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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Snapshot : Though marketing and e-Commerce share a lot of common terms, it often feels like they talk at cross purposes. This week, we review why the two skills start from a different place, but how to bring them together so they finish in the same place – happier customers and more sales. 

To paraphrase the late great George Bernard Shaw, “Marketing and e-Commerce are two skills divided by a common language”. 

From the outside, marketing and e-Commerce sound like they’d have a lot in common, don’t they? Both skills seem to talk about the same concepts. They frequently even use the same words. Customer needs and wants. Customer journeys. Sales growth.

You’d think marketing people and e-Commerce people would work together like Ben and Jerry. But in actual fact, as we’ve worked with many marketing people and e-Commerce people, the combination of the two together often ends up more like Tom and Jerry.

Loads of petty squabbles, disagreements and differences of opinion. 

Despite both skills being about persuading customers to buy or buy into things, the two skills approach that same goal from different starting points. That’s why marketing and e-Commerce people often say the same thing, but attach different meanings to what they say. 

Our aim this week is to explore those areas where marketing and e-Commerce people work together, and outline ways to make those conversations run more smoothly. 

Conversations about customer needs and wants

Customer needs and wants should be at the heart of both marketing and e-Commerce strategy. If your brand or e-Commerce offer doesn’t meet a customer need or want, then it won’t sell. 

Marketing and e-Commerce people have different perspectives when it comes to which customer needs and wants to satisfy. 

But just before we get into that, let’s consider needs AND wants. These terms are often used interchangeably, but are in fact two slightly different (though related) concepts. 

Heart pin button

Needs are usually an essential requirement, a “must-have”. If the need is not satisfied, there will be some sort of repercussions for the customer. 

Wants however are more desire driven. They are more wishful concepts. If the want is not satisfied, the customer may feel negative about it, but there are usually much less in the way of repercussions. 

It can get complex, because ideally the need and want will be the same. But sometimes, there are things you need, but don’t want (e.g. medical insurance) and other things you want, but don’t need (e.g. flashy cars). 

Internal needs and external wants

The storytelling guide 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, while wants focus more on desires and tangible “stuff”.

Though the book isn’t specifically about marketing or e-Commerce, the needs / wants distinction come sup when describing the heroes of  your story. And in brand storytelling, customers are the heroes. It’s an interesting distinction, and a good thought starter on how marketing and e-Commerce solve customers problems (need and wants) differently. 

For example, a customer might feel the need (internal) to know they won’t have to worry medical bills if they get sick. That makes them want (external) a good health insurance policy. 

They might feel a need to boost their self-confidence (internal). But they want that expensive car (external) to demonstrate it.  

This is where marketing and e-Commerce people can often differ. 

Future needs and immediate wants

Though both talk about customers, marketers naturally lean more to satisfying needs, while e-Commerce people lean more towards satisfying wants. 

Marketers feel a need to build long-term connections between brand and customer. These are based more on emotional benefits. That’s why brand-building adverts pull more on the heart-strings (like the brand-building Quantas advert from our article on advertising impact), or show people being happy (like many Christmas adverts, for example). 

These don’t necessarily drive sales right away, but build up long-term goodwill that supports future sales. 

But e-Commerce people want to drive sales now. They’re more pragmatic and transactional. They’re much more focussed on instant gratification for the customer. That means a much bigger focus on what people want (external stuff). 

E-Commerce lives on sales and conversions. That means giving people what they want. Customers want something in return for handing over their credit card details online. Longer-term needs might have triggered the desire, but it’s this short-term wants that drive them to click that “buy now” button. 

Conversations about the customer journey

Which neatly brings us to the customer journey. Marketing and e-Commerce people both talk about the customer journey.

But, marketers see it as something more long-term, while e-Commerce people bring much more short-term urgency to moving customers through the various steps. 

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

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

This mapping is a template which identifies key steps customers need to go through (driven by brand actions), so they become loyal repeat buyers who advocate your brand. 

But compare this map to the more traditional brand choice funnel (see our guide to brand identity for more on this). 

See the similarities?

The brand adoption funnel is a process which also identifies key steps customers need to go through (driven by brand actions), so they become loyal repeat buyers who advocate your brand. 

The same underlying thought process lies behind each model. 

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

You say tow-may-tow, I say tow-mah-tow. 

It’s just in the specific detail of each model, that you see some subtle differences between how marketing and e-Commerce people see customers. 

