My E-Commerce Startup Marketing Plan

Working at a marketing agency I have the pleasure of managing a lot of already established brands. However, my favorite thing to work on is helping a new brand build itself from the ground up. It’s rare to get that kind of project in the agency I work for (or probably any agency) which is why I’m really excited about starting my candle business this summer (website coming soon).

This is a stock photo. These are not my candles. Mine are prettier.

It’s going to be a tough challenge because there are thousands of competitors (and a few major players), but that is precisely why I chose the candle business. I have a lot of theories about how social + content marketing can build a large and loyal fan base for a brand (some of which are not yet tried and true) and I plan to test those theories out against stiff competition.

While I’m not quite ready to share my (secret) theories yet, I have been thinking about how to use my limited startup marketing funds wisely. This isn’t my first go-around in the startup world so I have strong opinions about what I think will work, and since I am a business of one at this time, there’s no one to argue against me!

Here’s my startup marketing plan:

Facebook Advertising

I’m a firm believer in spending money on Facebook ads to help build brand awareness.

Because the only people who know about my startup are my boyfriend, my cat and my mom it’s important that I spread the good word to people in my target audience. I could do this slowly through blogger outreach and other “free” channels (time is money so nothing is free), but in the end the fastest and cheapest way to build awareness for a startup is through targeted Facebook ads.

cat sitting on a box
My cat, Cecil, sitting on a box of candle supplies. He knows all of my secrets.

Using Facebook ads to run a CPM-based Like campaign I can reach thousands of people in my target audience for as little as five dollars a day.

Through what other channel can you say the same thing?

Free communication channels like blogger outreach and public relations are not truly free. Sure, I could spend time doing outreach on my own which doesn’t cost me any money out of pocket, but I lose out on valuable time. Being a one woman band who works a full time day job, handles product development at night, is training for a half marathon and trying to be a good girlfriend, I don’t have a lot of time to spare.

The value I place on my free time is actually higher than $5/day so I would rather let my Facebook ads help me. At even $25 or $50/day the Facebook ads are worth their cost for me.

Email Marketing

There is no doubt in my mind that email marketing is one of the most effective online channels to communicate with customers.

Research from Forrester agrees that for retail businesses, email marketing is great for retention:

Email influence on repeat customers
Forrester says retailers should use email marketing as a retention tool.

When I work with B2B companies at the agency, we use email for lead nurture campaigns a lot, but my main order of business will be using email to increase repeat purchases for Lilypad Candles.

Since the average household spends $10/month on candles there is a big opportunity here for my business.

Additionally, because candles often fall into the impulse purchase category in retail locations, I need a strong way to encourage customers to continue purchasing online from me instead.

I’ll use fairly frequent sales promotions in my emails to do this.

Content Marketing

I love great visual content. Like really, really love it. There are a few brands that I think do visual content marketing really well: Birchbox, Rent the Runway, Ellie and Nike.

I love that these brands invest in their visual content. They don’t just post stock images and they clearly use professional designers and photographers.

rent the runway facebook content example
Great example of visual content marketing from Rent the Runway.

I don’t think visual content has to be expensive (and in many cases a new startup won’t have the funds multiple photo shoots) but all images should accurately reflect the quality and culture of the brand.

I’m lucky enough to have a photographer in the family who can take pictures for me at the discounted rate of free. And a long time ago I also posted an ad on a freelance job board and connected with an awesome graphic designer who I continue to work with to this day. She charges a very reasonable rate (about $30/hr) and does phenomenal work. If you’d like her contact info shoot me an email.

For my candle business I’ll be using pictures, graphics, guides and blog posts to engage my target audience.

It would be overwhelming (and boring) for all of my content to surround candles, so I’ll be exploring other areas of home décor. After all, the kind of person who buys candles isn’t just interested in candles. Creating related content will help keep things fresh and interesting while ensuring the Lilypad brand is top of mind.

Whatever industry you’re in, be sure to look at the big picture. What related topics can you create content about?

Blogger Relations

To spread the word early on about my candles I will be conducting some blogger outreach. Earlier in this post I said that putting together a blogger or media outreach campaign takes up a lot of time and I’d rather purchase Facebook ads to quickly increase brand awareness. I stand by that statement.

HOWEVER… (Isn’t there always a however?)

I luckily already have a large blogger relations network from previous campaigns through the agency I work for. Also, I love reading blogs and commenting on good ones for fun. This means I have a few bloggers in mind that I believe I can call on to help me out without needing to make a big campaign out of it.

Nick and Jess from New Girl
Blogger relations is about developing relationships not cold pitching a product. Also, so glad I worked a New Girl picture into this post.

I’ll be sending sample candles for them to test out, write about and then give away to a reader.

The blogger relations portion of my strategy isn’t necessarily for brand awareness, it’s more about building positive reviews that I can use as social proof.

Of course, the whole thing could backfire on me if the bloggers think my candles stink, but they don’t so I should be okay!

Getting reviews from some of my favorite top-notch bloggers will not only help me build social proof, but it also will help me generate some of my first inbound links for SEO purposes. Which is awesome.

For a Marketing Team of One

And there you have it, the four marketing tactics I plan to focus on for the launch of my e-commerce startup.

If you’re starting a new business and are a team of one, I think it’s really important that you focus on just a handful of tactics as well. There are many different things I’d like to try, but realistically I’d rather execute a couple of things successfully than do a lot of things rather poorly.