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Marketing 101 For Your New Online Store

Published by Charles Brodeur

Have you noticed that it's deeply ingrained in North American society to define ourselves and others by what we do and who we work for?

 Conversations with strangers are sure to almost always follow these 3 steps:

1. "Hi, I'm Charles. What's your name?"

2. "John.  Nice to meet you.  How do you know the host?"

... Uncomfortable Pause ...

3. "So, what do you do for a living?"

and that's the Bus-stop / 1st-date / Distant-relative / Networking variety of conversation. Mind you, when you go to 'networking' events you can often dispense with step 2 altogether!

True Story..
The other night I'm talking to an older gentleman, a distant relative, at a family gathering and the inevitable question popped up.  What are you doing now, Charles?

"I'm the Director of Online Marketing at Keel & Rudder, an online sailing store" I unashamedly respond but at the same time secretly wishing I was a respectable banker with Goldman Saks. (not)

"Keel and What?!?! And what exactly does a 'Director of Online Marketing' do??" the old Uncle interrogates me suspiciously like Colonel Klink would...

Here's the answer in blog post format for easier digestion:

Basic Marketing For Your Online Store

The first image that comes to peoples minds when they hear the word 'Marketing' is flashy prime-time TV ads for some large Corp made by people who take extra long lunches with international ad agencies and never seem to do much that's actually useful.

(Un)fortunately your average Online Business user isn't likely to have 7 helicopters, let alone 7 employees. She's got a small team and a small budget but still needs to market her business and the same 4 rules that define marketing still apply:

Rule 1: Make People Aware that Your Business Exists
You've got a beautifully designed site with a heap of useful content on your products, pricing and company. What's next? You can use these 3 approaches to get the word out about your new site:

  1. Have you listed in Google's Local Business center? You'll need to be spending some time searching for reputable online directories relevant to your locale and industry. As an example restaurant owners need to get themselves listed on their local online restaurant review site. Spend an hour crafting a paragraph about your offering then submit it to the top 10 directories in your list. The best directories are the online communities where people can talk in a forum or leave comments.
  2. Speaking of online communities and forums, you'll also need to become an active participant who offers expert advice to those who ask for feedback and opinions. You never know who you meet and you'll get inspiration for new content from being part of the conversation. As you make more friends online you'll be able to show people your site and leave a discreet URL in your avatar.
  3. Do you know other complementary businesses that you can cross promote with? It's always nice to have a 'Friends of' section on your site where you can mutually list each other. You can also give testimonials to your suppliers and vendors to get listed on their site with a link back to yours.
Rule 2: Appear At The 'Right Spot, Right Time' Follow My Example
"@*&#&%!! my Thinkamabob just broke down again!" - back in the 1990s, TV ads would've had me pulling out the yellow pages to find a mechanic to fix it. But it's 2009 and for the past 6 years, 90% of the population will have had a thought process that goes like this if their Thinkamabob broke down:

   1.     Google for a Thinkamabob mechanic

   2.     If you aren't happy with the results you'd call your friends and ask for a recommendation

   3.     Still no idea? You'd start asking on Facebook/Twitter or researching on (this is a more recent phenomenon)

Search, Word-of-mouth or, a combination of the two in the form of social media are the most powerful tools you have for appearing at the right place and right time for your customers. You need Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and not the witch-doctor meta-tag stuff that 'experts' recommend - basic 'SEO' simply boils down to having well structured informative content on your site that's continuously updated. Produce quality content prolifically. Doing so gives people more reason to tweet about you or stumble upon your site, eventually you'll build up organic links.

What about your double-opt-in email newsletters? Are you sending those out monthly with useful information? Did you put a 'Subscribe to Receive News and Tips' button on the front of your site to capture only those visitors who want to hear from you? Did you put a 'Follow Me' button on your site, how about a 'Digg It', a 'Stumble This' or a 'Reddit' link, make it a 1-click process for your users to spread the word about you.

Rule 3: Manage Your Online Reputation and Your Brand
Reputation and Brand
Despite all the glamorous movie depictions of Big Corporation marketing, branding does not equal cool logo design & corporate slogan. These things do help  but there is definitely  no chicken and egg question here - great products and exceptional customer service create strong brands not vice versa.

When you're working at the 1 to 7 employee level, what matters is not your logo or slogan, the most valuable brand building exercise you can do is get 'social proof' from your past customers. Do you have customer testimonials on your site? Have you published case studies on your past customer successes?

People won't only leave feedback on your site, there's customer review sites like GetSatisfaction, people will Tweet and then there's also a plethora of traditional forums and blogs where your customers are ranting or raving. Keep tabs on this and stay involved by helping the ranters and thanking the ravers. Here are a couple of sites tools to help you listen in to the online conversations:

Rule 4: Live Up To Your Promise!
Reputation and Brand
You've got those customers clicking through to your site - you've traversed the web to leave signposts to your new Online Business, you've reached out to those who need what you offer and you've reassured those coming with others' testimonials. Now you'll have to live up to the promise you've made otherwise your efforts will backfire. When people arrive at your site will they be able to find what they're looking for?

If you have an e-Store  are your catalogs and products easy to browse and search? Those monthly specials you wrote about in your email newsletters, can your customers find those?
Visitors have arrived because they're looking for more information, is this easy to find? Is your site navigation logically laid out?
You said you would regularly update your blog and send out a monthly newsletter - do you?
Can your visitors find out ways to contact you for more information on your site?

So what are you doing to market your Online Business today?  If you find that it's all a bit too much or you just dont have the time maybe its better to hire a professional to do the marketing.  Ask your BigTurns rep about outsourcing your online marketing needs.

I hope this helps,

Charles Brodeur
eCommerce Consultant
BigTurns Professional Services Ltd 
Vancouver, BC V6E 4R1

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