Marketing and e-Commerce views of the customer journey

The marketing (brand choice funnel) model has bigger steps and deeper questions. Why should I listen, why should I care and so on? Marketers love trying to understand why customers think, feel and do things. The brand choice funnel is set up to answer these why questions. 

The e-Commerce model has a similar number of steps, but each step is more granular and action focussed. 

It focusses more on rational practical wants than emotional needs. It generates activities that provide more information or better quality of services, than deep emotional connections.

The customer experience / e-Commerce model also adds in more specific touchpoints. It sets out which channels and which actions you need to drive at each step. It’s more prescriptive and less ambitious than the brand choice funnel. With the e-Commerce model you’re already thinking about where and how to move the customer on to the next step. Why isn’t a big question in e-Commerce. 

It’s much more short-term and immediate gratification driven than the long-term relationship building view of the brand choice funnel.

In the e-Commerce world,  functional benefits like price or speed of delivery to the customer are more important than emotional benefits. (though arguably these also bring some emotional benefits to the customer with them)

In the customer journey, e-Commerce focusses on driving sales now. Marketing thinks more about driving sales over the longer-term. These aren’t necessarily opposing views, it’s more a question of how to prioritise them. Because in actual fact, the most successful businesses combine both approaches. (we covered off a similar approach related to advertising short-term and long-term impact in a recent article)

Unsurprisingly, a balanced and integrated approach between marketing and e-Commerce is a better way to work, than considering them as two separate skills.

Marketing and e-Commerce can learn from each other

Part of the reason there’s a disconnect between marketing and e-Commerce is businesses often separate the teams who do them. This means there’s little to no sharing of skills.

Obviously, this makes it harder to get opportunities to learn both skills, and then learn how to bring them together. 

If you only ever work in one functional skill, your business view is narrow. These narrow views limit the options for personal and business growth. 

Blurry street scene with person holding glasses one metre in from of them - getting clear vision is part of market research skills

Marketers who can learn e-Commerce, and e-Commerce people who learn marketing have a wider view, and so have much more power and opportunity. 

Marketing people love to focus on market research, marketing plans and brand activation. They focus on customer emotional needs and long-term brand building. But this often makes them overlook short-term opportunities, and immediate ways to make life better for customers. Whereas e-Commerce is often driven by short-term opportunities and making life better for customers right now

How marketers who complain about e-Commerce get it wrong

We know marketers who complain e-Commerce is too granular. Too detail focussed. Not “big picture” enough. These types of marketers like to think of themselves as strategists (seriously, beware anyone calling themselves strategists) rather than what marketers are supposed to do, which is satisfy customer needs in a profitable way for their brand.

In the world of e-Commerce, “strategists” get short shrift from most people. Nobody cares when you’re trying to get boxes out the door and clear your backlog of customer enquiries.

That’s not to say you don’t need an e-Commerce strategy. You do.

But, it’s usually much simpler than what strategists would make you believe. Your strategy is how you intend to win custmers based on your analysis of the external environment (customers, competitors and category) and your own internal capabilities. 

That “how” is really what makes or breaks your e-Commerce strategy.

It sets the direction for how you’ll win, but it’s nothing without specific actions to make it happens. And actions need granular, detailed instructions to make them happen. Your business achieves its strategic goals by setting up the right actions to win customer by customer. 

E-commerce focus on transactions and systems is a good thing

Marketers often complain that e-Commerce is too transactional. But transactions equals sales. And it’s sales /  transactions, and not strategy that pays the bills and ensures the financial health of the brand.

E-commerce people on the other hand love transactions. Transactions mean they’ve give the customer what they want. And the cash flow means bills get paid, salaries get paid and the value of the company grows. It means stock isn’t sitting in the warehouse as a cost, it’s on its way to the customer, and that’s money in the bank. 

The more volume goes through your order to delivery system, the more efficient the system becomes. There will be economies of scale and more efficiency. More efficiency means better profitability. 

E-Commerce people love to focus on how to improve conversions and transactions. They run regular tests to improve the experience for the customer and to improve efficiency of the system. 

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 we cover in our article on the functions of e-Commerce) handles the other steps in this journey to create an efficient e-Commerce process. 

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

But, this tactical view of marketing misses out on what marketing can really do. If you apply traditional marketing skills to create engagement and desire, that brings in many more customers at the TOFU (Top Of the FUnnel). Traditional marketing skills like advertising and PR can supercharge awareness and consideration of your e-Commerce offer.

