Having an incredible product or service is only half the battle of succeeding in eCommerce. In fact, businesses have to put just as much (if not more) effort into getting their product in front of people than actually developing the product itself.
But how do you begin thinking through the practical actions of getting your product in front of potential buyers? Marketers call these bridges between a business and its customers channels. Channels in the 2020s are often online (but not always).
There are some channels that disrupt users (such as advertising on social media). There are also channels that serve users (such as delivering up a search result on Google). Further, some channels that build trust with users (such as with content marketing, blogging, and video marketing).
So how do you know which of these channels are best for your business? In the overwhelming sea of tools, software, and tactics, how do you pick a focus — and stick to it?
In this post, you’ll come away knowing:
- The importance of a multi-channel strategy
- The benefits of the most popular marketing channels
- Why developing a strategy before tactics is essential
What is a Channel Strategy?
A channel strategy is a predefined series of best practices, processes, and guidelines that outline how best to utilize a particular channel to accomplish your overarching marketing goals.
Every channel on this list is different from the last. Each has their pros and cons, and varies in:
- Required expertise
- Funnel stage (how ready your ideal customer is to buy)
The importance of a multi-channel strategy
Staying competitive often means engaging your customers through at least 2-3 channels simultaneously. In fact, many channels can piggyback off of one another for compounding growth.
For example, you can transcribe the content of your YouTube videos (video marketing) and convert them into search-optimized blog posts (content marketing and SEO).
This is more advanced, however, and it’s very tempting for business owners to try to bite off more than they can chew in the beginning.
A big mistake eCommerce business owners make is getting too deep into the tactics before developing their marketing strategy.
They scramble to keep up with the Joneses, haphazardly spamming Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and their blog without thinking through why. The end result is a frantic, overwhelmed, and half-baked marketing approach that will likely result in a negative ROI.
It’s much wiser to develop a robust, well-informed strategy for 2-3 channels than to try to tackle all of them.
Strategy vs. Tactics
Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, reportedly said that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
While I don’t think he was referring to selling artisan coffee on Shopify, his wisdom applies just the same to eCommerce business.
Take the game of chess for example. The overarching strategy of chess is to capture your opponent’s king while defending your own. It’s the big picture goal that serves every action in the game.
A tactic would be something like “The Sicilian Defense” — a specific opening move. You can teach an inexperienced player a few tactics, but if they don’t have a foundational strategy (and the knowledge to support it), their king is gone as soon as their opponent catches on to their tricks.
I see the same mindset a lot in eCommerce marketing. Business owners are often tempted by the latest tactics, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to “beat the algorithm.” This is a strategy itself, and it’s not a very good one.
As soon as Instagram changes their algorithm or Google updates how it ranks pages, those “hacks” are all but useless.
That’s why it’s important to have an overarching business strategy (independent of channels) for prospecting leads, nurturing them through the funnel, and closing deals.
Once you have that foundation, you can adapt it to various marketing channels. This lets you implement tactics that play within the boundaries of those channels while also serving your overarching purpose.
Best Marketing Channel Strategies for eCommerce
Now that we’ve laid the necessary groundwork, let’s look closer at a few of the most common marketing channels and if they’re right for your business.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a multifaceted discipline that seeks to effectively match search engine queries with the appropriate content.
It involves doing keyword research to discover what prospects are searching for and creating high-quality content that adheres to search engine best practices while addressing those keywords.
Technical SEO involves going under the hood of your website and making sure it’s fast, user-friendly, and mobile-compatible. All of these things affect your ranking, or how high you appear in Google search results.
SEO is one of my personal favorite marketing channels because of one key factor: intent. Think about a television commercial or social media ad. These channels, by necessity, interrupt the user.
Nobody goes on Facebook or watches TV to see ads — in fact, quite the contrary. That’s the very reason ad blockers exist.
But if someone Googles “bike shop near me,” they are displaying transactional intent. They are ready to buy! The only question is if you have the content to satisfy their request.
SEO is a long-tail effort — it often takes up to six months to see real results. But like anything in life, slow and steady growth is often the most sustainable.
Any business can (and should) utilize SEO. The best (and most optimized) content on the topic will almost always win, regardless of the size of the company.
