As the content marketing revolution continues to spread, the internet has increasingly become saturated with business-related content touting the “best practices” for what seems like every industry. This is especially true in the world of marketing, where everyone has their own list of E-commerce marketing best practices for you to consume. If you Google a direct search for “e-commerce marketing best practices” you’ll get roughly 44,000 search results.
Instead of asking “what are the best practices,” maybe we should be asking “do e-commerce marketing best practices exist?” Like jumbo shrimp, best practices do exist, but the idea that there’s one best way to do anything on the internet is an oxymoron.
Things Change Way Too Fast in E-Commerce
Think about how you used the internet five years ago. Ad blockers weren’t a blip on the radar. You might not have had a smartphone, and if you did, it probably wasn’t your go-to device for making purchases. Simply put, it was a different era.
The same is true for E-commerce. Five years ago, concepts like trigger emails and data-driven marketing were in their infancy. Back then, keyword stuffing and link buying were customary practices. But today, these strategies land you in serious trouble with Google.
The E-commerce tips you saw six months ago aren’t necessarily going to help you today. Therefore, referring to any type of E-commerce marketing tactic as a “best practice” is not only misleading, but it suggests that there is an actual one best way to do things. The only true best practice when it comes to E-commerce – or any type of online marketing endeavor – is to stay abreast of emerging trends and incorporate them into your overall marketing strategy whenever it makes sense to do so.
Aggregate Data Can Be Incredibly Misleading
On paper, today’s data-driven approach allows businesses to set new standards for customer-focused marketing. But this new era of data-based marketing is not without its limitations. Collecting data is all well and good, but knowing what to do with that data is where many companies still fall short.
In the early stages of online marketing, the digital component of marketing was considered a separate entity from the various methods of offline marketing. The result was several different marketing departments under one roof. Each unit was evaluated separately to assess their performance, and those that had the best numbers received a greater budget allocation the following year.
As E-commerce has evolved, forward-thinking marketers have come to see that real success doesn’t include pitting internal departments against each other. Instead, each division of the marketing team has one main goal – to drive a potential customer closer to making a purchase. It doesn’t matter which medium the customer uses to buy. The only thing that matters is that they’re moved along a defined path to purchase, and to do that marketers are bridging the digital and direct marketing divide.
Thinking about marketing this way changes how we look at data. Once upon a time, it sounded impressive if a website converted a particularly high percentage of its visitors. Today, such a statement would be followed by a series of questions. How many people made purchases from outlets besides the company website? Did they see an in-store demonstration of the product? Did they receive a direct mail piece? What marketing techniques did consumers encounter along their path to purchase? Did they come back for additional purchases? Did they refer other people to the site?
The true challenge in modern marketing is having the answers to these questions, along with understanding how each marketing interaction impacts the big picture. That’s why it’s so important to have an infrastructure to link customers across all marketing touchpoints. While a consumer might buy from your website via a laptop, they may have done preliminary research on their phone, sought out online reviews or spoke to salespeople at a local retailer. The smart company is one that understands how all this fits together, and can track people along their journey.
“Best Practices” Totally Ignore Your Audience
Blindly following someone else’s“best practices” can lead your company in the wrong direction. The biggest reason to ditch “best practices,” though, is one that’s staring you right in the eyes.
If you’re following the advice of some random marketing expert, you’re ignoring who you should really be listening to – your customers. Anytime you market according to predetermined rules or a one-size-fits-all strategy, you’re missing out on the opportunity to incorporate the voice of the customer. At the end of the day, the customer’s voice is the only one that really matters. After all, they’re the people who are choosing to either buy or not buy your product. And it is their comments on social media that can benefit or hurt your brand.
Consider the above case of data that doesn’t paint a full picture. A company might use high-level data to determine that their best conversion channel is their website, then use that premise to drive people to their site.
But the company never truly understands why people choose to order from their site, so as they try to drive more traffic to their site, they risk damaging the user experience. At no point does the company consider what other factors might drive consumers to the website. More importantly, at no point does the company ask the customers what they actually want. In the end, there’s a good chance the company ruins what’s already working, simply because it’s following E-commerce marketing best practices instead of listening to its audience.
There’s never been a better time to listen directly to your customers, and to let loyal consumers dictate the direction of your company’s marketing. While there may never be a “best practice” in marketing, failing to listen to your customer base is the absolute worst practice a business can employ.
Marketers Completely Forget Non-Internet Techniques
The problem with most E-commerce “best practices” is that they’re focused entirely on online tactics. Again, this might make sense on the surface, but there’s much more to the story when you look at what actually drives people to make an online purchase. It can’t simply be assumed that this entire process takes place online. And yet, most of the advice regarding E-commerce ignores these steps along the way that lead someone to go to an E-commerce website to make a purchase.
As these paths to purchase become better known and easier to track, it becomes clearer that there’s a lot that goes into the typical customer journey. That’s why it’s so important to keep all your marketing tools sharpened, not just the digital ones. Besides, there are many ways to build on the digital data you’ve acquired and utilize that knowledge in offline marketing.
For example, programmatic postcards are considered offline marketing to the recipient, but they’re primarily triggered by website activity. If you’re not able to use your digital marketing findings in non-digital ways, you’re missing out on some lucrative advertising avenues that might really resonate with your audience.
Marketers Become Blind to Creative New Approaches
The example of postcards is particularly poignant in today’s landscape. It’s an idea that some might initially scoff at, thinking that any digital type of marketing is better than anything that’s done offline. But the numbers show that marketing by postcards is significantly more effective than any sort of online E-commerce marketing, including emails and social media.
Truly effective marketing relies on a combination of innovation, data and listening to consumers. Simply looking at a list of “best practices” takes two of those three factors out of the equation. Furthermore, it leaves marketers at the mercy of outsiders, who may not fully understand their industry or their audience. Once marketers get too ingrained in the habit of following the advice of these experts, they become unable to think of their own solutions, leaving them ill-equipped to respond to marketplace trends or emerging technologies.
At the end of the day, marketing begins and ends with the customer. Through a knowledge of what customers do and don’t like, smart businesses can innovate in a way that lends itself to customer satisfaction. That’s impossible to achieve when the only basis for doing something is its inclusion in a list of “best practices.”
No area of the business world changes as quickly or as frequently as marketing. It’s up to every business to understand their customers and their own strengths, and apply this knowledge to every aspect of their marketing. With changes coming fast and furious at every corner, there can never be a “best” way to market, especially in E-commerce. Companies must always incorporate the feedback from their established audience as they develop solutions that consistently exceed the expectations of their customers.