Building an eCommerce company can be challenging enough – especially a branded eCommerce store in which you sell original products – but when it comes to marketing, an already challenging process can feel overwhelming.

On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, SEM, social media ads – these are all ways in which you can put your best foot forward from a marketing perspective. But there are still several “in the trenches” ways to market your company advantageously.

Helpful Commenting

Shamelessly plugging your product or store is definitely one way to get the word out, but this sort of outreach is often met with cynicism or – worse yet – avoidance. Even so, it is important to reach out to your entire community and let them know two things:
a.) Your product or store exists
b.) You are an authority on not only all things relating to your niche, but to eCommerce as a whole.

The good news is that with helpful commenting, you will be able to assist your demographic in solving their problems and addressing their needs without necessarily being overtly self-promotional.

Case in point: if you are selling various insect repellents online, you might want to post ads on various outdoor adventure sites or even travel agency sites. This is a fine approach. However, if you find message boards or forums related to these outdoor adventure or travel, you will likely find a community of curious, confused, and frustrated potential customers just looking for some guidance.

With a little help from Google, you may be able to help them not only with their questions about unrelated subjects, but also understand how to tie this “helpful comment” in with an unobtrusive plug for your own product.

For instance, if a prospective traveler asks on a travel forum about what to pack for a trip to Cozumel, you might research things to do in Cozumel and then respond back with a list of things to bring. Then, at the end, you should gently remind them to bring along insect repellent, and link that back to your site. This will potentially turn this person into a customer, and may even have a residual effect of bringing in more readers who are interested in what you offer. One thing is certain: even if it does nothing else, it will spread awareness that you are knowledgeable, helpful, and a purveyor of bug spray.

Guest Podcasts

Your community of prospective buyers may be even larger than you think. One technique that entrepreneurs frequently underutilize is featuring their CEO or other spokesperson on a podcast.

If you are interested in a guest podcast appearance, there are really two roads you can take. You can pitch your success (or, in some cases, lack thereof) as a reason to be featured in a podcast. Doing so will have its advantages – you will have the opportunity to talk about your business in the abstract, likely to an audience of other entrepreneurs and business people. However, there will also be a disadvantage: unless you are a B2B company, it is unlikely that the people who listen to a business-oriented podcast will be prospective clients.

The other road is to pitch your actual operations and knowledge of the industry at large to niche podcasts that cover your area of expertise. The disadvantage here is that you will not necessarily be reaching the largest possible audience, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that you will be able to speak to an audience that more closely approximates your target demographic.

In preparation for podcasts, I recommend a technique that I call “one level up”, named after the Windows Explorer folder option that allows you to “jump” one tier higher in a data hierarchy. So, for instance, if you cover mergers and acquisitions, “one level up” would be investment banking and/or finance. If you sell swimwear, “one level up” would be fashion. If you sell bug spray, “one level up” would be aerosols, outdoor gear, etc.

Try to target your podcasts to opportunities that fall within “one level up” of product or store, and then be ready to speak not only about your particular niche and all commensurate details, but to take the conversation broader by speaking directly to topics that directly pertain to the level above.

As an example, when ShipMonk CEO Jan Bednar appears on podcasts, he speaks not only about fulfillment companies but the transformation of the logistics industry as a whole due to automation and technology.

Directory Listings

Directory listings are a relatively simple way to pursue backlinks, but they also have an added effect of appearing to customers who are interested in your product or store.

If you are selling cosmetics online, you want to be absolutely certain that you appear in every online directory for cosmetics. Google will help you find these directories and get listed. You can apply the “one level up” technique for directory listings as well! Most successful branded eCommerce stores focus on a niche, and these niches often operate under a more loosely defined generality. This will significantly expand the amount of directories under which you can list.

Some of these directories also feature highlighted listing for a reasonable fee. Be sure to assess your marketing budget and decide whether or not highlighting is going to be useful for your site. You may want to understand how prominent the directory is in your online community prior to going down this road.

These three techniques do not guarantee success. However, for the resource-poor marketing squad, they can provide a stepping stone that can lead you and your eCommerce venture to greater heights. Above all else, always keep in mind the central tenet to public-facing alternative marketing: be helpful. Let everything you do stem from that.

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By August Kennady, ShipMonk