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It’s safe to say that I know a thing or two about creating marketing for an e-commerce or bricks and mortar store on a limited budget (seriously, read on to find out why) so I can sympathise with those of you right now who are cautiously spending on marketing whilst we ride out COVID-19. 

Why do I know so much about creating marketing on a shoestring budget?

Well, something you perhaps don’t know about me is that I had the experience of being Marketing Manager at BHS (British Home Stores) back when it went into administration in March 2016 and until its closure in June the same year. That’s 3 months of living through the most challenging times in marketing that I’ve known. 3 months of trying to persuade anxious and frustrated employees that they still needed to get behind the marketing team’s rallying cry to the British public to #saveBHS and cautious negotiations with suppliers and printers who wouldn’t complete work without up-front payment for fear of being left hanging. We couldn’t even buy a pencil without getting sign off from the administrators.

It was tough. 

Our marketing budget was axed. From memory by more than half. Yet we still had to deliver marketing, including finding clever ways to repurpose window and POS graphics for the entire portfolio of stores (and keep the online arm of the business ticking over). 

For those of you who don’t know BHS (and let’s face it why would you in Australia) here’s the UK retail history lesson. Buckle in. BHS was one of the UK’s biggest department stores and a legend of British High Street history. Founded back in 1924 in London it quickly became the go-to around the country. When I took the role in Head Office they had 160 stores nationwide, a thriving e-commerce business and employed over 11,000 people. From below the boardroom it seemed that the business was growing. I’d just got sign-off on my nationwide brand campaign to launch 60+ BHS Food Stores (think M&S Food if you’ve ever visited the UK). But the demise of BHS seemed to be a quick one and it was messy. (Give it a Google if you’re keen to know more). In short, the remaining 22 stores and the Head Office were closed with a day’s notice. Ouch.

Great, but how is this relevant to me and my business?

Although I’ve created marketing with million dollar budgets I’ve also found ways to scrimp, save and create national marketing campaigns for over 100 stores with little to nothing and you can apply the same learnings to your business right now.

My first bit of advice is to try and continue to spend strategically on marketing if you can still afford to, but if there’s dust starting to collect in the corners of your bank account now’s the time to start taking notes.

3 ways that you can create kick-ass marketing for your ecommerce store with little to no budget:

One: Brand Partnerships and Collaborations

Right now, more than ever, businesses are supporting businesses. 

(Shameless plug: did you see my collaboration with Finders Keepers? We’re #StrongerTogether).

Check out DCM’s collab with Finders Keepers.

Check out DCM’s collab with Finders Keepers.

It’s time to jump on the bandwagon if you haven’t already. As an ecommerce business there are umpteen ways that you can collaborate with like-minded brands to increase your brand awareness, improve your reputation and (importantly) drive more sales.

You need to think outside of the box and consider ways in which you can add value to each other’s businesses if you’re going to gain cut-through. Don’t feel afraid to approach a fellow business with a clear pitch for how you could collaborate with them and add value to their business whilst growing your own.

It’s all about mutual benefit when it comes to collaboration marketing.

Think about what you want to gain for your business from the partnership and how you can achieve this, whether it’s increasing your social media presence, driving traffic to store, sales of a particular product or range. What will you do? Co-branded competition, collaboration on product design, social media takeover, even a skills swap? You name it!

The hard facts are that collaboration marketing is waaay cheaper than traditional advertising and more often than not the brand association is more valuable in the long run than the quick sale off the back of a Facebook ad.

Two: PR

Now I’m sure all the PR gurus out there are rolling their eyes right now thinking “Charlie, please don’t start an onslaught of rubbish pitches landing on Journos desks”… and don’t worry babes, I’m with you. Also, I’m not sure that many people read this blog… yet.

PR is generally speaking a long game. You’re spending time getting to know the ins and outs of every media outlet you’re thinking of pitching to and learning exactly what the editors at those publications are loving and hating. You’re building relationships. It’s a bit like dating. This stuff takes time.

So, no, please don’t start writing emails to every publication under the sun asking for coverage – unless they are great, well considered pitches that take into account the above… in which case send away!

However PR coverage, if you can secure it, is an incredible way to get free advertising for your ecommerce business as you can build those relationships without having to spend a huge amount of money (if any!)

Three: Customer Loyalty

Do not neglect your existing customers. I repeat. Do not neglect your existing customers. I can’t believe how often I find myself saying this, but it costs 5x more to get a new customer than it does to keep your existing ones shopping with you. 

> Depending on which study you believe, and what industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
— Havard Business review

So, please don’t forget to spend some of your focus on keeping those guys loyal whilst this COVID-19 shituation unfolds. 

Think about what their pain points are right now, perhaps revisit your customer avatar (Don’t have one? Come along to this workshop and we’ll create you one!). The times they are a-changing and with that so is your customer’s reason to shop with you. 

You have a host of free* marketing tools at your disposal that you should definitely be using right now and I could write a whole blog post on how you can use each of these so I won’t dive too deeply just now (this is a blog post, not a novel). Here are two things you should do right now if you do nothing else:

Send an email.

Obviously, you’re going to need to nail your subject line to get cut-through as everyone has upped their send frequency. Hot tip: please don’t email me out the blue telling me how we’re “in this together”. (This generally results in Charlie hitting that unsubscribe button… sorry!) Keep it on-brand and relevant to your customer, tell them you’re still trading and if you have limited store opening hours or delays to delivery make them aware to ensure the best customer experience.

Engage on social media.

You have access to send a message right this second to the mobile app your customer is spending the most time on… heck they’re probably on it right now. No-brainer. However, please keep it personal, relevant and definitely don’t bulk message – the Instagram Gods will penalise you. Reach out to your most engaged customers on social media, encourage them to get behind your business and entice them to shop with you over this period.

*OK so you may be paying for software subscriptions here, but that’s a general cost of running your biz, so I’m not counting it as marketing spend per-se.

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