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Marketing and e-Commerce divided by a common language

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Why read this? : We look at the similarities and differences between marketing and e-Commerce. Learn how they share similar goals like building brands and winning customers. But also why they’re so different in how they go after those goals. Read this to learn how to bring marketing and e-Commerce closer together. 

George Bernard Shaw once said Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language. You could say the same about marketing and e-Commerce. For example, they both talk about :-

  • needs and wants.
  • customer journeys.
  • winning customers.

With this common language, you’d expect marketing and e-Commerce to be a perfect match. Like Ben and Jerry. But in reality, when marketing and e-Commerce people get together, it’s often more like Tom and Jerry. They’ve different views on what’s important. So you get disagreements. And frustrations.

It’s strange as both functions have the same end goal. More sales. But the differences come because they start from very different places.

This article shares ideas on how to bring marketing and e-Commerce teams together on the same journey. A journey which helps your business work more efficiently and effectively.  

Start with needs and wants

Customer needs and wants drive all marketing and e-Commerce activities. If you don’t know what customers need or want, how do you know what products to make or services to offer?

What marketing and e-Commerce people understand by needs and wants can be very different. But, before we get into that, let’s be clear what needs AND wants mean for customers.

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not quite the same thing. 

White round badge with a read heart symbol against a dark grey background

Needs are essential. A “must-have”. An unsatisfied need has consequences. These can be physical needs e.g. air, food and safety. Or psychological needs like a sense of belonging or well-being.

Wants come from desire. They’re not essential, they’re “wishes”. Unsatisfied wants may make someone feel bad, but there are fewer consequences. Example wants could be a foreign holiday, expensive jewellery or a fancy new car.

Internal needs and external wants

The storytelling book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel has an interesting additional way to distinguish between needs and wants. It describes needs as more internal and wants as more external. Needs go deeper into areas like feelings and emotions. Wants focus more on desires and tangible “stuff”.

The book isn’t specifically about marketing and e-Commerce, but the needs / wants distinction helps in brand storytelling. In brand stories, customers are the heroes. They have needs and wants you have to understand to build your story. How these come together helps you position your brand as the answer.

For example, a customer feels the need (internal) to not worry about medical bills if they get sick. So, they want (external) a good health insurance policy. 

Or a customer has a need (internal) to feel important. So, they want (external) an expensive car to boost their self-image and status.

Future needs and immediate wants

Here’s the key thing though. Marketers prefer to deal with needs, while e-Commerce people prefer dealing with wants.

Marketers want to build long-term relationships with customers. They do this by making emotional connections when they meet customer needs. Brand-building adverts focus on making people happy (like many Christmas adverts, for example). Or talking about the importance of family and friends (like the Qantas advert in our advertising impact article). These drive long-term sales.

E-Commerce people prefer to tap into more immediate customer wants. They’re more pragmatic and transactional. The focus is less on relationships and more on instant gratification. There’s more focus on what people want (external stuff) right nowThat drives short-term sales. 

However, these don’t have to be opposing views. They can be complementary views which bring marketing and e-Commerce together. It’s really all about where the customer is in their journey.

Customer journey - e-Commerce and marketing

The e-Commerce journey comes from the broader topic of customer experience

E-Commerce people use it to track the different stages customers go through before they buy.

Specific actions like digital media and the store website help customers move from stage to stage until the point of purchase. 

Once they buy, the journey map also helps you focus on how to keep the customer loyal. To keep them coming back for more with great customer service

e-commerce planning process - 5 key steps in e-commerce experience

Compare this to the marketing brand choice funnel(See our brand identity guide for more on this). 

See the similarities?

The brand adoption funnel identifies key steps customers have to go through (driven by brand actions) to choose your brand.

It then focuses on how to make those customers become loyal repeat buyers. 

The wording might be different. The context might be slightly different. But the same underlying steps sit across both marketing and e-Commerce approaches to the customer journey. 

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Marketing and e-Commerce views of the customer journey

The marketing (brand choice funnel) model acts at a high level. It has deep questions. Why should I listen, why should I care and so on? Marketers love finding out why customers do what they do. They love to get into a customer’s head. To understand their emotions. The brand choice funnel helps them identify where in the journey to ask those why questions. 

The e-Commerce model has similar steps. But each step is more action-focused. More about how than why. How do we get more shoppers? How do we get them to buy? This how focus quickly jumps to specific channels and actions. It’s less speculative and covers practical activities which drive traffic and conversions and manage payments and deliveries. It’s more about immediate and functional benefits like price and delivery cost than emotional benefits.