For example, Blue Bottle Coffee is a decent-sized coffee roaster, but nothing compared to the likes of Maxwell House, Foldgers, or Dunkin. To stand out, they created a search-optimized blog series on how to brew coffee by every method imaginable.
So now, if you search “how to brew pour over coffee,” their guide is the very first result. Publishing this content builds trust, educates coffee enthusiasts, and entices potential buyers to their brand.
Content marketing and SEO are really two sides of the same coin. While keyword research may tell you what users are looking for, content marketing is the act of actually creating what Google serves up to the user.
There’s been a bit of debate on what “content” actually means. Some say content is anything consumable online, such as:
- Blog posts
- Mixed media assets
Others insist that content is strictly the written word. There’s no doubt that written content is the medium that Google can detect and serve up most easily.
And while content marketing begins with the written word, it doesn’t always stay that way.
Blog posts often serve as the basis for varied forms of media such as webinars, videos, or downloadable guides.
In the world of content marketing, content quality is far more important than frequency. Avoid writing “thin” content, or uninformative material recycled from other sites. Try to find evergreen topics in your business that will always be relevant and aren’t subject to a lightning-fast news cycle.
Try to take the best of what’s out there and add your own spin to it. If everyone’s using stock photography, take your own photos. If people are citing old studies, conduct your own study (if you can).
Take the Blue Bottle brewing content for example. It’d be one thing if they listed out all the steps to brewing coffee in a big wall of text, but they take it several steps further.
Not only is the page littered with professional, aesthetically-pleasing photos of the entire process, but it even features a high-quality video demonstration of how to brew.
If you’re looking for some first steps on how to start content marketing, take common problems, questions, or pain points expressed by your audience. Then, search for them across Google and YouTube to figure out how you can take those existing issues and make them even better with your own content.
Once you have a solid SEO strategy and you’re driving traffic to your website, what happens next? Maybe people love your content, but if they simply read it and then “bounce” off the page, how does that help your business?
This is where email marketing comes into play.
Even though email is as old as the internet itself, email marketing is still a viable strategy. I’ve engaged with dozens of business owners, entrepreneurs, and online marketers. When they talk about their business regrets or failures, a consistent refrain is “I wish I had started my email list sooner.”
Email lists are not subject to algorithm changes, shifting social media trends, or paid advertising. They belong to you.
Email lists are also one of the best ways to “nurture” a prospect down the funnel. This can be done by setting up email automation sequences, or prewritten sets of emails that interest a prospect, educate them on your solution, and finally urge them to take some sort of action.
However, getting your subscribers to open and actually click through your email is an art form in and of itself. Subject lines must toe the line between standing out and not being spammy. This takes practice, study, and lots of A/B testing.
So how do you get someone on your email list? People aren’t going to give up their email address for nothing, so you have to add value to their lives. This is best done through a lead magnet, or a small, digestible resource you give website visitors in exchange for their email address.
A best practice is to study other brands in your niche or vertical. What do they offer in exchange for email addresses? A PDF guide, eBook, checklist, coupon, or something else?
If you want to go deeper, check out this excellent article on creating lead magnets.
Email, like SEO, is a long-tail, low-cost strategy. You won’t see results overnight, but a year from now, you’ll thank your past self for starting your email list.
You can sign up for a free email marketing platform like MailChimp or ConvertKit and start building your email list today.
Social Media Marketing
Between TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s tough to know where to start with social media. On top of that, each platform comes with its own idiosyncrasies and terminology. What’s the difference between Instagram Reels, Stories, and IGTV? How does that contrast from Facebook stories? You’re not wrong to be a bit overwhelmed by it all.
Social media works best when brands use it for its intended purpose — connecting with an audience and engaging their community. Younger generations, especially those on TikTok and Twitter, see right through heavy-handed sales tactics on social media.
So unless you want to be the subject of memes or go viral for all the wrong reasons, it’s best to play by the rules of whatever platform you’re on.
First off, figure out who your audience is and where they hang out. Older millennials and above tend to be on Facebook. Twitter is where Gen Z and young millennials go for bite-sized content usually centered around current events or pop culture. Instagram is great for phone-recorded video content and appeals to all ages.
