If you’ve just started an ecommerce business (or are thinking about it), chances are you’ve thought about how you’re going to promote the brand. You can’t sell any products if nobody knows you exist. While’s tempting to create a list of social media accounts and start posting right away to get the store out there to the public, we’re going to challenge you to take a step back.

Aimless marketing is time-consuming, confusing, and inefficient. Instead, set your store up for long-term success by making a clear plan on how you will approach marketing–also known as a marketing strategy.

What is a marketing strategy?

An ecommerce marketing strategy is the guiding light that will inform all of your future promotional campaigns. It lays the groundwork for every marketing campaign or action you take.

“A marketing strategy refers to a business’s overall game plan for reaching prospective consumers and turning them into customers of their products or services.”
- Investopedia
"A marketing strategy is a detailed, structured plan of a company’s promotional efforts across a wide range of platforms and channels.”
- Hubspot 

While a marketing strategy definitely aims to promote a brand’s products or services, it’s not the sole purpose. There are some channels where promotion or selling is the main purpose, such as online ads–but there are several others that have different goals. For example, social media’s main objective is for connecting and a loyalty program’s goal is to build a brand community through customer advocacy. This is why we decided to create our own ecommerce marketing strategy definition:

“A marketing strategy is an overview of how a business plans to allocate its resources to promote its products and connect with its audience.”
- Smile.io

At the end of the day, not everyone who interacts with your brand online will turn into a customer. And that’s okay! But you can connect with all of these people, create a personalized ecommerce experience, and increase the likelihood that they eventually become a customer or promote your brand to someone else who will.

So without further ado, let’s get into how to build an ecommerce marketing strategy.

Building your marketing playbook with 6 questions

Now that you know what a marketing strategy is, it’s time to build an ecommerce marketing playbook of your own. New brands tend to jump right into posting online without any clear goals or purpose in mind. This sets you up for an inconsistent, confusing customer experience. Although creating a marketing strategy takes a little bit of work initially, it’ll be worth it in the long run when you have a roadmap for future success.

Lucky for you, we’ve simplified the process–answer these six simple questions and you’ll be well on your way to having a clear, detailed ecommerce marketing strategy.

1. Why are you marketing in the first place?

As with any business activity, the first step is to define your reason for doing it. When you started your ecommerce business, one of the first steps was determining why your brand exists and why customers should care. Creating your marketing strategy is no different.

You can think of this as your marketing mission–when audience members reach you at any touchpoint, what values and beliefs do you want your message to convey? Your marketing purpose should align with your business mission and vision statements, but it shouldn’t be identical.

If you haven’t defined your overall brand goals yet, that’s a good place to start. Once you have an understanding of your brand purpose, position, promise, personality, and identity, you can create specific marketing goals and objectives.

Branding Checklist for Small Businesses (with examples)
Learn how to apply the 5 essential branding elements to your small business–brand purpose, brand positioning, brand promise, brand personality, and brand identity.

This is also the stage where you’ll want to conduct market research. A few basic tools to get you started are:

Competitor analysis–look at their marketing strengths and weaknesses. How can you improve that experience?

Environmental analysis–see what political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal factors affect you. Are digital ad costs high right now? What regulations do you need to consider if you sell a product for kids?

Internal analysis–look at your resources, capabilities, and preferences. How big is your marketing team? What skills do you already have?

Once you have a grasp on why you are marketing your brand and where you’re currently at, it’s time to figure out who you want to reach.

2. Who is your audience?

You’ve likely heard the terms target customer, target market, and target audience used interchangeably. But, these are different things–let’s break down each one.

Target market: the broadest group of people you identify as being interested in your brand.

Target audience: a more specific segment of that market and the focus of your specific marketing campaigns. They may or may not become customers, but they could still interact with you through marketing touchpoints.

Target customer: the people who buy your products and services and who you’ll target with a “hard sell”.

While your overall marketing strategy should encompass your entire target market, it still needs to be specific. This is why you need to define your target market using something called segmentation bases (which is a fancy marketing word for characteristics). Let’s go over some key things to consider.

Demographics: age, gender, socio-economic status, occupation, education level, etc…

Geographic: as an ecommerce brand this refers to the location you’ll ship to, time zones, cultural preferences, urban vs. rural regions, etc…

Behavioral: where do they spend their time online, how often, what benefits do they want from each channel, how do they communicate and interact online, etc…

Psychographics: lifestyle, values and interests, beliefs, online personality, interests, opinions, etc… 

Addressing these areas will give you a clear idea of who your marketing should try to reach. You want it to be specific enough that you’ll stand out to the right crowd, but broad enough that you don’t only focus on people ready to hit purchase. Targeting a broader group is beneficial to help you build brand awareness. This can result in your brand being shared by those who may not necessarily make a purchase themselves.

Now that we know why and who we’re talking to, let’s figure out how to talk to them.

3. How will you talk to your audience?

This phase is all about how you want to position yourself in relation to your competitors. How do you want your communicate with your online audience and how do you want them to perceive you?

As a small brand, it’s important to come across as authentic and consistent with your brand. Keep your brand human–marketing should be about connecting and engaging rather than selling and promoting. Think of it as talking to your audience not talking at them.

If you want to geek out with us, we can boil this down to a marketing concept called Marketing 4.0 (it’s not as scary as it sounds, we promise). This is the idea that brand marketing needs to be human-centric, connect with customers, and integrate technology seamlessly into the customer experience. If you’re a one-person marketing team, let your customers know that! Show them your human side and let them form an emotional connection with you. Or if you’re more of a behind-the-scenes type of person, let your brand take on a personality of its own through consistent, authentic, messaging.

