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3 top eCommerce market research tips

3 top eCommerce market research tips

Running an online store can be one of the most challenging vocations of the modern world. Like a roller coaster, eCommerce can be the best industry to be in (when sales and conversions are flying high), and the worst (when Web traffic dries up along with sales).

With organic search traffic from Google proving to be more and more volatile and harder to come by, it’s important for eCommerce site owners to ensure that they are doing everything possible to secure a sustainable and profitable stream of income. But what does that mean in practice?

The only way to guarantee a lasting supply of interested and engaged customers is to understand everything you can about your niche market – including who’s who in the zoo, what strategies competitors are using to drive sales, and what customers are thinking and feeling about your products, sales and service.

It’s a lot to keep on top off, but with a little practice you’ll quickly begin enjoying the benefits of knowing and understanding more about who can help you sell more, how to implement better marketing and promotions, and where and why customers behave the way they do.

1. Work hard to identify new influencers

Do you know everyone that works in your niche industry? You should. Reporters, bloggers and journalists are some of the people you should be rubbing shoulders with every chance you get. But not just any old writer. You need influencers who your customers listen to. Spreading the word about your brand, products and business is virtually impossible without help from established industry influencers. Trying to market and promote an eCommerce store is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of online business because everyone is sick of being bombarded with ads about sales and discounts.

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That’s why it’s so important to have someone else talk about your store. Someone who has a decent social media following, or a decent email list, or simply access to publishing platforms where the type of customers you want hang out. But above all, someone who is trusted by their readers.

But who are these influencers? An influencer can be anyone. What qualifies them as someone you want to build a relationship with is who they influence.

This means that in order to identify the right influencers for your store, you must first research:

  • Who your target audience is
  • Where they congregate online
  • Who do they follow

Sounds easy, right?

Identifying influencers is actually the easy part of the equation because all the information you need is available online. Google is a most useful tool to use when searching for influencers because search results tend to be a great starting point for finding influencers using targeted keywords (depending on what topics your particular target audience might be searching for) – i.e. if a blogger writing about the “latest shoe styles” is on page one of the search results, they might be a potentially valuable influencer for you to reach out to (assuming you sell shoes).

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The next step is much harder because in order to leverage the influence of the people you are targeting, you must first build a relationship with them and gain their trust. Influencer marketing is not a paid relationship like celebrity endorsements, which means it requires time, patience and effort to succeed… not cash. Once you have identified your preferred influencers, check out influencer marketing 101 to learn more about how to approach them and build sustainable, profitable, and mutually beneficial relationships.

2. Monitor competitors’ sales & marketing

While influencer marketing focuses on reaching out and pulling in new customers, monitoring your competitors is more about learning what marketing and promotional strategies they are using to drive sales.

Imagine you could monitor the sales of competing products, and receive alerts whenever they experience an out-of-the-ordinary spike in sales. Knowing that a product is experiencing a spike in sales – in real-time – would then allow you to quickly work out what it is that lead to the sharp increase. For example, a product review on a prominent tech blog, or an article in a magazine, or a press release in the news.

Armed with the knowledge of what exposure leads to an increase in sales, you can learn useful things like which writer/blogger was responsible for the article, and which site(s) have plenty of buying customers. This makes it much quicker and easier to focus your efforts on people and sites that are known to work in your niche.

But how is it possible to monitor the sales of competitors when they keep that information private? Well, it’s not possible to see how well someone is selling from their own personal site, but it is possible to spy on how well products sold on some of the big marketplaces, like Amazon, are selling. Using a sales tracking service like RankTracer Enterprise means that you can monitor the sales of any product sold on Amazon and spy on how well, when, and why those items are selling over time.

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Once the system has alerted you to a spike in sales for a given product, they also offer tools to help close in on what marketing campaign was responsible for the increase and add it to your own marketing playbook.

3. Ask questions

The title of this section might sound slightly redundant, but there is more to asking questions than meets the eye. There are different ways to ask questions, and there are different people to ask those question of.

It’s often very useful to ask complex, market and industry related questions on Quora. Especially if they are questions requiring a bit of specialist knowledge you don’t have access to. Many, many industry experts from all over the place take the time to write in answers that often contain really valuable nuggets of info – often with links to corroborating evidence from respected research organizations.

So Quora can help with industry related market research questions, and possibly offer a bit of decent insight into your own customer base. But, the best people to ask about your customers are your customers themselves.

Use your newsletter and mailing list to ask questions about what people want, why they are (or aren’t) buying, what information they need to help them make buying decisions, and so on. Unfortunately, many customers are pretty apathetic about answering polls or questionnaires, so offer something juicy in return. Something like, “Answer these five questions and get 20% off your next purchase” might do the trick.

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What about your own eCommerce platform community forums? Many top eCommerce solution providers offer support forums for their customers to learn from the wisdom of the community. For example, Shopify has a huge range of discussions around anything from how to build a business, to getting feedback on your store design, to selling your site.

There will almost always be someone who has been in the same situation you are and has found a way to solve it already. And, the act of sharing and helping others is also a fantastic way to build your network and make potentially valuable new connections.

Hopefully these three tips will help you to learn more about your store, it’s niche industry, and the people who inhabit it. Ultimately, the more knowledge you have, the easier it is to make better decisions. Decisions that will ultimately lead to greater profits and financial success.

What other market research tips have you used with success? Share yours in the comments.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Hawk via flickr.com

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

More Resources About Achieving Business Success

Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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