Crafting an Online Strategy, Part 4: Homegrown Marketing

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Crafting an Online Strategy, Part 3: How to Get Paid for Your Wares

As a maker in an e-commerce world, you have to get the word out about what you're creating. Whether you're crafting candles or jewelry, marketing, in short, leads to sales.

It's one thing to set up a booth at a craft fair and meet your customers face to face, but it's another thing entirely to market online. Becoming comfortable with digital marketing techniques, therefore, needs to be one of your primary priorities.

First and foremost, you'll want to design a marketing plan true to the spirit of your enterprise. You're a skilled crafter, so look at this as your chance to craft a creative and unique marketing strategy.

"As a maker, you sell your product because you love it," said Tara Swiger, an expert on the business of making and selling.

"Use that to your advantage. Highlight your you-ness. Make it a part of the look and feel of your product, feature it in your marketing, and don't be shy to share your passion for your craft. People will connect with your business because they love your style, so don't hide it -- highlight it," she told the E-Commerce Times.

As part of this process, identify what makes you and your products unique, and focus on selling those attributes. In other words, first you need to believe in yourself, and then you need to sell that belief to others.

"Since you make what you sell, it's easy for makers to undervalue what they do," Swiger said. "It's easy for you, so why would someone else pay for it? Your challenge is to not only value it, but to teach your customers the value of what you make."

One effective strategy when identifying and telling your story is to give potential customers a glimpse into the process of making itself. After all, part of what they're buying is that process.

"Make your marketing messages personal, authentic and unique," advised Tom Tate, product marketing manager at AWeber.

"Give prospective buyers a sneak peek into your process. Show them the passion that you put into your products. Emphasize the unique value of buying from you," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Once you've identified the unique qualities of your products, you'll need to find your customers. Where are they? Where can they be reached?

Increasingly, the answer to that question is simple: social media.

"Everyone really does it today, and it's kind of expected by your customers," said Kelly Hsiao, cofounder of Block Island Organics. "I'm not sure if I'd categorize it as marketing or community outreach, but it does need to be part of your marketing plan."

While social media marketing doesn't carry the high cost of traditional paid advertising, it does require a commitment of time and effort.

The challenge is "how to get the word out when you have little to no money to spend. This is where you have to buckle down and do the grunt work," Hsiao told the E-Commerce Times.

"With paid advertising, you can almost do a set-it-and-forget-it method or set-it-and-check-it-once-in-a-while method. You set up your campaign and let it run," she noted.

"But utilizing nonpaid channels requires a lot of dirty work. It's time-consuming, it's hard to do, [and] it's a slow burn, but the good side is it's all free," Hsiao added.

Reaching your customers also might mean getting the word out to bloggers and other influencers who have a wide reach.

"We found influencer outreach to be effective for us," said Hsiao. "I spend a lot of time reaching out and communicating with bloggers and social media personalities. It's definitely time-consuming. There is no trick or hands-off way to do it, but we've found it works for us."

Most crafters don't have a budget for paid advertising, especially when they're just starting out, so they need to find other avenues of reaching potential customers.

"Without the budget for big advertising campaigns, it's really hard to gain brand awareness," said Hsiao. "This is where aspects such as social media marketing, blog posting and influencer outreach come in. They generally won't scale as fast as paid marketing, but without a full-fledged marketing budget, I think they are the way to go. Even if you do have a marketing budget, these are marketing channels to pursue."

With all the selling, marketing and communication platforms out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. The thing to do is to find what works and stick with it. After all, you want to spend most of your time making, not marketing.

"As a maker, you have to spend a lot of time making, so don't waste time managing different platforms," said making and selling expert Swiger. "The same goes for social media. Pick one or two platforms that your customer uses and focus your energy on sharing effective messages there."

Focusing on a few key platforms and getting to know the specific customers you want to reach are more important than attempting to reach everyone everywhere.

"Cross-channel integration is the most important piece of any communication strategy," said Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast.

"However, you cannot just be answering the question, what websites do my customers shop on? Rather, the question is about the consumer journey and what they are looking for on those specific sites," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"New engagement rules exist today that are far different from the traditional mass media techniques," Fromm said. "You cannot simply blast the same message across all channels, but rather identify what your customers are looking for on each platform."

Freelance writer Vivian Wagner has wide-ranging interests, from technology and business to music and motorcycles. She writes features regularly for ECT News Network, and her work has also appeared in American Profile, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many other publications. For more about her, visit her website. You can also connect with Vivian on Google+.

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