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April 28, 2020

Increasing Online Sales in the Direct-to-Consumer Age

In an ever-evolving digital retail landscape, it seems as though the number of new "storefronts"--and the pioneering entrepreneurs who man them--is increasing exponentially each day. Not only is competition stiffer, but everyone is vying for the eyes and wallets of potential customers--including you. So, to help get your products and/or service offerings out ahead of the pack, here's our comprehensive primer on how to increase your online sales in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) age.

Knowing, Understanding and Guiding Your Audience's Journey

Before building your first catalog, you have to establish not only who you're selling to, but also why you think your product or service is going to be important to that person. For some, this means creating "buyer personas" which are essentially personality/behavioral templates that can be used to get an approximation of what potential customers would be most likely to buy, use and promote among their peers. Establishing your target audience is arguably the most important step in building brand presence and credibility, which ultimately leads to increased sales. It's simply not enough to say, "Oh, well our audience is anyone who'd want to use what we provide," as each potential customer will have their own preferred method of doing business with your brand, and not everyone is going to automatically pick up what you're trying to put down. Some key points to keep in mind when creating accurate buyer personas include:

  • Using past data and case studies - Whether they come from your own data repository or a company similar to yours, historical data can give you hints on everything from who's most likely to interact with your brand to your most popular types of products/services.
  • Refining your first draft - More often than not your first iteration of personas aren't going to be picture perfect, so always go back and tweak important details that can help give you a better scope of the types of people you're trying to target most.
  • Trust your instincts - Sometimes, going with your gut can yield positive results. If you know in your heart of hearts that 35-year-old mothers are less likely to use certain products or watch certain TV shows, then the personas in question should reflect such.

Once you've established a firm set of buyer personas, you'll need to start familiarizing yourself with their journey. As mentioned before, every potential customer is different and will have different ways in which they'll interact with your brand. Taking the time to curate a streamlined, yet authentic, customer journey will pay off in spades once it comes time to start selling. Traditionally, the customer journey is comprised of three stages:

  • Awareness - This preliminary stage is where potential buyers are "touching" your brand for the first time. They most likely got to your page via search or digital ad. Ultimately, this is the stage where you can capitalize most on their latent curiosity with a few top-of-funnel content tactics.
  • Consideration - in this stage, customers are starting to weight potential options against your brand. There are several middle-of-funnel options you should consider here, but most important is that you give potential customers all the relevant information they need to make an informed decision
  • Decision - Speaking of decision making, this stage is where customers have gathered as much information as they're ever going to about their options. Strong CTAs, free trials and special offers work best in this stage, as they help nudge those who may still be on the fence about what you offer.

With all of these tips in mind, now you can start to concept another important aspect of your online sales strategy: your content marketing plan.

Frameworks for a Successful Inbound Marketing Strategy

We've briefly discussed some of the steps necessary toward creating an ironclad content marketing plan, but there's far more to it than a few well-timed blog posts. Let's revisit the three major steps of the customer journey and explore how to approach each one thoughtfully:

Building Brand Awareness

Again, the awareness stage of the journey is all about keeping your brand at the top of peoples' minds, and the opportunities to do so are virtually endless. Remember: potential customers are looking to find out as much information about your brand and the alternatives, so you need to make sure you're providing relevant, easy-to-find, top-of-the-funnel content to help answer even the most pressing questions. This can include:

  • High-level blog posts and articles
  • Long and short-form e-books
  • White papers
  • Reputable consumer reports and industry case studies
  • Infographics

This is also the stage where customers are most likely to find your brand via search, so it's imperative you utilize relevant keywords and phrases throughout your content to attract more qualified leads by providing answers to specific pain points.

Google Search is a big fan of well-organized, highly searchable content with low bounce rates, so the more effort you put toward driving quality traffic to your sites, landing pages, and e-commerce portals, the higher your chances are of converting leads into sales.

Curating Careful Consideration

This stage in the journey is all about making informed comparisons between competing brands, so your content needs to further drive your product's usefulness home. Examples of some effective middle-of-the-funnel content pieces include:

  • Video or audio explainers
  • Guides from product experts
  • Comprehensive comparison guides

These content pieces need to be richer than the Awareness ones, but not too robust, as it could overwhelm buyers who've yet to settle on a top choice. It's still recommended you use relevant keywords and phrases and make sure your content pieces address specific pain points that directly affect your target audience.

