How To Launch An Ecommerce Business
One of the biggest myths when it comes to launching an ecommerce business is the assumption that, if you have a quality in-demand product and a well-designed website, that customers will come in their droves.
Whilst these points are both crucial, a low quality product will always damage success in the long run and an unimpressive website will have prospects looking elsewhere, the most important factor in getting your ecommerce venture off to a bright start is ensuring that you are showcasing your product to the relevant audience from day one.
Unfortunately, many people can either neglect this entirely, or more commonly, not give the task of building a potential customer base enough attention prior to the websites launch.
The good news however is that building awareness and hype for your product does not have to cost a lot of money, and with a bit of planning anyone can do it. So what should a successful ecommerce PR strategy look like?
Decide on your aims:
What constitutes a successful start for your business? I’m sure if you are reading this that you have already taken the time to work out how much you need to sell in order to break even. After this, most merchants will settle on what they feel is an acceptable level of profit to begin with and optimize from there.
A successful PR strategy for your ecommerce business will be a big step towards making achieving these figures a reality, but to generate enough interest to convert into a desired number of sales we first need to look at the data.
Choosing your sources:
In the UK the industry average retail ecommerce conversion rate according to a 2012 report by Channel Advisor-IMRG is currently around 4%. It is important to remember that this reflects the results of many large established retailers who have already earned the trust of shoppers. In reality, for a new business it is likely to be substantially lower so it is a safer bet to plan for around a 0.5% to 1% conversion rate.
With this in mind, one would assume that when choosing individuals and sources to promote our product via, our main aim is to get as many impressions as possible. This is true but it is only half the story.
As important as the overall readership that will be exposed to our business is the relevance of our brand to the audience who will be receiving it. For obvious reasons, it’s important to spend the most effort making sure that your product is promoted on blogs that best reflect your target customer profile.
Of course it is also necessary to be realistic. If we are a small business with as yet no public awareness, we are probably better targeting influencers with whom we either currently have some connection with, or to whom we can offer something of genuine value in return.
This means that for many merchants it’s fine to think on a smaller scale to begin with and to make sure that you develop a strong relationship with the promoter to ensure that they expose your product in the right way.
By choosing your PR distribution channels carefully, you can significantly increase brand awareness and word of mouth, thus achieving conversions for a far lower cost than you would with paid advertising.
Bear in mind when considering how much effort to expend on this that with the cost per click on Google AdWords typically over £1 and conversion rates for new websites is around 0.5%, that you are potentially saving £200 on the cost of each sale generated.
Putting your strategy into practice:
1. – Making a list
The first important thing to state when it comes to developing a promotional plan is to start early. Building a relationship with the individuals who you want to promote your product is unlikely to be something that you are able to achieve overnight so it is wise to spend a few months working towards this.
Begin with making a list of blogs, websites and people, who have an interest in talking about your area of the market by spending a bit of time searching keywords associated with your product. Your initial list should be fairly long as it won’t be until we’ve actually tried contacting each source that we will start whittling this down and can get a clearer idea of what our strategy will look like.
Whilst this will give you a rough estimate for the number of individuals who may be exposed to your business and will be useful in working out which sources to prioritise later on, more importantly for now is to be able to get a commitment from the source to post about us. This is going to be the most time intensive part of any PR strategy and is the main reason why you should leave plenty of time.
2. – Getting a commitment
It’s important to remember that popular websites are constantly being inundated with requests to showcase various products so it is crucial to ensure that your proposition stands out. You will increase your chance of being accepted significantly if you can research and get to know the person you want to contact before trying to sell them your idea. This will also allow you to tailor your pitch specifically.
Twitter, Email and LinkedIn are the best methods for initiating a conversation; however you can always leave comments on their website / blog. Be realistic in your expectations of how many of the people you contact will respond and try initially to establish a friendship with them rather than asking for their support with your business venture straight away.
Armed with significant knowledge of the aims of the source you are targeting, spend time planning your approach. Think of or find some information about the market or subject that interests the person you’re trying to contact and offer it to them for free as a way of opening the conversation, and when you later go to ask them to help promote your product by posting about it always focus on the benefit to them of doing so.
For your pitch, explain in some detail specifically why you feel that your brand and the blog are a good fit and why committed readers will love to hear about your product. At this point, if the person says “thanks but no thanks” then it is much better to move on and maintain a friendly contact that may help you at a later date rather than push it too hard.
It is likely to take considerable time and effort, but by the time you manage to get confirmation from your source that they will post about your business, you should have already made a generic “press kit” that goes into detail about how you want your product and brand written about. The aim of this is to make it as little effort as possible on behalf of the poster to feature your business and make it as appealing as possible to the audience who will be receiving it.
3. - Identifying your customers
There is still at this stage little guarantee of, or way of measuring the level of engagement with your brand that is likely to come from each website that has agreed to featured it. The way of mitigating this lack of certainty is to build a list of people who you know to be interested in your product before launch using a quick sign up link. Of course most people are reluctant to sign up to lists due to the amount of spam they already receive, so for this to be successful it is imperative that you offer something in return.
Discounts are effective for many product categories, especially where similar items are already available elsewhere. For more niche products however, it is arguably even more effective to appeal to early adopters by allowing them to feel part of the process of bringing your product to market.
If you think of many of the best strategies to gain funding and publicity used by businesses launching on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, they often include limited edition product variants or exclusive branded items.
A promotion such as this could be for example, the “first 500 people to sign up and register their interest qualify for free engraving with their order”. Just make sure that whatever it is you are offering is something that you yourself would feel was worth handing out your email address for and something that is going to add value to the overall product for early adopters.
Competitions can also work but effort must be made to ensure that it appears genuine and not spammy. Most people want a guarantee of some added value in exchange for their details.
Once you have ran a successful campaign such as this then you should have a substantial database of people who you know have a reasonable level of interest in what you are selling. You will need to keep these people interested in the run up to launch by keeping them updated and possibly running further promotions.
The time spent planning for and implementing your ecommerce PR strategy will go a long way to ensuring success on launch day and beyond.
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