≡ Menu

We work with several e-commerce start-ups and thus have some learning on what we think e-commerce entrepreneurs need to get right from day one. Here are three business basics which will pay back handsomely.

1. Have an innovative product
Your product or service must not be a me-too. Unless you have a brand which is established i.e. already doing well offline – that you want to take online – the product idea must be reasonably distinctive. The competition online can get murderous. If not the product itself, you need to differentiate in some other part of the offering.

Niche and novel products do well online. Due to various reasons, the Internet is good at matching such products with the right customers. Conversely, me-too products take time to carve out a market.

There are some other aspects of product strategy that are important, we will save these tips up for another blog post. Having an innovative product is the most desirable aspect of the product strategy.

2. Build the best website you can
Don’t compromise on the website. You can save a bit on marketing or other expenses but don’t go for, say, a website that an inexperienced web developer friend offers to put up at cost. Go for the best site that money can bring.

Your most important investment: the e-commerce website.

By a good e-commerce website, we don’t mean a super duper customized platform which needs a strong tech team and costs a bomb. We mean a website that allows you to test ‘proof of concept’. In most cases, this means a website which will be adequate for the first 12 to 18 months (see related point below). What’s a good e-commerce website? Too big a subject for this post. A user-friendly UI & navigation, good mobile speed and responsiveness and a feature-rich back-end are three important aspects of a good e-commerce site.

Unfortunately, 6 of 10 e-commerce websites that we encounter score a C grade or worse (grade scale A to E).

3. Have a business horizon of minimum 12 months
Have a business horizon of the above minimum duration. This is the time required to establish the business model, prove the concept and get it ready to scale to the next level.

We are often asked why 3 to 4 months or so should not be enough, in cases where the client is even willing to spend handsomely on marketing at the outset?

Due to various reasons, this does not usually happen in 3-4 months.

Firstly, most organizations starting up an e-commerce business are new to it, and they have a learning curve. Another reason has to do with customer acquisition, in particular as to what type of traffic can convert to customers. A lot of testing and experimentation is needed here, which takes time. No one formula works for each business, each customer acquisition case is somewhat unique.

Thus, new e-commerce businesses need to get many aspects of the business right, before growth happens. And this does not usually happen in a few weeks.

The above are three bits of advice that we hope you will find to be useful.

 

{ 0 comments }

The most neglected aspect of digital marketing is marketing, yes marketing itself. By marketing, we mean the marketing principles of positioning et al. Whatever business goals you have for digital marketing cannot be achieved by the digital part alone.

But when have you last heard a digital agency draw attention to the marketing part?

In particular, two aspects of marketing need more attention than typically given by digital marketers.

1. Positioning the brand

2. Good product or service

Effective positioning is critical - for any business

Effective positioning is critical – for every business

1. Positioning the brand
Most digital marketers think of and discuss with their clients issues such as performance of various ad platforms, choice of technology, analytics data, content and the look, but pay little attention to positioning and communication.

Now in our experience, much of the digital marketing being done today is for new products and services. And digital marketing is the preferred method of marketing for new launches.

But since these products and services are new, the communication (messaging) has often not been developed at all. So the burden on doing the right positioning and communication falls on the digital agency. Unfortunately, this is not traditionally something most digital agencies are good at, as they are not well staffed with people trained in classical marketing stuff. Thus, the product’s marketing communication and positioning does not get executed in the most effective manner.

2. Good product or service
The second aspect which is getting neglected with the rise of digital marketing, though inadvertently so, is ensuring the quality of the product or service being launched and ensuring that it has prior consumer acceptance.

In the world of offline (not digital) marketing, until a product or service has proven itself on quality and consumer acceptance, marketers don’t spend on marketing. This is because the costs of offline marketing – be it print, TV, outdoor , events or others – are considerable.

In digital, the absolute cost is relatively low compared to offline marketing (why this is so is a topic for another day). This can lead to the temptation to overlook the quality and consumer acceptance aspects and launch an unproven product or service. This is a danger against which both clients and their digital agencies need to guard against.

So when do you last remember discussing the above two issues – positioning and product quality – with your own digital marketing agency?

{ 0 comments }

About digital marketing for start-ups

During our 8+ years, we have spoken to hundreds of start-ups for their digital marketing requirements. A few facts stand out.
(And by start-ups, here we are referring to all new businesses, both start-ups and new businesses of established companies).

The right time for a start-up to begin digital marketing
The right time is day 1 of the business. One begins by building an effective website. One also begins with a minimal – not full-blown – presence on social media (maybe a simple Facebook and a LinkedIn page).

The above is obvious. When does one do full-blown digital marketing?

