Right about now, the savviest retailers have their performance advertising campaigns running at full tilt. They have long invested the effort and resources required to optimize their product landing pages for organic/natural search, are actively participating in social media channels, and their affiliates and partners are aggressively promoting their brands and products in every corner of the Web on their behalf.
If you're late to the game in utilizing these channels (SEO, performance advertising, social media, an affiliate marketing), is it still possible to drive website traffic and conversions during the busy holiday season? Yes, it is - you just need to take advantage of what may just be your best sales people - your existing website visitors and customers!
It doesn't take a business maven to understand that it costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain them, and it doesn't take a digital genius to know that the best source of new users/buyers will be from those who are currently the biggest believers in your brand. So, is your website and its underlying business set up in a way that facilitates this approach? Likely not, but there's nothing to fear, consider these ideas for customer referral marketing (as well as the recommended solutions) and you'll be on the fast track to a profitable shopping season - even if it's in the last weeks, days, hours and minutes of the year.
Build a Strong Foundation for Referrals
It has long been proven that referral marketing is an incredibly effective form of marketing when driving sales and conversions of any nature. Referral marketing is often called "word-of-mouth" marketing and is essentially just people buying products based on the recommendation of someone else based on their opinion and influence. Since we trust the opinions of other people, particularly those we respect, it just makes sense. Why it is so effective is because people are conditioned to share their stories and their experiences - and it is magnified when the buying experience is on the Web.
There's a lot that goes in to an effective referral marketing campaign but it first and foremost demands a close adherence to some fundamental principles and processes. For example, it's imperative that brands focus on providing exceptional customer service - when, for example, did you last recommend a company that provided a poor support experience? Likely never. Great (interesting, clever, useful) products will also offer an edge during the final minutes of the year of course, but since it's a little late to focus on product development at this point, it's necessary to do what you can to sell the products you have - not those you don't (or wish you had).
Tactics to Drive Referrals
In a perfect world, your products and digital experience would be so compelling that customers would naturally recommend the brand to everyone they know - forcefully and regularly - without encouragement or motivation. That is the ideal of course, but it rarely if ever works that way as you might imagine. Often it is necessary to give existing customers a nudge to recommend a brand or its products. Here are few example tactics to get you started.
The best platform/channel Internet retailers have at their disposal is their own website - hopefully that won't come as too much of a surprise. Most top-tier ecommerce solutions offer functionality (natively or through third-party extensions/modules) that provide customers an opportunity to serve as both more engaging buyers and brand advocates. Shareable wishlists, for example, not only encourage users to save items they want to purchase in the future (which can be provide powerful data for remarketing campaigns) but provide a pipeline to other potential purchasers. What shareable wishlists do well is provide an easy to use process for sharing and there's simply no more effective (or inexpensive way) to raise awareness with an audience that is unfamiliar with a brand.
Most Internet retailers simply don't take full advantage of their website - and that's unfortunate. If someone, some customer, has purchased something, they have expressed confidence in your brand, and retailers should not let this built equity just evaporate. As a result, the moments following an actual sale/conversion is the absolute best time to encourage that buyer to refer friends, family and colleagues to share and distribute their message. If you purchased something recently from a retailer, were you ever asked to share news of that purchase through email? Likely so - email-based invitations sent to others to explore a product or brand are quite common today (and immensely effective).
The website itself is obviously a great source of referral traffic - you've invested in its design and development and, again, it is the best opportunity you'll have to drive interest and visits with prospective buyers. To get started though, you need the right tools.
Solutions for Referral Marketing
It will not be easy to implement either of the tactics to drive referrals to an ecommerce store - as it, of course, takes some effort. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy to integrate solutions to do much of the heavy lifting required to drive conversions through customer referrals. Some of the most popular on the market today include ReferralCandy, Friendbuy, LoyaltyLion, Referrify among others. These offerings are designed for those willing, able and interested in generating activity from their existing audience - and growing that audience at scale.
When done right, websites can serve as the best opportunity available to merchants to drive sales. There are other opportunities to engage in referral marketing of course, and Website Magazine will address those next week in the second part of this referral marketing series.