The key to delivering a consistent online experience to your audience across channels is to define your brand tone of voice. Think of this as the way your brand would speak if it were a person. Are you inspirational like Nike? Sassy like Wendy’s? Bring this back to your audience and what they value and will resonate with them.

Ask yourself these questions to define your brand tone of voice:

  • Do you speak in full sentences or use “internet speak”?
  • Are you funny or serious? Formal or casual? Snarky or respectful? To the point or enthusiastic?
  • How approachable/accessible is your communication style?
  • Do you talk in first-person, second-person, or third-person? (A.K.A do you use I, we, or they?)
  • Do you meme? Tik-tok trend? Team GIF or not?

At this point, you know why, to who, and how you’re going to talk. It’s time to figure out where you’ll be communicating.

4. Where do you want to show up?

As an ecommerce brand, the (online) world is your oyster. Deciding what channels you want to be active on as a brand is crucial. Are you honing in on social media, or is email marketing going to be your focus? In the beginning, Smile recommends choosing one or two channels to focus on. If you try to reach everyone, you’ll likely reach no one.

When you’re starting, it’s natural to feel pressure or a desire to be everywhere. How will potential customers find you if you’re not online? But we promise it’s better to do one or two channels well and build from there. You need to ensure that you’re delivering the same experience on every platform and that’s much easier to do with just one or two channels at the start.

What is Omnichannel Marketing and How to Implement it for Your Ecommerce Store?
Omnichannel marketing is all about delivering a unified customer experience across channels. Learn how to effectively create your own omnichannel marketing strategy.

Consider what’s realistic with your time, resources, skills, budget, and expectations. Just because one brand you love went viral on TikTok doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your brand–where is your audience already?  

You’ll also want to think about where you want to be culturally. Is your messaging going to be political or socially driven? What conversations, causes, and beliefs do you want your brand to be involved in? Remember–these don’t necessarily need to be the same as your personal ones.

Eventually, you may want to build a brand community (which is again, different from your target market, audience, or customer). A true community will help your brand foster loyalty and advocacy. A community is an online place where your customers can connect, without necessarily talking about your brand or products at all. If this is the goal, you’ll want to choose a platform where this makes sense. Maybe you’ll opt for a Facebook group, Discord, or online forum on your website.  

How to Grow Your Small Business with Loyalty Marketing
Find out what loyalty marketing is, what it can help you achieve, and how to implement customer loyalty marketing in your small business.

Once you notice a community forming, you can consider adding a referral program. These people are big fans of your brand and are likely to share it anyways–so why not incentivize them for it?

5. What kind of content are you sharing?

Now that you know why, to who, how, and where you want to speak, it’s time to start talking. This is typically where many ecommerce brands start and some get lucky with a viral post but most fall into the rabbit hole of aimlessly posting on Instagram or TikTok because that’s what other brands are doing.

We recommend determining content pillars that will inform your posting strategy. These are broad topics or themes informed by every other part of your playbook. Again, it’s okay to dream big but start small. We recommend 3-5 pillars in the beginning, that don’t change over time. Some common pillar examples are educational, entertainment, promotional, inspirational, and more.

Why Content Marketing Is Important for your Small Business’ Success
Content marketing is an important part of every brands’ marketing strategy. Discover how it can help your small business succeed.

From there, let’s break your pillars down into something you can put into action–content executions. These are specific posts/campaigns that fall under one or more pillars. For example, if your pillar is to educate customers, you can send out monthly newsletters with product tutorials and tips.

Always start with your pillars–they set the foundation for your entire marketing and content calendar and without them, it could all come crumbling down. But that won’t happen to you because you’re building a top-tier ecommerce marketing strategy. ;)

6. How will you measure success?

Let’s summarize what you’ve accomplished to this point–you know why, to who, how, where, and what you’ll be saying through your marketing. That’s all great but your hard work will go to waste if it's not helping you achieve your goals. This is why the final step of building your ecommerce marketing strategy is developing a system by which you measure success.

Don’t focus solely on vanity metrics like followers or likes. You want to know if your customers are finding your marketing valuable. Although they’re harder to measure, you’ll want to consider things like customer engagement (such as comments or shares on social media) and online sentiment (are customers talking about you online in a positive way?).

What is Customer Engagement, and Why is it Important?
Customer engagement is a buzzword that everyone seems to know but isn’t easy to quantify. Learn how to define, calculate, and encourage it within your business

Some great tools for measuring success include SMART goals (standing for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) or KPIs (key performance indicators). Both of these frameworks let you set high-level goals that your marketing strategy is consistently working towards, such as the number of brand searches to measure brand awareness or return customer rate to look at loyalty.

Once again, ensure your success indicators stay constant over time. If we think of your marketing strategy as a loop, your success indicators should tie back into step one–why you’re marketing in the first place.

Putting it all together

There you have it–six simple questions that will help you build a great marketing strategy. This playbook, guide, manifesto, or whatever term you choose, will help determine every marketing decision you make from adopting a new marketing channel to posting an Instagram story.

So take your time, answer these questions, write down the answers, and enjoy the benefits of having your brand’s ecommerce marketing strategy.

Get marketing and business tips from other entrepreneurs
Subscribe to the Smile Newsletter, Talking Shop