Which approach is better?

Well actually, you get the best results when you can make both work together. Remember, it’s about where the customer is on their journey. Marketing pulls customers in long-term by meeting their needs. E-Commerce pulls them in short-term by meeting their wants. (See also our advertising short-term and long-term impact article which explores a similar concept for advertising). 

Marketing and e-Commerce can learn from each other

Part of the disconnect between marketing and e-Commerce is they often sit as separate functions in a business. This means there’s not much interaction and sharing of skills.

Don’t let this happen in your business.

Cross-sharing of capabilities between marketing and e-Commerce makes your teams better at both.

It moves people away from having a narrow business view to having a wide business view. 

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

A wider view of business helps create better ideas, inspiration and integration. These all help your business and people grow.

E-Commerce people can learn from marketing’s focus on market research, marketing plans and brand activation, for example. They can learn about customer needs and the value of building brands.

Marketing people can learn from e-Commerce’s focus on the customer experience, and how to optimise areas like store websites and the order to delivery process. They can learn how to be more agile and act on short-term opportunities to make life better for customers right now

How marketers who complain about e-Commerce get it wrong

We know marketers who complain e-Commerce has too much detail. It’s not “big picture” enough. But these marketing strategists get so hung up on strategy that they forget the goal is to win more customers.

E-Commerce people rarely forget this goal. “Strategists” aren’t really a thing in e-Commerce. Nobody cares when you’re trying to get orders out the door and clear your enquiry backlog.

That’s not to say you don’t need an e-Commerce strategy. You do. Your strategy is how you plan to win customers. It’s based on analysing your external environment (customers, competitors and category) and your internal capabilities. (Often using a SWOT model). 

That “how” makes or breaks your e-Commerce strategy. It defines your goal and what you need to do to get there. Your business achieves its strategic goals by the sum of its actions with each of its customers. 

E-commerce focuses on transactions and systems

Marketers often complain e-Commerce is too transactional. But transactions equals sales. And it’s sales not strategy which pays the bills.

E-commerce people on the other hand love transactions. Transactions mean they’ve given customers what they want. Transactions means bills and salaries get paid. The value of the company grows. Stock isn’t sitting in the warehouse as a cost, it’s on its way to the customer. That’s money in the bank. 

The more transactions through your order to delivery system, the more efficient the system becomes. Economies of scale drive better profitability. 

E-Commerce people love to focus on how to improve transactions. Regular testing helps improve the customer experience and drives efficiencies.

From an e-Commerce point of view, marketing is a tactical activation to bring customers in at the start of their journey. Other functions like IT, finance and supply chain (as per our functions of e-Commerce guide) handle the other steps in this journey to create an efficient ordering process

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

Marketers typically focus on the top of the sales funnel (TOFU). They spend the most time on marketing communication activities like advertising and PR.

But think about the broader 4Ps of marketing. There’s more to do than awareness and consideration. The 4Ps are supposed to give a balanced view of marketing priorities.

But most marketers spend about 70% of their time on “promotion” (especially advertising). “Product” maybe 20% of the time (mainly packaging or marketing innovation). Poor old “price” and “place” get about 10% between them. Usually jammed into the annual marketing plan. In our experience, many marketers thinking about price and place goes something like this …

Do we need a price rise? What’s our promotional plan? Is it that time of year the sales team want me to go in and present our marketing plans to the retail buyer? Oh, you want an end-of-aisle dump bin? Can’t the category management team do all that? Sorry, can’t stop, I’m off to the agency.

Compare that to the time and thought which goes into most advertising campaigns

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

In e-Commerce though, the BOFU (or Bottom Of the FUnnel) takes priority. It’s where the sale itself actually happens. Price and place matter much more when the customer is ready to buy. 

Success at the BOFU lives or dies on the quality of the order to delivery system. The order processing. When customers buy products online, a specific set of actions has to follow. 

Payments go from the customer’s card to your bank. Order details go to the warehouse to be picked, packed and dispatched. The order goes on a van and into the distribution system. Finally, it goes through the last mile and is delivered to the customer. The key word here is system. 

E-Commerce works as a series of efficient systems. Systems efficiency is rarely top of mind for marketing people. But it’s hugely important to e-Commerce success.

