates the decision-making and purchasing process. For example, you may ask, “does this persona have purchasing power, and if so, what is their timeline for the purchase?”
By developing an understanding of your audience and buyer personas, you’ll be better-equipped to map your customer journey for the next step of your eCommerce marketing plan.
Mapping the Customer Journey
According to Forrester Research, customer expectations are on the rise. If customer experience (CX) quality falls short, brands may resort to price cuts to acquire new customers. In order to avoid commoditization and properly manage the customer lifestyle to improve CX, it’s important to understand and map the customer journey.
A customer’s journey describes the steps that a customer (or a cohort of similar customers) will undergo to solve a problem. At each junction, brand interactions shepherd the customer toward their goals, and ultimately to a defined endpoint. By mapping the customer journey, retailers can improve the relevancy, utility, and value of their marketing communications.
The first step in mapping your customer journey is to perform a basic multi-channel analysis. To get started, navigate to your Google Analytics profile and click on Conversions then Multi-Channel Funnels and finally Top Conversion Paths. Adjust your look-back window (e.g., 30 days) and your path length (e.g., 1 or more), then sort by either the total number of conversions or conversion value.
This report helps to visualize your marketing funnel(s) by showing both the order and sequence in which channels lead to customer transactions. For example, the report above depicts a very one-dimensional funnel that relies on brand-aware customers for conversions. In mapping the customer journey, this merchant may seek to improve their visibility during the awareness stage by diversifying their channel marketing portfolio.
Google Analytics also contains a time lag report that helps merchants understand the number of days between visits and conversion for any given marketing channel. This is especially useful when mapping buyer stages to both time frames and channels.
A customer journey map can then be constructed in a table format with each column corresponding to a particular buyer stage (e.g., Awareness, Consideration, Conversion, and Retention). Each column is subsequently paired to rows with cells defining the time frame, brand goal, customer goal, and one or more marketing channel. Having already outlined your customer personas and analyzed your top conversion paths and time lag, the final step is to align your buyer’s goals to content and offers.
Align Sales & Marketing Channels
This section of the plan helps merchants allocate their resources (in terms of time and investment) to marketing and sales channels. While it’s likely that each of these channels will require their own separate, detailed forecasting and roll-out plan, a brief description of each channel – with corresponding budgets and timelines – should be included. For many retailers, this part of the plan may require cross-functional support.
For instance, some marketing teams may have an established promotional calendar with implications on certain marketing and/or sales channels. As the eCommerce business owner, it’s important to consider this strategy alongside the launch of new products, offers, and/or channels to allow for success during promotional periods while simultaneously delivering a consistent brand experience.
Optimize the Customer Experience
Each of the previous sections in our eCommerce marketing plan have been focused on channel development and demand generation. In this section of the plan, we pivot towards customer acquisition and conversion.
As with any individual component of this plan, your retail personalization strategy will likely contain many tactics and milestones which can be described in a separate document. For the purpose of this plan, retailers should focus on defining both the overall goals for the program and which customer or product segments will apply.
For example, a merchant may choose to improve their average quantity or units per transaction. One way to accomplish this is to recommend relevant products based on transaction data. With these insights, the merchant can test recommending products that already have a high likelihood of bundling based on the available data.
Outline Distribution & Fulfillment
Many online merchants make a regular practice of evaluating both their sales distribution model and fulfillment methods.
By developing a deeper understanding of each of these aspects of your online business, you may be able to better balance your overhead costs, sales efficiency, and customer expectations. However, because distribution and logistics can be both complex and challenging, it’s important to exercise prudence during your own evaluation(s). Common topics include, but are not limited to:
- Where (geographically) customers can buy products
- Margin across sales and distribution channels
- Inventory warehousing, picking, packing, and shipping
Measuring & Analyzing Performance
It’s important to understand that analytics is not simply a tactic – it’s a strategic business practice.
Some of the key purposes of any analytics function are to establish benchmarks, consistently and accurately measure performance, improve the reliability of forecasts, and increase general business agility. The democratization of tools and service providers has brought the function downmarket, enabling near-universal participation. However, because some metrics and goals cannot be retrospectively measured, it’s important to define these and set up relevant reports before you launch.
In the first section of your eCommerce plan, you defined your goals and KPIs. In this final section, you’ll account for customer and product segments, assign metrics and dimensions, outline the structure of your reports, and define a reporting cadence.
For example, consider a merchant who sells personal care items and wants to increase sales by reducing the time between repeat purchases. The merchant has outlined several tactics which can be rolled out according to their product marketing plan. The efficacy of each tactic can be assessed by measuring both the growth in returning customers in a given period and the number of days between purchases of specific products or product categories. This report can be delivered at a specified cadence (e.g., monthly following a baseline measurement) to help guide the merchant’s future product marketing strategy.
A well-considered eCommerce marketing plan has become table stakes in today’s consumer marketing ecosystem. Although each plan will vary by industry, product, audience, market, and other factors, most plans account for goal-setting, product/brand positioning, audience targeting, sales and marketing channels, customer experience and the customer journey, distribution and fulfillment, and performance measurement.
By incorporating these eight aspects into your next eCommerce marketing plan, you can establish more reliable performance benchmarks, set proper expectations, and confidently approach your eCommerce growth journey for the upcoming year.