As if COVID and supply chain challenges weren’t enough to navigate, ecommerce companies were dealt another major blow last year. It is now astronomically harder to measure digital marketing efforts, thanks to a series of platform updates across Apple, Google, Facebook, and other major ad-based platforms.
“2020 was really strong in terms of revenue. [Ecommerce companies] didn’t have to spend as much to get the results,” Amie Waltzer, CMO at digital marketing agency Pirate Labs, told Hypepotamus. “But then the world started opening up. And on top of that, Apple rolled out its iOS update in June 2021 which allowed people to opt-out of pixel tracking. Facebook advertising was a boom for a majority of small to medium-sized businesses…so this really hurts small to medium-sized businesses selling online.”
Without proper tracking, ecommerce brands are essentially flying blind when it comes to measuring how effective digital marketing efforts are.
“[Brands] have to focus on literally every marketing channel to try to bridge the gap and find your customers,” Waltzer added. “It’s forcing a lot of businesses’ hands and that’s just driving margins down significantly.”
And these marketing changes came at a particularly sticky time for consumer brand companies. Having dealt with product and raw materials shipping delays, stores are now awash in the inventory that was missing from shelves in 2021.
Those two realities – stricter digital marketing rules and a bloat of product inventory – have changed the game for ecommerce brands of all sizes. Their first major hurdle came this year with Prime Day, the July “retail holiday” that has become an important sales day on the calendar of most retailers. While 2022 was by far the largest Prime Day by volume since Amazon started the shopping holiday in 2015, brands had to spend significantly more money to be able to attract those customers. Return on advertising spend (RoAS) was down 28% compared year-over-year, according to data from Austin-based ecommerce search engine JungleScout.
Having made it through Prime Day, many ecommerce brands are now ramping up for the coming holiday season. To get a sense of how marketing efforts have shifted over the course of 2022, we caught up with a few local brands to pick their brains about what marketing efforts look like today for them.
How Local Brands Are Fairing
The difficult ecommerce landscape hasn’t deterred new brands from entering the marketplace.
Michael Gottfried, a life-long golfer, started Piper Golf during COVID after he saw an opening to bring a “premium but affordable” tour-quality product to market.
He brings a wealth of ecommerce marketing experience to the founder’s chair as he previously served as the Senior Director of Marketing at KontrolFreek, an Atlanta-based video game accessories brand. But he told Hypepotamus that even as a relatively new player in the ecommerce landscape, the team has had to make adjustments to its marketing strategy.
“The visibility, the tracking, the analytics have just gotten a lot more cloudy,” he told Hypepotamus. “So we really have to focus on purely maintaining a marketing efficiency ratio, and doing what we think is best in terms of channel selection without necessarily saying that we have to hit a certain return on ad spend or attribution on specific channels.”
Gottfried said the brand is spending less on Facebook than before, both because of its increased cost and because of changing consumer behavior. The brand is now heavily focused on TikTok, YouTube, and video assets overall.
More “legacy” ecommerce brands have also been changing tactics.
Weezie Towels, a luxury towel and robe company, got off the ground in New York City in 2018 before relocating to Atlanta during the course of the pandemic. Co-founder and CEO Lindsey Johnson told Hypepotamus that the iOS changes drove the brand back to the “basics” of marketing, as they’ve embraced direct mail and catalog advertising. But the brand has also embraced social media influencers and hyperlocal platforms like Nextdoor as a way to grow its audience.
“We’re trying to find a new litmus test for marketing efficiencies. We used to look at specific return on ad spend and channel-specific CPAs (cost per acquisition), we’re now taking a more holistic approach…and I think that’s a really good pulse check.”
On top of diversifying ad spend, the team moved up its timeline to open a brick and mortar in Atlanta. Following a pop up last year, Weezie opened its door to its Buckhead location this year to help with brand awareness and assist with inbound customer demand.
New Companies, New Strategies in Ecommerce
Necessity is indeed the mother of innovation, as the old saying goes. So it is only natural that the changing digital landscape has been a launching pad for a new group of marketing technology (MarTech) entrepreneurs.
One such entrepreneur is Matt Cimino, a marketing veteran in the Raleigh-Durham area. He worked with hundreds of direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands during his time as founder of Exit Intel, but recognized that his ecommerce customers needed a more tailor-made solution if they were going to effectively grow subscribers online.
“The free popup builders inside email apps or other popup tools just didn’t cut it for a brand that wants amazing design AND performance,” Cimino said. He created a new startup, Amped, as a no-code marketing automation tool, in 2021.
Cimino believes popups are an essential tool for digital marketers today.
“Anyone who cares about establishing a direct relationship with the people on their site needs to consider how they will start that relationship. Popups are the best way to turn visitors into email and SMS subscribers. Popups might get a bad name [for being] annoying…but if timed and designed correctly they are extremely effective,” he added. “Owning relationships with your customers means you aren’t always having to go back to social media or search engines and buy your traffic, once you have someone on your site if you can turn them into an email and/or sms subscriber and build a relationship directly, that is “owned marketing”. In owned marketing, you own the channel and how you want to communicate with your customer.”
That owned marketing trend, Waltzer said, is essential for brands trying to work through the changing digital marketing landscape.
“Google ads are really good for capturing the bottom of the funnel…Facebook is still really good for getting attention and getting audiences interested…and leveraging your email list is really good for warming up a cold audience and then pushing them further down the funnel,” she added.