Unlike a field of dreams, you can’t build an online store and just watch the visitors stream in. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen like that. At the end of 2014, Shopify alone was hosting 140,000 stores online. That number, has increased rapidly over the last year — to the point where Shopify now hosts more than 175,000 merchants.
With each new store and product that enters the marketplace, I find my clients asking me these questions more and more frequently: How do I get noticed among the clutter? How do I get my product seen?
Working alongside Darryn Altclass (from Why Then How), we’ve come up with a simple yet powerful framework for marketing products online. Whether it’s a new bottle opener, a new overdrive pedal, or in our cases: a wallet and an allergy-friendly recipe book — we believe this approach can help your clients cut through the noise (and other overused metaphors) and be seen by the customers you want.
The three points of our framework rest on two assumptions.
The first assumption is that the product your client is selling is of a certain quality and meets the needs or aspirations of a particular audience. If the product simply isn’t any good, then you’re always going to be fighting a steep, uphill battle. If the product is knowingly bad, we believe that’s called ‘a con’. Start with a quality product that either helps someone solve a problem (we love the simplicity of the glif), or appeals to an aspiration of a certain audience (like this Batman Suit… who doesn't want to be Batman). If your product fits either of these pieces of criteria, then you are already on the right track.
The second assumption is that you already have a strong understanding of the people you want to buy your product. You know that your product is not for everyone, but for a certain type of person. It’s impossible to market and sell to everyone. You need to narrow your efforts towards a specific group of people.
With that under your belt (which would be a perfect metaphor if you were selling pants), here’s three ways you can help your client’s product be seen and sold.
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1. Tell the right story
People buy ‘why’, not ‘what’. The ‘what’ definitely matters, but the ‘why’ always comes first and is a more powerful motivator. So the question you need to answer with your product marketing is “Why does your product matter to your potential customers?”
What need or aspiration does your product meet? Why did you decide to make or sell it in the first place? Your product story is about why it exists and why it matters. Effective marketing answers these questions by showing people why they need your product.
Your product story = why it matters.
Another way of looking at this is telling a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story. The before story highlights the need or aspiration of the potential customer ‘before’ they buy. And the after story states the outcome ‘after’ their purchase. Unsuccessful product marketing usually fails to clearly communicate the ‘after’ experience. Here is an example of how we crafted the story for our allergy-free baking book.
If you have a friend with food allergies you will know how frustrating it can be for them. So that was our before story: A passionate frustration with food allergies and the lack of quality options available.
The solution we offered with our product was a large variety of really good recipes covering the top four food allergies. The ‘after’ experience was happiness and excitement that regardless of these allergies people can enjoy good cakes.
After we went through this process we were in a better position to shape the product story. The title and theme of our product became, “Let them eat good cake”.
The right story will shape the whole marketing strategy and will a powerful asset. Without the right story, it’s too easy for the product to become lost among the mass of content paraded in front of people every day.
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2. Collect the right brand assets
Once you know the ’why’ and understand who you’re selling to, you have to gather the right brand assets to tell your story. For your client, helping them ‘tool up’ and understand what they need will be really helpful.
A recent study on Consumer Psychology and E-Commerce Checkouts said that 92.6% said that ‘Visuals were the top influential factor affecting a purchase decision’. That’s pretty conclusive and pretty obvious to anyone that’s used a website before — if you don’t like the way the product looks in the provided images, you bounce. We’ll often buy the same product from a different website if they’ve just taken better photos!
We love taking photos, but don’t profess to be the best at brand photography, so our businesses have partnered with a photographer that we work really well with. For our clients (if they haven’t already got quality photos), we recommend they work with him to get exactly what they need to tell their story. With the brand story dictating the content of the photos, Kieran (our photographer) will shoot with each medium in mind: website homepage, Instagram photo, Facebook header, sidebar advertising and so on.
For Bare Bone wallets, this was the first thing we did. With the 45 photos that came out of the 3-hour photo shoot, we were able to start selling the wallets through Instagram before the online store was complete. And that was after posting only two great photos!
Along with the your brand imagery, we recommend giving just as much attention to your copy. Again, if necessary, partner with a copywriter and recommend their services to your client. A well-crafted story is just as hard to fashion as a stunning photo, and when done correctly, is just as effective. Put the two together and you have a winning combo.
We recommend writing copy for your product launch announcement, media release, social media and email marketing. Having copy written out in advance and carefully planned across all channels will ensure that your story and message is clear, consistent, and effective.
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3. Find the right partners
The right partners will help you reach an audience that you could not afford or imagine to reach by yourself. Finding the right partner is like a Vitamin B injection for your marketing. They will help spread the word faster and will open up new opportunities to tell your story to new market segments.
The best partnerships are based on an equal exchange of value.
Create a win-win relationship
The best partnerships are based on an equal exchange of value. So work out what value you can offer and the value they can offer and seek to establish a joint venture based on an equal exchange of value. Write it down and create a partnership agreement that clearly establishes what is expected of each partner and exactly what you are agreeing to.
A valuable partner will need to have the attention and engagement of new, and hopefully, larger segments of your target audience. When looking for ideal partners, assess their social media engagement, email database size, email open and click through rates, and website traffic. This will give you a good indication whether or not they will be able to provide business outcomes for your client. Also, make sure there is a natural connection with your client's product story.
An example of an equal exchange of value is one partner might have a reasonable sized email database with a 50% open rate but very low engagement on social media. A potential partner may have no email database, but has great reach on social media. An agreement could be made utilising these two marketing channels to establish a win-win venture. Be creative and come up with ways to get your client's story and product in front of new groups of the right people.
Remember: The magic is in the hustle
The difference between a good product that sells well, and a good product that doesn't sell is in the hustle. There really is no silver bullet. The magic, if there is any, is found in the hard work of promoting your product over a period of time. Committing to letting people know ‘why’ your product matters and continually giving them ways to connect with your brand and purchase your product.
We’ve seen so many people put all their time and money into developing their online store, and/or creating their product, but leaving nothing in the tank for marketing. Then they have to watch their site and sales sit there stagnant.
Thomas A. Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Unfortunately the same is true in selling products online. Those who win are the ones who work hard at marketing their product. They don’t build it, sit back, and hope that the sales will roll in. The magic is in the hustle.
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