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Busting e-commerce Myths that Lead to Bad Marketing Decisions

Contributor Pratik Dholakiya takes on the role of marketing myth-buster to debunk 7 e-commerce clich├ęs and shed light on the truth about what works and what doesn’t.


Even the smartest marketer can make a terrible marketing decision if that decision is based on an outright falsehood. Myths about the e-commerce industry and the marketing surrounding it abound. Here are seven ways to help you avoid these traps.

1. ‘Revenue and profit are the only KPIs that matter’

Early web marketers tended to be obsessed with metrics that had tenuous or unclear connections to the needs of business, in large part because web marketing grew out of a community of one-person operations where business decisions didn’t need to justify metrics like rankings and traffic to a board.

As mainstream business adopted the internet and brought the one-person web marketers into their companies, the marketers had to relearn some things. After a while, word got around about how important it was to justify decisions based on projected revenues and profits.

Unfortunately, that message of projected revenue and profits has been hit so hard it can sometimes cloud the importance of other key performance indicators. Revenue and profit are not the only metrics that indicate how a business is performing, even if they can be some of the most blatant signs of business health.

Here are a few other metrics you should be keeping a close eye on:

  1. Conversion rates: What percentage of your visitors ultimately end up making a purchase? Consider how conversion rates differ depending on repeat visitors or aggregate traffic. Pay attention to how campaigns, landing pages, session interactions, previous interactions and traffic sources impact your conversion rates.
  2. Channel traffic: It might sound like a holdover from the earlier days of web marketing, but web traffic is important to keep track of. The dissonance between your traffic numbers and your revenue says something very different from a situation where you don’t have revenue or traffic. That’s a message you won’t be hearing if you fail to pay attention to traffic and where it is coming from.
  3. Asset Lifetime Value: How much revenue does your typical page offer over a lifetime? Which pages perpetually generate revenue, and which generate revenue that drops off? You can’t determine the long-term profitability of developing landing pages and content if you aren’t making these kinds of projections.

2. ‘People from social media don’t buy’

Most of us aren’t using social media to find products on a daily basis, so it’s easy to dismiss social media as an unprofitable channel, especially when investments don’t pay off immediately.

But it would be a mistake to write social media off as a waste of energy. Twenty-six percent of Facebook users who click ads make purchases, and Facebook showed 62 percent growth in year-over-year ad spending in 2017, according to Kleiner Perkins.

The benefits of social media are not limited to ad spending. According to a recent social customer service report from GetAmbassador, 71 percent of consumers who have a positive customer service experience on social media with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.

According to a study done by Monetate, conversion rates from social media are only 0.71 percent, compared with search’s 1.95 percent and email’s 3.19 percent, but social media is also the highest source of referral traffic for most sites, making up 31.24 percent of the typical site’s traffic.

Since visitors from social media are very high up the funnel, they are the visitors who need to be nurtured the longest before they make a purchase, but this doesn’t mean they can be neglected without adverse effects.

A strong social media strategy allows you to capture traffic from a highly diverse audience and earn exposure in front of audiences that would not otherwise discover your brand. This is an opportunity to generate demand, rather than merely capitalizing on it.

Social media marketing strategies generate secondary effects. Attracting attention from influencers can send more targeted traffic your way, and the added attention can ultimately benefit your visibility in search engine result pages.

With the right hook, you can also draw social media visitors to your email list, where they are more likely to convert in the future.

3. ‘Nobody uses email anymore’

This might be the most dangerous myth currently out there; the fact that email is an old technology does not mean no one is using it.

The reality is that email is still the default communication tool for connecting with people over the internet. A social media post does not necessarily reach your followers on your personal account, let alone on a commercial account. Messaging apps and texts are a more direct way of reaching your target recipient, but commercial messages on those platforms are not as readily accepted as they are via email.

In most cases, email is your only direct line to the consumer that consumers are also willing to accept. Provided the email works, the owner of the email address is likely to read most of the subject line of every email received which is more than can be said of social media streams. There is no inbox to clear in social media: You either see a post or you don’t!

List building with email is central to any digital marketing strategy. You are dead in the water without it.