Advertising in particular is interesting, because it typically takes up a majority share of a marketer’s focus. This is not necessarily a good thing. 

The 4Ps of marketing are supposed to be a balanced view of how to prioritise your efforts in marketing. But most marketers 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 that 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 at the point where 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 very tangible set of actions need to follow the purchase. 

Payments needs to move from the customer’s card to your bank. The order details needs to go to the warehouse, be picked and packed and moved to dispatch. The order needs to go on a van, and move through the distribution system to finally end up with the customer. 

The operative word here is system. 

E-Commerce works on a series of systems to run with smooth efficiency. Systems efficiency is not usually a big motivator for marketing people. But, it’s hugely important to keep customers happy and to grow your brand and your e-Commerce business. 

And while it may not initially sound creative, exciting or inspiring, dig into the specifics and you can find all of those things.

Marketing mix pricing opportunities in e-Commerce

Take price, for example. When you deal with traditional retail channels, 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. 

WW Online Half price basket

With e-Commerce, particularly if you run your own store, these timings go out the window. Online retailers can adjust pricing pretty much instanteously, it’s just adjusting it in the back-end system of the website. 

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 specific days of the week. You can target price discounts to specific groups of customers based on the digital data you hold about them. 

This is massively different to the way marketers are traditionally used to managing price. It’s a great opportunity to take advantage of short-term opportunities with this marketing activity.

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 as we recently covered for example, the imagery, layout and design of the website have an influence on the sale. But so do the other “place” elements, such as say the returns policy and the efficiency of the last mile delivery.   

But look at all these e-Commerce elements you need to create. Web design. Payment systems. Digital data. Warehouses and delivery systems.

Screengrab of home page from

These are not areas traditional marketing excels in. At a push, they might have a few on the copy and aesthetic design of the website, but everything else needed to set up and run an e-Commerce operation is new learning for marketers. 

This is where marketing can really learn from e-Commerce. Because at each of those key stages, 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.

For them, it’s easy to compare different e-Commerce offers and switch between different online retailers and different online products.

Marketing and e-Commerce 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.

Handshake to symbolise two people working together

Teams can come together and use agile marketing innovation processes. These work exceptionally well in e-Commerce to 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 – payment, order pick and pack, dispatch and delivery, returns and queries. If any one of those steps go wrong, the customer won’t be happy. 

Managing these steps means pulling in expertise from finance, supply chain, IT and customer service. Marketers often don’t understand these areas of expertise. People in e-Commerce have to understand them. Without them. the e-Commerce system simply doesn’t work. 

Before you do any of this process planning though, there’s something else you need to do first. You need to work out what the business goal is. While marketing and e-Commerce people may come up with different answers, they are actually both trying to answer the same question. 

How do we find, convert and retain more customers?

What unites marketing and e-Commerce people is the commercial and customer question. How you win more customers?

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). 

This “winning” comes when you find the right balance of long-term brand building and short-term sales activation.

e-Commerce - close up of hand on phone and credit card

It’s measured by the number of customers who choose you, and not your competitors. It’s measured by how much those customers spend and how often they come back to buy again. 

E-Commerce is a notoriously competitive space. Customers have a huge amount of choice, and switching between offers is easy. They are in charge of where and when they buy. 

To influence these customers to increase the chances of them buying your brand, you need both marketing-led long-term brand building activity and short-term e-Commerce efficient systems for when they hit “Buy Now”. 

Bringing marketing and e-Commerce people together helps the business meet this common overall goal. They need to complement each other’s expertise areas to move the customer through the sales funnel.

Conclusion – Marketing and e-Commerce

We’ve got experience in both marketing and e-Commerce. It’s how we know that they’re the same but also different. But, it’s also how we know that if you can bring the two together, they can supercharge your activities with customers.

If you recognise that marketing and e-Commerce don’t seem to connect well in your business, what do you do? Well, there’s no need for UN style peace negotiations. But bring the two sides together, and highlight the similarities rather than the differences. 

Show how the two skills can work together to meet the overall business goal of satisfying customer needs and wants. Show how together, the two skills complement rather than contradict each other.

Because if they don’t, customers will be the first to spot the discrepancies in the experience. And then, you’ll start to notice it in your lack of sales. 

Clearly, that’s not what you want. Because when marketing and e-Commerce work together, customers are much happier and so is your bank balance.

Check out article on the functions of e-Commerce for more on this topic. Or contact us, if you need some translation help so marketing and e-Commerce talk the same language 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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