Full-scale digital marketing should be begun after the business has completed the following steps: set up the team, developed the product or service, commenced manufacturing, sold the products to at least a few consumers and refined the product (if so required).

The other thing we see happening is start-ups first relying on sales teams to alone bring in the sales and deferring all marketing, digital included, for later. This is possible for B2B businesses.

Digital marketing: fuel for growth

In our experience, by the 3rd year, nearly all start-ups will do well to begin marketing: digital marketing to be precise. in particular, online campaigns which build the brand, get leads or online sales. Without this, growth can stall.

Why are start-ups preferring digital marketing over other (offline) marketing?
Start-ups are looking for low investment and high ROI/value for money, when it comes to marketing. On these counts, digital marketing scores over offline marketing.

However, this is not the only reason to prefer digital. Digital enables obtain valuable data about the market and customers. This is very valuable in tweaking strategies (product mix, target markets, pricing) early on.

Thirdly, in digital marketing, investments can be made in small incremental steps.

Fourthly, the planning/ start horizon is 15 days or less. Almost anything else: trade show, press ad, radio spot, will take far more.

What is one common mistake start-ups make when it comes to digital marketing?
The most common mistake we see start-ups making is doing sub-optimal investments. Whether it be a website or online campaigns, once you have decided to start digital marketing, you should not look for the cheapest option.

E.g. relying only on organic social media (posts on Facebook page), posting on free listing sites or using a freelancer to manage the website or to do SEO can be wasted.

Doing effective digital marketing requires multiple skills – content, design, tech and marketing – that are more likely to be found in a digital agency. Secondly, you will need online campaigns if you want to scale, not just organic posts. And campaigns need to be run/ tested for a minimum of 2 to 3 months, before you judge their outcome.
This is what we have learnt.

{ 2 comments }

We recently blogged  about digital marketing being a fast moving, rapidly evolving field. In particular, we saw how ad platforms like Google and Facebook are introducing an innovation almost every week.

This rapid change is making executing successful digital marketing campaigns more and more challenging.

Doing successful digital marketing was never very easy. Though to organizations looking to implement digital marketing, it seems an easy enough task. There is the DIY (do-it-yourself) option e.g. Google encourages small businesses to create their own Google AdWords account. Then there is the option of engaging one of the many digital agencies out there.

How difficult can digital marketing be after all ? We all visit Facebook pages, search on Google, browse websites and view online ads every day anyway, goes the thinking, and have a comfort level with digital. There are online and offline training programmes available. So learning and mastering the medium ought to be easy. So goes the thinking.

Digital marketing if done well results in real growth of the business.

The fact of the matter is that doing digital marketing well has always been challenging. By doing well we mean doing digital marketing that gives good ROI for the money spent and which can be scaled up to make a significant business impact.

Doing digital marketing well requires mastering and deploying multiple skills viz. consumer behaviour, copy, visual design, UI/UX, AdWords and other ad platforms, web technology and web analytics. And as digital marketing is in use across nearly all types of industries, it requires a digital marketing team with the domain understanding and experience of diverse industry sectors.

The key difficulty in doing digital marketing well, however, is this. Since the ad platforms are getting more sophisticated (cf. new features being launched every week), it needs a team which is sharp enough to capitalize on these opportunities. Improvements in AdWords, Facebook Ads and other platforms are being made by some of the smartest computer engineers there are on the planet today. To be able to deploy such sophisticated features to the optimum, an A1 digital marketing team is very much needed.

Our experience is that if an organization does hire an A1 digital marketing team, it gets a minimum 2X improvement in ROI compared to a team of average calibre. Hiring the best available team (agency) is always the wise decision to take.

{ 0 comments }

Every day, we talk to organizations looking for assistance with digital marketing. In their interactions with us, there are some things these organizations say or do, which we wish they would change. Here are
some of the important ones:

Some advice to organizations looking to hire a  digital agency.