4. ‘All marketing efforts take place off my site’

It is a mistake to consider everything you do on your site “development” and everything you do elsewhere “promotion,” especially if you view those as two compartmentalized, separate tasks.

Let me clarify that I’m arguing more for the self-evident truism that “marketing is built into your product.”

Marketing is very much something that occurs on your own site, every bit as much as it occurs elsewhere. In fact, the strongest brands do as much or more marketing on their own sites as they do elsewhere, and there are many ways of approaching this. For example:

  • Split testing your landing pages to maximize sales or conversions.
  • Developing lead generation assets such as e-books and other resources that will help persuade people to join your mailing list.
  • Creating landing pages that appropriately target the types of phrases and subjects people will be searching for when they are looking for your products and understanding searcher intent well enough to convert them into sales or contacts.
  • Building trust and reciprocity with audiences using authoritative blog content and lead generation assets that target appropriate audiences with the right keywords.
  • Developing an easy-to-navigate site to allow people to find exactly what they are looking for.
  • Refining your cart and checkout system to remove any bottlenecks that lead to shopping cart abandonment.

These make up just a small portion of the ways your site plays an essential part in your marketing strategy. If you think you can market your site without making continuous changes to the site, you only have half a marketing strategy.

5. ‘The goal of social media marketing is to go viral’

This myth is so central to the way many e-commerce sites try to promote themselves, and it’s probably more damaging to both the reputation and execution of social media marketing than any other myth about it.

The reason it is such a problem is that our metaphors are all wrong. The most popular content on the web doesn’t actually spread virally in the way we think, which is that friends of friends of friends share a piece of content.

Instead, research by Sharad Goel and colleagues, analyzing over a billion events on Twitter, concludes that the most popular content on the web gets that way because it hits “influential nodes” in a network.

Content doesn’t “go viral” because of some exponential resharing effect, it “goes viral” when a much smaller number of influential people share it with their large audiences.

According to a recent Twitter study, 20 percent of the people surveyed said a tweet from an influential person influences their decision to share a product recommendation. That number doubles when it comes to making purchases:

Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.
Twitter Survey

Thankfully, there’s another path to exponential growth, but it’s not one that relies so heavily on how shareable your content is. Instead, it relies on audience retention.

If you lost 20 percent of your audience every time you published a piece of content that picked up a 20 percent boost from social media, you would spin your tires. That is flat growth.  But if you managed to keep that entire 20 percent every time you published, your audience would grow exponentially.

There are obvious limits to how long this kind of growth is possible, but hopefully, this thought experiment makes it clear where your true priorities lie: in reaching new audiences and in retaining your existing one.

Since I feel social media is actually one of the worst places to reach your existing audience, this is a reminder to think of social media as a source of traffic you need to convert into an email list, or to some other audience you have a more direct line to.

6. ‘A good product will market itself’

Belief in this notion is inversely proportional to the amount of time you’ve spent at the decision level of a business.

This is an excuse to have no marketing strategy, and it is placing far too much emphasis on the power of the internet to communicate ideas, while at the same time ignoring the incredible information density people are exposed to every day.

As I explained earlier, things simply do not go viral in the way we think they do. Add to the fact that typical conversion rates are very low and you start to realize that even if news about your products did miraculously go viral, you would burn through your target audience in a day, have limited success to show for it and have nowhere to go next.

And then it starts to sink in that even something as revolutionary as the iPhone had millions (ultimately billions) of marketing dollars behind it. The simple truth is no, products don’t market themselves. Good products contribute to things like positive reviews and word of mouth, but they don’t replace a marketing strategy. The vast majority of your target audience won’t even hear of you without some intense effort on your part.

7. ‘We need to reach as many people as possible’

Deep down, all of us know sheer traffic numbers aren’t what we are after, but marketers and strategic decision-makers are often biased in this direction anyway. That is why it’s so important to check ourselves and make sure our motivations are rational. It might feel good to get a link from The New York Times, but what are the odds somebody reading that story will end up being a customer?

It’s not that reaching a general audience is a bad thing; it should be a part of a brand’s marketing strategy, since this kind of attention can have a positive lasting impact on your contact list, networking effects and search engine rankings.

But the bread and butter of a solid marketing strategy is always about connecting supply with demand. It’s best not to forget this.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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