Again, ask yourself — where does your target demographic hang out? What is the top trending content on each platform? How can these things overlap with your product or service?
Every platform has the ability to do paid ads, but it’s generally a good idea to familiarize yourself with the language of the platform before boosting posts or running video ads. If you don’t have success organically, you’re not likely to have success advertising.
At the end of 2019, Spotify launched a campaign where its users could see and share their most important musical highlights.
The special webpage Spotify Wrapped showed you your most listened to artists, genres, songs, and other fun data points.
After your trip down memory lane, Spotify suggested you share these highlights on social media, specifically Twitter and Insta Stories, and tag your favorite artist.
Twitter users mentioned the campaign in at least 1.2 million posts in one month alone.
People wanted to show off their highlights to their friends, thus making more people eager to try this experience.
Affiliate or Influencer Marketing
Affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to grow your audience from zero. It involves partnering with existing brands or influencers with existing audiences and offering them financial incentive to promote your product.
If you’ve ever heard a podcast host tell you to go to a brand website “forward slash [their name],” you’ve witnessed affiliate marketing in action.
Every time you purchase from that site, the brand gives that podcast host (or whomever) a cut of the sale. The amount of the kickback varies wildly from situation to situation.
Once you understand your ideal customer, you will likely discover people or brands they follow. If the overlap is significant, it may warrant you reaching out to these brands or influencers and asking to partner with them.
Paid Search Marketing
Paid Search Marketing (otherwise known as PPC or pay-per-click), is a bit like paying for what SEO earns organically.
When you Google something with decent search volume, the very first results you see are usually ads (identified by the small “Ad” block to the right of the result).
Through the Google AdWords service, brands bid on how much they’re willing to pay per click for a given keyword.
Highly competitive keywords (such as “coffee”) will be more expensive per click than less competitive keywords (such as “pour over coffee accessories”).
However, how can you know people actually search those keywords and have purchasing intent unless you prove it out with keyword data first? Also, users clicking through the ads is just the beginning. You also need strong content to back it up.
For these reasons, it’s generally a good idea to have a strong SEO and content marketing channel strategy in place before investing in paid search.
Sales Channel Marketing
Amazon has become a staple of many peoples’ lives. The review system, the quality control, the fast shipping — it’s become the most used and trusted online retailer on the planet.
Further, Amazon is a powerful search engine in its own right. When I’m looking for a product, I may check Google or YouTube for research, but I’m also checking Amazon for reviews and social proof.
This is why many eCommerce businesses forgo fulfilling their own orders and instead opt for Amazon FBA (fulfilled by Amazon). We’ve written a comprehensive post on the topic here.
Again, it all goes back to knowing where your ideal customer hangs out. If Etsy is the place your demographic usually goes when they want something in your niche, go there first. The same principle applies whether it’s Amazon, eBay, Reverb.com or any other online marketplace.
How Do I Select Channel Strategies That Will Work For My Business?
By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of how your product or service overlaps with the most common marketing channels and which are the right ones for you.
The most powerful “channel stack” for eCommerce businesses is probably SEO, content marketing, and email marketing. These are the ones that usually take the longest and thus should be started sooner. They also have a more sustainable growth curve.
After that, you can explore adding social media platforms, paid search, and affiliate marketing to your multi-channel strategy.
As you brainstorm your channel strategy and further flesh out your target customer, consider these questions:
- Where does your customer hang out online (and offline)?
- What pain points do they have that I can connect to my products?
- Where are my competitors focusing their marketing efforts?
- What am I already doing that’s either working or not working?
- Do I have the resources and/or expertise to execute on these strategies well? If not, what tools, resources, or expertise do I need to succeed in a particular channel?
Who Are We?
At SkuVault, we develop inventory management software to help eCommerce businesses stay on top of their inventory management, satisfy more customers, and prevent shipping errors.
We know eCommerce business owners wear a lot of hats. We want to simplify the inventory management workflow so you can get back to growing your revenue and perfecting your marketing strategy.
If you want to learn more about how to perfect your inventory management (and how we help), we recommend starting with this article