Driving Buyers to Make the Right Decision

In this stage, you can breathe a little easier, as the heaviest lifting is mostly done at this point. Hard sales points aren't needed here, so your content needs to focus on free trials, vendor comparisons, testimonials, and existing product reviews.

Essentially, the less complicated you make the journey for your customers, the more likely they are to move further down the funnel faster, leading to a higher likelihood of more sales.

A Word on Paid Social Advertising and AdWords

Before getting into the pros and cons of launching paid media campaigns, know that paid advertising isn't for everyone, and your business objectives can greatly affect the types of campaigns (and budgets) you use.

Paid advertising, when done correctly, can really help boost your brand's visibility, credibility and overall viability in the digital space. Whether you decide to launch a Facebook conversion ad campaign or a multi-level paid search campaign, consider these:

  • Have you outlined your objectives? - Before you think about building out a paid media campaign, nail down the goals you're trying to achieve. Looking to boost brand awareness or looking for ways to utilize existing email lists? Your approach, content, and budget are all going to be affected by your business objectives, so make sure you know what those are in advance.
  • What's your budget? - Although it costs much less to run a social media or paid search campaign than traditional or programmatic media, it's still your hard-earned money, so it still needs to be spent wisely. Budgets and business objectives work hand in hand, so you'll need to be realistic about your campaign costs vs. your business goals. For example, an awareness campaign tends to spend less than a conversion-based, bottom-of-the-funnel one, so your budget will have to adjust accordingly to get the best result.
  • Do your organic efforts complement your paid ones? - More often than not, there's a disconnect between the organic and paid sides of a business's content strategy, which leads to both approaches counteracting one another. Any content strategy you create that's going to incorporate paid media needs to be looked at as an integrated tactic, and not one that stands alone.

Although organic traffic tends to have a longer shelf life, the tradeoff is a much slower build toward achieving your overall traffic goals, so it's best to employ paid and organic content strategies, concurrently, to yield the best results.

To the Point of Sale and Beyond...

Once you've got your content strategies in sync, you'll start to see your business gain some traction in the form of sales. Now there's a whole new set of e-commerce hurdles you'll have to consider, right? Once customers start investing in your product or service, your new objective is to make the checkout process--and anything that happens after that--as quick and painless as possible. Keep these aspects in mind:

  • Minimize clutter while increasing a sense of urgency - Last-minute pop-ups, requests to subscribe to newsletters and unnecessary redirects can discourage a final sale. Make sure that your checkout process is simple and streamlined and doesn't cause buyer fatigue before they have a chance to click "Checkout".
  • Maximize payment options without overwhelming - As cash payments continue to be phased out in favor of online and app-based payment systems, it behooves you to keep up with the times and provide a good collection of online payment options. This would most likely include Apple, Samsung, and Google Pay, as well as PayPal and even Venmo. It's not necessary to include every payment option under the sun, because if push comes to shove, customers can default to inputting a debit or credit card number.
  • Boost and maintain high customer service standards - Ultimately, no product is perfect, and there will be times when people will have unpleasant experiences with yours. The trick to retaining those unhappy campers, though, is simple: be there when they need you most. Provide well-monitored support email or service number people can use to get questions answered and refunds processed. The staying power of any business is more based on how they treat their most disenfranchised customers than their most praiseworthy ones.

There you have it! Not only does creating comprehensive business and marketing plans help save you huge amounts of time in the long run, but they also help you to avoid the headaches and pitfalls that some online storefronts can run into when breaking into the market. With a little planning and a lot of due diligence, you can increase traffic to your site, boost your brand's stake in the industry, and, above all, help increase your online sales.

About Eniture Technology

Eniture Technology specializes in helping e-Commerce merchants grow by providing useful information, digital marketing services, off-the-shelf apps that solve common problems, and custom programming services. Please contact us if you need help growing your online business or implementing the concepts presented in this blog post.

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