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Marketing and e-Commerce divided by a common language

Two amazon boxes made to look like people with arms legs and faces holding two large heart symbols

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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 find it so difficult to agree on how to achieve those goals. Read this to learn how to help bring marketing and e-Commerce closer together. 

With apologies to fans of George Bernard Shaw, we believe “marketing and e-Commerce are two skills divided by a common language”. 

For example, marketing and e-Commerce both talk about :-

  • customer needs and wants
  • customer journeys
  • adoption funnels.

With this shared language, you’d think marketing and e-Commerce people would be a perfect match for each other. Like Ben and Jerry.

But the reality is when marketing and e-Commerce people work together, it’s often more like Tom and Jerry. They have different perspectives on what’s important. That leads to disagreements and frustrations.

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

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

Start with customer 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 provide?

Lack of customer understanding means your business goes nowhere. 

That’s the easy bit.

But what marketing and e-Commerce people understand by needs and wants is often very different. That causes arguments. 

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

Before we get into that though, 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. 

Needs are essential. A “must-have”. An unsatisfied need has some sort of consequences. These can be physical needs e.g. air, food and safety. Or they can be 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 less consequences. Examples of wants include 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 storytelling, customers are the heroes. They have needs and wants you need to understand to build your story. How their needs and wants come together helps you position your brand as the answer.

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

Or a customer feels the need (internal) to boost their feelings of importance. So, they want (external) an expensive car to do that for them.

Here’s the thing though. Marketing and e-Commerce people often differ in whether they focus on needs or wants.

Future needs and immediate wants

Marketers naturally lean more to satisfying needs. E-Commerce people lean more towards satisfying wants. 

Why is that?

Marketers want to build long-term relationships with customers. Emotional connections created by meeting customer needs drives the relationship element.

Brand-building adverts focus on making people happy (like many Christmas adverts, for example). Or tapping into emotional connections with family and friends (like the Qantas advert in our article on advertising impact).

The results of these play out in sales over the long-term.

E-Commerce people on the other hand tap into more immediate customer wants. This is more pragmatic and transactional. Their focus is less on relationships and more on instant gratification for the customer. There’s more focus on what people want (external stuff) right now

The results focus is on 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 is an idea taken from the broader topic of customer experience

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

Specific actions like digital media and the store website helps 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 brand choice funnel from marketing though. (see our brand identity guide for more on this). 

See the similarities?

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

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

The wording might be different. The context might be slightly different.

But it’s the same underlying process and steps which sits 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 answers to 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 specific and action focussed. It’s more about how than why.

How do we get more shoppers? How do we get them to buy?

This action focus quickly jumps to specific channels and actions. It’s less speculative and more prescriptive. It covers practical activities which attract customers, drive sales and manage transactions and deliveries. It’s more about immediate gratification. That’s more short-term than the long-term relationship building view of the brand choice funnel.

In e-Commerce, functional benefits like price and delivery cost are more important than emotional benefits.

Which approach is better?

Well, actually the most successful businesses work out how to make them work together. Remember, it’s all about where the customer is on their journey. (see also our  advertising short-term and long-term impact article which explores the same concept for advertising).

You get the best results when marketing and e-Commerce both focus on the customer needs and wants.

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

Wide business views help create more ideas, better integration and more inspiration for your teams. 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 the benefit of understanding customer emotional needs and long-term brand building.

Marketing people can learn from e-Commerce’s focus on the customer experience, and how to optimise key areas like store websites and the order to delivery process. They can learn how to be much 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 miss an important point. They get so hung up on strategy they forget the goal is to win more customers.

E-Commerce people rarely forget this goal.

In the world of e-Commerce, “strategists” aren’t really a thing. 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 intend 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 its actions with each and every customer. 

E-commerce focus on transactions and systems

Marketers often complain that 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.

Marketing, from a pure e-Commerce point of view, 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) handles the other steps in this journey to create an efficient e-Commerce process. 

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

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

But if you think about the broader 4Ps of marketing, there’s more opportunities to adapt what you do, and drive higher levels of awareness and consideration with customers.

The 4Ps are a balanced view of how to prioritise your efforts in marketing. But most people spend about 70% of the time on “promotion” (especially advertising). “Product” might take up 20% of the time (mainly packaging or marketing innovation). 

Poor old “price” and “place” get about 10% of the time, usually jammed into the annual marketing plan. In our experience, many marketers thinking on price and place go something like this …

Shall we do 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 do you? Can’t the category management team do all that? Sorry, can’t do that, 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.

When customers buy physical products online, a specific set of actions need to follow the purchase. 

Payments goes 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 mean you can adjust price easily and quickly as you need. You can even display different prices to different customers.

If you run your own online store, this gives you huge 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. It means learning how to take advantage of 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.

With fashion shopping for example, the imagery, layout and design of the website influence the sale.

But so do the other “place” elements, such as the returns policy and the efficiency of the last mile delivery.   

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

These are not areas traditional marketers know well.

At a push, they might have a view on the website design, but everything else needed to set up and run an e-Commerce operation demands new skills for marketers. 

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

Marketing and e-Commerce need to work together.

Marketing and e-Commerce need to 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 lay-out 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 need 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 end result you want, isn’t it?

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 with 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 article on the functions of e-Commerce for more on this topic. Or contact us, if you need help brining 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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