Building on the first post in this series, Digital Marketing for Makers and Artisans I: The Local Hero, this article is for the crafter who has had some success selling their product locally and wants to take their business to the next level by selling online. If you’re just starting out on both fronts and don’t have any existing data to work with, that’s fine too. You get to build your strategy from scratch based on what you feel like doing and what you think your buyers will enjoy interacting with.
There’s an unsettling expression out there that says “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Based on some of the things I’ve seen in the #oddities hashtag on Instagram, it’s a fitting phrase for breaking into the online maker market. There is an overwhelming amount of listicles out there full of cutting-edge trends, apps, and marketing secrets that make it sound like you have to be glued to your phone or computer 24/7 in order to keep your inventory flowing. For many sellers, reading headlines like “84 Etsy Hacks for Top Sellers” only results in feeling burned-out before even reading the article, and then procrastination.
Think of it this way: there are all kinds of ways to market your product, but you only have to get really good at a couple of them. The trick is choosing the right ones for your work style and your brand. To help tune out the hype for hype’s sake and find a marketing strategy you can actually stick to, you can begin to weigh your options by looking at the basic pieces of your business model and what technology you’re familiar with.
Map Your Sales Cycle
Believe it or not, the most crucial piece of the digital marketing puzzle for online sellers is the platform are you using to sell your items. If a shopper falls in love with your macrame wall hangings but has problems completing the purchase or doesn’t think their information is secure, you’re not going to make the sale. There are a lot of things you can fix, but a bad sales platform is not one of them. If your shoppers or you are having a lot of issues with your platform, it’s time to find a new one.
Now add in each step it takes to get there working backward to your social media or wherever they are finding you, on different kinds of devices. The nuts and bolts of your programs and platforms are what carries your brand storytelling, which we’ll talk about in the next section. Think about how many times you’ve had what seemed like a blatantly obvious question about an item you wanted to buy online—but you couldn’t find the answer anywhere. And how many broken links you’ve clicked on, and how much outdated information is out there. It’s surprising how many online vendors don’t have a really good functional sense of their existing user journey.
To give your user journey a check-up, get a pen and paper and make a mind map (also known as a concept map or spider diagram) of your “user journey” or “sales cycle” from completed sale in the center to different channels of discovery on the outside, including stops to your website to learn more, and any other detours they might make along the way to content of yours (YouTube videos, for example). Put yourself in your buyers’ shoes, as if you’ve never seen any of this before, and use the below questions as your guide.
Questions to ask: What are the key functions of my sales platform and what apps does it play nice with? What devices does it work on? What are all the different ways a person could find me? What are my most frequently asked questions? What’s already working? Extra credit: Where is my competition? (But don’t let this drive you crazy.)
Follow Your Map
Optimizing the link tracing you did with your mind map will make it easier for people who are already interested in your product or even existing customers to make more purchases. Tracing the user journey in the other direction, from discovery to purchase, will show you your “sales pipeline.” Whether you know it or not, you have one. Now you can look at the pieces as a whole, from a brand storytelling standpoint, starting with social media and other discoverable content.
There are a couple of tried-and-true models of brand storytelling that you can modify to fit your sales pipeline: The Hero’s Journey and the Human Decision Model are two that make sense to me. This is where you learn not to put every detail up front, which can be hard to do when you want to make the most out of every single impression. The middle steps are where content (and the fun storytelling) comes into play. Remember that your followers are all squished between discovery and purchase. They know you, but you need to give them little reminders that you’re still interesting and they could be interacting with you…and buying more stuff. It takes some thought to meet your customer where they are at each stage of the journey, but lucky for you, you already have a map!
Good content is
- Useful (or interesting, or beautiful)
- High-quality (especially for images and video)
- Has a call to action
It’s important to remember that these interactions are a two-way street, for a lot of different reasons. Besides user-generated content (which you’ve probably already heard about) in the form of hashtags, photos, videos, and other kinds of posts from satisfied customers. Don’t leave all that great UGC floating in timeline purgatory! Save the best pieces and put them on your website to show your fans that other people love your stuff too. Think about where else in your user journey it makes sense to gather feedback, and where those testimonials can be repurposed.
Questions to ask: What grabs attention on different platforms? What draws people to my stuff? What motivates them to move through each step in the journey? What else do they want to know?
Make a Breadcrumb Trail
Everything we’ve discussed so far, from your social media to your sales platform, is what makes up your digital branding footprint. Every widget you use, every link you embed across platforms, is part of your user experience. The goal in crafting your marketing strategy is to make form follow function: it has to be easy, and it should be entertaining to shop and buy your product online. In addition, you should ask what you can learn from your buyers at each step in the process, for instance, options they prefer, times of the day/week they engage with different steps and how often, demographics that are drawn to different pieces.
Once you’ve got your strategy down forward and backward, make sure there are calls to action literally telling your shoppers what to do next. Always give them a next step! And you’re not done once they’ve completed the process: you’ve seen the pre-checked box strategically placed next to the very last button in the sales cycle for opting into an e-newsletter. Of course you want to stay in contact with customers who have made the entire journey with you and decided to buy your product. If they are okay with you popping into their inbox once a month to share what’s new, take advantage of that!
In a nutshell, the goal is to build a strategy out of different pieces that work together seamlessly and build on each other, that makes sense for your business and your habits. What really looks amateur-ish is when entrepreneurs look at each piece on its own as they go and try to cram in too much information. Online shoppers experience your content in only a few specific orders, so you need to make the messaging match the headspace they’re in at each stage. Again, if your pipeline isn’t optimized or even very connected, it’s going to hold back sales.
The reason why so many people get burned out trying too many different tactics is that they are ignoring overall strategy. All the tricks in the book won’t work if they’re not part of a cohesive vision. And at the end of the day, likes are cool…but sales are better. As with in-person sales, it’s all about passion and personality. You and your product will more memorable the sharper your branding is, the more seamless your content is across platforms.
So go forth and build the skeleton of your marketing machine, then flesh it out with all the bells and whistles that make sense for you. And if you need some help or want to get some of the most annoying tasks off your plate, let’s get in touch! You are only one person. You can’t do it all, and you don’t have to.