This post originally appears on Techinasia
The first phase of a start-up often involves finding ways of to get the early adopters on-board and generating feedback to iterate the idea. You may have seen many of those blogs that discuss customer acquisition strategies in theory but these are usually difficult to be replicated without understanding the context. To really nail product development, follow the journey of a “Hero”, someone who has been there and done that – like Shanru Lai, Head of Marketing at ShopBack. In this interview, she shares some affordable yet effective marketing strategies that worked for them.
The founders of ShopBack, Henry Chan and Joel Leong were first-time entrepreneurs but they have managed to build a large customer base within a year from launch. Started in August 2014, ShopBack has powered more than 100,000 customer transactions at popular eCommerce portals both in Singapore and abroad within less than 10 months. ShopBack offers online shoppers up to 30% cash back when they shop online at any of the 300 Asian and North American brands. Shopping categories range from fashion to F&B, travel and electronics, and the team has brought on board well known retailers like ZALORA, ASOS and Groupon.
And running a start-up often means making the best of the little you have. According to Shanru, even though ShopBack is in a slightly more advantageous position as they have raised over US$500,000 in seed funding last year, they are always mindful of how they can optimise marketing spend to give the company its longest runway.
Firstly, identify your market segment
Crafting successful marketing campaigns begins with an end in mind. ShopBack identifies their target market as anyone who shops online in South East Asia and typically between the age of 18 to 45 years old. Shanru shared that this helped them to focus on the choice of marketing channels — those that their target market frequently engages with – Facebook, instagram and blogs. She insists there is no one-size-fits-all social platform: some customers are inactive on Facebook but are heavy SnapChat users so ShopBack needs mix its media. These behaviors, however, always depend on the market and location of your users.
Paid marketing for new user acquisition
While paid marketing has worked very well for eCommerce companies, it all boils down to one simple strategy – deliver real value to customers. To attract new customers, ShopBack relies on Facebook ads, engagement on other social media and blogs.
The first step is to create a daily budget for Facebook ads, which is in line with their monthly targets. Optimising the images, content, and the time of posts is an ongoing task. Shanru scrutinizes the analytics data regularly to identify trends or confirm certain hypothesis, for example, the most effective timing to put up the Facebook post to maximise engagement. The most popular content among ShopBack’s users tends to include price promotions, especially when discounts can be stacked with cash back. The key is also to find out the 80/20 when it comes to selecting which brand partners’ sale promotions to promote. Knowing the top online brands that bring about the highest conversions or has the highest web traffic enable ShopBack to prioritise the brands to focus the majority of marketing dollar on them.
For new start-ups with no history of data to fall back on, Shanru shared that they can start by observing the content and timing of the Facebook posts on major competitors’ pages and then adapt their strategy accordingly.
Following Acquisition with Retention
The work does not end after the new customers are acquired as they still need to be persuaded to make a transaction or be actively engaged to make repeat transactions. Shanru’s strategy for retention: email marketing. To achieve high click rates, ShopBack crafts relevant content alongside persuasive copy and fine tuned design. Through the email analytics she has done, Shanru realises that it is often effective to entice new customers or those who have not made a recent transaction by sending exclusive bonuses on their next purchase.
In addition, Shanru shares that their blog has played a pivotal role in bringing in more traffic to their site and creating conversions to first sales. They would share good promotions from their brand partners on the blog and this has also enabled them to package more value into the marketing campaigns they run for the partners. Again, this is a way of delivering real value to their customers. For new start-ups, one concern could be how to maintain a blog team sustainably. ShopBack does it in the beginning by working with freelancers and having a central person to manage and edit the posts.
From time to time, Shanrun has also found it effective to engage fans in a fun and different way. Once a month, they run contests on Facebook and on their blog, in the form of lucky draws or giveaways of a particular brand’s vouchers or products, to engage users.
Get a marketing expert onboard
It sounds like a no-brainer but it is an area that is often overlooked. As a founder, unless you have prior marketing experience, it is essential to have someone experienced in marketing onboard if you are running an eCommerce business. It is possible for someone to learn on the job but it works much more efficient to have someone who’s already in the know, given the limited runway.
Shanru shared that she was already running marketing campaigns back in ZALORA and therefore ensuring that marketing efforts deliver the business objectives is no stranger to her.
Hoping that it gets viral in the end
While getting the word out through their marketing efforts has been effective in general, Shanru maintained that the holy grail is still word of mouth marketing, via their referral program. But it will take some time for the business to get to that stage, as the number of customers need to reach a certain level before an exponential increase can happen. Having said that, referral programs should be there from day 1 and it is worth setting up a simple yet reliable referral system to enable your local customers to share about your site. Every quarter, in addition to the social media campaigns, Shanru would run a special bonus referral campaign so that customers would be more incentivized to share actively during those particular months.
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