Marketing mix pricing opportunities in e-Commerce

Take price as part of the e-Commerce system, for example. With traditional retailers, there can be months of planning and negotiation to get the right regular and promotional price plan in place.

Once the price is set, it’s locked in until the next slot in the retailer calendar comes up to change it. 

Not a lot of flexibility there. 

Screenshot of a Woolworths Online half Price basket of grocery items

With e-Commerce, particularly if you run your own store, the opposite applies. Back-end e-Commerce systems let you adjust price easily and quickly. You can even display different prices to different customers.

If you run your own online store, you’ve got a lot of flexibility to test and adjust your price mix. You can run flash sales at specific times of day, or days of the week. You can target price discounts to specific customers based on what you know about them from your digital data

This is different to the way marketers traditionally manage price. They have to learn what to do with the opportunity pricing flexibility in e-Commerce brings. 

Marketing mix place opportunities in e-Commerce

The place part of e-Commerce covers both the online store website and the order to delivery system.

For example, with fashion shopping, the imagery, layout and design of the website influence the sale.

But so do the other “place” elements e.g. the returns policy and how the last mile of delivery works.   

“Place” as a 4P in e-Commerce marketing creates a lot of requirements. Web design. Payment systems. Digital data. Warehouses and delivery systems.

Traditional marketers don’t know much about these areas. At a push, they might have a view on website design. But everything else needed to set up and run an e-Commerce operation is usually new to marketers.

This is where marketing can really learn from e-Commerce. There are opportunities at each step of the customer journey to connect with customers and meet their needs AND wants.

Marketing and e-Commerce need to work together.

Marketing and e-Commerce should work together

Customers are notoriously fickle online.

It’s easy to compare different e-Commerce offers and switch between different online retailers and different online products.

This means marketing and e-Commerce need to work together. 

They need to work together on the layout and content of their product pages.

They need to work together to update information in the product information management system.

Close up of two hands in a handshake

Marketing and e-Commerce teams should come together and use agile marketing innovation processes. This can help quickly improve the overall customer experience

This matters, because customers don’t buy just on what they see, they buy on what they experience. It’s not just the advertising and the website, it’s the whole order to delivery system

In e-Commerce, you need to plan out each step of the customer journey. That’s payment, order pick and pack, dispatch and delivery, returns and queries. If anything goes wrong, customers won’t be happy. 

Managing these steps means pulling in expertise from other areas like supply chain, IT and customer service. Marketers often know little about these areas. People in e-Commerce don’t have a choice. They have to understand them. Without them, e-Commerce simply doesn’t work. 

Before this process planning though, you have to define the business goal. It should apply across marketing and e-Commerce.

How do we find, convert and retain more customers?

What unites marketing and e-Commerce people is the question, how do we win more customers?

The answer is you “win” them by finding more customers at the TOFU (where marketing likes to play). And then converting and retaining customers at the BOFU (where e-Commerce likes to play). 

The “win” comes from the right balance of long-term brand building and short-term sales activation.

It’s measured by the number of customers who choose you over competitors.

Person holding a mobile phone with an e-Commerce page on screen and a credit card in the other hand

It’s measured by how much those customers spend. And how often they come back to buy again. 

E-Commerce is competitive. Customers have a lot of choice. Switching between offers is easy. The customer decides where and when they buy. 

To persuade these customers to choose you, you need both approaches to work together.  Marketing-led brand building. And e-Commerce-led efficient systems to manage orders. 

Bringing marketing and e-Commerce people together in this way helps you win more customers. 

That’s the result you want, right?

Conclusion - Marketing and e-Commerce

We work across both marketing and e-Commerce. It’s how we recognise the similarities and differences. But, it’s also how we know that bringing them together can supercharge your impact on customers.

First, bring the 2 sides together. Show how many similarities they share. Talk about customers. And what they need and want. Talk about sales and how that’s the end goal. 

Show how the 2 skills can work together to satisfy customer needs and wants. Show how together, they complement rather than contradict each other.

Because if they don’t work well together, customers will notice. And you’ll see the result of that in dropping sales numbers. Clearly, nobody wants that. 

When marketing and e-Commerce work together, customers are much happier. So is your bank balance.

Check out our functions of e-Commerce article for more on this. Or get in touch, if you need help bringing marketing and e-Commerce together in your business. 

Photo credit

Amazon boxes with hearts : Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Unsplash

Heart Button : Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Handshake : Cytonn Photography on Pexels

Online shopping with phone and credit card : Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

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