    1.  Give us a list of items they want a quote on
      Digital marketing is a service that at it’s best when it’s customized. We are like the doctor who prescribes medicine as per the patient and his or her disease. Getting a list of digital marketing items on which a quote is wanted is like giving us a shopping list. What we most want to hear and understand from you is your business or marketing problem.Why are we more interested in the problem and not in the solutions you have in mind ? This is because we may have other and better suggestions as to what works.
    2.  Ask us if we have a database of prospective customers that we can share
      An agency usually – and we are no different – does not keep a database of potential customers. Each assignment we do is specific to a client and the customer and prospect data that we handle as part of the assignment is specific to the client and therefore confidential.
    3.  Evaluate our proposal but not us
      Here is a comment on the process organizations follow in selecting their digital marketing agency. Typically, early on in the discussion, we get asked a proposal. But what happens is that the prospective client quickly begins comparing proposals received from various agencies.What gets left out is either or both of the following. First, an in-depth discussion first on the proposal. Second, an evaluation of the agency and it’s track record.What we recommend: if you are located in the same town as us, ask for a face to face meeting. And if in a different location, do a con call with the agency. Secondly, for evaluating the agency, ask for not just it’s client list or it’s company deck, but for the profile of the agency’s management and for case studies and other material regarding the work done to date. Once all looks good, references from the agency’s clients can be useful as well.Else the danger is you may award your digital marketing contract to the agency with the best looking proposal or the lowest cost proposal. What you need is the best digital marketing service provider.

The above are some observations that are top of mind.  We’ll come back with some more.

 

{ 0 comments }

For this inaugural post, we want to highlight an issue that we haven’t seen or heard being talked about. It’s about the rate of change in the field of digital marketing. Perhaps ‘innovation’ rather than ‘rate of change’ describes it better.

We believe the rate of change in digital marketing is greater than in most other industries today. If we exclude emerging frontiers (think IOT, AI, robotics, particle physics, cancer research and the like), among the established industries (the paid ads segment of digital marketing is an established $224  billion industry worldwide) there are few parallels, especially when this rate of change is measured by the number of innovations per time period.

To illustrate this, in this post, we focus on just one segment of the digital marketing industry viz. ad platforms (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads et al).

Here’s what’s on our mind.

The online advertising industry leaders Google and Facebook are today among the 10 wealthiest companies on the planet.  In both cases, just one product viz. Google AdWords and Facebook Ads respectively accounts for over 95% of company revenues.

For the purpose of better understanding, let’s consider Google AdWords alone.

Google AdWords: the most profitable software product ever

AdWords is probably the most profitable software product ever in history, more so than Windows OS, which should now be the second richest product ever. What does this mean for the AdWords product? Alphabet (Google’s parent company) appears to have about 20,000 engineers on it’s rolls.  These are engineers who work on the over hundred products and new ventures that Alphabet, Google’s parent, has. Ever wondered how many of these work on a super-profitable product like AdWords? Here’s our guesstimate: 1,000; 1,000 of some of the most talented and qualified computer geeks out there. (To arrive at this estimate, we looked at posts on social media by ex-Googlers on how many engineers work on various products of the company. We couldn’t spot any number for AdWords itself and 1,000 engineers is our guesstimate for AdWords after looking at the numbers on social media for other Google products).

So here is the real question. What it is that these engineers who are assigned to AdWords do ?

The answer: They all work on adding new features and functionality to AdWords and work on projects to increase the product’s usage and on monetizing it better.

Here is an example of a new AdWords feature. This is being rolled out across markets and didn’t exist earlier. It’s called ‘Call bid extensions.’

Here is what it is. So far, call extensions (phone numbers that we see on Google Ads – in layman’s terms)  have been displayed selectively. Which means that even if a campaign has been set up to show the phone number, it is very much Google’s discretion whether to show this each time the ad is served. In actual practice, sometimes the phone number is shown and at other times it’s not.  Google does say that this decision is based on the relative quality or performance of the ad via-a-vis competition ads, but doesn’t give any details. Certainly, so far there has been no way to ensure that the phone number is always shown on the ad.

Now however, with the above call bid extension feature, Google proposes to change the system. It will now let you bid more per click to improve the chances that the phone number is shown.

As more and more people around the world switch to using their mobile phones as their primary device to browse and search, AdWords is introducing other changes in mobile advertising. Mobile ads are evolving to encourage advertisers to use phone numbers and phone calls as the main response mechanism – in place of the traditionally used landing page.

After launching what are called call-only ads, three weeks ago Google announced this change which can makes call-only ads more effective.

Our experience is that a new AdWords feature is being introduced almost
every week.

Much innovation is happening on other ad platforms too. Facebook has been trying to make creation and use of of mobile and video ads easier. LinkedIn recently allowed the use of video ads. There is too much happening
to sum up in this one post.

The above are changes happening in online advertising. Other digital marketing methods such as web analytics, email marketing, website design and development, organic social posts, search engine optimization and e-commerce  are all witnessing rapid innovation.

To sum up, the number of digital marketing innovations per week or month or perhaps we should say per day is – in absolute terms as well as relative to the innovation and change in other industries – a large number.

For us digital marketers, this industry dynamic comes with its own peculiar opportunities and challenges.

A subject that’s fit for a subsequent post.

{ 1 comment }