Not very long ago, both social media and e-commerce were new and innovative. Now, they’re simply elements of today’s marketing mix — part of the fabric of how you reach your customer engagement and revenue objectives.
During the slow economic recovery, it has become business-critical to conduct more business using digital channels: websites, social media and email. The online channels are not exclusive to commerce, as more customer service transactions are flowing through these channels. If channel management is piecemeal — that is, if the customer experience is not delivered in a coherent manner — then the brand can become diluted and suffer.
Technology advancements have made it possible to build an online presence that ties your website together with commerce, enables social dimensions to help you better engage customers, and gives you the opportunity to better upsell and cross-sell your products — while servicing customers with the knowledge that you are delivering a compelling and complete customer experience.
Here are seven tips on making digital communications the cornerstone of your online sales strategy.
1. Manage the channel
You need to consider your retailers and e-retailers, and plan how to manage any channel conflict. This can be done either through technology or negotiation.
You may choose to direct traffic to your channel, allowing customers to choose based on location or price, or you may have obligations to direct more volume to new or established channels based on retention or growth strategies.
2. Focus on the Entire Brand
Let your customers access your whole product range. Your website is the online equivalent to your “brand store” — think Apple Store or NikeTown.
Here you can expose visitors to your full offering, and cross-sell or upsell in ways that e-retailers can’t or won’t. In general, e-retailers are brand-agnostic. This means a customer choosing to buy a Samsung television online might be offered a Panasonic DVD player or a Sony surround sound system as other items to complement and complete their purchase.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that companies are choosing to become e-retailers in their own right (where they can cross-sell and upsell products) in addition to selling their goods and services through third parties.
3. Create Loyal Brand Relationships
You need to consider customer service — how it is a part of your brand and what interactivity you need to provide to assist customers pre- and post-purchase.
When buyers make a purchase online directly, companies can learn a lot about an individual’s profile and preferences. You can make a deeper and meaningful relationship online with your consumers — and now, with the general availability of content management, email, e-commerce and social commerce technologies, you can easily maintain and control the brand experience.
4. Give Customers What They Want
Use personalization. This is your opportunity to tailor the online experience for your visitors. The more information you can collect about them, whether implicitly or explicitly gathered, the better you can tailor information and promotions presented to meet their needs. This may not only help conversions, but also can build the value perception of your brand. Ask yourself — what do visitors really want out of the site?
Maybe it’s just more-detailed product information than they might find on an e-retailer’s site, or the ability to know which retail outlet to choose. Consider presenting links to all your e-retailers with their pricing, so the price-sensitive shopper can find the easiest way to convert.
5. Performance Metrics
Taking the proper measurements of the traffic and behavior on your site can not only help boost conversions, but also help you better understand visitor behavior so you can adjust the messaging about your brand or products.
Determining what is not working might be more important than measuring what already is working. The ability to adapt and change content easily and test out different messaging or promotions will quickly improve your bottom line.
6. Socialize Within Your Community
Using social media may help bring traffic in, but if you control the equivalent of the brand store, why not keep the conversations going with your own community?
Branded communities tend to give more-specific value to the brand owner and the members, allowing for greater communication and collaboration around the brand. Your branded community can associate customers with others of similar interest (for example, how your product is used) to give ideas or inspiration, even letting community members become involved in product feedback and innovation cycles.
It will not only give your audience an integrated experience, but also give you credible references that go beyond what your marketing writers can do.
7. Incorporate Loyalty Programs
Building your online e-commerce capability means you have more control over promotions and loyalty programs that can benefit your customers and your brand.
Consider how to keep the e-retailer engaged with these same programs but drive traffic from new purchasers back to your site to register for products, earn discounts or rewards toward their next purchase, or join the brand community.
Technology changes have made the brand store possible in ways that may have been unimaginable or too expensive in the past. The current projections for a long economic recovery might be a good reason to invest now. Building out these capabilities in the downturn may make them even more valuable to your brand — and your bottom line — when business picks up again.
Bob Egner is VP of global marketing at EPiServer.
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