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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.

P.S.: To know more about our own e-commerce services, visit our website.

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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?

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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.

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